Pro-life, Pro-Family

ell isa read

One of those sweet moments in the midst of all the crazy that God, in his kindness, let me catch

This past Sunday, as I was walking back from communion at our early morning Mass, I noticed a young mom with two small children. The mother was holding a tiny newborn while also working to keep her toddler next to her.

I had a flash of admiration for this woman, here at Mass by herself with such young children, and just as I turned to head down the aisle back to my pew, I heard loud wailing from the little girl.

The cries continued and once I was back at my seat and moving to kneel, I noticed a friend of mine had stepped in to help. She was seated closer to the front of the church and clearly saw that the toddler’s meltdown was not going away. My friend walked over to the mother and offered to carry the little girl back to the cry room. The mother gratefully accepted.

It was such a simple thing, offering to carry that small child, but also brave and courageous. How many times do we see a mother struggling and hold back. We don’t want to intrude, we aren’t sure how we will be received, we don’t want to insert ourself or offend someone.

But in this instance, my friend pushed past all that doubt, got up out of her pew and walked over to help. She knew, because she had been there, what it’s like to feel helpless and overwhelmed. Like mothers everywhere, she recognized that sometimes you are just in over your head, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

After Mass I told my friend I was proud of her. She admitted she had all those normal doubts and reservations, but decided she was willing to risk it to get that mother through the difficult moment.

“That,” I said to my friend, “was one of the most pro-life acts I’ve ever seen.”

It seems silly to say, but I really believe it. In that moment, standing in the gap, my friend was the support and encouragement this young mom needed. She was there for her, in a desperate hour, not to say “what in the world were you thinking?” but to say “you’re going to be okay, you’re going to make it through.”

If you’ve never felt like you’re drowning in motherhood, that might sound crazy. But I’ve been there, in the deep, deep trenches, when I’m trapped with my brood or in over my head and someone offering me a life line is what has kept me going.

And lifelines can look different. Sometimes a lifeline is a friend telling you “it’s going to be okay. You’re going to make it.” Sometimes it’s a stranger helping you walk to the back of the church.

But in those moments, when someone is there to recognize you are low and that you need a hand to get up, that is the encouragement that can make or break you.

I went through a hard season, years ago, when I felt like every time I called a friend I was on the verge of tears. Or maybe already crying. I can’t remember the details of the season (maybe not a bad thing) except I had a lot of little boys in my life and felt overwhelmed on a regular basis. I was tired, I was worn thin.

I had good moments too, but what I remember about that season is that I started living in five-minute increments. “The next five minutes are going to be great, you can get through this.”

And what I needed in those days was someone encouraging me, being there for me with love and care. It takes someone being willing to speak truth and offer help, not to help you figure out how you can be better, but to tell you how wonderful you already are and you will indeed survive this challenging season.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

The Best Plan (for you)


My laundry system…might not work for everyone (but I swear by it!)

I had a strange conversation with my parents the other night that went something like this: “Do you think I’m doing a good job as a parent? Is the Family Balducci doing a good job as a unit?”

It’s silly to think I’d ask my parents this. They tell me all the time how proud they are, what a wonderful job Paul and I are doing. I’m blessed and lucky that my mom and dad have always been so generous with their love, so quick to encourage.

But it’s a funny thing I’m going through lately, being on the brink of something new. The territory of growing children, of no-longer-little babies. I find myself taking stock of everything I do as a mother, examining my methods and approaches to life. It’s not that I doubt myself, I’m just making sure.

This year we have a son graduating from high school, a son being confirmed and a son making First Communion. So many milestones and I feel like I’m standing on the edge of this cliff, about to enter a new season. And it has me thinking, a lot. Have we done our best? Do we do what’s right? Can we do better? Do I need to just relax?

I think a lot about the way I was raised, the kind of household my parents so ably managed. There were eight of us Swenson children, and I have vivid memories of daily family prayers and organized chore charts, of breakfast as a family and dinner together too. It was a tight ship my parents ran and I’m inspired by the job they did.

I’m inspired, but also tempted to compare. Because while I love so many things about the home of my youth, I recognize there are aspects of it that don’t work for me. There are ways my parents worked and functioned that don’t bring peace for me and Paul, methods that don’t work for our brood. As much as I hold it as an ideal, I can’t copy it completely.

It wasn’t until my candid discussion with my parents the other day that I realized exactly why that was. How I sometimes put pressure on myself to recreate something that was beautiful for the Family Swenson, but doesn’t completely work for the Family Balducci.

I’m able to see all the ways that I’ve tweaked their approach, and then melded that with Paul’s preferences, to create a system that works for us. My parents needed a system that worked for them, that complimented their schedule. My dad was the headmaster of the private school my siblings and I all attended; he came and went with us. And while he often had meetings after school, our family life included a schedule with very little flux.

I’m married to an attorney, someone who works completely different hours than an educator. And we have five boys in a row — which makes for a unique and interesting family dynamic. In our home, I’ve realized, we’ve created a system, a sense of order that works with those dynamics in mind — the way I approach mealtime and chore charts and so many other details is a reflection and me and Paul and our unique make-up as a family unit.

It’s such a relief to be at peace with where we are, to operate the way that works best for us. It’s not about a path of least resistance; it’s about a rhythm that makes sense. Comparing is good, but only when it inspires. If it leaves us feeling depleted and defeated, it’s time to reset our thinking.

Order brings peace, and schedules bring order. But those plans and details are here to serve us, not the other way around.

What matters most in parenting is humility and love. If I focus on that, if I’m open to being who God made me to be as a wife and mother, then I will continue to have peace and joy. I can only be me, I cannot be anyone else.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Observations on Life with (teenage) boys

food for days

Where the eating never stooooppppsss

1. The eating never stops. I don’t even know where to start in the Daily Circle of Life, but let’s just say the only time the kitchen is clean and not in use is when everyone is gone at school for the day. I treat that eight-hour time frame as the new Evening Peace. You know, that blessed chunk of time when all the babies are in bed and you clean the kitchen and go to bed and then you wake up and everything is just as you left it? With teens, that no longer exists. I go to bed and inevitably hear someone, a few minutes later, walk into the kitchen and pour some milk. And make a sandwich (which I don’t hear being made, but find evidence of the next morning). Lesson learned: take baby steps. I let the boys eat when they are hungry, but they need to clean up after themselves. I’m okay with dishes in the sink; don’t leave stuff all over the place, though.

2. There is a lot of talk of growing. Growth spurt that just happened, one that is in the near future. You are acutely aware of the inches, how those boys will (I’m not even exaggerating) come downstairs one morning and you can literally see that they grew overnight. And then there are lags and you wait and wonder. And so will your son. When will I grow again? How tall will I be? And it’s all this grand adventure, watching to see who they will become, as it unfolds in front of you.

3. It’s not as scary as you might imagine. I mean, ten years ago this version of me probably would have freaked me out. Boys, big teenage boys, coming and going. Being all around my house, eating all my food, driving my van, going to hit golf balls in the afternoon, just because. Wha? How can you manage it all? How do you keep track? You just…do. Somehow. Like mothers the world over, our little boys turn into young men and there is grace for it. Some days are more grace-filled than others, but you manage. You learn that you can’t treat a 16-year-old like an eleven-year-old. You have moments of grace and clarity when you realize it’s time to adjust the approach and you just do it. And you love it. Trust me on this. Paul and I will sometimes catch ourselves just beaming with pride and joy. These kids! What a delight.

4. There are some days when everything I just wrote in that last graph feels like a complete lie and total hogwash. Some days are hard and you question everything you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are even trying. Usually it’s just a flash of emotion, but just push through. It’s gonna be okay.

5. Another graph about food seems warranted. These boys! They eat A TON. But it’s not necessarily what you would think. It’s like, some meals they will devour everything in sight. Some nights not so much. But just buy the foods that you feel good about feeding your family, and they will figure out how to get it down the hatch (for me, I’ve gotten away from a lot of processed foods in part because of the health factor but really? Because I’m cheap. And a box of Froot Loops is gone in ten minutes flat. Might as well just burn the $3.97).

6. That’s all I’ve got. I’m off to sew buttons on a blue blazer (more life with teen boys!) because that becomes part of our school uniform in October. Also, I’m sure there is a new round of dirty socks to be picked up (by THEM, which means I need to direct that traffic as well).

7. Last thing: Don’t be afraid. This is advice I’m giving myself. Do everything out of love. Apologize when you mess up. And require that these kids do the same. Give them opportunities to earn your trust, and pray that whatever is going on under the radar will come to light. It always does!

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

bella bearIsabel came running into the kitchen yesterday, crying and deeply offended.

“What’s wrong,” I asked, to which she replied “Henry hit me in the nuts!”

She didn’t reply so much as sob the words, the statement of horrific indignity trailing out from deep within her soul.

“Honey,” I told her, “ummm….” and I wasn’t even sure where to begin. We don’t talk like that? You don’t have those? Henry shouldn’t ever hit you, but he definitely didn’t hit you there…

As it was, she was sort of pushed in the upper stomach by her brother, and the crimes again humanity didn’t stop there. I believe it was all over some kind of YouTube video of someone making flowers out of play-doh and if this isn’t starting to sound like a dream sequence straight out of a Disney cartoon (circa 1941) then I don’t know what is.

I’ve been reflecting on Isabel’s Strange Life (the title of my next book?) and all I can say is, “Lord, have mercy.” And I mean it in all of the ways.

On the way to school one morning this week, for some reason I let her use my phone to watch something (not that I’m against screen time, but I try to avoid the habit of my phone being part of the deal, etc etc) and she asked me to help her find [insert uber-girly themed video with singing]. When I was able to get the video she wanted, she leaned forward from her seat behind mine in the van. “Thanks,” she said, “gimme five.” And I looked in the rear-view to see her hand extended toward my arm-rest, waiting for the slap.

All girl. With lots of boy influences.

This weekend was Isabel’s turn to bring home the class “mascot” to spend some time with us. Bella the Bear will report back Monday morning with a write-up of her time with the Family Balducci, and I’m trying to decide just how honest we are willing to be. Bella might not be free to share about everything that went on this weekend, but then again, maybe she should.

The previous two entries in the notebook include fun-times with other classmates, things like “riding in a golf cart!” and “going to church to sing songs about Jesus.” I think we will be sure to include some spirituality and fun as well, but I’m musing on how much Bella might want to just keep to herself. We might need to have a chat.

For starters, she had been home with our entire family less than an hour before I caught Bella on the ROOF OF THE VAN with Isabel’s seven-year-old brother. The brother who is going through a phase right now of “let’s climb on the roof of the van. In our socks.”

Last night I bet I woke up about five times with the image of Henry up on the van and I spent the evening trying to shake it (change the mental channel! Change it!). Mostly because at ten o’clock last night our neighbor Arlene called us because she forgot to say anything earlier.

“Paul,” I could hear her thick New England accent through the phone, “I looked out and Henry was jumping up and down like it was a MATTRESS!”

Yes, that image. It haunted me (I made a comment on someone’s instagram yesterday, as she noted how scary it was to watch her very young boys be daring at the park, that I’m getting worse about a spirit of adventure as I get older; you can see why). It haunted me the whole rest of the night. We don’t condone that sort of behavior, it won’t (Lord, please) happen again.

But out there in the midst of all that was Bella, the Class Bear, playing possum on the roof of the van. And Isabel, fiercely protective of her weekend charge, stuck on the windshield unable to climb higher.

“Bella!” she cried, “BELLA!!!” Henry jumped and Bella lay lifeless and Isabel cried and Arlene watched (from across the street) and I walked out to find this whole display of drama played out in my driveway and all I could think was “if Bella tells the teacher, we are in trouble.”

Later that evening, I found Henry and Isabel and Bella in our other driveway, the one with the basketball court. This time they had fashioned a piñata using a bungee cord and… (wait for it) a metal Razor scooter. Henry had connected the scooter to the bungee cord, lifted the basketball goal to its highest setting and watched as the scooter lifted off the ground and was swinging in the air. He proceeded to whack at the scooter like we were at a real, live birthday party. Except we were in the driveway, hitting a scooter dangling wildly from the basketball goal.

Bella just sat there in Isabel’s arms, silently judging my parenting skills.

Tomorrow we are taking Bella on a hike and we will get some photographic proof that her entire stay with us wasn’t something out of a prison-break movie. We hope.

In the meantime, I know the world is filled with girls who have lots of older brothers. It’s gonna be okay. Isabel will go out into life with a very unique skill set, which we hope (in the near future) will include a proper grasp of anatomy.