And on the Eighth Day, She Rested.
“How about we honor a Sabbath, and take Sundays off?” Dina suggested. Although we both come from traditional religious backgrounds, our current spiritual practice is like a Greatest Hits album. We draw favorite bits from across the board, making a holy hodge-podge. It’s potent stuff. Our days simmer with a mystical synergy that defies definition.
We’re doing the work, spiritually speaking. We also bust our asses physically, mentally, and emotionally. We shepherd a small tribe of toddlers, for crying out loud! Rather than shuttling them off to another institution, where adults actually get paid to care for children, we’re rolling up our sleeves and plunging in. How do we rock the stay-home-mom life in today’s world? How do we hold space for these enormous littles while tending to our own temperamental inner children? How do we keep the kids clean AND the house clean AND our cars clean AND our selves clean when the only thing that happens effortlessly is chaos?
I figure a day of rest makes great sense, since we both seem hell-bent on cleaning all day, every day. We’ve lived here over a month and some might claim we’re still in the house-holding honeymoon phase. However, I can say with total confidence that this place stays exceptionally clean. This is a real pleasure, and something of a dream come true, except where it crosses into self-pressure.
For example, it’s common practice in community homes for residents to assign chores and make charts and check boxes. For me and Dina, it seems an open format of “do what needs doing whenever you can do it,” allows us both to move freely in full expression of our obsessive-compulsive cleaning tendencies. Cleaning gives us that hit of dopamine, that sense of order, that satisfaction of control. The clean house feels calm, when kids are anything but. And since we’re constantly juggling multiple demands, the open format allows us to pick up each other’s dropped balls without keeping score, which is one of our love languages.
But this means that we’re both in cleaning mode, all the time. Even when we’re in the midst of other tasks, we’re prone to pause for a quick cleaning fix. There is always something that needs to be swept, scrubbed, wiped, or put away. The whole day is subject to such interruptions. Not good for inner calm.
So, for the sake of whole-self regard, we set out to do less. One day. Just let the dust bunnies procreate. Just let the sink fill with dishes. Just let the finger streaks on the glass wave back at us for a while. No cleaning.
Should have been easy, but somehow, it bombed.
We had just finished breakfast. After rinsing off the dishes, we slyly left them in the sink. The children went outside to play with dolls and balls. A minute later, sunlight setting her hair aglow, Athena came running back to ask for a blanket for her baby. I tossed her a dish towel. Meanwhile, Lily called out that she needed a doll, too. Dina fished into the baby bin and pulled out a dingy-looking doll. Its misshapen frilly dress had a smudge of avocado on it.
“I need to wipe the baby’s dress off real quick,” said Dina. Which I thought was fine, since we agreed that emergency cleaning wasn’t subject to the Sabbath. After all, what if somebody pees on the floor? She wiped the dress and sent the doll to its juvenile mother. But then: “I’m just going to wash ALL the baby dolls’ clothes.”
“Sometimes when we relapse, we go hard.” I shot Dina a grin. She sort of laughed, and slid the baby bin back into its cubby. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, she caught me cleaning dust from the bottom of the bathroom sink. Sweeping of the kitchen ensued.
Thus, we joked about our addiction as we fell right back into it.
We’ve decided to designate specific time windows for cleaning. For 30 minutes after each meal, we clean. This means dishes, sweeping, wiping, whatever the space seems to need. When the timer rings, we wrap it up. We both have plenty of other things to do, from unpacking boxes to responding to emails. But the most important job right now? SIT DOWN. Breathe. Stretch. Meditate. Pray. Journal. Feel into and occupy our sacred and bountiful bodies.
We both love to dance. This is a chance to find new grooves in the way we move through space and time. This is an opportunity to train a new pace, and therefore peace, of mind.
The official Mama Bear Sanctuary “house-warming” event was sweet, smooth sailing. Every morsel of food eaten, and every belly satisfied. Every common area comfortably full of friends. Kids of varying ages playing in the backyard happily, for hours, without a single injury or melt-down. Three beautiful plants gifted, bringing our total count to four.
The youngest guest in our home today was one month old. I can’t tell who was the eldest. Mature, healthy, empowered women tend to glow in a way that makes it hard to tell their age.
A few house-warmers asked if the gathering was meant only for women and children, due to the lack of men. This was merely incidental. Actually, there were two Papa Bears. One came as a photography sponsor (thank you, Dr. Basha!). The other came holding his baby girl, and beaming.
What are we warming up for anyway, here at The Sanctuary?
Since we’ve found “waking up before the children” to be out of reach for the time-being, we’re re-grouping. New strategy.
Dina and I have simply decided to take turns. Morning shifts! Whoever wakes up first takes the first shift. This generally means breakfast. Whoever wakes up second takes the second shift, which generally means clean-up. “Generally” means various other elements weave through, like going potty or brushing teeth or getting dressed or mediating shenanigans. Our collective goal is to be ready for the day, so that we can take the kids to the YMCA. Two hours of guilt-free childcare is worth its weight in gold.
And, this is how I plan to build writing time into the mix!
Our rhythms wriggle around in an ongoing attempt to settle. Dina and I have noticed that ANY ASPECT of our operational patterning reflective of a reality in which we don’t feel seen, safe, or fully supported pops up hard. The vortex we have co-created holds us deeply accountable; whenever we’re running in overdrive, stuck in habituated survival mode, we seem to injure ourselves.
In my last post, I casually mentioned a great green lump on my forehead. Today it has turned more of a mustard yellow. Here’s how it happened:
I had just arrived home, later than planned, from a long day. Rose was asleep in her car seat. Lily was chatty. The need for multiple trips in and out of the house loomed ahead of me. I proceeded forward in such a fashion as to do everything faster, in order to feel more complete, sooner. I scooped up some bags and headed for the front door. Grabbed our mail on my way. Finessed the lock open, put everything down on the floor, spun around to go back for Lily, and RAMMED my forehead into the hard wood corner of the door frame. I immediately doubled over, sobbing.
I pulled myself together and continued with my tasks, lump rising from my forehead like a horn. Once I had gotten everything settled, I sat down on the couch to let more tears out. My face felt like a bulging floodgate. Lily snuggled up beside me and gently placed her hand against my cheek, occasionally wiping tears away and saying sweet things like, “I’ve hurt myself before, too.”
I sensed that a significant percentage of the pain I was processing had less to do with my head injury and more to do with stored strain from the chronic overdrive. For several days, additional tears came in waves. I let them.
Softening, and strengthening. Catching my breath. Letting my inner world expand so that external demands don’t pull me out of my body. Allowing this regenerative paradigm to lovingly guide realignment and rewire my nervous system. I’m not carrying this alone. Make myself at home.
MISSION: ESTABLISH REGENERATIVE RHYTHM remains in its formative phase.
I haven’t managed to wrangle the renowned morning routine that finds me awake before the kids. I keep staying up late, then sleeping in until the moment one of them starts whining. For a few days I did get up early, but my efforts were blighted when Rose woke up moments afterward. Thus I lost the sleep, without gaining space.
I'm choosing to stay positive. Despair is not an option; even the slightest hesitation in my perception that doing my best is more than enough seeps into my senses like a cold draft from an old window. My very soul shudders. The stakes are so high.
The biggest personal loss, it seems to me, is that most days pass by and I do not have time or energy to write. Writing is fundamental to what I’m doing here: in this house, documenting our intentional living experiment, and on this earth, documenting our human experience. Writing makes me tick. It’s non-negotiable, something I absolutely must do in order to know who I am. And when it comes to rhythms, regular writing time let’s me know I’m in a workable flow.
Decades of creative self-development caught on paper reveal several recurring themes. One is that I love taking notes while I course-correct; shifting from grinding gears to ways of moving that feel clear (generational work, in a nutshell). Whenever I'm wedged in liminal space, writing is my saving grace.
I’m unwinding, line by line. Re-wiring, one word at a time.
The past few years of raising two preschoolers have been hell. I repeat: I have been in hell. I’ve also frequented heaven, of course. Children are adorable and precious, and I know loss well enough to appreciate what I have. Nope—though my children may occasionally leave me steaming, they’re not the reason for my hell.
The set-up was hell. Mothering alone, overwhelmed. Mothering in a tiny apartment on the top floor of a building without air conditioning in a too-hot city. Mothering when you must do everything right and yet everything is wrong. Mothering when it’s impossible to reach all the tasks on your plate. Mothering in a system that isn’t designed for human well-being, but rather to make money for itself.
Course-correction is key. I have a will to thrive and I’m willing to do my work.
Today marks one month of living in this house, known now as The Mama Bear Sanctuary. Mothering with Dina feels INCREDIBLY AMAZING, like breathing actual air after drowning. We read each other's minds, finish each other's sentences, and understand each other's pain. We’re both recovering from the trauma of mothering in isolation, and we’re holding gentle space for each other’s process.
Dina loves to cook, and everything she touches is tremendous. When I make rice, it just tastes like rice. When Dina makes rice, it’s like a field singing in your cells. She is constantly putting bowls of warm deliciousness in front of me. After years of cold oatmeal and sandwich crust, eating this well at home feels decadent.
When the four-year-olds kept arguing over toy kitchen supplies the other day, rather than continuously reminding them to share, I simply turned to Dina and shouted, “I LOVE sharing my toys with you!”
Her face lit up like a lantern. Infrared joy radiating from her eyes, she burst forth, “I LOVE sharing my everything with you! It makes me so happy!”
Two-year-old Rose started galloping around the living room, singing about sharing and how great it is. The four-year-olds were bickering again five minutes later, but the energy Dina and I created in that moment of loving reinforcement had already seeped throughout the space, and it didn’t feel as trying.
We constantly happen upon upon gems like this; they’re embedded in our experience as we nurture our intentions.
So before we take our healing journey any further, let’s get a better “before” shot.
Me, as we speak: Bloated and gassy. Microbiome in shambles, as my starch and sugar intake increased over the holidays. Reliant on coffee with foam. Sporting a giant green lump on my forehead where I whacked myself on the door frame.
Dina, as we speak: Asleep by 10 pm (which is unusual). She got pulled over by the police earlier today, and discovered that her driver’s license is suspended.
We’re both in receipt of powerful feedback, showing us how to move through this brave new territory.
Stay tuned as we keep dialing it in!
We are living in a beautiful world, at a time when 54% of children in America suffer from chronic illness.
Holy crap, my friends. This is a staggering statistic. Digging for the roots—for the truth—seems the essential task. But it’s difficult work, in a divided world.
Do we blame Monsanto, glyphosate, and GMOS? Do we blame early and frequent exposure to electronic devices emitting harmful radiation? Do we blame ill-fitting genes? All of these? None of them?
For almost half a century, Dr. Gabor Maté has studied and observed the correlation between maternal stress and chronic illness. Simply put: the offspring of mothers with high levels of stress are exponentially more likely to develop chronic illness over the course of their lifetime. Chronic illness, by the way, includes addiction and substance abuse.
If we want to understand chronic illness in children, we must start with the mothers.
Pregnant women are always told to take good care of themselves. Eat perfectly, exercise regularly. See the best doctor. Strive to embody the Divine Goddess, calm and serene, no matter what. Do everything right. Simultaneously, pregnant women are bombarded with scary information. Monsanto, glyphosate, and GMOs. Vaccines. The ill-fitting genes.
And a mother’s journey doesn’t just begin with pregnancy, or even conception. It begins with the biological environment of her grandmother, because that’s the uterus that held the fetus that developed the ovaries containing the egg from which she became. Grandma is the direct origin of a mother’s DNA. So, let’s look two generations back:
The classic, “successful” single family American household consists of one working, hat-wearing father and one home-ridden, apron-clad mother. Mother cooks, cleans, and cares for the children while Father goes out to win the bread and butter. He comes home from work, exhausted. Ready for dinner, a smoke, the newspaper. Pats his children on the head, yawns, goes to bed.
All the while Mother smiles prettily, keeps herself neat, calls him dear. Does all the cooking and cleaning. Father sees nothing but Kitchen-Aid appliances gleaming and quiet, well-mannered children. Any outbursts or other inconvenient feelings are quickly managed with gin, or electric shock therapy.
Looking at this picture, do we see how Mother is isolated? Father is not allowed in the delivery room. Cigarette smoke hangs heavy in the air as he waits for word from “back there.” Baby is taken to the nursery—first at the hospital, later at home. Thus, the birth of a family is characterized by separation of its members.
This industrial trend is a sharp turn from traditional family structures, in which babies remain tethered to their mothers from the moment they are born, and mothers remain tethered to a tribe of trusted relatives.
Incidentally, Dr. Maté reveals that the greatest threat to a mother’s health, by far, occurs when emotional stress is coupled with isolation.
As social organisms, our biology functions best when we’re connected to others. Perceived isolation triggers changes in brain chemistry that promote anxiety, depression, paranoia, and other symptoms of prolonged exhaustion in the nervous system.
Connection occurs through resonance, and a felt-sense of being seen and heard. Only a mother truly understands what it means to be a mother. Therefore, a mother needs the witnessing presence of other mothers, if she is to be fully seen. No father, and certainly no child, is equipped to meet a mother’s deepest need for connection.
Furthermore, no true connection is possible when we are closed off from the people around us. Closure includes censure, or inability to be one’s authentic self.
This is how a culture devoted to “independence” has eroded our basic health. We’ve stomped arrogantly away from our true sources of sustenance. We’ve suppressed our senses for what is real, to grasp for what feels gratifying. The programs installed in our collective consciousness, ages ago, are no longer relevant. We need to stay connected—to plug in—long enough to download the critical updates.
It’s time for every person with the capacity for action (this means you) to make a choice:
Will you live a copied and pasted life? Or will you strive, one day, one breath, one move at a time, to grow from your own unique roots, and reach for your own unique vision? Will you connect to the world around you, because you believe in the world within?
Although it has been three weeks since we received the keys, given holidays and various other factors, I am just now settling. Like my nervous system has adjusted from “flight” mode to “homing.” I’ve made my 20/20 Vision-Board and identified this month’s goals. I joined the YMCA (two hours of free childcare!). Bags of things left unpacked fill my closet and spill out into my room, but I’ve grown accustomed to them for the time being.
Today was our first normal Sunday. No visitors in town. We woke up and got ready, using our nifty new check-list method with reasonable success. Lily checked the boxes herself: Go potty! Drink water! Eat breakfast! Get dressed! Brush teeth and hair!
Then we scurried off to a four-year-old’s birthday party at the park, themed around somatic movement, musical instruments, and animal costumes. We returned to a quiet house--Dina and her kids were out-- and enjoyed indoor activities until it was time for dinner. I reheated leftovers, and we ate in a civilized manner. (It’s worth noting, for context, that my previous living situation didn’t include a dining table.)
I fell asleep feeling satisfied with myself as a mother, but disconnected from my other aspects.
The morning routine works fine for the kids; what’s missing is Me.
Dina mentioned the same thing. We’ve got kids fed and dressed and clean and playing outside, but we’re starving and haggard and constipated.
I’ve heard other moms claim that waking up at least one hour before their children lets them start the day on their own terms. This is a real game-changer when the alternative is being woken up by flailing elbows and inexplicable chatter.
My finest hours seem to arrive when the kids go to sleep. But then I’m sometimes awake until past midnight, like right now. Waking up to an alarm (the sonic equivalent of a flying arm) early in the morning seems counter-intuitive, if I can stay in bed until the last possible second, and then bargain unsuccessfully with the kids for five more minutes. Right? But then the vicious cycle in which the morning routine squeezes me out continues.
Dina and I, being in the same boat, have determined to begin a new practice of waking up at 6:00 am, meeting in the kitchen for a morning hug, then going our separate ways to perform whatever morning rituals we deem necessary so that when the kids wake up, we’ve donned our own oxygen masks.
Let it be known that we delayed the deployment of our early morning routine in favor of sleeping in, again. But I have faith.
December 2019. Gina and Dina take possession of a 1970’s starter home. Three bedrooms, one bathroom, big fenced backyard. The little slip of a garage would have been snug for a Chevelle, but it’s perfect for my Corolla. Dina’s beige minivan (her kids play soccer, to boot) graces the curb.
We are a pair of mama bears who dislike being co-dependent on our children’s fathers. And, since we have found mothering in isolation to be unbearable, we are moving toward a paradigm of regenerative interdependence.
By “regenerative interdependence,” I mean working together with a whole sense of self.
Looking within and around us, we see there is no time to simply survive. We must thrive. No eyes for old stories, no space to play small. We must lean toward our deepest instincts for self-preservation and claim what is ours: abundance, authenticity, creativity, and balance.
37 years old. Chinese, Jewish & Irish. Mostly wants to write poetry and dance in the moonlight but has also agreed, at her ancestors’ request, to take on the task of shifting generational trauma in her maternal and paternal lineages. As the eldest of three sisters, she now mothers three daughters.
35 years old. Egyptian & Lebanese. Exceptionally-fertile mother of two. An Ayurvedic chef and Yoga therapist with brilliant curly hair who creates safe spaces for embodied expression and empowered movement.
Lilyana (age 4), Bella Rose (age 2), Shams (age 4), and Athena (age 3). They are boisterous, sweet, strong-willed, and cute as buttons. They’ve been through some tough transitions, and are healing alongside us.
We signed a one-year lease. Therefore I shall aim to publish something every week, whether it be a blog post, a podcast, or a picture to Instagram. I am also collecting pledges: even a few dollars a month will help our work immensely! Get your friends to pledge, too! (We are able to receive tax-deductible donations.)
Here I sit like a glamping squatter in our empty house. Dina hasn’t moved in yet. Although the rest of the place echoes, feels naked, and nearly shivers, my room is warm.
I’ve slept here for three nights, but this is the first time I’ve been home alone. No kids. For awhile, I didn’t know what to do with this. I ate a salad with an entire container of guacamole. Moved my hanging plant from the bathroom to the bedroom. Looked through bags of packed belongings, tried to consolidate something, didn’t get far—my furniture won’t arrive for almost a week. Finally settled down in front of my computer to write, like I knew I would. Started documenting this lifestyle experiment, like I said I would.
I’m sharing our story.
It is our intention, Gina and Dina, mama bears on a mission, to grow our dream seeds right where we’re planted. It is our intention to live our best fully-expressed lives. To heal and create wealth. Much like ourselves, this old house has needed quite a bit of cleaning, mending, and touching up. And much like ourselves, it responds with great appreciation. It wants to be a loving space. It’s built for connection. It’s happy we’re here.
As for the rest of the neighborhood…well, the other morning I had a meltdown in front of the folks who live across the street. I’ll be dropping notes in surrounding mailboxes soon, for good measure.
Winter Solstice, and it happens to be the day that my stuff arrives from San Jose, and Dina’s stuff arrives from storage! Boxes are being carried in. Doors are being removed to fit the new refrigerator (things must have been smaller in the seventies). Kids are running around with each other’s toys. Friends are here with food and helping hands. There is a feeling of vibrant chaos one can’t help but smile at. Our dinner starts as a picnic on the floor, but within 15 minutes we have a table and chairs. Conversation centers around cultural appropriation and public welfare, temper tantrums and poop.
This day marks a great turning of the tides, both for the macrocosm and our microcosm. As the light begins growing longer again, we embrace new days, and new ways of being. The timing isn’t lost on me, neon-bright symbolism, divine orchestration, sign-posts of an authentic life.
In another stroke of synchronicity, the house next door finally sold after sitting, despondent, for who knows how many months. (Put it this way—we probably could have squatted that house just as successfully as we’re renting this one.) The realtor’s sign came down the same day we took possession. Now they’re beginning a massive remodel, just as we’re settling in and remodeling our lifestyles.
En-vironment mirrors In-vironment.
Establishing new rhythms starts with clarity about what’s out of whack. Like how Lily refuses to put on pants, every single day, and insists that she is boss. Rose doesn’t nap after lunch, which means she is in constant danger of falling asleep in the car around five o’clock when we’re finishing our afternoon outing, pushing bedtime to about 11 pm. All of the kids have a tendency to scream, yell, hit, and stomp over the slightest imagined injustices.
I’m also aware of my own whacky tendencies. Over the holidays I ate things I knew better than to eat, and drank things I knew better than to drink. Right now I feel heavy, sluggish, and disoriented. It’s like I took this quantum leap toward my dreams and then promptly blasted myself to smithereens. What other behavior patterns sabotage my efforts to rewire my life simply because my subconscious mind has pre-set beliefs it doesn’t readily release?
I consider how I’ve just separated from my kids’ father with whom I was bound like a loom for the past seven years. How I’m a tree still holding a few dead leaves, shaking in the breeze this leap created, hair blowing in the wind of change. How I’ve spent enough time in my body to know how it cycles. How I feel my wings unfolding behind me and my spine realigning after holding my heart back for so long.
I consider the house next door. We’re like two strangers who don’t know they’re in step with each other, yet the presence of resonant rhythms regulates both nervous systems. Those owners could have found a newer house, just as I could have. But something in my body said this is the one. This is where the work wants to be done. A place with history, and character, like my body. And now I sit in the peaceful light of my bedroom, DNA detangling as I type, the sound of a power-saw cutting roughly into my eardrums.
Dina and I are quite clear that this new year is all about creating consistent rhythms that function optimally. With open space (and a fresh decade) stretching out before us, we commit to radical honesty, vulnerable self-acceptance, and fierce grace.