Some long days…

Some long days the baby cries

and the toddler screams

and the 5 year old seems to have

ants in his pants

and a megaphone around his neck.

Some long days

the toddler won’t nap

and the phone rings five times

during the quiet-time movie

and it seems nothing can wait

for you to just chill out and relax

for just an hour…even half an hour!

Some long days

the boys fill your kettle with pencil crayons

and draw on the bathroom door

and the baby wakes up

as soon as you begin the math lesson

and everyone moans and groans

and forgets how to round to the nearest ten.

Some long days you hit dinner time

with a sense of desperation…

“How long till bed?!”

and sing along to “The Muppets” soundtrack

in an attempt to feel that you’ve got

“Everything that I need, right in front of me.”

Some long days

the smartest thing you do

is have a glass of wine with dinner

and veto everything but laughter

as you listen to stories from the Vinyl Cafe

with the kids

who delight in the one

when Dave gets trapped in a sewer

after dropping down his keys

and gets mistaken for a monster by a little boy.

Some long days

the greatest relief is the feeling of your toddler

drooling on your shoulder

as you rock him to sleep early, to prevent any more fits.

Success! The little beast is quiet…

and you can actually read the others

“The Never-Ending Story” about Atreyu and Bastian,

the luck dragon Falcor and the childlike Empress,

until their eyes close and their breath gets deep and even.

Despite all the chaos,

all they’ll probably remember about today is

listening to stories with you

and falling asleep on the warmth of your lap.

Some long days

when the hours drag on,

remember you’re not alone

and try to end them with a smile…

Just keep picturing diving into bed

and sinking into the sweet relief of sleep!

Some long days, mamas,

you gotta keep your eye on the prize!

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.

Lent: on taking it one step at a time

Lent is here. It’s a time when many people choose to spend more time in reflection and prayer. It’s a time to come to grow on the inside. Like a bulb planted underground in the winter struggling through the cold dirt, we can struggle through the reality of our mistakes and imperfections, without losing hope. We can persevere like that little green shoot peeking out through the snow into the frosty air to find the sun. But all this requires patience, something our immediate-gratification-loving world is sorely lacking.

I got to thinking about patience this evening when I was trying to teach my daughter to draw a cube. She was trying again and again to make it look right, but it kept looking lopsided, like a tent.

“It’s all about getting the lines parallel,” I said. “You can’t draw it too fast, you have to go one line at a time focussing only on making it parallel to the one across from it. Then it looks straight.”

So she kept trying and filled pages with these 3-D boxes.

“Why can’t I get it right?” she asked. “I’ve done so many and they’re still not perfect!”

“It’s not about getting it perfect; it’s about practicing–building your drawing muscles so you can get better and better. And that’s why we do it with a pencil, so we can erase our mistakes, and readjust things to make it better.”

Isn’t it the same with our spiritual lives? We get easily frustrated with the time it takes to get things looking straight. We don’t want to be lopsided boxes, we just want to be that perfect cube right now! But that’s not how it works. We need to have the patience to make little strokes with our pencils, realizing we can erase our mistakes and readjust things every day. We can say sorry and begin again with new hope, that’s what Lent is all about.

Our lives are not written in stone, or even permanent ink, so we only need to humbly keep trying, while paying attention to the little things. Ultimately our lives are a picture made up of many tiny images. Every little line adds to this picture. So the only way to improve ourselves is by paying attention to the little things, readjusting day by day to try to make the picture that we want. Shaping our lives a little bit at a time, and trying to do so with patience, humour and love.

Of course, it helps if we know ahead of time what we want that picture to look like. This is where life goals come in, and knowing what kind of person we want to be helps us to take steps to get there. So having an ideal image to strive for—that perfect box, that amazing hero, that inspiring saint—can help us to break down that image into concrete pieces, and discover little positive habits that we can acquire to become not them, but the best version of ourselves.

Confidence Comes From a Place of Quiet


We live in a society filled with experts. There are specialists who are eager and willing to tell you how to do just about everything. Want to clean out your closet? Feed your kids well? Wear the right colour for your hair? Thrive in the workplace? There are likely dozens of e-courses, books and podcasts to teach you how. Let’s just hope they all agree…lest the conflicting “experts” cause more confusion and give you even less clarity. 

While the abundance of information is potentially enriching, I wonder what it does to our confidence to feel we need to consult an expert or extensively research every decision. Who are we, after all, to decide for ourselves? And are we actually doing anything right??

This kind of insecurity can rob us of peace. It’s impossible to follow everyone’s advice, in the same way it’s impossible to wash your hair with every kind of shampoo that claims to be best. It would make you crazy to try. So we have to calmly make choices and stand by them.  Nobody else knows how to be you. Remember this, and don’t go against your gut because something is currently trendy or thought to be essential. These things change all the time anyway. 

But to shut out these clamouring voices, we need to seek a place of quiet. To turn off all our many devices and remember what it’s like to hang out with ourselves. With no add breaks. No interruptions. Just our own thoughts, and if we listen carefully enough, that still, small voice that guides our heart. The company of the one true Expert, the One who made us and knows every fibre of our being…who knows what challenges, graces, and gifts we need to be truly happy. In this place, we can remember who we are and what’s really important. 


So as the busy fall season approaches with all its potential activities, try to ask yourself quietly: “Which of these will actually contribute to the well-being of my family?” “What do we actually feel called to do?” “Which of these would maybe look good on a resumé, but lead us to being overbooked, overstressed, and short on time to enjoy being together with those we love?” 

If you ask such things quietly, peacefully, and in an attitude of listening, chances are your heart will guide you. And acting from a place of quiet, you’ll have the confidence to stand by your decisions, despite the storm of “expert” opinions ever swirling around you. In that inner quiet, you’ll find the freedom to be you. 

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

The Power of Positive Speech

Do you remember the childhood rhyme, “I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you”? Well, apparently there is some truth to this. Happiness author Gretchen Rubin describes this phenomenon, called “spontaneous trait transference.”

Studies show that because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to me the traits I ascribe to other people. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’m linked to those qualities. What I say about other people sticks to me–even when I talk to someone who already knows me. So I do well to say only good things.” (The Happiness Project, pg 156)

No wonder we don’t like spending time with people who complain about others a lot! To solidify this image in your mind, think of it this way: every adjective that comes out of your mouth sticks to your face like ketchup (so hard to get off!). So saying: “My boss is so annoying, demanding, and thoughtless etc”…means all those characteristics are stuck on your face. Yuck. Really gonna need some baby wipes.

I started thinking about all this recently after noticing my older kids picking at the younger ones at the table. Like little parent parrots they repeated things like, “Chew with your mouth closed! Are you finishing that pickle? Eat your food and stop being fussy!”

Hmmm, if that’s the kind of parenting talk they hear a lot, that’s what they’ll imitate. Since it takes three positive comments to combat one negative one, I better up my ratios of positive comments dramatically! So as they griped at each other about fussy eating habits, I started talking about all sorts of things I liked. “This is good. I love pickles. It’s nice we’re having lunch together. I am so glad you got the groceries delivered; now we’re all set for the weekend. It will be fun to read stories after lunch,” etc. It felt a little silly but you’ve got to start somewhere!

I want my kids to be people who speak well of others, so I need to be a good example, even at home. Actually especially there, even though the long 24/7 shift makes it the hardest place to do so consistently.  Possibly my mother-in-law is now running to the store to buy me a year’s worth of duct tape…oh, well, perhaps there’s a back to school sale? 😉

 

 

It’s all about attitude!

The more I think and read about happiness, the more apparent it seems that it’s all about attitude. The way we look at things affects the way we feel about things and therefore how we respond to different situations. For example, the other day I was chatting with my close friend Monique on the phone and mildly complaining about a few of my kids being particularly contrary lately. It was disobeying in silly little things like being told not to playing in the new pop up laundry baskets lest they break (instead she put them on her head) or not going out down the icy back steps (she went out the front but came in up the back…grinning!). Instead of commiserating, Monique looked beyond the behavior and simply pointed out a different view. “Well, she is just asserting her independence in little things. She listens about the big stuff, right?” True enough.

That got me thinking about finding some more legitimate ways for the kids to assert independence, make positive choices and take responsibility. After all, these are skills we want our kids to develop for their future. One of the things I want to work on this year is learning some new recipes, so I thought I would let the kids flip through cookbooks and choose a new recipe before we ordered groceries from Save-On (which is such a life saver!). Perhaps helping choose a recipe will help them take more ownership for the new food instead of being so suspicious of it. A girl can dream, right? 😉

Another thing I did was make sure to spend a few minutes consciously playing with them…lego with the big girls, listening to a story read slowly by my 6-year-old, snuggling with the little ones…because a little undivided attention goes a long way to strengthening bonds. I am certainly more prone to cheerfully listen to someone who is affectionate with me, rather than dismissive and bossy. “Catch more flies with honey,” as they say!

Trying to be calm and positive certainly helps my day go better. Crazy Land is still chaotic and loud with 6 kids, but focussing on being happy within it helps me cope better and be a little more peaceful. I saw the fruits of that today. Last night my accountant hubby got home late from his epic year-end workload and wanted to visit a little after a long day crunching numbers and making tough decisions. Sometimes love means saying yes to that goofy zombie romance movie at midnight (Yes, there is actually such a film!). So of course in the morning was a pretty convincing zombie myself. But I had a choice…walk like one all morning and speak in growls, or tell myself it was a brand new day and not think about the  (lack of) night before. I put some cheerful morning music on You Tube, brewed the coffee and sang happy songs while I cleaned up from breakfast. I manged to fool myself into feeling energetic (so gullible!) and had a good day.

If I hadn’t made the conscious choice to embrace the day and be happy, I would’ve wasted it being tired and miserable. But focussing only on the negative blurs our perceptions and limits our vision. Reality is both light and shadows, and the contrast can enhance its beauty, if we just take a deep breath, pray and choose to see it that way. Look for the good and you will find it. It’s all about attitude!

Baby’s New Talents

One year olds are always bursting with curiosity and zest for life, and acquiring new talents daily. There are so many ways to make your family laugh, cry and generally go crazy when you’re one! 😉

Here are a few of my son’s new “skills:”

1. Climbing the stairs. Often. Like every time I turn around. And standing there triumphantly half way up and telling me all about it with a huge grin.

2. Standing up in his high chair. Also every time I turn around, and grinning again. This time covered in sticky sauces and waving a spoon.

3. Splashing his older siblings in the bath. Like a tiny happy water beast. And also cleaning the bathtub with the scrubbing brush.

4. Singing along with his siblings, especially to the Beatles’ song “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Just the “yeah, yeah” part, but with gusto!

5. Climbing on the bathroom stool and stealing his siblings’ toothbrushes to eagerly brush his few teeth. Very concerned about dental hygiene…sort of…

6. Blowing kisses. Pretty charming, and nice addition to “Baaa-byeee!”

7. Patting my back when I rock him on my shoulder– sigh!

8. Turning on the cd player and dancing. Head bopping and butt wiggling to the beat!

9. Enjoying books and pointing at the pictures. He is delighted when his big sisters or visiting relatives read to him.

10. Taking a few steps. After months of delightful ape-like skootching, he has discovered the conventional crawl and also braved a few steps on his two little feet as well.

To anyone concerned about their general fitness and heath I recommend always having a one year old around…It’s like having built in personal trainer 24/7, who is charmingly adorable and constantly in danger…such constant rescuing keeps you on your toes! But when all’s said and done there’s nothing like a snuggle with such a critter to fill your heart to the brim!