Massaging in Balance

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Two years ago we strolled down Hughson Ave, moving through the bustle and heat of the revived Fruit and Nut Festival. Chatting with vendors, considering trinkets for the children, shaking bags of cream into a sweet confection, I paused in front of the Hughson Chiropractic Center for some shade. Thinking of my spinal curvature (scoliosis) diagnosed at age 12, I laughed to myself at the model spine on display in their booth. Claudia, a massage therapist at the Chiropractic Center made her pitch. She saw I was great with child, there was no mistaking that, and encouraged a prenatal massage. Only $20 for the first time visit, the offer read weekly on a sign on the sidewalk outside the little house of chiropractic.

In a friendly and easy manner, she kept up the pitch. I was torn. In my life, I experienced two massages from which I received no benefit. This pregnancy weighed on me. Back pain made walking difficult and limited my exercise. When my husband encouraged me to pamper myself, I gave in. Only $20 for a gift certificate, I purchased it and could schedule later. After my first massage at the Hughson Chiropractic Center, I was hooked. This indulgence gave me a moment of freedom from the physical burden of pregnancy and supported me in the stress of events following that pregnancy.

There are many ways to approach anxiety. Cognitive approaches deal with the way our thoughts contribute to anxiety. I try to capture those automatic negative thoughts that arise without my willing them, reframe them to something more balanced and realistic. Life is often not as black and white as our instincts tell us. Anxiety and stress activate an interior flight or fight response. Adrenaline and cortisol surge in order to put our bodies on high alert and prepare for action. When the setting does not call for this, as in generalized anxiety (an increasingly common experience for Americans) we become hyper-vigilant, edgy or antsy. Exercise can help relieve some of that tension created by these hormones. It can also keep our bodies calmer for the rest of the day or evening. Even with those two approaches, reframing thoughts and releasing energy, the body likely still needs a calming intervention.

Deep breathing is the go to exercise anyone can learn. Breathing in through the nose, slow enough to count to five, holding for a second and breathing out through the mouth, 1…2…3…4…5. Progressive relaxation is a technique that targets muscle tension. Massage is another option to help work out the cumulative effects of hormones signaling muscles to contract and prepare for action when there is no action to take, when we experience anxiety.

It is part the whole concept of self-care. American are notorious for needing self-care, neglecting self-care, or over-indulging in self-care (and subsequently avoiding self-giving). Life in this society is not naturally structured in a way that encourages the balance relationships and life require. Our gathering spaces are in our backyards, fenced in with five-foot privacy fences. We work 8 hours a day with an hour of driving, or stay-at-home with children, with the self-imposed pressure that comes from Pinterest-perfect fantasies of housekeeping. We have no communal siesta time, no holiday when work ceases, no time for afternoon chai. Everything requires going and doing. This structure requires us to be intentional about rest and leisure. Our brains need time to recharge. Children start to go a little wild when overscheduled. Adults do the same, but it comes out in anxiety, anger or depression, rather than hyperactivity and defiance.

What do you need in order to create more balance in your life? If the concept of self-care that includes massage or an afternoon nap is too indulgent, consider what is right for you. What are the obstacles? Self-care should not come at the expense of our life and our relationships, but appropriately build into them. If that seems impossible, maybe some intentionality is missing. We must learn our limits, create the boundaries we need, and prioritize the sigh of relief that comes from feeling good again. It is part of being human. It is part of the balance needed to live the good life.

Breathing air into ideas: thoughts on the need for community

We need community! When we lived in Virgina, our family experienced life within an exceptional community. It is what happens in academia. Individuals, like minded or not, but like-passioned, live and work near each other, exchange ideas, develop their thoughts through discussion. It is a wonderful experience. After the birth of our first child, it became clear that I could not continue full time studies. Therefore, we closed up shop after I received my M.S. in Clinical Psychology at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, and we moved home. Home, home. In my little novella about a girl and her king, he takes her home “inside the walls” into a world of simplicity and humility. When I wrote that I was 19, and was in the process of transitioning from missionary work to life at home. It was a spiritual transition, from a daily life focused on nothing but God, his riches, suffering and service, to a daily life focused on family interactions, work and study…real life, as it were. When we lived in Virginia, it was a cultural Mecca. But we were called to leave.

Books like The Little Way of Ruthie Leming helped me along. What is that longing for the big city, the culture, the arts, the shopping if not a search for pleasure? The greater way lies in the narrower way, through family, relationships, and our roots. What will matter more in the end? You cannot build the same relationships in a metropolitan maze as you can in a small town neighborhood where, ahem, everyone knows your name.

Now I find myself still longing. We are exceedingly happy here, more happy than we’ll ever deserve. We are close to family and my family is part of our regular life. We have steady work, thanks be to God. We have found a parish where we feel at home and finally, after three years have managed to invite a priest to our home (the associate pastor of that parish no less, a sign, I think). The book club I proposed in an earlier post is, electronically, taking place with a group of women I know from around the country. We write when we can, and how it all works will smooth itself out, but more to the point for myself, I’ve finished two books because of it. I’m crafting again, and loving it. Writing as well, as you know. Our home is beautiful, our neighbors are wonderful. Why should I long for more? Isn’t it wrong or ungrateful?

I don’t think it is and here is why. My husband and I passionate people. When I did missionary work, my teammates pointed out to me my extensive use of the word “love.” I love waterfalls; I love peppermint ice cream. Now that I have a four-year old imitator in all I do and say, I realize I also “hate” a lot. I hate this seat belt (that gets stuck); I hate these shutters (that break easily and cannot be fixed). I feel strongly. As far as temperaments go I am choleric-melancholic and my husband is melancholic-phlegmatic. We feel deeply.

We discuss. We exchange ideas. But since we are like-minded on the things that matter most (we married each other after all), and in our discussions go deeper on this path together, as a married-couple journey, which is wonderful, we are not challenged enough. It is better to have one’s ideas tested and threatened by those who think differently. Then we must adapt and our ideas truly grow. Ideas in captivity, in a closed safe environment become weak once they face a threat in the real world.

It’s not only good intellectually but an absolutely must spiritually:

Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote in a Christmas homily, those who are rich in knowledge “have to do a great deal of gymnastics to extricate themselves from their neat and tidy concepts, opinions, perspectives, experiences and worldviews” before they can approach in humble faith “the naked earth where the Child lies in the crib.” And then, at the crib, they must offer their “intellectual riches . . . to holy poverty,” accepting “the inner poverty of all human knowledge [in order to find] their way to the divine poverty.” (from George Weigal’s article “Christmas and the humbling of the Wise Men”)

Upon our return from Virginia, my friend and ministry-colleague and I began a lecture series called the John Paul II Lectures for the New Evangelization. The goal was to create a forum for intellectual discussion and creativity, our own Inklings. I had just one child born at the time. Now I have three. My friend moved, returned, married. The future is unclear. I think a more informal setting would be better, perhaps in our homes for discussion, drinking, and camaraderie.

My husband had a similar idea, but in his own field. Cantus cum cervisia, chant and beer. A group of men could gather, chant some old hymns, then drink good beer together and commune. Though he found some men interested, again with the children, the idea never got off the ground.

We are dissatisfied with our home and the incredible gifts God has given us. But we long to grow in wisdom and virtue, so we continue to seek. We shall see what the New Year holds.


Merry Christmas!

I hope you all are having an amazing holiday. I’m taking these moments before nap time to reflect on what has taken place today and yesterday. We decided early on we would attend Christmas Eve mass. I desired a concrete beginning of Christmas for the children. Following Catholic traditions which follow Jewish tradition, feasts days begin at sundown the evening before. My husband and I, in our eagerness to celebrate have ever followed this tradition as a couple. A concrete beginning. We did not plan to attend mass at our regular parish, as it was a bilingual mass, which I assume is only pleasant for those who speak both English and Spanish. Or perhaps it is less pleasant for them since it is so very repetitive.

We went to mass and since our children have early bedtimes and are accustomed to morning mass, mass was a wild blend of gymnastics and scolding. It was difficult but a couple I remembered from 15 years ago sat behind us and they enjoyed the children and affirmed us after mass for how well we’re doing with them. If you ever sit next to a wild family, these words are a special blessing to a tired parent’s ears.

After mass we went for dinner at my parent’s house. A small gathering, it consisted of our family of five, my parents and my grandmother. She is a Chinese woman, raised in a British boarding school, married to an American of Greek-German heritage, who we call Yia Yia, which is Greek for grandmother. The gatherings are simple. I’ve stopped planning menus for my mother, as we have our own menus and events to plan. I observe her patiently waiting to see what will take place each holiday while we settle our plans. What we can and cannot do continues to evolve. Our life is growing fuller and the life of my parents’ grows quieter. They are grateful for our children, for the new life and new energy. My dad shows a special affection for time spent with the kiddos.

My husband intoned the Christmas Proclamation at the midnight mass. We saw this as a great honor. He laid down for an hour. I fell asleep. He sneaked out at 10:30 as I nursed the baby, intoned successfully and came back by 11:30 in time to sooth his crying boy, inconsolable without his father.


This morning my 4-year old woke up, stood in her doorway and said sadly, “Santa didn’t come.” I imagine she thought he would come to her room or that she would hear him or see him. She went with great rejoicing as she saw the cookies eaten, milk drunk and stockings filled. The morning was one delight after another for this child as she filled her “fancy bun” with bows and wore her Christmas dress all morning.

Upon rising I saw what a mess our house was and developed anxiety about the approaching brunch with my family. I thought it would be easier to host a brunch since we would not have to pack up the children. But when you neglect cleaning, forget to buy groceries and have three small children, nothing is as you plan. It all came together with a delicious meal of Toad in the Hole (recipe by Williams-Sonoma), sliced apple, and my husband’s version of saved-after-proofing-too-much brioche.

Now he assembles a toy work bench from IKEA, the children will sleep soon and in the afternoon we’ll attend my husband’s family gathering. I’ve learned to appreciate his family, their authenticity, relaxed expectations, and nonjudgmental love.

Last night I wished for a moment of reflection. The trite um-pah-pah music hurt my head. We turned up the volume on Silent Night sung by the Benedictines of Mary and sat silently taking it in. No more complaining, no stress. Now in the quiet moment of my husband assembling a toy and Christmas music in the background, my heart is quieted, my soul opens up in gratitude for the gifts we have, the gifts we are able to give each other, and the gift of Christ himself, who gave himself without reserve, and calls us to do the same.

So a Merry Christmas to all! I pray you have more than one moment of reflection today. God bless you.


Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Three


Part 3: Below are more quotes and reflections on this section in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Words on how now we need never be alone – truer now than ever before. So many distractions, we have endless distractions to keep us occupied. Her writing calms my breathing. I feel I am at the ocean, with the sounds of the waves in the background.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.

  • I love my work but I feel drained. Drained from being with people all day, from being “on,” from giving and thinking and perceiving. Drained from being in an office, the appearance of which I cannot alter beyond a program poster I find attractive and a little postcard of Van Gogh’s “First Steps.” I come home and although I ache to be with my children, I seek asylum. But then I err. Instead of seeking prayer or reading in order to be truly alone with myself, I go online, pinterest, facebook, hostess with the mostess. I find I am not refreshed.

The need to fill the pitcher to the brim, rather than spill out in driblets.

The artist, naturally, always resents giving himself in small drops.

  • I feel so selfish. I gave in driblets, again and again. Yell at the child, step away, pray for patience, come back ready to be calm and controlled. Another incident, another whine, another act of toddler resistance, ahem, toddler independence and I fall right back again. I have not thought of this act of allowing the pitcher to fill to the brim.

I believe that what a woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly.

  • I find some comfort in that I do give myself purposely. I am trying to make things better. Intentionality drives me. Putting together the home, creating routine, establishing discipline.
  • Yet still, I have been purposeless these days. I have felt buried under it all. The constant whining, the battles, the inability to please and motivate.

We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as man does in his work.

  • I feel this. At work, the impact is very clear. My clients are very open to what we are about. At home, progress is so…so…spiritual, intangible. Beyond maintaining hygiene and decency, I do not feel like I see progress. I hear others praise my child, but feel she gives the worst to me. So it is draining. That phrase makes so much more sense in the context of what the author writes about. Going down the drain. Purposeless, driblets.

Purposeful giving is not as apt to deplete one’s resources; it belongs to that natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give.

  • Yes, I feel that at work, and I feel it with my younger children because it is so easy to delight them. My eldest needs my attention. She needs more purposeful giving. I can get away with driblets with the infant and the toddler, they need only my body (or so it feels) for nursing or reading or play. The boy is so unaware. It takes so little to amuse him. But the eldest, she needs companionship, someone to talk to, to smile at her. If I could just get some time alone with her.
  • I went to mass today by myself. I entered aching, ready for tears but resistant because I will no longer cry in public, scolding myself that I have a good life, a light cross and no excuse to indulge public tears, making others think, I don’t know, that someone may have died. When the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, my heart opened up. Christ was coming. I felt renewed by the end of it all, albeit not magically.

Santa Cruz Mission chapel3

No longer fed by a feeling of indispensability or purposefulness, we are hungry, and not knowing what we are hungry for, we fill up the void with endless distractions, always at hand—unnecessary errands, compulsive duties, social niceties.

  • She wrote this in the 1950’s and yet it more true now. We have truly endless distractions. We look for meaning in projects. Or worse, we look for an endless supply of criticisms of self for all the things I cannot do. Have I not engaged in that here? We should be realistic. We should not coddle ourselves. I hate the self-esteem movement. But we should not waste time. We should look at the source.
  • We need to see solitude as necessary.

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of the whole web of human relationships.

  • So what if I allowed myself to heal? What if for one hour a week I took my child out for a coffee (milk in her case) and we chatted as only we ladies can do. What if I finally took the time to go to adoration. I never desired alone time before I had children. I embraced marriage and the constant companionship. I struggled when my husband needed his time alone because I then felt lonely. But I had no project, nothing to create or to love.
  • I see better now. Now, I say with smile, that I have begun writing again.

The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities.

  • I knew reading would quiet my soul, my anxiety. I know it still. Writing, thinking, laying out my thoughts as I have done here, that has really reached into the depth and brought me to life again.

Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think unwittingly lost. In other times, women had in their lives more forces which center them whether or not they realized it… their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone…Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even the humble kinds…must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at super-markets, or doing housework with mechanical aids.

  • I have never thought of this before and so it amazes me. My husband seeks creative pursuits in all corners: gardening, bread baking, composing, teaching our children. I see his delight in it and understand that he loves to see the finished product. Yet still I never personally derived the same pleasure from those things. My creativity centered more on aesthetics: the home, the flower arrangement, the table setting. With my engagement online I am challenging myself to use my camera properly again, to write poetically again.



  • We have become the chauffeur. The eldest goes to preschool every day for three hours each day. We take her to and fro. I feel better now that I am using a bike and trailer for some of it. I can see what the author is saying.
  • Yet still I fear the time alone, the time without distraction because it is so difficult to get my mind to work again. I am sleep deprived. For the fourth year I am sleep deprived. Because of anxiety it is difficult to fall asleep. Because of my nature, being easily stimulated, after 4am it is difficult to stay asleep. Nursing and oxytocin act as a drug to induce me to sleep. Sometimes I cannot fall asleep until I have nursed her. I am sleep deprived. Some days I look for passive engagement. I claim I seek intelligent thought. Perhaps all this time, it is time alone I seek to allow my thoughts to full develop. Passive engagement was only a mere distraction.

She must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today… it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.

Don’t I seek a magical solution? I think: what if this is it? What is some time alone were the secret to being happy and fulfilled? I know I feel something more complete in my since I began to write more seriously. I am motivated when I see more people following what I write.

This book is opening doors.

I am an extrovert. I was lonely as a child, living in the country, always alone, a latch key child. I wrote, I thought, I imagined. When I did missionary work I discovered so much about myself. I loved to be with people. I was not an introvert but felt energized by company. I was an artist, more at home with host-families in Oregon than my less artistically-inclined, albeit wonderful, teammates.

I’ve taken this for granted. I do not want to do so anymore. Time alone, to think and to write. My first love. I wrote short stories in grade school. I began “novels” in sixth grade. I completed my last work at age 19. But writing has ever been one of my great loves

So here we are, the book and I. Something strange and new is opening up for me. I am excited to reach Part Four.


  • Tomorrow she and I will have a painting date after preschool.


Reflections on Gift from the Sea, Part Two

With a small group of ladies, I am reading Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We begin by noting the quotes that resonated with us and why. I will share them with you now.

Capitola beach 10

I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core of my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.

  • This is my desire as well and has been for some time.

I mean to live a simple life…but I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.

  • I struggle with this. I want a simple, uncluttered life, yet I grew up surrounded by the act and encouragement of accumulation. I want it, but I always want things. I am attached to things. Then I struggle not to condemn myself for that (condemnation was a toxic struggle for me when I was younger). When I read this woman, who I know nothing about, and hear her voice the same desires and the same yearnings in a poetic voice that resonates with me, saying, I am like her, she is like me, and then I hear her say her frame of life does not foster simplicity, then I hear her say “it is okay. You desire it, but it is okay that you do not possess it in the way you think you should.” With the review of just a few pages, she became a comforting mother for me. I did not expect to find that in these pages.

Her description of a life of multiplicity. “And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude; it is the life of millions of women in America.”

  • What is this? Am I not alone in this longing and in this struggle?

But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be.

  • Again I read her example to me and it is a consolation. I would not want to be. It is true. I desire it and yet I do not want it fully. Because I want my shell to be beautiful. She describes her actions to make her “little seashell house” beautiful. It is a simple beautiful. We can be active to do this, but in a simple manner, with that spirit of the sea.

Yet the problem is particularly and essentially woman’s. Distraction is, always has been, and probably always will be, inherent in woman’s life. For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. We must be open to all points of the compass…how desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint—the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

  • It is something true to woman. And when I read this I feel that I can I see myself more clearly. Yes this is something about me, deep at my core. My interests, my many, many interests which cannot be expressed in a single profession or project. My visions blurs a little less. It is something of woman. And isn’t it? I look around me and see the women in my life in a new light, a little more clearly. This facet of my personality, that it is multi-faceted it not something that sets me apart, but is something that helps me to be part of something greater.

It is not limited to our present civilization, though we are faced with it now in an exaggerated form. It has always been one of the pitfalls of mankind.

  • Ah how true this is! And now that many years have passed since she wrote this how much more painfully true this is today! We not only have a multiplicity of things, we are enslaved by them, compulsively checking and checking and checking. Bored, and so we check. A dull moment, a thought, a question comes to mind, and so we check. A ping, and then we check. It helps with directions, it simplifies life. But it increases the buzzing and the distractions and harms in the way it is meant to help us. We are even deeper in this sickness than in her day because of our glorious technological revolution.

Capitola waves

“To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say—is it necessary?”

  • Thus I come to the conviction I feel most deeply from this passage. These last words echo in my mind. “Is it necessary?” I read a spiritual exercise online wherein a woman laid out the opposing vision to the woman of Proverbs 31. What stayed with me is the description of the woman who spends the money her husband has earned. I spend too much money. I want things, distractions. I want to take my worth in what I wear. I want to be beautiful. I do acknowledge I enjoy the art of fashion and some things are simply the artistic exercise of putting things together, much like I enjoy in my home or on a table for a party. But if that were all I would be more content than I am…always looking, always distracted, always wanting more.
  • And with the urge to condemn myself I might have stopped there, but I come back to the act of decorating her seashell home. I do not have to live the life of a nun when I am a wife and mother. Elizabeth Scalia, who I read devotedly, debated over the purchase of a purse and the struggle of desire and materialism. She comes to a conclusion. She purchased two purses. If one were perfect, she would simply return one and keep the other. Neither are perfect, and rather than continue searching for the perfect one, she accepts this. She will use one for summer and one for winter. They have a function. They cannot be perfect. She is not absorbed by materialism feeling they will answer every need.
  • I have to remind myself it is okay. There is a middle road and that is what I am called to. I am still learning. In a few years I will come back around again and need to hear these words again, because I will have forgotten them once more. To me that is grace, for the author, it is the call of the sea, bringing us back to where we belong. It is a gift from the sea.


Middle Class Illusions

How do American couples make it work? By working. The income gap between those on the lower rungs of the income ladder and those on the higher rungs has been increasing over time and is now the greatest that we’ve seen.

Yet we haven’t shed our sentiments about the American middle class and making it. We get educated, go to college and start looking for a mate. If you’re Catholic you may throw a year or two of “discernment” in there, which means, for some, wandering around waiting for God to tell you what you are meant to do, and for others, active exploration of the priesthood or religious life. Quite likely we all went through a little of both stages, I think.

And then if God calls you to marriage and you meet the mate of your dreams (or your greatest compatibility, perspective changes depending on your personality) then you date or court, engage, and tie the knot. My guess is that at this point it is common for both spouses to start this adventure off with two jobs, two incomes. Readiness and ability to have children varies by couple, of course.

A heavily criticized trend when the economy took a nosedive was the bad habit of Americans to live outside their means. Did anyone else out there grow up with a family that praised middle class lifestyle, saving, preparing for retirement, owning a home, not overusing credit cards? So let’s suppose you’ve played it smart, got married, and lived totally within your means. You’re achieving your dreams. It works great.

So supposing you’ve followed the standard path, the ideal path. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…

Now what? We’ve set ourselves up with a lifestyle that requires two incomes but then a baby comes. Now either it goes down to one income or one of those incomes get seriously depleted by childcare expenses…or…the extended family gets involved.

There are many different experiences out there. In my upbringing, nether the concept of the grandparents watching the grandchildren nor was one parent staying home imaginable. Paid childcare was the option that fit the image of middle class lifestyle with which I was raised. Because you have to keep working in order to save for retirement and buy your own home, right? You have to do it independently, on your own two feet, right? Owe nothing to anyone.


But now, as a family, we aren’t doing it this way.

For the perspective of my upbringing, we are flipping it on its head. I work half-time. My husband works half or three-quarters-time. One of us is always home with the kids. His goal is to have enough students to provide all our income. I’m not sure yet what I want to do. We rent. But we rent from my parents who bought a second home, so it’s like our home. Is this uncommon? An Indian friend tells us in his culture it’s quite common. It is not so common here, although anyone I talk to who is my age agrees its fantastic because in our professional fields at our age owning a home and having kids is a pipe dream.

How is society structured? With the nuclear family far away from the extended family, living their life, making their decisions, finding fulfillment. We move to big cities, art and culture, have one or two children and make a decision to stop there and celebrate ourselves and the life we’ve built up. It was counter-cultural to me that we should choose to come back, live in a small town and be happy. Our lifestyle isn’t possible because our life is intertwined with my parents. They are a regular part of my children’s lives.

And its’ neat.

So we are low income, but it doesn’t feel like we are because we have help and resources located within the larger family network.

For many Americans, this is impossible. Which is why I found this article by Artur Rosman so fascinating, calling parishes to step up and fill in the gaps left by absent or distant extended families through free childcare, food and monetary assistance. Tying that together with this concept of the “lying in” period of women postpartum assisted by community women or family members and the whole lifestyle, to me, makes sense.

Without this help I just can’t see how a family can raise their children and be able to see them more than just an hour or two each day and on weekends. It’s sounds difficult and painful to me.

I also grew up in surrounded by conservative Republican messages. It is hard to me to empty my mind of the criticisms of receiving free handouts. But I have to. Because I see that we are happy, terribly happy and feel a sense of balance I imagine is lacking for those who have to go the other route of doing it all on their own. I don’t think we were meant for that, but unfortunately it’s been held up as a virtue to do so. The rugged, individual, isolated American. It’s something we desperately need to learn from other cultures during those diversity seminars and celebrations.

Let’s build a better community. Let’s use the Church to do it. And let’s accept help knowing it doesn’t have to hurt our pride because it’s in us integrally to be part of a community. The middle class is a fading illusion. And the happy family? There’s still hope for that. I do believe there is. But it takes a village to make it work.


Postscript: please note: I am not in any way calling on the government to step in and be the extended family. If family in Washington State can’t do it, I just don’t think there’s any way strangers in Washington D.C. can do it without reducing the person to an object/number and diminishing their dignity.

Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Sophia Kramskaya Reading

As a society we have changed. In order to secure a livable wage, one must have a college degree. In order to advance in one’s field and make a greater than livable wage, one must have a master’s degree. These wages can be earned without the degree, but often they involve some great physical strain or peril in the type of work required. It is all too common in this modern American society to trust that he who holds the degree has the knowledge to judge what those lesser individuals can judge. He is held on a pedestal. He has this mysterious knowledge others do not have. My goodness, he is licensed in, something. It doesn’t matter what.

So they form the elite class. If Mrs. Obama doesn’t know how to feed her children, is there any hope for the uneducated masses?


They form the meritocracy. Instead of an aristocracy, where one is born into a privileged position, these intellectual higher-ups have used their merit to become the ruling class. They determine what our children should eat (Mrs. Obama’s lunch program), what they should learn (common core applied nationally), how many children they should have, even if they live in Africa (a la the cultural imperialism of Melinda Gates). That a person should be Ivy League education makes him or her the greater judge is absurd, especially since determining the needs of any human person requires creativity, flexibility and risk, and students at Ivy League schools are showing less and less of this.

What does this have to do with stay-at-home-mothers? The title of this post suggests a relationship of some kind. I met a mother once who advocated I become a stay-at-home-mother. I told her I wanted to work with clients in a therapeutic setting (I didn’t use such fancy words then). She told me I can use the skills I gain from any degree with my children. True enough. I can. I can be reflective, use smart words, guide and mold their development with appropriate rewards and punishments, but I will hopefully not be working with victims of trauma in that setting. Ordinarily, there are lots of more advanced skills and learned judgment that just simply are not used day-to-day in the rearing of a four-year old, two-year old and infant.

So what’s a mom to do? Study, I say. Read.


Imagine that. I tend to spend more time on the internet than is healthy simply because I do not have to hold my computer. I can hold my infant and use my eyes without requiring my hands, except for the periodic mouse scroll. I see Moms’ groups leading lovely bible studies focused on motherhood, but hear less about Moms’ groups engaging in academically rigorous study together. We do not need to be engaged in formal education or work in order to advance intellectually.


Perhaps it’s too hard to find a topic of interest. One mom may be deeply engaged in the field of psychology, another in politics, another in theology, another in art. Or a mom may have hated school and be deeply engaged in the rearing of her children, not interested in academics. All these mothers come together either out of values or necessity. They are stay at home moms.

Here I would propose a new program that can bring mothers with diverse backgrounds together, and assist in their personal and intellectual development: a book club, an intellectual, deep, stimulating book club. If interests are too diverse, I propose a book club focused on good literature (aka, not Fifty Shades of Gray or the Twilight series, unless you’re focused on the cultural impact of so many children reading the Twilight Series, and yes, I know this was, like, 7 years ago).

No time to read a book?

Then I say:

Our personhood does not stop when we have children. Sometimes we know this. “I need alone time” and whatnot. Some mothers practice this with greater gusto and determination than others. Some mothers judge the practice of it in others as being selfish.

The reality is, just as we need to maintain our health as much as possible by sleeping and eating, so we also need exercise, physical and mental. As human beings we need to push ourselves. This could be by creating a schedule that masterfully manages five children, homeschooling and an infant. It could be by applying coping skills, psychotherapeutic techniques in the home while still managing to get dinner on the table. It could be playing delightfully with little rascals while keeping the house clean. It does not have to be academic. But for many, we need it in some way. Read a book. Create a schedule. Play. We need it all. And we need to prioritize it.

Moms come together: relational development.

They read: intellectual development.

They do so without toddler interruptions: emotional coping by taking a break from chaos.

They learn: professional/personal development depending on the topic.

If reading great literature: empathy develops, which makes for a better mother.

If the topic is spiritual or good literature, the application of the topic/reflections to one’s life: moral development.

The deeper the reading the more we flex those brain muscles, the better adept we will be to meeting the chaotic and never ending needs of the little people in ours lives.

So start a book club! Make it a priority as you make sleeping a priority (which means sometimes other things take precedence, but by and large we maintain the effort to do it).


Life in Balance


For me, life is about balance. Just as in family systems therapy, I see life as a child’s mobile. Each piece is weighted strategically to create harmony as a hole. Were one piece to take on additional weight, or be robbed of its proper weight, the entire mobile would wobble and shake, attempting to find it’s proper balance and proportion. It could adjust, but it might look disfigured. To remedy it, other pieces could take on additional weight, say if the wounded string was cut. Or perhaps if the wounded string weight more than its fair share, the others would have to sacrifice. This is life to me. A series of checks and balances. This, for me, since I struggle with anxiety, is the way to survive.

What are the components?

–       The physical – which includes exercise, adequate sleep, good food and emotional wellness

–       The psychological – which includes a well-formed conscience and rational thinking

–       The social – familial, friendship, and communal ties here

–       Intellectual – learning, the acquisition of knowledge and practice of creativity

–       The environmental – clean surroundings that have some bit of silence

–       And the spiritual – communion with God, living in a state of grace, practicing devotions, living life with a sense of wonder and awe of the beauty of God’s creation, being in nature.

If we had that we’d have it all.


I am the mother of five children: three born, two in heaven (see my blog “The Madness of Miscarriage”). My first daughter will be four years old in October, my son will be two in November, my youngest reached three months of age yesterday. “Wow, you really have your hands full” is the mantra I hear repeated to me at the grocery store. I don’t mind it or see it as a sign of an anti-life culture because it’s just…so…true.

After our first was born, the physical weight was wacked like it’d never been wacked before. You can imagine. The social weight, however, was miraculously expanded by our becoming parents and learning to live for another person. It took creativity (the intellectual weight)

I see the same occurred as I reflect on the birth of our son. The social weight expanded and the physical deteriorated following his birth.

And what took place between the births? A slow, uphill climb to rebuild the spiritual, which needed a new location on the mobile because the social expanded so much, depleting my alone time and rigorous schedule; the environmental, learning to be a wife and mother with babies that have their own “stuff” and grow to make their own messes; and in time the physical . The psychological weight, for me, could be maintained by finding creative ways to support the physical weight (ha! In more ways than one, I had some weight to lose postpartum) and develop a routine for our family.

“Routine is beauty,” said Mark Berchum as he trained a new batch of missionaries to serve with the National Evangelization Team in 2003. Routine (a predictable order of events, not a schedule) gave me a sense of peace, expanded the hours of the day and helped me feel a sense of accomplishment. I had one chore a day. As a morning person, after cleaning up from breakfast, I completed my chore. My children learned to expect I would not be available for play at this time and seemed happily occupied while I worked.

Our routine was as follows:

–       Wake up and dress

–       Breakfast

–       Clean up

–       Morning chore

–       Lunch prep

–       Nap time – a project or more chores or nap to be completed here

–       Snack

–       Play time/walk with stroller

–       Dinner prep

–       Bedtime


My most recent pregnancy was the most physically difficult. I lost of my proactive chore schedule and was too tired to walk on most days. We also moved to a new environment that lacked signs of nature, felt unsafe at times, and was very noisy compared to our home in the country. Walking was unpleasant and tiring.


So now with three babes in tow, I’m still trying to learn. Instead of walking as my exercise I try to do some exercise routine first thing in the morning. I’m gradually coming back to doing chores and keeping the house clean (difficult though, because we moved and are still settling in). We have a beautiful, albeit small, yard and my parents’ house with their almond orchard is only two miles away (so we have some nature). Silence is the most difficult to come by these days, and probably the area that makes my husband and I suffer the most. I put a lot of my energy into making this house our own, making it beautiful by painting and decorating…for my sake and my family.



So life is always a work in progress. I believe if we’re living right, our life will keep changing and we’ll have to keep balancing. With each step, I ask God for guidance and grace. We’re getting our flow again, though I wish I could help my husband more with cooking. We’ll get there. Salads help.

What do you do to maintain balance in your life?