selfish?

I lost control of the remote and all television viewing when I married my husband twenty years ago. The birth of my kiddos only compounded this situation. In order for me to possess the power to decide what I will watch, I pretty much either have to be at home by myself or the last one awake (which is why I’m only on Season 3 of Downton Abbey with so many other seasons of so many other shows in an ever growing queue of  “to be viewed”). And I’m not going to lie, what the people in this household decide to watch remains questionable at best. To justify that statement, I should mention that currently these boys (lead by my husband) are flipping between some station with a guy selling vintage coins and a reality television show depicting people who go around the country in an effort to haggle and then buy other people’s junk. If somehow something else were to be added to the mix, I can almost positively promise it will be the Golf channel.

Riveting, right?

I wish I could say this lineup was an anomaly, except this happens just about every single Monday night with the remaining nights of the week reflecting equally debatable viewing options. Some days my lack of voice in these matters bothers me and pushes me ever closer to ensuring some kind of “she-shed” becomes a reality. However, at this point in my life, I often find myself grateful not to have to make another decision in the day. Honestly, with the way my days have been going, I would be happy not to turn the television on at all. I would be happy to enjoy the quiet, to find some stillness, to enjoy the peace of solitude. A few months ago, while out of town at a conference, I settled into a quiet hotel room where no one needed anything from me and where I fully intended to wield the remote without contest. Except, I didn’t. I didn’t watch a single show. I wrote and read and rested and my sense of well-being was restored.

My days are typically punctuated with noise, chatter, questions, complaints, jokes, laughter, and more. I’m not griping about that because I am grateful for my job, my students, my colleagues and my family. I am only noting that quiet moments in this span of my life are few and far between. I am constantly in a state of problem solving, constantly in response mode, constantly in motion. Spending the last couple of hours before falling asleep for the night in a state of calm, quiet relaxation seems to be a bit of a luxury or even a guilty pleasure. As a mom, those quiet hours do not exist when I am at home, and I struggle to find a means to give them to myself despite knowing that I am a better human when I have had this time to decompress. Life as we live it moves too fast for this kind of pause, yet I live in recognition of the necessity of it.

And so I guess my realization in this is that I need to spend less time frustrated over terrible television, feeling ignored or secondary, and more time placing my own self first and seeking even just a few moments of solitude. Even if that solitude has the ambient noise of someone proclaiming the value of mint condition coins…

(Day 25…I’m tired…I literally typed up my resignation from this challenge…and then erased it and wrote this instead…why don’t I do this blog challenge in the summer for goodness’ sake?!)

hidden truths

The thing no one tells you about being a mom is that on the other side of miraculous astonishment over that highly anticipated little life…on the other side of intensity of love previously unimaginable is this truth: on most days of the week, you will wonder if you are enough. “Am I doing this right?” will reverberate as an anthem on repeat because, a lot of times, it’s just hard to know. What no one tells you is that on any given day there are a lifetime’s worth of minute decisions to make, questions to answer, reactions to constrain, lessons to impart, activities to juggle–and every single one of them shapes the people your kiddos will become. That pressure is palpable even when you feel like you’re blindly just getting by. There is no owner’s manual, and complex issues that require resolution seem to peek around far too many corners. In a world where answers are readily available to nearly every question we might possess, parenting works at a speed that does not always allow time for a Google search.  We know our kids, we know our values, we know who we want to see them become so we make our best guess as to how to steer them through the storm until they can navigate it for themselves.

I will never forget staring at my oldest child the day we brought him home from the hospital and crying. Important to note that I wasn’t crying over the wonder that was this baby in my arms after so many years of waiting. Nope. I was crying because in that moment, he was perfect, and I feared that all I would do was mar that perfection. This realization marked the beginning of the internal whispers that second guessed my maternal abilities.

What I have come to learn in the years since those tears is that on any given day, in any given moment, we are all doing our absolute best as moms and that is enough…even when it feels like it isn’t. Even when every other mom on social media or at school seems to be doing it better, my kids need me and I am enough for them. Am I perfect? Not on any day at any time. Do I mess it up? Frequently. Do I blame myself for things like inciting my kid’s fear of thunderstorms because I hurried him along into the house one rainy afternoon when he was somewhere around 2, explaining that lightning was very dangerous? You bet I do.  Was I doing my best in that moment? You bet I was. Will he survive and even outgrow this fear? Absolutely. It is simply part of his story. We all have stories…and his will be more interesting now (okay…that is what I tell myself…don’t burst that bubble).

What I know for sure is this. My kids know I love them. My kids know my number one goal for them is that they become kind humans who look for the good in others and in themselves. My kids trust that even though I make a lot of what they call “statements” that I am trying to teach them something of their privilege and their responsibility as a result of that. They will roll their eyes when I make these statements but I will persist. My kids feel safe enough to be themselves when they are at home because they know that they are accepted for who they are now and for whomever it is that they will become in the future. My kids know they can screw it up royally and while I may be disappointed and while there will be consequences, none of it alters the depth of my love for them.

So, see moms, we don’t have to be perfect in every single moment. We don’t have to second guess every single solitary action we take as a parent to our kids. We can accept that we are human beings who will make mistakes and carry forward as a mamas because our kids have the love that they need to muddle through our potentially amateur motherly skills. Just as we continue to love them through their mistakes, they will love us through ours. And we don’t have to compare ourselves to each other because in the end, our kids are all different humans who will require different kinds of parenting. That doesn’t make any one of us better than any other. We are all just doing our best on any given day and with that understanding, we should rally to support our fellow moms. Because all of us could use a word of encouragement and a reminder that even though it is hard, we are all in this life together.

(Day 17)

lucky

“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!”

(“The Schuyler Sisters”, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

So, tonight, my youngest was riding with me to the pet store because in a stroke of sheer brilliance I didn’t realize we were out of dog food until I finally got home from work around 6:00. Anyway, there we were in the car, him singing whatever song was on the radio and me sort of pouting because I really just wanted to be home curled up on my couch rather than out in traffic running an errand. Just as my internal pity party reached its crescendo, my kiddo says (just out of nowhere), “You know, mom, I feel so lucky to be born in this place at this time with all these people around me. I just feel so lucky.”

Now this sweet boy has a habit of knowing exactly what a person needs to hear and then saying it in the moment they need to hear it most. For example, in the vertigo days when the side effects from ingesting a  ridiculous dose of steroids with hopes of healing wreaked havoc on my body and on my physical appearance, my self esteem waned pretty swiftly. I spent weeks feeling lost in a futile struggle for wellness that not only seemed to make me feel worse internally but also look worse externally. One night, after a particularly uncomfortable and down day, I was putting him to sleep and he looked up at me and said, “Mom, you know who you look like? Who you remind me of?” Well, you can imagine, I was dreading the conclusion to this question. And then he said, “Cinderella! I think you look just like Cinderella.” And, I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter what I saw when I looked in the mirror because in the eyes of my four year old, I was still a princess. Don’t get me wrong. There is no given day where I look like Cinderella! But the fact that this kid somehow knew that his mom needed that sweetness that night was nothing short of remarkable to me. And that, more than the compliment, meant everything.

He has a lifetime of these moments and I find that as his empathy grows, so does his ability to read a person or a situation and to know what healing words need to be spoken. Tonight was no different.

It is so easy on any given day to feel like this world is falling to pieces…that everything is going wrong…that humanity has lost sight of its value…that having to go buy dog food instead of relaxing in my pjs is an injustice rather than an inconvenience. That negativity fuels so much of our talk that it seems to have become habit. And then there was that sweet ten year old voice–a bright light calling out into the dark of negativity–expressing a realization of his complete and profound gratitude for the blessings of the absolute privilege in his life. He knows he is loved. He knows he has a home and comforts and peace in his immediate surroundings. He knows that he is safe. And not only does he go through the world knowing these things, but he is self-aware enough to vocalize it and to be grateful for it.

I like to say that this boy of mine is my heart walking around outside of my body…his sensitivity and the way he sees the world reflecting a kindness and an empathy that I try to model, albeit imperfectly. But tonight, more than any other occasion, his gratitude in a moment when he could have just been annoyed (like I was), brought me back to the reality that he is a better version of my heart walking around outside my body. And that makes me “just feel so lucky” too.

(Day Nine–exhausted! Grateful for a kiddo who provides inspiration–even uwittingly. Also, you should know, the justifications for cheating and tasting king cake have begun. This struggle is for real you guys!)

 

fleeting

“Sunday funday” only exists in mythical terms in my life. I see pictures on social media of other people indulging in nothing but joyful, relaxing end of the weekend activities, so I know this must be an actual thing that happens. Yet, my Sundays begin early with waking up before the rest of the household so that I can grade/plan/administrate stuff, and they end with literally four hours of meal prep for the week. This mostly self-induced conundrum emanates from a desire to over-prepare for a week that will be over-full. Inevitably, my weeks are all overwhelming these days, so Sunday has assumed the sacrificial role of weekday timesaver. I work all the hours on Sunday hoping that I will walk into my week feeling ready, confident and at peace. I honestly am not sure I could dive headlong into frivolity while harboring knowledge that I should be working in some way either for family or school anyway.  Yet, the truth I discover every Monday morning is that there is no amount of boxes I can check off on Sunday that will allow me to glide through the next day without encountering at least a bump in the road and sometimes a full on New Orleans style pot hole.

So why maintain the dedication to the chores if things will still go wrong? Why not just seek felicitous distraction and figure out the rest some other time? I ask myself this every week.

The truth is that I really like preparing in the quiet of the morning and cooking for all those hours because both give me some weird sense of motherly/wifely accomplishment. That time spent in the kitchen, for example, enables my family to eat real food all week long and for me to have healthy lunches and snacks as well. When left to weeknights alone, vegetables will not get roasted and pizza will likely be ordered. Our lives are too chaotic not to give in to the fatigue on a night where I have been at work for 12 hours and kids still have homework to complete. I’m not sure if my family appreciates my sequestration to the kitchen (I really thought I made that word up, by the way…turns out to be a real one!) on Sunday itself, but the rest of the week, I know they appreciate the meals. And so, I remain dedicated.

I figure that one of these days, these young men who currently take up so much of my time and rely on me for meals will not live at home anymore and I will not need to spend so much time on Sundays cooking. I figure that one of these days I will actually enjoy Sunday funday because my responsibilities will look a bit different, but I know it will be with a pang of how I used to fill that time. It will be with nostalgia for my young family feeling the growing pains of one busy kid on the cusp of teenagerdom ( I did make that one up) and another not far behind him in age, all the while I attempt to run a high school and my husband, his office.

It is hard to stop in a moment and be grateful for a stage of life that feels all at once like a blur and like trudging through wet sand…but today, as I watched my kids patiently entertain each other in the creation of an indoor golf course while I cooked, I could not help but hold the moments a little more dearly.

(Day Six!)

redeeming grief

In December of 2004, I lost a piece of myself that isn’t really retrievable. It was a week before Christmas and I found myself delivering my first child into a world he would never know. There will be no deep dive into the details of my pregnancy with Nathan and what determined our loss–if you want those, you can find them here.

This blog series is aimed at positivity so it seems odd I would bring this loss up at all, but I promise, it comes with good reason. You see, this year, Nathan, had he not been so sick, would be old enough to attend high school…and since I am a high school  principal and teacher, this weighs heavy. I walk around my school each day and I watch the antics of my freshmen–I hear the silly giggles, still tinged with junior high joy; I see the awkwardness settling as they begin to figure out high school; I reassure their parents that their kids will in fact mature and that they will find success. And I do all of this with a bit of an achey heart these days because I should be more deeply involved in this scenario than just the voice of principalian experience (and yes, I just made that word up…). I should be walking campus tickled by the laughter of my own son and his friends…I should be the parent in need of reassurance. In the midst of this realization, I felt my grief, which I have spent so long taming, rediscovering its roar.

Sadness was welling up and I was struggling to push it down.

This was so much harder than I thought it was going to be…and I spent the summer preparing for it!

But as we have wandered through these early weeks of school, I have learned to live my gratitude (which is what redeemed my grief all those years ago). These days, I walk around campus and instead of feeling betrayed by loss, I feel even closer to Nathan than usual. It is almost as if he is present with me just a little bit more each day. Instead of what ifs, I just feel grateful that I have the chance to work with, teach and help all of these kids who are as old as he should be. It is my gift back in some strange way.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to figure out the purpose to my grief, and while I may spend the next 15 years trying to do the same, I have learned a few things. When I harness my grief to offer empathy to those who are suffering, the loss is less. When I view my students through the lens of “If this were Nathan, how would I want someone to treat him in this moment?”, I am a better teacher and human. When I transform grief into gratitude, my loss is vindicated. When Nathan feels alive in my heart, when I recognize that I am still his mom, his death doesn’t feel so vacant.

People question my sort of annoying optimism regularly. I feel like if they understood the loss and the illness and the sacrifices endured, those questions would dissolve. I have every reason to live angry with the world. I choose not to. That isn’t easy. It is a daily decision; it is an active lifestyle and it is imperfect. But optimism and seeking gratitude allow me to see greater purpose in the difficulty, in my life. It allows me to put myself on the side and to see beyond the periphery of the moment, of the wounds. It allows me to seek positivity each and everyday. It allows me to truly live.

And that is what Nathan would want most for his mom anyway. I can’t deny him that.

(and because I haven’t offered enough poems lately…here are a couple…“One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop“Lost” by David Waggoner (okay, for real, if you don’t click on this link you need to read this line–life changing! “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a  powerful stranger,”)

simplicity

My boys were singing in the car this morning on the way to school…loudly…and giggling the whole time. Effervescent joy permeated the air lending levity to the mundane.As they sang along with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” I paused.

School mornings bring a bit of insanity and frustration to my house (I don’t think I am alone here). Getting lunches and backpacks ready…cajoling kids out of bed…debating the “I’m not hungry for breakfast” dilemma…fuel the potential for disagreement and discord. (I should mention at this point that I am an all out morning person in a house full of boys who possess no love for the hours before 8am–like I cannot wait until they are old enough to be caffeinated!) I work to preserve their moods but also my own because it is impossible to walk into your day feeling like it will be successful when you have spent the morning arguing over the location of socks and the necessity of  brushing away morning breath.

The singing without abandon in the car freed all of us from whatever morning drama had occurred. And it reminded me. It is truly the simple moments that populate my day with positivity. Without being present in those moments…noticing and feeling grateful for them…they would flicker and extinguish themselves into meaninglessness. Lacking focus on these smaller moments of delight would make it easier for negativity and pessimism to creep into my internal dialogue. When I’m consumed with the busy-ness of my life, when I let the less important things creep up the hierarchy of my priority list, I don’t take the time to notice and revel in these bits of positivity and in the people I love most…and my entire outlook changes.

The point of this positivity project blog series was to shift my gaze–to realign it. This morning’s pause offered proof that intentionality is certainly a crucial step to mindset and outlook. This morning’s pause set the tone for the day and realigned my perspective moving forward (so, when a student in my AP Lit class wondered if Marianne Dashwood would be a VSCO girl, it was easier to crack up in laughter, lean in and be grateful for the gift of my job and the even greater gift of my students).

Flashes of delight fill our days, but they don’t wait around too long hoping to be noticed. We have to be in the moment, expectant, hopeful, ready to grasp them in gratitude and to store them up like fireflies in a jar.

Things don’t have to be complicated to be worth our attention. Embracing simplicity can change everything…if we let it.

magic

There’s a magic that happens when a baby enters the world. An enchantment stirs inside of the hearts of those who, for months, have been anxiously awaiting the moment that tiny new life would pronounce its presence in person.

What never seems to allow itself into definition or explanation is that the depth of that love grows as the child does. I tell my kiddos everyday that, without fail, every time I think it is impossible to love them more, something inside of me stretches to lend a bit of extra space. And that is a true statement.

Today is one of those days. One of my boys turned ten (double digits…how?!) and the other opened with a leading role in the school play today. As I watch these boys grow into the world shaping the humans they will become, it is pure joy to witness the avenues they travel while seeking their passions. Whether soccer or the stage, watching each in his element swells my heart a bit more.

Not sure what I’ve ever done that warrants the treasure of these children, but it is one that I cherish and honor (even when it isn’t like tonight…even when it is hard…even when there is attitude…because that is all part of the job). And this job pays richly.

(Day 34!! It’s short and down to the wire but still got it in!)

mindset

My 11 year old has had some rough mornings this week. He is stressed and tired and a bit under the weather…and, you know, as human beings tend to do, is taking it out on the rest of us. Yesterday, he texted me at work that he had been having a difficult time.

(I have to interrupt here to note that I am optimistic to a faulty degree. I can see a silver lining in just about any moment of difficulty and if you come to me hoping that I will get angry about something with you, chances are I will end up pointing out how we can make it better instead. People don’t always love this about me. I get it.)

So, when he texted, I immediately replied that his day would get better. Being the anxiety ridden realist that he is, he texted back “How do you know it will get better? It doesn’t feel like it will.” Ouch. It is hard enough making this transition to being at work and not at home in the mornings with my boys most days of the week. But on a day like this, when he really just needs a hug from his mom, and I’m not there to give him one, it is even tougher. All I could do was text back “I don’t know but I am hopeful that it will. You can make it better—just decide.”

His thoughts on that advice? “That doesn’t help.”

Double ouch.

Except not so much because I am a deep believer in that advice. I honestly trust that no matter how bad the day is, how we react to it is always within our control. Sure, some days are harder than others, but you know what makes that worse? Sinking in to the difficulty and suffering, languishing beneath the weight of it. I just can’t do that. It feels like a waste–of time, energy, life. Does that mean that all my days are glorious meadows of joy? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. It simply means that my mindset gazes above the negativity with a hopeful heart rather than one resigned to mere misery. This focus is a conscious effort and I often have to remind myself to see beyond the moment, but doing so allows me to more fully participate in the world around me, in my own life.

So, much to his dismay, I will continue to preach this message to him–that he can make it better if he just decides to–because I think it applies in this situation and in so many others. When we feel out of control in situations like this, we become victims of our own selves and our own mentality and anxiety. We become helpless. That is the last thing I want for him or for anyone, really. I want him to know that he has the power to improve his own frame of mind–his own heart, the power to improve the world around him. He needs to know that he can make a difference, but if he can’t make a difference in his own day, how will he ever be able to come to the aid of others?  He needs to own the power of a positive mindset, and he needs to fight for it.

Because all that negativity will only doom him to frustration and stagnation, and that is no way to truly live this life he has been given.

(Day 26!)

 

Her Story, Mine

There is a story I’ve been told for as long as I can remember…

The first time my mom met her future father-in-law, my grandfather, and revealed, upon his request, that her major was Secretarial Sciences, his response was, “What are you gonna do with that?”

I like to imagine my mom in that moment…taken aback by the comment, polite in response, but accepting of the challenge—as though her thoughts spoke even more loudly this– “What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

As an English major at LSU, I ran into similar commentary from more people than I care to admit. “English, huh? Well, that’s a husband hunting major.” Which, in case you were wondering, translates like this: “Well aren’t you cute, little lady, with your fluffy major.”

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

As a teacher for the last 20 years, the script has seen few revisions. “Well, I mean, it’s not like you have a real job…you get off at 3:00 after all and those summers, I would love to have summers off…I mean if you were really capable, you wouldn’t be justa teacher” And nearly every time I’ve heard these words, I’ve simply imagined my mom facing my grandfather, the challenge she met with a quiet fury, and the accomplishments that followed. Sure I’ve been baited into argument over these statements…I am the daughter of an attorney after all—I know how to build a pretty formidable case and sometimes, I cannot resist. But more often than not, my response is a quiet, internal impulse to excel, to achieve, to succeed.

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

These diminishing questions make a statement that extends far beyond a major or a profession. Women have been enduring “well-meaning” demeaning commentary for centuries and continue to carry the burden of having to prove themselves equal, worthy of being heard, and strong enough to lead.

This past August, my mom and her business partner sold their court reporting firm and she finally stepped into a much-deserved retirement. As she began planning for her days without the stress of work and owning a business, I was stepping out of my classroom and into a far more stressful position—Head of High School. The juxtaposition of these two moments struck me and I think that maybe for the first time in my life I fully understood the weight of my mom’s example in my life.

You have to know this before we go any further here: I have a really amazing mom.

The kind who finds out her adult child is sick and spends every waking hour for two straight days cooking so her sick child won’t have to…the kind who shows up at the hospital when she has the full out flu because her little girl is giving birth to her first child—20 weeks early, too early…the kind who teaches you that “nobody ever said life would be a bowl of cherries” and then comforts you when it isn’t…the kind who owns Thanksgiving like a boss…the kind who you can emulate but deep down you know you will only ever be able to be a shadow of the mom she has been and continues to prove herself to be.

My mom is certainly not the first working mom. However, in a world where so many moms feel judged and judge themselves even more harshly for the choices they make (stay at home, work, nurse, bottle feed, etc), her example enables me to feel validated in my decisions—to feel that I’m not sacrificing selfishly. She has always been fully a mom and has also always worked—first from home, then for a boss in an office, then in her own office as she and a partner bought the company and kept it going for nearly 23 years. She had to be creative at times both in how she worked to keep her company afloat and successful and in how she worked to still be absolutely present in the lives of her family. Her notebook was always in her bag and she was always at the ready to answer calls “Alliance Reporting, this is Karen speaking…” And this was true whether she was at home, at the hospital with one of us, or spending the day with a sick grandchild. Work was always present in her life, but so were we, and as she strove for balance there, the love and kindness she poured out were undeniable.

My mom has this strength that is formidable and a savvy intelligence that I’m not even sure she recognizes. I have a vivid recollection of the hours she spent ensuring a software patch was installed that would survive the feared Y2K crisis. I mean countless hours with the tech guy, on the phone, in the office.  A lot of people did this I suppose—things were so uncertain and planning felt necessary. However, I feel it is pretty important to note here that in that same year, in those same moments, she was also making my wedding dress (that’s right-making it without an actual pattern) and doing the lion’s share of wedding planning as I was in the middle of my first year of teaching and sort of just threw it on her. Needless to say, my dress and wedding were gorgeous and her company survived Y2K without a hiccup—but none of that would have happened without her tireless persistence and resilience

I could go on at length with examples like this but what does it all come down to besides the fact that I have been blessed by her ever-present love and strength?

It comes to this.

I never gave her enough credit for being more than a mom. I never stopped to think about the example she was setting for me. I never paused to realize that all my feisty independence, all my “don’t you tell me I can’t…” came from her quiet presence. I never understood that while I look up to all these women who have proven that women are more than they are often given credit for—and there are so many—the woman who has influenced me most in this way is my mom…the woman who has enabled me to fight (hopefully with grace) for people who need a voice is the woman who gave me my own.

As I begin this new rather auspicious job that kind of terrifies me as much as it exhilarates me, I’m leaning on her example more than she realizes. As I blindly seek balance between my school kids and my own kids, between my coworkers and my family, I remember that my mom has done this already, that we all survived, and that we always knew she loved us. When I fight for kids whose voices desperately need and deserve amplification, I remember the spine and integrity with which she led those she worked with and my own is strengthened. When I feel like I have so much to prove and that there are those who will second-guess, the quiet hush of my heart speaks these words:

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”