Weird Times at the Pool

I have something to confess, something I did today that I never thought I would do. It was strange and not like me at all, not like anything I ever would have predicted: I read a book — at the pool.

I know. I’m lightheaded at the thought.

I posted a picture on Instagram (I kind of cheated because I made a deal with myself that I could only get on Instagram after I’ve posted here each day) but I was at that delicious, gut-wrenching part of the book where you are a little too far from the end to finish it in this particular sitting but you are about to be done. And you need to get to the end to see how it all ties together (or how it doesn’t) and yet you aren’t ready to part with these characters and this world.

So I took a picture of that last half-inch of pages because readers everywhere can identify with the mixed feelings. I snapped a pic and posted those sentiments.

A few minutes later I got a few texts from friends admitting they saw my picture and had feelings on me being in that position. What a strange place to be — Rachel Balducci, reading at the pool.

Folks, I can’t believe it myself.

This summer has been a strange new place of relaxation and please, don’t walk away hating on me. Not that I want to boast about my life being un-relaxing — but don’t get the wrong impression. There is plenty of life and busy-ness but right now, when I’m at the pool, I’m in a position to sit back and read. And soak up a few calming breaths.

And it’s wonderful.

I do try to keep in all in balance. Isabel and Henry still want me to get in a play with them, and I do. I’m not ready to be a mom that comes to the pool merely to sit and watch. It’s fun to be a part of playing and splashing around.

But yes, it’s true — I also enjoy the part where I sit back and let them do their thing while I do mine. I think it’s important and healthy and honestly, it’s wise. We moms need to find our down-time and in this season of my life, I can get it at the pool. We don’t have nap time anymore, so here is where I will find my quiet.

And for all you momma’s out there who can’t believe you will ever be in this season, trust me when I say: you will. Just believe me. It’s true. For years I was the mom with so many little boys climbing on her it was almost foolhardy to go to the pool.

I remember a day when I was standing in the shallow holding baby Augie while watching Charlie in a float and one of the big boys (Elliott? Ethan?) jumped in to me without a warning yell and slammed his head into my face.

There I stood in the pool holding a baby in one arm with my other hand on a float and a small boy swimming back to the side of the pool (after happily jumping to his mother!). And I cried. I stood there and cried. I cried because my face hurt and because my life was overwhelming and because I had this recurring thought that “I will never be the kind of mother who can easily manage life outside her home with all her children.”

And just like that, here I am. I’m that lady, the one reading at the pool while her kids frolic with each other in the deep end.

It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it. There is grace for this season, and there are so many good things to come. I say that to you. I say it also to myself. xo

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Writer’s Block

I almost couldn’t remember the sign in name of my blog. That’s not good. It’s been a while, even including the only posting I do lately, putting my column up here for further dissemination.

But I want to keep writing in this space. I do. The challenge is that my life isn’t an Open Book any more, not with bigger kids and all the fun and wonderful (not sarcastic, totally true) stuff of their lives. I’m enjoying it, mostly, and at times it’s a challenge that brings me back to the foot of the cross every single day.

So for a writer who found her voice in the midst of family life crazy, that’s a tough page to turn. What to write about now? Or, if I choose to focus on the same things, how to do it in this new season?

Another part of my challenge is that there are so many new and exciting ways to waste time. Instead of actually writing anything, I can spend the same amount of time on Instagram or Twitter, doing a whole lot of (very fun) nothing, and before I knew it I had gotten completely out of the habit of even trying to write.

And I need to write. I do.

So I’m back here and I’m going to put something up here every day. I’ve got a new series of posts I’m working on, and I think I am open to answering your questions, if you still have any. I’m also not laboring under any assumptions about what kind of readership I actually might still have. Maybe that ship has sailed, maybe I’m okay with that.

The point of this exercise is to start finding my voice again.

Here we go.

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You Will Survive This

We celebrated the fourteenth birthday of our son Augie last week. Who can believe that?

The morning of his birthday, I took out Augie’s baby book to find a picture I love. It’s a photo of a freshly-swaddled little babe staring me in the eyes as Paul stares at him. We are beaming, me and Paul, gazing in awe and wonder at the beauty of our fourth son.

Four boys. I remember being amazed. How could God be so kind? What riches were ours to behold!

We never found out the gender of our babies before they were born. I didn’t want to with baby number one (a boy) or two (another boy). By baby number three I knew that I would love to have a daughter and would feel terrible if I was disappointed at the news of another son. I would rather wait to meet the baby and fall in love instantly.

And it worked. Baby number three was a boy and I loved him immediately. Baby number four was also a son and I was smitten right away (along with baby number five several years later — also a boy whom we instantly adored).

So I looked at that picture last week, the one of me and Paul and baby Augie, and I was flooded with memories. We brought that tiny newborn home to three older brothers (ages five and under) and a new chapter of Life with Boys began.

In Augie’s baby book, I found another picture. This one was taken a few days before Augie’s birth and it is of me great with child. I was standing in my dining room, smiling for the camera. I was happy and excited because I’d just gotten up from several weeks of bedrest. It had been a difficult pregnancy, one that required me to accept help from a lot of friends and family members.

I had forgotten about that. Looking at the picture, I remembered neighbors bringing us dinner and loved ones watching my small boys. People cleaned my house and switched over my laundry and I was humbled and overwhelmed by all the gifts of love.

It was difficult, too. I was aware of how needy I was, and how I was adding another baby to so many other babies. The Church teaches us to be open to life and so we were. But it’s one thing to do that when you are independent and strong; having your fourth baby in five years and on bedrest and in need — that was something different.

Those feelings are all so distant now. The pictures remind me, and I realize — it was all a season, a period in time that came and went. The small sufferings and feelings of helplessness passed and what I am left with is a handsome 14-year-old son, along with a band of brothers who seem to get closer every year.

I marvel at this reality — the reality of time and place — because I’m reminding myself, as I think about this season so-long-ago, that “this too shall pass.” The sufferings of this moment I’m in, as I write these words, one day this too will have passed. It might seem epic in the here and now but it will come and go.

Small babies grow to be bigger. Those bigger children will grow as well. The suffering of a difficult pregnancy yields the fruit of a beautiful baby. The suffering of a cranky toddler brings an independent young man. The challenges of life with teens — this too shall pass.

It doesn’t take away the pain of the moment, but the bigger picture certainly helps. These feelings we have right now are not the end-all or be-all. They are bumps in the road and yes, part of the journey. They get us where we need to be.

And even more than the bigger picture is the eternal perspective. God’s grace and peace are with us throughout each step of our walk, taking us where He wants us to be.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

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The Danger of “Me”

I have a bad habit of fixating on my agitations. If I have a negative encounter with someone, or a conversation that leaves me flat, I walk away wanting to get to the bottom of those feelings. Why do I feel this way? What about that person’s words was hurtful or bothersome to me?

There’s something to be said for self-awareness, for figuring out what makes us tick. But there’s some harm in that too. While it’s important for me to understand my weaknesses, it’s a bad idea to always be living in the center of the latest thing that got on my nerves.

I’ve noticed in some of my favorite workout videos, the instructor encourages me to lean into the pain of the exercise and really “live in that moment.” It kinda helps. Maybe I become so settled into those feelings that it propels me to the end. A friend of mine who’s a personal trainer said the more you settle in, the more the muscle can stretch.

“If you can try to relax into the pain,” she explained, “it makes the exercise easier.”

I was thinking about this recently, struggling with my desire to over-analyze while forcing myself to stop over-analyzing. “I don’t want to think about my feelings anymore,” I chided myself. “Why can’t I just get over it!”

Somedays, it’s just not that easy.

When I’m working through struggles in life, I want to learn. I don’t really want to ignore these feelings because I want to move forward. But the risk you run, in being aware, is being overly-so. I don’t want to miss an opportunity for personal growth, but I don’t want to always being living in the center of my frustrations.

Sadness, I heard recently, is focusing on ourselves. True joy is focusing on God.

When we put our focus on God, we have a better chance of living in grace and peace and joy. We learn from the past, we have gratitude for all God has given us. But then, and mostly, we go back to God.

According to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, those of us who travel on our spiritual journey face two directions — “when we look at ourselves, we are saddened by our failings; when we look at God, we rejoice in his love.”

There’s a tricky balance in self-awareness and personal growth. We have to be aware of our flaws and learn from our mistakes, but we don’t want to get so bogged down in self-analysis that we lose sight of God’s love for us. We have to focus on that love, that love keeps our focus off ourselves.

“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” we say during the Act of Contrition at Mass. And we beat our breast.

And then we move on.

My friend the personal trainer explained something else to me about living in the pain.

“Focusing on the pain might not make it easier at the moment, but it will make it easier the next time you do it and afterward. Also, relaxing increases oxygen and blood flow.”

In other words, it helps us calm our bad self down.

When I read those words, I realized that part of learning from our mistakes is just the important reminder that being a human is hard work, and there’s a reason for that. This, being human and trudging through the human condition, is not what our soul was made to do. Of course God made us and wants us to enjoy this life. But we are made for an eternity with God, and that is why we must always, ultimately, put our focus back on Him.

“During Lent,” said a meditation I recently read, “the liturgy reminds us that the purifying suffering of the cross is the only way to the everlasting joy of the Resurrection.”

May we put our focus on ourselves long enough to learn and grow and (when needed) repent, and then turn our gaze back to the Father, the only place we can find the peace our soul desperately craves.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

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