family

To Remember

Family in NICU

Read through the early books of the Bible and take note of every time God commands Israel to remember what he has done for it: he even goes so far as to establish holidays, laws, and physical markers to help His people remember what the Lord has done and how he provided for and protected his nation.

We, too, ought to remember and share what the Lord has done for us.

The purpose of this post is not so much to tell a narrative of how my son, Theodore, came into this world. Rather, it is to provide a list for me to remember – and for my readers to also remember – what the Lord has done for my family in the most difficult week of my life.

When I was 31 weeks and 2 days pregnant with our son, the first gift we received in this unexpected scenario was the gift of information: while undergoing a level two ultrasound for a kidney issue we had found with our unborn baby, we happen to discover that the baby was not growing well. He was measuring about three weeks behind where he should have been, and his estimated size was in the 5th percentile. We were diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction and I officially had a high-risk pregnancy. We found out about his diagnosis purely by God’s grace – we were not looking for it, and I do not believe we would have found it until he was  born or until there was an emergency had we not gone in for that ultrasound that day.

[Intrauterine growth restriction (“IUGR”, for short) is a very rare (about 3% of all pregnancies) and potentially very dangerous condition in which an unborn baby is not attaining its growth potential for some unknown reason. It is found when a baby is measuring less than 10th percentile for its gestational age. There are literally hundreds of possible causes, but a common cause is an issue with the placenta and how it is providing nutrients to the baby.]

With our gift of information, we also received the gift of preparedness – not that we could anticipate exactly what would happen, but we were given the gift of being told to expect the unexpected. For example, when we received the diagnosis, I asked the doctor if they were just being overly cautious, or if I needed to get the nursery ready early. She told me to get the nursery ready early; which was excellent advice because I literally finished it the day before going to the hospital. It was extremely stressful not knowing if, at any one of my twice weekly appointments, I would be sent to the hospital to deliver my baby immediately, but it did help me get ready for the day when I got sent to the hospital 24 hours before we expected, and when I did not have a chance to go back to the office to wrap anything up, but went straight to the hospital from the courthouse instead.

Similarly, although I doubt there is any such thing as a “normal” birth, Theodore’s unusual delivery was covered by the gift of safety. Induction was painful, labor was long and exhausting, the monitors were itchy and tight, and the c-section recovery was deliriously difficult. But those 22 hours from when the induction was started Monday night, to when we met our son safely Tuesday evening were filled with an incredible medical team who did everything they could to keep he and I from harm. When we started labor, the nurses and doctors asked us if had a birth plan. I told them all that my birth plan was to get my baby here safely, and to keep me safe as well. Maybe they wanted more direction than that, but it was how I had always imagined I would handle labor, and particularly after being branded with a “high-risk”label. We prayed our doctors would know what to do, and that we could trust them every step of the way. When we were told the baby would not handle labor going on much longer, and that he could face serious danger if I didn’t have a c-section, we knew we were in the best hands and that God would keep us safe. And that is exactly what he did.

When I learned that our baby would come early and be small, I was afraid at how he would look. I was afraid he would be so small and scrawny that I would not find him beautiful or lovable, and that I would be scared to touch or hold him. When he was born, at only 4 pounds, 10 ounces, I was given the gift of love. Although I look back now and see how thin and small he was, at the time I felt no fear, and instead was filled with love for what I saw as the most beautiful boy in the world. Holding him was not frightening (although difficult) – but lovely and warm. I loved him from the moment I saw him, and was shocked at how beautiful he was.

Upon his birth, we learned that Theodore was given the surprising gift of “the good IUGR.” At all our growth scans since being diagnosed, we were told he had symmetrical IUGR – that is, his head, torso, arms, and femurs were all measuring at roughly the same percentile. There are two kinds of IUGR: asymmetrical and symmetrical, each with their own typical causes. With symmetrical, it is more likely there is a chromosomal abnormality or infection; asymmetrical means it is more likely a placenta issue, and the fetus kicks into “survival mode”, and concentrates development and nutrients to the brain because that is most essential. Before he was born, although I knew it was unlikely, I feared that he would have a long-term disability from whatever was causing his growth restriction. I even feared we would lose him to a trisomy abnormality. I prayed he would not have any such complication. The doctors were prepared to test him for several viruses when he was born to try to determine what caused his growth restriction, but when they measured him they found he has asymmetrical IUGR instead! Although his length was only 15th percentile, and weight was only 3rd percentile, his head was measuring at 45th percentile, which means while his body was small, God had protected his brain and had developed it well. It also meant they did not even have to test for the viruses because they new it was probably a placenta issue.

During our week in the hospital, we were given the unexpected gift of togetherness. Even though Theodore had to stay in the special care nursery and could not stay in our room with us, I prayed to God before he was born that we would not have to leave him in the hospital while we were sent home. I could not stand the thought of being even a 15 minute drive from my son – I needed to be with him as much as I could and prayed that God would give us that mercy. Sure enough, to our surprise, the hospital let us stay as boarders in a room just next to the nursery after I was discharged. We got to stay there as long as Theodore was a patient, at no cost to us. We were given a place that we could sleep, and shower, and a mini fridge to keep our food. And we were given the opportunity to go and see our son for every feeding, and to give him my milk for every meal. I was most thankful that I did not have to go home to an empty bassinet.

Since coming home with our 4 pound, 6 ounce warrior, Theo has been given the gift of growth. We have prayed and prayed that he would grow and thrive outside the womb, where the environment meant to protect him and help him develop instead progressively failed him. In his first week home, he grew to an astonishing 5 pounds, 3 ounces. One more week home – where we challenged him further by transitioning him from bottle-feeding to nursing – and he grew another 11 ounces. At one day past his due date, he was nearly 6 pounds. The doctor was practically speechless, and what was going to be a stressful schedule of weekly weigh-ins and adjustments as we watched for every ounce of gain instantly turned into, “Forget all of that – just come for his regular appointments! He is thriving.”

As Theodore grows and Massimo and I tell him over and over the story of the miracle of his birth and homecoming, I want him to know that none of it would have been possible without our gracious community. From my and my husband’s bosses, who, as small business owners did not have to even give us time off to welcome our child, but instead gave us both paid time off to care for each other and focus on our family; to the best nurses in the world, who loved and cared for our baby tirelessly while we could not be with him, but also never let him forget who his parents were, and supported us like their own family by making two clueless, sleepless first-time parents feel like every decision they made was the perfect choice; to our friends from near and far, especially the other compassionate NICU moms and those from our churches and town, who answered our questions, prayed for us, cheered us on, provided meals and funds to fill our bellies so we could focus on filling Theo’s; to our parents and siblings, who cleaned and stocked our home, brought us food, washed our laundry, clothed and diapered our little man, and wrapped our family with loving, joyful arms.

I do not want to leave the impression that these weeks have been full of nothing but sunshine and roses – other details of becoming parents include plenty of tears, desperate prayers, and throwing our arms up in confusion and frustration. But what could have torn us apart, what could have broken us and beaten us down to have to be built back up has instead brought us one of the richest times in our marriage. I look back on what we have already been through, and I can’t believe what we have had to plow up to sow new seeds. Delirious, the one thing I know is that must have worked extremely hard – though often unconsciously so – because we three are stronger than ever, and overflowing with gratitude as we remember how God made us this way.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

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“More” is not always “Better”

In a culture where everything is disposable, the latest is a necessity, and bigger is better, it can be difficult to explain why you may find your self valuing “less” over “more.” It is counter-intuitive, but the effort of consciously rejecting the “more” mentality has advantages.

This exact challenge has presented itself in at least four different circumstances in the last week alone. Each time, it was absolutely true that “more” was not “better,” but this seeming contradiction had to be explained nonetheless. As much as we like to think we are logical beings, the most certain truths can seem upside-down at first. It is worth the fight to flip our heads over again.

When requesting additional time to file a court brief.

I am involved in a proceeding at the moment in which we find ourselves in the briefing phase. We submitted our brief, and the other side submitted their’s, and now our brief in response thereto is coming due soon.

Under ordinary rules, our brief is due twenty days after the other side filed its brief. However, because it was filed on a Thursday, we did not receive our copy until the following Monday, essentially robbing us of four days of precious time. We requested an additional ten days from the Court in which to file our reply brief, and after notifying the client, he asked (justifiably), “Why so little time? I want more. We gave them two extensions!”

He was correct: when the other side was filing its brief, we consented to two extensions of time for them to finish. We consented for two reasons: first, not consenting was pointless because they would probably get the time anyway, and it is not the sort of thing to make an argument over because we will want them to return the favor some day (like right now, for example). Second, we were in no rush: they needed the time to get it done and we had no deadlines in which to get this case resolved. Why press them if there is no reason? Save the fight for a day that matters.

But my client was not correct that more time is better. Just because they had more time, does not mean we needed it. Sometimes, especially when assembling a reply brief, you can end up damaging your argument by re-writing and pouring over the document too many times. The longer you have to wrestle with it, the further you stray from the key points. The judge can get lost in your rabbit trail, and you become less effective. Plus, more time puts the pressure on us to finish it. If we have two months to finish, other pressing matters will probably require us to let it sit for six weeks before we start work. By closing the window of working time, we make this a priority and we are forced to get it done.

When looking at houses to buy.

We are in the early/potential house-buying phase, and are having trouble finding a house that is the right size for us. While we have a baby on the way, and plan to have ??? more baby/ies, under no circumstances are we interested in a 2,000 square foot plus house.

We saw one house that had 2,500 square feet of living space, and we would still have to add on to build Massimo’s workshop. Although the house was brand new and well-made, we could not get over how huge it was. We simply could not justify it.

People kept telling us, “Well, you will have more kids, and they will grow and need more space,” or, “You will be shocked how quickly the space fills up! You will need it!” And while that could very well be the case some day, for now, the cost was too great and we could not justify the expense of all that space: buying all that square footage, heating/cooling all that square footage, paying taxes on all that square footage, cleaning all that square footage.

Then there is the mentality of having a large home. I tend to think that stuff is like goldfish: that is, it will fill the space of the home in which it lives. When I was younger, I could fit everything I needed in my Corolla and brought it back and forth to college twice a year. Of course, marriage, parenting, and home ownership will bring additional necessities, but I believe there is still virtue in limiting the accumulation of things. And the more space you have for things, the more things you will have, in my experience.

When my sister is making her wedding registry.

My beautiful, brave sister is getting married in August, and will promptly be moving to Germany to join her new husband at his Air Force Base. This makes the concept of a wedding registry particularly challenging. The big and little things one would typically request seem silly. “Why would I pay to ship that over to Germany?” she rightfully asks. She is one hundred percent correct: shipping a bath mat and soap dishes would be ridiculous. So she had to get creative.

First, she had to decide whether or not she even wanted a registry. What she really needs is money, to buy the things a registry would ordinarily supply once she lands in Europe. But people don’t really like wrapping cash, so there is something to be said for providing at least options to those inclined to shop, so she does not end up with a dozen crystal bowls for which she has no purpose.

Second, she had to decide what was worth it enough for her to request. While dozens of hand towels may not be worth it, this might be her only chance to ask for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which she will have to patiently wait to use when she comes back state-side.

Ultimately, she started to get creative with it: she will have a different life in Germany, hopefully filled with once-in-a lifetime opportunities to travel and experience unique places. She decided to include AirBnB vouchers and travel gear on her registry: items she would actually get use out of. Sure, she can also include dish sets and sheets, some of which will stay here for her when she returns, but there is virtue in curating a wishlist that – though not traditional – will provide her much more joy than ordinary “stuff” might.

When collecting baby gear.

Babies are small, but grow fast. Nothing grows faster, however, than baby stuff. At the moment, I have not an atom of baby gear in my home (it is all at my parents’ and in-laws), but this little person will make an appearance in just four short months, and so will its gear.

I have gotten in more than one debate with other parents over what gear is “absolutely essential.” For some reason, like all baby advice, opinions and facts often confuse each other. (We often laugh about how similar pregnancy is to engagement, when marriage advice was dealt with the same resolution. But that is for another post.) The facts are that everyone is different, every baby is different, and what you loved or hated, our family could have the opposite reaction to. But thank you for the input, we will take it under advisement.

As of this moment, I have no idea where we will be living when we have this baby, but I have come around to the reality that we could be living in our one-bedroom apartment for at least some time. With that reality, I have attempted to whittle down our “necessities” list, which has been met with criticism. But we are trying to stand our ground, because our reasons for not wanting to live in a crowded Babies “R” Us store are many fold.

First, we value space and time over comfort. While many items are cute, clever, and maybe even extremely helpful, we have to balance those virtues against the space and time they will consume. Space is easily determined, but time is more abstract. Time is consumed when selecting or collecting the item, setting it up, cleaning it, repairing it, moving and storing it when it gets in the way, and eventually determining where it will go once the baby (inevitably and quickly) grows out of it. With both parents working full-time, there are some things that are just not worth that time.

[As a note on this, the “cleaning” part deserves a moment of attention. Many of us don’t think about the time spent maintaining our stuff. This is a consideration I came across in reading about minimalism that resonated with me, and is especially true since we have no dishwasher or washing machine. Everything we clean is cleaned by hand, which takes a lot longer. Appliances and gear which pride themselves on being “dishwasher safe” are not in the slightest attractive, especially when I see its odd nooks and crannies I will have to clean by hand! Laundry takes three times as long as someone with a washer in her house, because we have to sort it, pack it in the car, drive it to my parents’ house, binge through as many loads as possible in an afternoon, load it up, drive it back, fold it, and put it away. And all that while not being able to simultaneously sleep or do other chores, as those who do laundry in their own home can. The less high chair covers, changing table pads, and play mats are in that laundry, the better!]

Second, babies grow so fast. Like seriously, so fast. Some “essential” items are literally only in use for a month or so before they are useless! This pregnancy has already gone by so fast, I cannot imagine how quickly that first year will fly. I would so rather spend my time with my baby playing and learning, than constantly switching out baby gear he or she has outgrown. Since we don’t have space for all the first year stuff, our home will feel like a rotating storehouse of equipment if we collect items for every stage. Instead, we try to focus on things the baby will need for several months, and which can grow with the baby for years!

Third, a lot of “stuff” comes with other “stuff,” and so the cycle continues. Some baby gear is not just the gear itself, but the covers, mattresses, sheets, decorations, extensions, extra parts, etc. etc. etc. All that stuff really adds up! And again, all that stuff will also need to consume time and space, and need to be cleaned. We are not interested. Instead, we like to focus on items that are already complete, and don’t require add-ons to be truly useful. By eliminating one item that comes with add-ons, you actually eliminate a dozen items!

Sometimes, more is just more.

15 answers for 15 weeks

  1. I am due in September.
  2. I am actually seeing it as a positive that I will “have to make it through the summer.” I have fewer pregnancy clothes to buy, won’t have to lace shoes or even put on socks. I will wear dresses and flats, and live in either air conditioning or the pool. #winningallday
  3. I am now in my second trimester, but had an extremely easy first. I never got sick, dealt with a few weeks of exhaustion and mild nausea if I didn’t put some food in my mouth every couple of hours, and that was it. I got my energy back well before my second trimester started and had such an easy pregnancy, and I was pretty shocked when the doctor actually found a kid in my belly!
  4. I feel amazing. Every once in a while, I get worried or anxious. I had bad heartburn for a few days that is now under control. I literally cannot tell you how easy this has been so far and how insanely thankful we are for that. No trips to the emergency room, no special instructions. Just a boring,  easy pregnancy. Thank you, Lord!
  5. It doesn’t matter if it was “planned,” does it?
  6. We don’t know the baby’s sex.
  7. We won’t find out until it is born.
  8. We don’t think we are stronger or better or have more will power than those that do find out. We want to be surprised for ourselves.
  9. The nursery does not have a color because there is no nursery. We do not know where we will be living when the baby arrives, and if it is our current home the bassinet will hopefully fit in the corner.
  10. We will both return to work outside the home after the baby is born.
  11. We are extremely grateful to be surrounded by supportive family, all of whom are fighting over how much free babysitting they will be allowed to provide. We are overwhelmed by love and support!
  12. We do have names picked out. Ask next time I see you and I will be happy to share.
  13. I do not know how this baby will be fed, but it will be fed.
  14. We accept all offers of free baby supplies. Between my brother’s baby, our home, my parents’, and my in-laws, I can almost guarantee every item will be well-used and appreciated! And we promise to pass along any extras to others in need.
  15. We are super excited and blessed. Massimo is already an amazing father and takes care of me and loves us like crazy. We are enjoying every day left before we have a child to tote around, but also greatly looking forward to meeting this little person. #humblebragpro

-D. E. Barbi Bee

Financial Goals for 2017

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Like any game plan, financial goals will have to adjusted in response to bumps along the way. It is better to start with a plan that just needs changes, than to be struck with a crisis and have no clue at all where to start!

With 2017 just days away, how are you getting yourself or your family off with the right financial game plan? These are a few of our financial goals for the next year. I hope they help inspire you to make small changes with big impact!

1. Update our budget.

I am a zero-based budget girl, which means that when incomes change and expenses change, so does our budget. A couple of years ago I updated our budget every month – but it became impossible to keep up with! Now, I’m making a general plan for the year, and I can update it when significant things happen. If we make a little extra or lose income, we adjust our expenses to get back to zero! (Okay, in our case I think we have ten dollars at the end, but that’s “wiggle room.”)

Bonus! You can look at my own zero-based budget template by following this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1E4MWBflO6FqEigl6c0QbH7i7VNEJA8ejtZLWELlj0XA/edit?usp=sharing

Once you view the budget, copy and paste it to edit and make it your own!

2. Save at least $15,000.00 for a down payment on a house.

We really, really, really want a house. We like to set ambitious goals, so we have to work at them, you know? But first, we had to build up our emergency savings.  This year, we established our emergency savings, and are on our way – thanks to an automatic savings plan and our increased budget – to making this home-ownership goal a reality. It will be a sacrifice, but we can do it!

If a house seems like a far-off dream to you, start with the basics from my post “3 Steps to Being Good With Money.”

3. Make regular contributions to our HSA.

We have had an HSA for the past couple of years, and I basically use it as a tax-deduction “funnel” for health care expenses. We don’t go to the doctor regularly enough to keep money sitting in there. I would rather keep our savings in a place I can use for any needs that arise – health care, fixing our existing cars, new car, etc. What I do is when I have a health care expense, I deposit enough money in the HSA to cover that expense, use it to pay the bill or reimburse myself for paying the bill, and voila it is paid and I get the tax deduction. This year, I carved out the tiniest piece I could in our budget and will make twenty-five dollar monthly deposits into our HSA. I know it’s comically small, but I figured that over time, we will eventually have an emergency health care expense, and I will feel really good knowing he have at least a couple of hundred dollars stashed away to help pay the bill. Also, I learned that money in an HSA doesn’t go away – even if you change health insurance plans! You can still use it, you just can’t make additional deposits to the HSA.

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I married younger, but look at how cute he is? Age is just a number, after all….

4. Establish an IRA for my husband, and make regular contributions.

I began my IRA through my employer when I started my job last year. I was, coincidentally, twenty-five years old. Since then, I have made regular contributions, and my employer has matched them. My balance is only a couple of thousand dollars at the moment, but it will make a big difference down the road. My husband turned twenty-five this year, and has no such plan through his job. He also anticipates being self-employed some day, so retirement is his responsibility alone. Accordingly, in January of 2017, we will establish his IRA and make regular contributions – roughly what I am contributing. To start us off on a positive foot, we will cash in a small federal savings bond I happen to have and use the proceeds as a foundation. By the end of his first year, he and I will be on roughly the same track and on our way to a financially stable future.

5. Stick to our budget.

What good is a budget if you don’t stick to it? After some tough conversations, we believe we have pin-pointed our problem with sticking strictly with the budget: extras! Extra needs or extra incomes don’t fit in the budget and we never know what to do with them. For example, what if we have used up our eating out budget for the month, and a friend we really want to spend time with asks to go out to eat? Or what if one of us gets a bonus, and one of us wants to use it to catch up on the budget we’re breaking, while the other one wants to use it to buy things which are really needed? See what I mean? Extras. To solve – at least hopefully – this issue, we have included a “slush fund” in our budget. This small, cash-only cushion will be used for the extras that inevitably arise. We have also agreed to treat bonuses like bonuses, which will happen when we truly stick to our budget. *fingers crossed*

6. Pay off two more student loans.

This year, I paid off one student loan and I’m half-way through another! I’ve thrown bonuses, tax refunds, and cash found on the street at these loans and can’t wait to slaughter them. I anticipate that our tax refund will pay off the one I am attacking now, so that leaves eight months to hit another one. By the end of the year, if we accomplish this goal, we will reduce our monthly payments by almost fifty dollars and save hundreds in interest! Motivation!!

What are your financial goals for 2017? What is in your family playbook for the next six months or year?

-D. E. Barbi Bee

2 Years

Announcing Mr. and Mrs. Barbi - June 30, 2013.

Announcing Mr. and Mrs. Barbi – June 30, 2013.

Two years ago, today, we got married. 

At this point, we have been married longer than we were dating. I think it’s finally starting to sink in that this is for real, and its so much better than I could have dreamt; even my wild imagination could not have created something like what we have. As I’ve said, this isn’t a fairy tale; real life is so much better. And with you, it really, truly is. The only problem is that it’s going by too fast.

A recap of the last year. We didn’t move anywhere, we only started one new job between the two of us, and God provided work for you long before you even needed it. We drove to North Carolina, Ohio, and Maine, each time getting to witness another wedding. You finished your guitar and we have starting taking tangible steps towards your future in lutherie. The biggest change of this year was my graduation from law school, and we saw that coming years in advance. It was a more settled year, for sure, but that is exactly what we needed.

Mr. and Mrs. Barbi for nearly one year.

Mr. and Mrs. Barbi for nearly one year.

I won’t say the first year was harder than the second, or more fun, or scarier, or more stressful – it was just different. The first year is all the firsts – first home, first Christmas, first time doing this or that; but by the second year, you no longer have to create ways of doing things, you get to repeat or modify. People no longer stare at you as “newlyweds,” nor do they ask (well, mostly) invasive, sometimes embarrassing questions about “married life.” We started to find our grove, we know each other better, and aren’t as afraid that we’ll make stupid mistakes because we’ve already made plenty and realized they are not the end of the world.

While the groove has been found, the spark has by no means been lost. I can’t say what life will be like in five, ten, or forty years, but I can tell you that I still have no idea what people mean by the “honeymoon” phase. For a while, I imagined that at some point into our marriage – one month, six months, one year? – I would wake up and suddenly realize how hard this was, suddenly no longer find marriage cute or exciting or fun, but find it a burden and a challenge that might not be worth fighting for. That, I thought, must be when I know the honeymoon phase ends.

Two years later and I still haven’t woken up to think any of those things. (To more seasoned wedded readers, my use of the word “still” will sound laughable, but bear with me because it is the longest I’ve ever been married.) In fact, due to outside challenges that have resulted in us leaning on each other for support, wisdom, and comfort, we are certainly closer than ever. I still love him. He still makes me happy. I still find marriage to be the best, most gloriously mysterious relationship I’ve ever been a part of. I’m still 100% in this, and Massimo seems pretty into it, too. Call it a honeymoon phase, call it newlywed bliss, call it whatever you want – I’m calling it my life.

Married for just shy of two years. Where has the time gone?

Married for just shy of two years. Where has the time gone?

The importance of our marriage has become even more stark since being surprised this year by the end or apparent end of some other marriages. In my life, I’ve never been up close and personal with divorce or separation, apart from my job, that is. But in legal work, the lawyer usually doesn’t see the death of the marriage, we see the people that once knew it coming by to claim its belongings. It’s a gruesome business and I don’t much care for it. This year, I was caught off guard by several marriages in my personal circle going on life support, and it was scary.

Will that ever be us? Could that happen to us? We had this conversation many times this year, and the conclusion has always been the same: no, it won’t. I don’t want to sound naive, but here’s all I know: for us, getting married was like building a house, a big house that needed to stand against serious storms and hold for many, many years. Our house needed good blueprints and to be made of really good materials. I know that we have good plans in our marriage, because we put the work in, consulted the experts, and worked out the details with the maker of marriage. As far as the materials, I know that for all his sinfulness, Massimo is made from the best stuff on earth, and he says that I’m the good stuff, too. We’re far from perfect, but I think our house has at least a fighting chance. Two years in, and I know that now better than ever.

Every so often I listen to the song we used for our first dance, and it’s words get more and more applicable the more I get to know you and get to know our marriage.

Happy anniversary, my signore. I can’t wait for all the rest. Thank you for picking me to be your partner and love; I know God put us together because only the Perfect Creator could have designed something like this.

-debarbibee

Why I Changed My Name When I Got Married

Drew, Ellen, Me, and my husband, Massimo at Hermit Island, Maine - June 6, 2015.

Drew, Ellen, Me, and my husband, Massimo at Hermit Island, Maine – June 6, 2015.

Wedding season is officially in full force. Having recently returned from my cousin Drew’s beach-side nuptials in woody Maine this past weekend, I have got weddings on the brain. Ever since getting married almost two years ago, attending weddings always bring up all the memories and feelings surrounding my own wedding day.

Of all the decisions one has to make when getting married (and there are a lot!), one that is often overlooked is whether or not the bride will change her name – and if so, to what? This deeply personal choice (it is your name, after all)  most of us don’t learn about until after the wedding. Back when we were first talking about getting married, Massimo and I made the choice together that I would take his name, and here I am to share what factors went into that decision, for anyone curious about some things one may consider when going from Miss to Mrs.

1. I changed my name because I had a choice.

Although we still have a ways to go, here in the US, and in my particular family, we women have the choice of changing our names or not. Some people don’t like women changing their name upon marriage because of the history of the tradition – that when you got married, you were no longer a legal individual, but the property of your husband. Personally, I felt it important to reclaim the tradition, and exercise my freedom to consider the change or not for myself and for my new family of two. I had the choice – and that alone made it worth considering.

2. I changed my name because it was representative of our new, united family.

This is a common reason to change your name: so that everyone will have the same name. It’s a practical reason, but also has its symbolic implications. Having the same name helps symbolize my new role as a wife, and instantly associates me with my husband, and, should we have them someday, our children. In some ways, I feel sorry for Massimo and men in general that they don’t get the same symbolic “re-birth” (for lack of a better term), but I suppose it’s up to the husbands to figure out their own way to represent our covenant – tradition has given me one already and I happen to like it.

3. I changed my name because it mattered to my fiance.

Even though it was I who would be living with a new name, as an engaged couple, it was important for me to respect the opinions and feelings of my soon-to-be husband in such big a decision as a name change. If I was neutral on the idea, and didn’t care either way, but Massimo felt very strongly and always pictured me having his last name, then I would do it. In reality, I was mostly already planning on changing my name before we discussed it, but knowing how much it mattered to him helped me dive in all the way.

I had the choice – and that alone made it worth considering.

4. I changed my name because there were other Devenneys to carry on the family name.

I come from a family with a lot of girls, but we do have two boys that can carry on the family name. Some women want to keep their name (either as a surname or middle name) to preserve it if they have no brothers to do so. I was fortunate enough to not have that pressure on me, and little did I know that nearly a year after getting married, we would add a sister-in-law to the family who happily took on the Devenney name through my brother.

When we were brand-new Mr. and Mrs. - June 30, 2015 in Haddam, CT.

When we were brand-new Mr. and Mrs. – June 30, 2015 in Haddam, CT.

5. I changed my name because I got married young.

I always assumed that if I got married at all, it would be years and years into my career. For that reason, I worried about changing my name after already having a client base and law firm, and how it might affect my professional recognition.Would I change it legally, but keep my maiden name professionally? Would I let people call me by my husband’s name, but not legally change it at all?

These questions are especially significant in the field of law, where your name is not just what people call you, but often the name on the moniker on your building. All these questions subsided and I fortunately didn’t have to answer them when I married at the ripe young age of 23, when the most recognition I had for my last name was the fact that my first-year Torts professor could never, ever say it right.

6. I changed my name because it’s easier for me to change my name than anything else.

As I said, we wanted both of us to have the same last name, and we wanted to symbolize our new life as a married couple. Well then, “Why doesn’t he change his name, or you hyphenate the two of them?” While those options would give us the same result, “Devenney” is a lengthy name to hyphenate, and the fact is that our culture simply isn’t designed for men to easily change their names. When a woman changes her name, it is instantly understood, and we don’t have to answer a lot of questions about why we suddenly have a new name.

When I had to go through the process of changing my name (which took about a year to do thoroughly), all I had to say was, “I got married,” and that (along with appropriate documentation) was enough. I can’t imagine the confused looks and questions that Massimo would have had to endure had he tried to change his name. Everyone would probably assume he was trying to commit identity theft. Until security questions ask, “What is your mother or father’s unmarried name?” it will simply make more practical sense, if anyone in the couple is going to change it, for wives to do so.

Now, I do realize this is a circular argument, because if wives keep doing this then our culture will never change. But I also realize that me – being just one person – am not solely responsible for the 60% of Americans who think women should take their husband’s last name when they get married.

7. I changed my name because no matter what it says on my license, I will always be a Devenney.

At first, I worried that I would lose a part of me if I changed my name – I would no longer be instantly associated with the Devenney name and family. After considering this, I realized that my mother has been a Devenney for over 30 years, and is still easily identified with her parents and brothers, who carry her maiden name. I grew up in the same town as my grandparents and cousins – all of whom had different last names – and yet everyone still knew that we were related. I realized that no matter how long I am a Barbi, people will still know that I was a Devenney first.

8. I changed my name because I wanted to honor the support of my husband on my diploma and in my career. 

The name “Deborah Devenney” appeared on 23 years’ worth of essays, programs, awards, certificates, and diplomas. Every time it showed up, I was able to represent the Devenney name and let the world know that the Devenneys had all helped me get to wherever I was. I got married one year into law school, and although my parents, siblings, grandparents and so on were still extremely supportive and instrumental in allowing me to finish law school, it was Massimo who stepped up and took on the role of supportive spouse full-time.

When I realized that I would be getting married before graduating, I told Massimo that I wanted his name to show up on my diploma, so that everyone would know that it was he who helped me get there. When we each have our own businesses or careers or whatever, our shared name will let everyone know that I helped him, and he helped me. Having the same name is one way we chose to symbolize that mutual support, and share in each other’s successes.

“Devenney” is a lengthy name to try to hyphenate, and the fact is that our culture simply isn’t designed for men to easily change their names.

-debarbibee

A New Year

This is the Devenney clan at the end of 2014 - always growing.

This is the Devenney clan at the end of 2014 – always growing.

2014 was a bridge year. It was the first year in a long time that I didn’t move. The last couple of years have all brought something new: graduating college, starting law school, starting a relationship, then getting married. And the next few years will bring new things: finishing school, moving, then starting my career. But 2014 was here, just sandwiched in-between years of surprises and changes, bridging them together and giving me space to move forward and breathe.

Although there were no big things for me this year, this year was no slouch. I started two new jobs, got closer than ever to completing my education, fell more in love with my husband, committed to eating healthier and even went through a spout of exercising.  We traveled to New York City, Virginia, and Ohio. We got through two seasons of unemployment, and began to really, tangibly dream about our future. We also said good-bye to my beloved Great-Grandmother.

2014 also brought lots of exciting changes to our family. We welcomed a new sister-in-law, Mayra, to our family. We also saw two cousins get married to beautiful women. My brother, William, was around for the longest stretch of time in years. We are preparing to welcome a new little cousin to the Bos clan. My cousin, Ben, and his wife welcomed their first girl. My sister, Rebekah, got a new job and started a new chapter of her life in Queens, New York. Lots of others got new jobs, and new homes, and new girlfriends or boyfriends or just friends. It was a growing year for our family, for sure.

2014 will also be marked in my mind, though, as a year of suffering. Although we, through God’s mercy, have been spared suffering ourselves, Massimo and I have watched a number of family members suffer this year. Watching someone you love so deeply go through such pain is hardly being spared suffering yourself; it feels so real. Some suffering was through outside circumstances – things no one could have seen coming or changed even if they had. With these family members, we pray for protection and peace, and thank the Lord that He sustains us every day.

With others, the suffering has not even been exposed yet, but we see what is lurking behind the closet door where they hide their bad choices. I have been searching for a word this year for when someone you love, hope the best for, and know can do better does something that can and will hurt them. You want them to – and know they can – have the best life, but they chose darkness, and self-hurt, and separation. Disappointment? Anger? Confusion, for sure. I haven’t found a word, but it is the word for the kind of pain that comes from loving so much. For these family members, we pray constantly, that they will recognize their power of free will, that their hearts will be softened to the hope of the Lord, and they will realize the light that comes with believing.

In 2014 we hoped. We have been given the right to dream with the Lord, and we will exercise that right again in 2015. The light is stronger than the darkness, love is deeper than hate, and we will hold onto these truths until they are all that remain. We will cling to these truths especially this year, as I finally exit the stress and security of education. After 20 years of classrooms and books, I will finally say good-bye, reap the rewards and pay the price for my years of schooling. We will be moving, Massimo will start his second guitar, I will take the biggest exam of my life, and start a new career – and these are just the things that are changing between the two of us! 2015 will likely be one of the biggest years of my life, and I am experiencing all the ranges of scared and excited you can imagine.

But no matter what, I will hold fast to the hope of God’s sovereignty, the only sure thing we have. We will celebrate, and pray, and work harder than ever before. 2015 – let’s go.

How would you characterize your 2014? What do you look forward to in 2015?

-debarbibee

How to Avoid Being Asked When You’re Going To Have A Baby

It’s wedding season, and although I’ve already weighed in with my marriage advice, there was one important topic I did not discuss, but should be disclosed to all you newlyweds. So listen up: the truth is, now that you are married, you need to be prepared for the semi-constant stream of questions regarding your plans or opinions on having your first baby. And although the subject is deeply personal and really none of anyone’s gosh darn business, it will happen, over and over and over again. (In fact, I’m looking for information on exactly how long you need to be married without children before they stop asking: 3 years? 7 years? 15 years? Anyone?)

You thought they would be satisfied when you got married, after all, that’s what they asked about for years prior to your wedding. But no, now that there’s a ring, they need a BABY!

So how can you avoid this shameless invasion into your privacy? Here is some advice, but beware: it can happen when you least expect it.

1. Never, ever, EVER under any circumstances hold a baby in public.

This is such a rookie mistake. You thought you were just meeting your new niece/nephew/cousin/best friend’s infant, and that the polite and desirable thing would be to hold the thing. Hahaha you are not just holding a baby, like any ordinary person, you are auditioning, you are modeling, you are displaying you parenting skills for the world to critique. So put that baby down and walk away.

The last known picture of me holding a baby, from 2010, a good two years before I started dating my husband.

The last public picture of me holding a baby, from 2010, a good two years before I started dating my husband.

2. If you must hold a baby, DO NOT TAKE A PICTURE!

Another sad, rookie mistake. That’s not just capturing a brief, precious moment in your life, that picture is going on the Internet, and the Internet is going to comment that, “A baby suits you!” and “Look’s like you’re ready!” Bad. Or even worse, “When did you have a baby?! Congrats!”

Exception: If grandma just wants the shot, and has no access to the Internet, nor can she pass the photo to someone else to post on Facebook, take the picture, and get rid of the baby before anyone else gets any ideas.

3. Have an ally with you at all times.

This could be your baby-phobic spouse or an empathetic friend or parent, but it really helps because for some reason when  you say, “No, no babies for me now,” they don’t hear it, or forget it 25 seconds later. But when your friend or parent says it, then it is suddenly in a language they can understand. My mom is great at deflecting these. (Woot woot!)

4. Never, ever express your interest in children generally or in a specific child.

You can no longer say how much you like babies or that her baby is so cute. While I understand the difference between liking a baby and wanting to have one yourself, right now, this minute, adults do not understand this dichotomy. If you like children, or are good with children, then why aren’t you pregnant? Well, from my understanding it takes more than liking children to be prepared to get pregnant, deliver and care for the thing, and raise it for the next 18+ years. Just saying. But yeah, you can’t compliment another person’s kid. You will become a jerk, but that’s what it takes.

5. Do not decline alcohol, complain of an upset stomach, say, “I’m so tired and I don’t know why,” go to the doctor without explaining a non-pregnancy reason, wear empire-waist clothing, or gain small but noticeable amounts of weight.

These will all be quick indicators that you are pregnant! Only pregnant people don’t drink, only pregnant people get tired, and only pregnant people have stomach aches. You no longer will have any ailment or reason for acting weird other than pregnancy. Isn’t that exciting? That stomach flu you thought you had? It wasn’t – you are PREGNANT!

 

However,  let’s say some of these fool-proof methods do not work, here are some possible responses when a stranger pops the question:

1. Sarcasm

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you how I’m totally with child!”

(Danger! Danger! Only use with someone fluent in sarcasm. If not, it could spin out of control faster than you can imagine.)

“I can’t wait to get no sleep and clean up someone else’s bodily fluids all day.”

(This is a little more obvious, so it could actually work with someone not fluent in sarcasm. Be careful, though, because a very nice person will try to tell you how “It’s all worth it though.” Barf.)

“When do you think we should have a baby. We were looking for a stranger’s opinion.”

(A little rude, but it might just be the only way to get the message across. Or they will actually give you their opinion, which is….nice.)

2. Lies

“We’re looking into adoption, actually, would you be interested in donating?”

(This may or may not be true, because adoption takes so long, you could actually be in the pre-early stages and not even know it yet. But it is nice because it puts the buck back on them: will they give you a check? Bonus: you might get money.)

“I’m pregnant right now. Shhhh, it’s a secret.”

(If you are talking to someone who will forget your name when they turn around, this could work. But it’s extremely risky because they could blab and then you have rumors to kill by wearing super-tight clothes for the next three weeks. Use only if you are in a particularly snarky mood.)

3. Deflecting

“Hahahaha Me? As a mother? You must be crazy!”

(This is a little self-depricating, and a nice church lady might try to reassure you. But someone with a sense of humor might let it go here. Bonus: you get to call them crazy, even if you were the only one who noticed.)

“We really want to get a house first.”

(This is nice because it gives them a timeline: you can’t just buy a house tomorrow, it takes a long time to save up and find one. Suddenly that baby is looking like  a good three years out!)

“Have you seen these pictures of my dogs?”

(This totally puts the baby subject aside, and may even get rid of them because, generally, other than puppies, no one wants to see pictures of your dogs.)

4. Ignoring

“How was your son’s graduation party last week?”

(Anything that is about them and will get them talking a long time will do: parties, trips, specific projects at work. Just make sure it doesn’t look like you are trying to keep a secret by changing the subject because they could start some rumors.)

5. What you really want to do.

“Why ONE EARTH would I take into consideration your opinion when trying to figure out if I want to become a parent?! I did not ask you when I got married, I did not ask you when I chose were to live, pick a job, or pick a restaurant for dinner. So why in all this green planet would I want to know what you think about my uterus and our decision to have or not to have children.

“FURTHERMORE, how do you know that I”m not pregnant now, and just waiting to tell you, or children are a super duper sensitive topic right now. Huh? How do you know? You DON’T! It is never ever enough for you people. Please go back to wherever you came from and never ask another person when they are going to have a baby.”

-debarbibee

Southern Wedding Weekend [in Pictures]

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My cousin Josh and his wife Sarah.

10507985_693863820661290_1316584218_nIt has been a record year for weddings in our family: as of now, it’s looking like three this year! (But it’s not too late to book that New Year’s Eve Ceremony, if any cousins are contemplating.)

This weekend it was off to North Carolina to see my cousin Josh marry the beautiful Sarah. It was 13 hours down and about 32 hours there, and 13 hours back. A long trip, but it was so much fun to visit with everyone and a true honor to see yet another person join our family through the covenant of marriage. I hope we get to see Josh and Sarah again soon, and that God blesses them for many, many years ahead!

A few observations about this weekend:

1. Virginia is a very, very big state and I don’t understand how it gets away with being so big. Not cool. All the New England states are like, doing their thing and just taking up as little space as possible, and then Virginia is all, “Let’s be obese!” and stretches its arms and legs out as much as possible. Knock it off.

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This is when we finally hit Virginia, about half-way into our trip. You start to get a little loopy.

2. Any long trip should definitely be followed by a trip to the spa. We were fortunate enough to have some basic spa passes with our accommodations at the Rock Barn Golf & Spa. And boy was that fun.

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The eternal farms of Virginia.

2a. However, we should really have the spa to ourselves, as we are a talkative bunch and tend to get kicked out of quiet spaces, as we were on Saturday.

3. The reception was inspired by The Great Gatsby, and I did not know fondant could be so new money.

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4. I have a shockingly attractive family. I mean, come on, have you ever seen a more beautiful group of men and women? And what’s more, they are some of the most genuine, sincere people you will ever meet. I wish we could see them more.

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This is [most of] the Devenney women.

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This is [most of] the Devenney men.

5. I did not know you could serve filet minion and chicken together, but boy-oh-boy can you! And they were both delicious!

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6. My family is fun. Like the serious kind of fun, where you can talk about it later and it’s funny even if you weren’t there. You know? The smart fun. Hilarious.

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My sisters Elizabeth and Sarah and my second cousin Miriam.

7. Me and my family are way too susceptible to that southern drawl. Just 32 hours around everyone else and we started to loose our Yankee-ness! I’m so weak!

8. Even though I’m a Barbi, I’ll always be a Devenney. It’s funny how being around different pieces of your family can show you where you get different attributes. I got to be around some of my mom’s family last week for Nana’s funeral, and then some of my Dad’s family for this wedding. And I can be with each of them and know that I’ll always be a Bos, a Devenney, and a Barbi.

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I write it like the doll.

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-debarbibee

Real Advice for the Class of 2014

So far, I’ve had a pretty relaxing summer. We have had a few big events, but nothing compared to the school year. But this week, all that changed.

Let’s see: the travelers arrived home from Peru at 2:00 am Sunday. Then it was a pretty quiet Father’s Day, where we ate hamburgers, held alpaca blankets, and heard all about their trip (with a surprise visit from Uncle Stephen and my cousin Jack!). Then Monday my Grandparents arrived from North Carolina for the festivities. I’m pretty sure there was nothing big Tuesday, but who can remember?

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All the sisters with Baby Giraffe in her cap and gown!

Wednesday – double graduation, Thursday more preparations (and I think Mayra’s family is coming into town one of these days? There is so much, I don’t even know.), and today (Friday) is setting up the church and last-minute shopping for the Wedding Reception, tomorrow.

Following our Wedding Fiesta tomorrow, we’ll have church Sunday (Massimo and I are on for music – of course), followed by my sister Susannah’s Graduation party. Oh, and in the middle of all that, Massimo has been working extra early and long days to finish some big orders at work.

Let’s just say, emotions are on short fuses these days, and we are just plain tired. But the Grace of God shines through, as always. Massimo got a raise this week, out of the blue. And I couldn’t be more proud and thankful! I’ve gotten to see relatives and friends more than usual, and some that I haven’t seen in a year. I can’t wait to celebrate my brother and his wife (still sounds weird) tomorrow, and, cherry on top: I got to attend my 13th Hale-Ray High School Graduation to see two sisters graduate!

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These girls…

And that was probably the highlight of my week. I’ve been to a lot of graduations (13 at Hale-Ray, 6 college graduations, and a few others). Most of them are generally the same: gowns, hats, “reach for the stars”, “remember your past”, etc.etc.etc. But there is still nothing like seeing someone you love walk across that stage. There is something about that moment, that tradition – it’s like it’s all been leading up to this moment. I’ve seen it many times, with many different people, and now Susannah and Emily have also participated in the rite of passage. They’ve closed one chapter of their lives, and have the pen to the paper to write the next. Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say read the next chapter, since you are not really the writer.

And that brings me to the shortcomings at your graduation. Don’t get me wrong: it was beautiful and honorable and Hale-Ray did a great job. But being at your ceremony also reminded me of what was missing: Jesus. (There was mention of God, but it was in the Pledge of Allegiance and a song.) Graduation advice tends to be filled with cliches and slogans that make for light, cheery speeches . (I mean, every big event does: weddings, baby showers, birthdays – you name it!) But if you want real advice, the kind you can look back on months and years from now and it’s still the Capital-T Truth – you have to go straight to the source.

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Me and Massimo with our sisters.

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The Grads – Susannah and Emily.

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The Hale-Ray Class of 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I struggle with this. I have gone through periods where I read a lot, and then times where I can’t remember the last time I opened it on my own. One trick I have for getting back into it is to read the Psalms: they are short, beautiful, and jam-packed with the most honest, brutal Truth. I like to read through and underline the promises and actions of God, while circling my actions. This way I can meditate on who God is and what he is doing, while also learning what my response should be. I found this Psalm today for you girls, and I think it pretty well sums up the adventure on which you and your Heavenly Father will find yourselves. Moving on from high school is scary and exciting, and sometimes you can feel pretty alone in this big world. But if you stick tight with The One who made you and loves you more than you can imagine, then everything will be okay (even during crazy weeks like this one!).

Psalm 86

Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.

You are my God; save you servant who trusts in you.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.

Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.

Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.

In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.

For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in the truthgive me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

I will praise you, O Lord my  God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.

For great is you love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a bend of ruthless men seeks my life – men without regard for you.

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant and save your faithful [daughter].

Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see if and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Congratulations, girls! Stay strong in the faith.

-debarbibee