My (Wonderfully) Clueless Husband

My husband is clueless. He has absolutely no idea how wonderful he is. He works day and night (literally) to support our family, and even though he is exhausted, makes a point of spending time with me…even if it’s just watching a stupid show in the wee hours so we can laugh together. Relationships matter to him. There’s nothing more precious than his family (ok, his books come a close second, but still).

Despite all this he often feels inadequate, because he can’t be the magical dad who is home at 5 pm helping cook dinner and then wrangling all the kids into bed. His work to-do list never ever ends, but without it, I couldn’t be home with the kids. I couldn’t be there for all the first steps and first words, for my five year old’s funny science questions (What if tongues didn’t stop growing?), for the impromptu ballet performances and puppet shows, for the discussions about novels and movies and what life is all about. All these things, my husband primarily has to miss so I can be there for them.

Thank you, honey. It’s crazy hard….your work, my work…but it’s a gift. Our family is a gift. I’m so grateful.

Right now, on the midst of all this business, you’ve taken a week off so I can have a break. So I can go on workshop to feed my mind and recharge my soul. Because even imperfect moms deserve a break. That means we all do. It’s hard to go away when I feel like there’s a million things I should be doing at home, but with your love and support I’m going. Sailing off to be a kid in school again for a week and study philosophical anthropology–what it is to be human and live a fulfilling life–and honestly, I can’t wait! 😉 As a homeschooling mom, it’s nice to take a turn being the student!

While there’s always so much to do, sometimes the best way to move forward is to step back and let go for a bit. So cheers to that, and thanks, honey for being amazing.

Crushed

Father, will you forgive me

for being crushed under this weight?

No, My daughter,

there is nothing to forgive.

It is no sin to stagger

under such a heavy burden.

Did I rebuke my Son when He fell three times?

No, there was nothing to rebuke.

But I could hear the entire creation rejoicing with Me–

mountains echoing with thunder

and seas roaring with triumph–

every time He got up again

to give Himself completely

in the full freedom of love.

Therefore be still, my daughter.

Calm your wildly beating heart–

I never asked you to do this alone.

You’re being held up by angels,

but you must close your eyes to see them.

When things are heavy,

rest in their embrace.

Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Fulness

I sit here at East is East

almost alone (the baby is sleeping on my lap)

but feeling the opposite of lonely

a perfectly satisfied fulness

an openness to everything:

the heat of the spices in my mouth,

the cool kiss of my iced Turkish Chill,

the spring breeze in the elegant drapes,

the warm orange glow of the lamps.

The vibrant aquamarine wall behind the stage

is filled with memories of musicians

from date nights past…

when that skinny little girl

with her starry-eyed dreams

met that philosopher boy:

tall, brown-bearded, bespectacled.

They met and fell in love

talking their heads off

over so many meals

from all over the world:

Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Mongolian and more…

car-less dates

walking the town

in search of truth, meaning,

and cheesecake.

They married and filled the restaurants

with tiny people who like spicy Thai food

loud, gorgeous, long-lashed children–

seven here

and one gone ahead to the heavenly banquet.

And now instead of that teenaged aching emptiness

–that lonely longing–

there is hustle and bustle,

a thunderstorm of pitter patters

and never a moment alone.

Today that skinny girl

still red-headed and freckled,

but a little more wobbly around the middle,

has escaped for a moment alone with her dreams

in the same café where,

sitting with her bosom buddies

she discovered the presence

of her latest warm bundle–

a blue-eyed moon baby

whose smile bursts her chubby face open

to glow.

And the girl

now a mom of 8

(how did that happen??)

is learning to dig deeper

underneath the choas

into the quiet space inside

where her spirit resides

and speaks poetry in whispers

(if you’re quiet you can hear…).

The Spirit speaks to her

in dappled sunshine through tender new leaves

and the scent of lilacs.

She buries her face in them

and is transported back to highschool–

to the village where nature spoke to her so clearly

and she filled her notebooks with passionate scribbles,

longings for the fulness she now has

in abundance.

Mothers aren’t victims—they are warriors!

I get a lot of comments walking about with 7 kids. They’re usually not very original. “Oh, you’ve got your hands full!” “You must be busy!” “How do you do it, aren’t you tired?” “Do you have help?” etc. But one comment that stood out as a pleasant surprise was by a fellow mom who got on the bus after us one day. She had black spiky hair and tattoos and one young toddler in her stroller. I wasn’t sure what she’d think of me, taking up a quarter of the bus with my crew.

All yours?

Yeah.

You’re a warrior!

I have to say this really made my day. Yeah! A warrior is someone strong and brave, who is willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in. A warrior is to be admired, not pitied. Instead of thinking I was either crazy or some kind of poor victim, she honoured my decision to have children as an intentional life choice, and gave me a verbal thumbs up.

Moms are soldiers for love, fighting the battle against selfishness, affirming that life is worth living, that love is more precious that personal comfort, that heroes exist, that love is unconditional, that life is beautiful.

To pity a mother is disempowering and belittling. It acknowledges only the difficulty of her task while failing to see its sublime importance for society. Motherhood is the make or break place for people’s futures. The world 20 years from now depends on the mothers of today. This isn’t to put more pressure on mom’s who already always worry about doing enough. It’s to cheer them on, and say, “Hey, all these sacrifices are worth it! You truly make the world a better place!” A world without mothers would be cold and empty, literally and figuratively.

But we forget this. Sometimes at the end of a long day of caring for kids, worn out from all the giving, a mom can feel inadequate, and only focus on the things that went wrong, the things that didn’t get done, or how incredibly hard it was to do what was done. But finding a challenging job hard doesn’t mean you’re bad at it. Think of a soldier in the trenches, fighting all day to keep his ground, surrounded by chaotic noise, inching forward through the mud. If at the end of the day he is messy and exhausted, it’s because he has done his duty…and fought bravely without giving up. He should be, if he had the energy, happy and proud. It’s the same with a mom. If at night you’re tired from caring and feeding and cleaning your troops and your shirt is covered in milk the baby spat up, know you’re doing it right.

Perhaps the only medals you’ll receive are stickers the toddler decorated you with but you’re not in it for the glory. You arrive at the end of the day empty, but not because you’re poor or worthless, but because you’ve spent yourself so generously, and have given so much. Someone once said that the only things you truly keep are the ones you give away…so also in this irony of self-giving you find yourself, stronger and braver and more generous than you were before this adventure began.

But hopefully by having a better appreciation for the dignity of your task, you will also realize the importance of taking care of yourself as well. No one would think of telling a firefighter or a police officer to wear a dirty uniform and skip breakfast in order to focus more on saving people, for they need to be alert and properly equipped for their jobs. So do we! So hop in the shower, make your favourite meals, go for sanity dates with your mom buddies, and keep doing an awesome job bringing up the future citizens of the world.

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

“How do you do it?” An honest answer from a mom of 6. 


This is a question I get a lot as a mother of a large family. “Six kids! How do you do it?” And it’s hard to know exactly how to answer. People sometimes look at you like you’re some kind of rock star, or insane person…or both. It’s kind of embarrassing. Usually I just say something like: “Oh, you know…prayer,  chocolate, and great mom buddies.” 
You get answers like, “Well, better you than me. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the patience.” 

As if I have a magic unending supply if it myself. 

So sometimes I feel like answering the “how you do it” question with something more like, “Terribly! My kids haven’t had matching socks in years… How about yourself?” But then…I’m already freaky enough…

So what is the real answer, and why? To get there let me tell you a story of a man who inspired me a lot. He was a Polish priest who was very humble, very gentle, and very brave. He was quiet, unassuming, and attentive to everyone he met. But above all, he loved to a heroic degree. He loved beyond the capacity of the human heart, because the love of God infused his life and broke it open. He loved, as my kids might say, “Up to the sky!” This man died when he offered his life in return for a stranger in the concentration camps, who was spared the torment of the starvation bunker. That young man he saved lived and was I believe reunited with his family, for whose sake he had pleaded to live. 

The man who saved him was St. Maximilian Kolbe, ands when I read his story I was so moved. “I want to love like that,” I thought, “but there’s no way I can on my own.” And that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. That’s where grace takes over and lifts our small efforts Heavenward. So every day, in the midst of all the small and large sacrifices of raising a family, I rely not on my own virtue, strength or talent, but on the ever present, merciful love of God. 

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me…

Each day I try, make mistakes, lose my cool, have moments of sweetness, little successes and big failures, but without giving up. Beginning again and again. Trying to pour out love from a heart cracked open…and from my open hands reaching out for grace. 

Family life is a beautiful crucible..a place to be purified and to grow in love. But then this is my goal, remember–to love to heroic degree. To love beyond my natural human capacity, because the love of God overflows from my imperfect, struggling heart–the heart of a mother who gives, and of a daughter who receives daily from God the strength to carry on.


PS Next time I’ll share a few of my practical survival tips to lighten the load, like ordering in groceries, hiring cleaners, having regular mommy dates and also the importance of smiling!