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I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

I have been sick since March. It started with an infection that has lead to three surgeries, with at least one more on the way. I found out I would be needing those surgeries on the same day that I found out we would not be getting the house we’d been under contract on for five months. The house for which we had packed our belongings and listed our home.

It also happened to be the same day that I found out I was being summoned for jury duty.

It’s been that kind of year.

pain quote

I didn’t know what it was like to have chronic pain and discomfort until I had chronic pain and discomfort. I’m used to being sick until I’m not, taking time off of work or activities if necessary, stopping for a few days, and then resuming normality.

The problem with chronic pain is that there comes a time after which you have to resume normality without feeling normal.

It’s been that kind of year.

If I don’t think about it, then it’s easy to pretend that everything is alright. But then I catch myself sitting in front of the refrigerator, cutting off slices of cheese to eat, one after the other. Or sitting at my computer, clicking “buy” before the alarm in my head goes off to remind me that I don’t really have the money to spend. Because eating and spending are a really good distraction to feeling.

And the key to pain management is making it possible to stop feeling pain.

Two months ago I got a message in my inbox from a friend, telling me that she was sending me a t-shirt that said, “Strong Woman”. There have been a lot of moments in my life when those words would have resonated deeply within me. Like immediately after running my first ten-miler, or the moment my son’s perfect slippery body was laid on my chest after a day and a half of labor.

But it hasn’t been that kind of year.

Last week, on the same day, three of my friends reached out to me to check to see how I was doing. I didn’t know, until I knew, just how much I would crave this sort of help, while at the same time avoiding it because where do you start? If I think about what I need, it starts pulling the yarn until the whole sweater of need is unraveled, and I’m not prepared for that level of nakedness, and I’m not good at knitting.

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But to avoid becoming a hermit, and to honor two of the friends I truly care about, I went to a going away party last weekend. Many of my dearest friends were there, and I found myself sitting at a table with a fellow mom, one I’m still getting to know, but whose honesty I’ve appreciated. Her daughter is enough older than my son that she has good insights, but not too much older that she can’t remember. We started talking about potty training, and the diapers that leak in the middle of the night all over the bed.

She offered an idea of solving the problem, but I think she could tell right away that I was not in the mood. Maybe she could see the holes forming in my sweater. So she said, “But you’ll know when it’s the right time for you to make a change.”

It was so little, but it was also grace. Permission to not have to solve the problem. Permission to have this be hard. Permission to be needy. Permission to know when to heal.

And a reminder that this is just a moment in time.

What my friend didn’t know when she sent me my Strong Woman t-shirt is that it would arrive two days before my third surgery. I woke up the morning of the surgery and pulled the shirt over my head. It’s the kind of shirt people notice, and several strangers read the words aloud as I walked past them in the hospital. I didn’t know why I wanted to wear the shirt that day, only that it was necessary.

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Two months later, looking back, I think I wore it as a reminder. A reminder that it has been that kind of year. I have been sick, I have been in pain. I feel needy and I feel weak.

But none of those things tells me who I am. Who I am is a strong woman.

A strong woman with a beautiful, messy sweater of need.

A strong woman who, when it is the right time, will heal.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week: The Most Unsexy Jobs of All

You can smell Jakari from eight feet away. The combination of unwashed clothes and hair, shoes that have seen an extra winter of wet and dry feet. As if that didn’t already put her in the shallow end of the popularity pool, she weighs in at least forty pounds above the average fifth grader.

There is something so incredibly unsexy about any profession that gets an appreciation week. Teacher appreciation week shows up at the same time each year as nurses week, and quite honestly, both professions boil down to dealing with other people’s feces, literally and physically. Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is only five days away? The role of mother falls solidly in the “dealing with feces” category.

This week is full of small gestures of thanks. Cups filled with chocolate, vases filled with flowers, boxes filled with jewelry. My cynical self can start to wonder if these appreciation weeks and days are lip service, a compulsory nod, the thank you we throw over our shoulder at the cashier as we take our receipt. As if that could possibly match the contributions our mothers and teachers have made to our lives.

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This past two weeks my sweet little toddler has learned that he can have an opinion, and that it is most exciting when that opinion goes in direct opposition to mine. I can’t blame him. That’s his job, to figure out the boundary lines of mommy and baby, to test the limits of my patience, to experiment with the rules until he learns them all, and then to experiment some more to make sure I wasn’t kidding.

But last Sunday morning was tough. It started with screaming and didn’t stop for almost three hours until he collapsed asleep in a pile, just in time for us to pack him in a car to head to church. He woke up, of course, right when we walked into church fifteen minutes late (also of course). The sermon had started and I knew his dazed cuddling was a ticking clock, no way it would last. Sure enough, the angry fish flopping started as soon as I told him he couldn’t run around in the pew.

I took the elevator up to our church’s nursery, my son upset, again, because he didn’t get to push the “up” button. I pushed into that deep inner resolve, the one I channel when I need to stay calm in trying situations. And maybe there was a little bit of self-pity. You know, the “I deserve a break” or the “somebody should be helping me right now” feelings. The “I deserve a holiday to celebrate my massive contributions to my son and society” feelings.

And at that moment, right as the elevator doors chimed and opened, my son turned to me, put his tiny, perfect, chubby hands on my cheeks, grinned with his lovely twelve teeth and his tiny dimple, and said, “Mama.”

He spoke the words with the awe and wonder that I so often feel for him. This incredible realization that we are part of one another, that our lives are forever entwined with cords stronger than DNA; that we are sewn together with love.

I had surgery recently, and I was desperate for help during the recovery that the doctor had misled me to believe would only last a few days and has instead continued for six weeks. Within a few days of the surgery my mom caught wind that I was struggling, rearranged her schedule and drove down to spend a week caring for me, cleaning my house, cooking my meals, and most notably: waking up with my son to spend the mornings with him. (Is there any greater gift than this?)

I often turn to my husband, when my mom is at our house and caring for our every need, or when his parents have extended some truly incredible gift of generosity, and ask how we could ever repay our parents for all they have done for us. We are disgustingly fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. And he often will say, “We can never repay them. We can only pay it forward.”

And that’s what I keep thinking as I watch Jakari’s teacher sit down next to her and teach her to read, inviting her after school, allowing her to keep her siblings in the room during homework help, since Jakari is their primary caretaker. Jakari is still so often ornery in class, still bullies other students, still talks back. And yet her teacher comes back each day with a deeper resolve to help Jakari learn to read and write. Could Jakari ever pay her back for this?

That’s what I think when my mom works tirelessly to make sure that I am healthy, being willing to exhaust herself so that I can rest. That’s what I think when she insists I go to bed instead of helping her do the dishes or wash stains from our clothing. Is the card we send her, with someone else’s words printed inside a joke?

Maybe Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day (and Nurse’s Week) help us to remember that there is no way that we can ever repay the people who have loved us, who have parented us, who have shown grace to us. No chocolates or flowers, stuffed animals or crayon-scribbled cards could ever repay the mothers, biological or otherwise, who have nurtured us.

But maybe those sentiments are a statement, a reminder that there is enough grace to go around, that we are all better when someone loves us more than we deserve, more than we could ever repay.

And maybe these appreciation weeks and days are a chance for us to turn around with awe in our eyes and acknowledge those people who have loved us well. Not because we can pay them back, but because their love has allowed us to pay it forward.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Catching Vomit In My Hands: A Teaching Fail and A Parenting Win

teacherrachel(#TBT: me, my first year of teaching)

The hardest part about the first year of teaching is that you have no instincts to draw upon to help you as you face a sea of faces; twelve year olds with zits the size of Mount Doom and still you are the most self-conscious one in the room. In that moment you are as far away from knowing what it means to teach a seventh grader as the distance you’ve tried to wedge between you and your seventh grade memories. In that moment you become about as qualified to teach seventh graders as, well, your seventh grade self.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for me.

I did, after all, go through an alternative certification program that gave me a teaching certificate after six weeks of teaching summer school while attending evening classes. (These classes were held in a run down Chicago Public School building where the water was not suitable for drinking and the classrooms were on the third floor of the un-airconditioned building. I got heat stroke. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?)

Let’s just say I got “on the job training”. A whole lot of it.

I’m a fast learner, so I realized I had taken a belly flop into the deep end of the pool when my plan for helping students enter the school building from the playground on the morning of my first day of teaching went something along the lines of, “We’re in room 210. See you up there.” All the rest of the teachers stood confidently facing their students, telling them the designated stopping points along the way to their classroom. Then in a spell of jujitsu magic, their students neatly filed into one line and silently entered the school.

I think my line may have been able to accomplish this sometime around May. Fine, I’m exaggerating. Sometime around June. If we ever did get that together. There’s a lot about that first year I’ve blocked from memory. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?

That wonderful year of my life (my first year of teaching) comes to mind frequently these days as I find myself once again at the beginning of something, something I face without the instincts of a veteran. By this, I mean mothering. I’m still in my first year of mothering, and while I don’t have to do tasks like teach my son how to line up in a straight line, I often find myself surprised by how a simple task can seem impossible. Like how to put a sleeping child into a crib without said child waking up and screaming. (The equivalent of Indiana Jones attempting to take the golden statue…no. sudden.movements.)

indianajones

While I was living in Philadelphia during my sophomore year of college I became friends with a woman named Keia. She had a beautiful one year old daughter that was crawling around everywhere. I would follow Keia around pretty much all the time so that I could hold and play with her daughter. One day at church we were sitting in a luncheon and I was holding her daughter when the little girl started to cough. Before I registered what was happening, Keia had turned around in her chair, flung her hands forward in front of her daughter, and her daughter threw up in her mom’s cupped hands.

Gross, I know. But also kind of amazing. I developed a new awe for Keia that day. I think I shouted out something like, “You’re a MOM!” By which I meant, of course, “You have those mother instincts!” The ones that tell you when your child is puking. (Motherhood is glamorous, what can I say?)

Which leads me to this week. Our son has been sick for the past five days with what I assume is a cold and a fever. It is way harder than I ever thought it would be to watch my child wheeze. And maybe a little cute that he has a cough that makes him sound like a pack-a-day smoker. OK, not cute. Sad.

He’s been sleeping in bed with us the past five days which is bad news for everyone. But it was that or wake up fifteen times a night to go get him, help him fall asleep, and then put him back in his crib again. (Refer to earlier note about my skill in the area of putting a baby into a crib.) Turns out the latter is even worse news for everyone. It also turns out that my twenty seven inch long son is able to dominate sleeping space, leaving my husband and me mere inches of space on our king-sized bed.

Anyway, two mornings ago at about five in the morning my son wanted to nurse. Having mastered the art of sleep-nursing I fell asleep, waking up at six in the morning only to realize he was still nursing. I tried to cut him off, but he was having none of it. That is, until he started coughing. And then he promptly threw up all over the bed. Approximately an hour’s worth of milk, all over the sheets.

I kicked my husband awake and held our son out to him so I could get something to clean up the bed. In the four seconds it took me to get off the bed our son started coughing again and then threw up all over my husband.

Neither of us possessed Keia’s instincts. It was our first rodeo. We didn’t know. WE WEREN’T PREPARED!!

And that’s what it is to be a new teacher or a new parent or a new anything, I assume. It takes a long time to feel like you have any mastery over anything. And usually once you do, the game has changed and the rules are different and suddenly you don’t know who’s winning in volleyball anymore. (Seriously, rally scoring? What is that?)

But I know that this changes. Over time, the instincts start to kick in.

I know that I can now get most anyone to line up in single file lines with ease and maybe even a little finesse. I don’t know when that turning point happened, only that it has. After eight years of teaching I can walk into a school and instinctively know where the stopping points should be when directing thirty students from one area of a school to another. Eight years in it still isn’t always easy, but it is habit.

Some expert teaching advice I got during that first year was, “Focus on those things which you can control.” Which I now know is also expert life advice.

Most days the thing I can control is getting out of bed and doing the best I can all over again.

But I have a good end to this story. Yesterday morning I woke up and started nursing my son. About ten minutes in he started coughing. I held him upright and my husband and I both shot out our hands and he promptly vomited into them.

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Instincts. They are amazing things. So is not having to wash the sheets two days in a row.

I told you I’m a fast learner.

-Rachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Worry & Fret: Parenting

Quotation-Democritus-life-worry-children-success-Meetville-Quotes-27998

I read Rachel’s recent post (see My House is a Deathtrap for Children) and remembered those days of constant worry and questioning.  Besides listening to his heartbeat whenever possible with a special stethoscope (kindly provided by my sister) during his days in the womb, I read everything (surprise) I could get my hands on about parenting and subscribed to every parenting magazine out there.  I was going to get this right. Vigilant Mama. I think now, thank God, I didn’t have the internet to turn to or I might have been committed.

The worries? When Nick first rolled over, he was in the family room.  I wasn’t there.  Apparently my golden retriever was watching him (so much for constant vigilance), and he rolled right across the room onto the single layer of red brick that formed the hearth of our fireplace. I found him there with a slight mark on his sweet head and hoped that no one would call DCFS but wondered if I would should turn myself in.  I knew I needed to be careful when he was on a bed, but who mentioned they could cover such a large area when rolling over?  The guilt I felt as a mom who worked outside the house played into this and I concluded that I was not cut out for this motherhood gig. I vowed to remain ever vigilant so that he would never be injured again.

Those who are reading this, and know my son, are chuckling. Or perhaps laughing out loud.  I know we didn’t break every record for trips to the ER but it seemed to me we did.  What kid has 2 concussions before starting high school?  Or who has to have his face sewn up (I will never get over this one) when he is only 4 years old, and making his stage debut as Joseph (Mary’s guy, earthly father of Jesus) the next evening?  Or breaks his arm playing shortstop while all of us are watching him make, what my husband called at the moment, “an all- star play, he could break his arm doing that!”  I have only begun to list these moments and I will stop now because I am having heart palpitations.  I never did make the world completely safe for him – despite my desire to remove all possible sources of harm.

Thank God he didn’t play football in high school (I won this battle) but he still managed to injure his knee playing basketball, which ended up leading to his vocation but that’s another story.  He will be twenty three in a matter of months and I still lay awake at night worrying about everything: is he pushing himself too hard?  Not enough?  Who is this girl he’s dating?  Dear God, please keep him safe on the subway…!  You get the idea.  It is never a good thing to wake up at 3 a.m. because generally I get through this list and then some before dawn.

The battles?  Oh my God.  So many. Over so little. Or so much.  “You may not stay out that late.”  “No you cannot eat that junk, drink that sugar…!” “No video games!”  “You said what to the Principal?!?”  “You call this a completed project???” And so on.  My days as enforcer, “Hurricane Mama,” Big Meanie are over.  Now, I answer the phone and try to remain calm, reasonable, helpful, the sage advisor.  We won’t discuss the dialogue with my inner self which I have at the same time I am dispensing pearls of wisdom!

And despite the fact that he seems so grounded and solid and is taking on the world 1000 miles from home, I am waiting for some deep-seated neuroses to appear – created at some dark parenting moment in the past, when I really, really screwed up.

No, Rachel.  The doctor did not need to tell you to be paranoid.  It is hard-wired deep within us.

And although I am no longer vacuuming like a madwoman or scrubbing floors with massive amounts of disinfectant (I know, there are harmful chemicals in these things so I was careful to rinse, but I still worry that these chemicals did some latent harm), I often scour the internet looking for tips on how to be a great long-distance parent to a kid in his twenties.

Maybe I need to run over and help Rachel scrub her floors with vinegar.

-Karen261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2

Book Club Option Book Review READING

Talking, Language, Memory, Anthropomorphism, Mirrors & Love

  missing fern

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, By Karen Joy Fowler

“The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff.” Rosemary

The written word also reveals secrets so I will start this review by saying that I will do my best not to go over the cliff in order to allow anyone who reaches for this book – as the result of reading this post – the opportunity to experience it as the author intended.  Whatever you do, don’t read the book flaps or the back cover.  I read this unique novel on my kindle and for once, I feel I am the better for it.  I downloaded it after reading a 2013 Great Book Picks (or something like that) and didn’t recall what it was about when I decided to begin reading it the other day.

This is a superb read – loaded with suspense, cleverly written, fascinating characters and compelling subject matter.  It is full of beginnings.  Read it through to the end (it won’t be hard to) and I can almost guarantee that you will be enthralled by the narrative and the narrator.

fowler book

I immediately fell in love with the voice of Rosemary, Karen Joy Fowler’s narrator of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves in the prologue of this story of families, academic scientific research, college towns, science,  ethics and the animal rights movement.  Rosemary immediately reveals that she was a “great talker” as a child and that her parents valued her “extravagant abundance” and “inexhaustible flow” of words; nonetheless, her mother’s tip to polite social behavior was to pick one thing to say (your favorite) when you think of two or three things to say. Her father advises her early on to begin in the middle of any story, especially given her propensity to use her words to prolong her encounters with anyone who will pay attention to her.

And so she begins to tell “the middle” of her story, ten years after her older brother disappeared and 17 years since her sister vanished.  And we begin to learn about Rosemary, a college student in her fifth year at UC Davis with no degree on the horizon.  She is arrested after throwing a glass of milk in the cafeteria for no discernible reason. And it is through the aftermath of her arrest, and the days that follow, that the reader learns about her unusual family, her struggles in Kindergarten (“kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not”), her journey away from talking to silence (“I’d come to silence hard”), and how a family will always struggle to be together even when staying together seems impossible.  

And as the narrative unfolds, past sins and secrets are revealed and mysteries are deciphered.  And Rosemary slowly begins to find herself in her search for her missing siblings.  She ponders: “I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one spending my life making the same mistake over and over again or if that’s simply human.  Do we all tend toward a single besetting sin?”  And we begin to understand why Rosemary must look more carefully in “the mirror,” despite her rejection of her own reflection, made ironic as she lectures a self-important college guy on the “mirror” test and how “we’ve been using it to determine self-awareness” since Darwin.

I loved this story and its thoughtful presentation of animal research ethics. Pieces of ourselves can “go missing” for years, much like Rosemary’s siblings, and sometimes the only way to find them is to look hard in the mirror and truly see what is there. Because who in this life has never been completely beside themselves?

beside ourselves Fern

Ages: 14 and up.  Some profanity.

Book Club Option Book Review READING

Talking, Language, Memory, Anthropomorphism, Mirrors & Love

  missing fern

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, By Karen Joy Fowler

“The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff.” Rosemary

The written word also reveals secrets so I will start this review by saying that I will do my best not to go over the cliff in order to allow anyone who reaches for this book – as the result of reading this post – the opportunity to experience it as the author intended.  Whatever you do, don’t read the book flaps or the back cover.  I read this unique novel on my kindle and for once, I feel I am the better for it.  I downloaded it after reading a 2013 Great Book Picks (or something like that) and didn’t recall what it was about when I decided to begin reading it the other day.

This is a superb read – loaded with suspense, cleverly written, fascinating characters and compelling subject matter.  It is full of beginnings.  Read it through to the end (it won’t be hard to) and I can almost guarantee that you will be enthralled by the narrative and the narrator.

fowler book

I immediately fell in love with the voice of Rosemary, Karen Joy Fowler’s narrator of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves in the prologue of this story of families, academic scientific research, college towns, science,  ethics and the animal rights movement.  Rosemary immediately reveals that she was a “great talker” as a child and that her parents valued her “extravagant abundance” and “inexhaustible flow” of words; nonetheless, her mother’s tip to polite social behavior was to pick one thing to say (your favorite) when you think of two or three things to say. Her father advises her early on to begin in the middle of any story, especially given her propensity to use her words to prolong her encounters with anyone who will pay attention to her.

And so she begins to tell “the middle” of her story, ten years after her older brother disappeared and 17 years since her sister vanished.  And we begin to learn about Rosemary, a college student in her fifth year at UC Davis with no degree on the horizon.  She is arrested after throwing a glass of milk in the cafeteria for no discernible reason. And it is through the aftermath of her arrest, and the days that follow, that the reader learns about her unusual family, her struggles in Kindergarten (“kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not”), her journey away from talking to silence (“I’d come to silence hard”), and how a family will always struggle to be together even when staying together seems impossible.  

And as the narrative unfolds, past sins and secrets are revealed and mysteries are deciphered.  And Rosemary slowly begins to find herself in her search for her missing siblings.  She ponders: “I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one spending my life making the same mistake over and over again or if that’s simply human.  Do we all tend toward a single besetting sin?”  And we begin to understand why Rosemary must look more carefully in “the mirror,” despite her rejection of her own reflection, made ironic as she lectures a self-important college guy on the “mirror” test and how “we’ve been using it to determine self-awareness” since Darwin.

I loved this story and its thoughtful presentation of animal research ethics. Pieces of ourselves can “go missing” for years, much like Rosemary’s siblings, and sometimes the only way to find them is to look hard in the mirror and truly see what is there. Because who in this life has never been completely beside themselves?

beside ourselves Fern

Ages: 14 and up.  Some profanity.

mothering

Small Steps

I have a friend who told me that she started her weight loss journey by deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator. She read in a book that this simple lifestyle change would accumulate to a five pound weight loss over a year.

My first thought was, “That’s a really cool way to think.” And my second thought was, “OK, but I want to lose weight FAST! Maybe I can run up and down stairs for an hour a day and lose five pounds-A DAY!” Moderation is not my forte.

During one month of counseling several years ago, I talked to my therapist about my inability to keep my room clean. I described the pile of dirty and clean laundry covering the floor of my room in my apartment. My therapist thoughtfully listened, and suggested that maybe the next week I could start making a change by, at the end of every day, putting away the clothes I had worn that day into the dirty clothes hamper or back in my closet. She emphasized not worrying about cleaning up the room except doing that small step. She was so logical that I left really encouraged by my opportunity to make change.

I did not put away my clothes that week.

And I think I’m OK. I don’t think I’m failing at this life thing.

But I do think I could benefit from valuing the occasional small step, the first step toward a bigger change.

It is just so hard for me to do small things. I want all the conditions to be right. I want to plan in advance and have sharpened pencils with perfect erasers and a brand new notebook with sectional dividers–and then I can start my writing project.

I’m thirty now and I have a son who fills my days with joy all the while slowing my productivity to a trickle. Where did all my time go? How was it possible that I ever watched an entire season of 24 in two days? I simply no longer have the luxury of getting to have all the conditions perfect before I go downstairs to do the laundry. (Well, I could decide to continue living this way, but work prefers you to show up in clothes not covered in baby spit-up.)

There are a lot of helpful hints for people like me. I see them in the magazine section of my local Barnes and Nobel, or in the sidebar on my Huffington Post articles, or on the posts of those magical, DIY people on Pinterest. But all of those things just seem like another thing to do, and having too many things to do was the problem in the first place.

After my son was born, I joined the ranks of mothers who realized that they were never again going to have time to brush their teeth. Ever. I cried about this for awhile. OK, I cried about this every day for the first three weeks. So my husband came up with an idea.

On our dry erase board, we made a t-chart. Rachel’s Accomplishments/Husband’s Accomplishments. And then below our name we got to write down any amazing thing we had done that day. For example, brushing our teeth. Or drinking a glass of water. Or getting out of pajamas. Or keeping our son alive. These were great joys.

Shifting our minds from thinking about all the things we didn’t do, and instead focusing on all the things we had already done, allowed us to celebrate the day.

Which I think was my stair-climbing friend’s point.

Maybe you didn’t follow your eating plan perfectly. Maybe you didn’t squeeze in your morning work out. Well guess what? I didn’t go running this morning. I didn’t throw in a load of laundry before work, or put together a crock pot meal. I didn’t wake up on time. I didn’t shower.

But I made it to work. I brushed my teeth(!). I talked with a bunch of students about the books they read. I helped two girls improve their reading fluency. I gave some coworkers a high five. I told my husband I love him. I used the stairs instead of the elevator.

I could focus on the first list. But I find myself much happier focusing on the other one.

My resolution for 2014 is to celebrate the small steps, the small victories, trusting that they will, in fact, accumulate to big victories. And in my good moments, maybe I will even believe that it’s the small victories that matter after all. Maybe.

small victories261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel
P.S. If you like this idea and want to join a community that celebrates small victories, check out www.superbetter.com. You can learn more about it on Jane McGonigal’s TED talk here.

mothering

For Starters

An introduction to my mom life.

It’s my son’s first year working as an actor in New York City. Even though he has lived in NYC since starting college in 2009, there still are days I am certain that he has somehow fallen in harm’s way and perhaps THIS TIME, he is lying unconscious and in mortal peril in a hospital or the subway or possibly the morgue (which would obviously mean way more than unconscious), but no one knows that they are supposed to call and inform his mother.  It does help, at least temporarily, when my son returns my phone calls or responds to text messages with “I’m okay, mom!” But like Rachel, I am usually very worried that something is terribly wrong unless I’ve talked to him in the last hour. Did I mention that he’s 22 and not an infant?

This parenting gig is the most overwhelming experience of my life to date and I wouldn’t change any of it for anything. It is full of wonder and love and joy so intense, I think my heart might burst. BUT (and there always is a BUT ), to balance the joy and awe, there is also this equally intense “worry and fret” thing that comes along with it. In these past 22+ years, my mind has been flooded with concerns both mundane and huge that center around the well-being and happiness of my now adult son…and it doesn’t seem to end no matter how many birthday candles we blow out each year. And like Rachel, there has been a lot of walking forward, putting one foot in front of the other, and trying to do the next right thing as a mom.

And in my experience, there is a lot of talking to/debating with yourself involved in being a mom (see Rachel’s thoughts 1-4). That’s why I believe it is important to talk to other moms and ask questions and then just GO WITH YOUR GUT.

I was a lawyer with an active law practice when my son was born and went back to work when he was 3 months old. I needed to pay the mortgage (my son’s dad was a young resident at University of Chicago hospitals), put food on the table and make the car payment. I compartmentalized and kept putting one foot in front of the other, but I worked to make it home as early as possible and to work from home whenever I could. Much of the time, I will admit, I was miserable – torn between being with my beautiful boy and doing what needed to be done at work. I worked out what was, in retrospect, an incredible daycare situation with Nick in a wonderful home daycare setting where he grew and developed skill sets I would never have been able to teach him (hitting baseballs, shooting free throws, fielding ground balls).

But I never stopped missing him. There was always a little bit of grief in my heart everyday. My head saw the benefits of working mom but my heart never quite believed it.

But day care moves into before/after-school care in the blink of an eye. We got lucky there as well. Miss Debbie, our angel. I learned as a parent there are many angels out there ready to help us parent. That village thing. And then after-school sports practices and games, theater rehearsals, band concerts take the place of the caretakers…and then they go to college. Sometimes 800 miles away from home. And still, there was and is a little bit of grief in my heart everyday. Because no matter how old, our children are still our children. And as parents we start letting go from day 1, whether we work outside the home or stay at home.

And the letting go is never ever easy for any mom. Because being a mom is hard work.

And yes, we learn there are more questions and few answers. Here’s to mulling over the possibilities together.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2 -Karen

mothering

For Starters

An introduction to my life.

It’s my son’s first day in daycare and I am convinced that he has died and the daycare provider just hasn’t gotten around to calling me to tell me yet. She texted me to tell me that he had been sleeping for the last hour and he is adorable, and all I could think was, “He’s been asleep for an hour? Well that’s impossible. Obviously something is very very wrong.”

I will preface this by saying that there is no solution to this, other than continuing to walk forward. Put one foot in front of the other, let the days pass, and love the snot out of him when I’m with him.

I’ve gone around and around in my head. When I hit a problem, I create every possible solution until one actually works. I have yet to find the solution to this one.

Thought 1: Quit work, stay at home. But then we will be very tight on cash. And also, I will be crazy. Not eccentric crazy. Open the door on the freeway crazy. Post partum has been mean to me like that.

Thought 2: Win lottery, stay at home: See above, minus being tight on cash. (Maybe don’t throw out this idea completely.)

Thought 3: Work, child in daycare. Current solution, but will probably lead to my child not fully attaching to me and resenting me for remainder of life.

Thought 4: Work, child with nanny. But then we will be very tight on cash, to the point of making work seem not worth the time.  Leading me back to thought 1. And thought 3.

You get the point.

I get the reasons why it’s ok to be a working mom. I read Lean In. It seems really wonderful to read about the studies and know that, at least statistically, I’m not screwing over my son (at least not more than anyone else).

But I think this is hard. I think it’s hard for moms who work and for moms who stay at home.

I was a crusader, adamant about a woman’s RIGHT to go to work, be a wife, and be a mom.

But the reality looks a little more like wearing the most ridiculous nipple suctions while sitting in a locked bathroom, having milk pumped out of me and worrying if there will be enough, or if I will have to supplement with formula. (Let’s add that to my list of insecurities.)

Welcome to being a working mom. Here’s to not having answers.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n Rachel

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