Browsing Tag

parenting

PARENTING

I’ve Decided I’m Not Going To Live My Passion

I have recently become aware of yet another deficit in my life.

I am not living my passion.

I went to the library yesterday and I browsed the new release section. The library is one of my favorite places, because it is like shopping, but free! And since I have about the same chance of reading a book I buy vs. reading a book I check out from the library, it turns out that the library is a better option for my budget and all around mortgage-paying-ability.

Now to talk about my failures.

There were beautiful books, with jackets wrapped in shiny fresh plastic, all bearing the label of their release date. And it seemed that the books were nearly obsessed with explaining the secret of following your passion, unlocking your inner magic, going on retreats in the woods for a year without bug repellant as an exercise in finding out what really matters to you, eating only sap from a specific Cyprus tree to find your true calling.

I picked up each one, and I held it in my hand, and for a brief and fleeting moment I imagined what it would feel like to own each book. To have, in my own hands, all of the answers I have been searching for.

Because let’s be honest. A few hours after that trip to the library, it took a herculean effort to get my son’s shoes on so we could go out the door and get to Target. Which is, if you are not already aware, the place I go when I feel sad.

I could use a little bit more finding my passion and a little bit less finding my Cartwheel app.

Unfortunately I don’t think any of those books mentioned trips to Target as one of the steps toward finding your inner wisdom and true destiny.

I have spent the better part of this year reading these books. Because I so desperately want to know more about what it is that I was created to be. Every one of the amazing quotes about “be who you were created to be because what the world needs is you, being you” or variations on that theme make my heart say, “YES!”

Immediately followed by a little bit of panic, because I realize that, while the book was fascinating and the quote inspiring, I still don’t know what that one thing is.

But standing there in the library, holding the fifteenth book that deep down I knew I would never read, I made a decision. I am NOT going to go searching for my one passion.

I am over it.

I’m sick of feeling like I’ve missed the boat to success and that all of the opportunities are passing me by because I didn’t buy (or check out) the right book, didn’t apply for the right program, didn’t shake hands with the right person.

I have been running myself ragged toward a goal that I have not even set, a destination I have not charted.

Enough.

I’ve had enough. I give up.

Trying to live my passion and find my magic has felt more like living my anxiety and finding my inner angst.

I’m giving it a rest. Or I’m going to try to.

And in the meantime, maybe there’s other things I want to do.

I want to live with gratitude. To get up in the morning thankful for another day with my eyes open. Even when some days that morning comes much more quickly than I want.

I want to live with awareness. To notice when I can’t seem to put my cell phone down to enjoy the fact that my son is holding up his art project. To forget the phone at home when we go outside to play.

I want to live with kindness. To take a deep breath when a friend is late for a meeting, knowing that I am far more often making others wait for me. To give without expecting a return.

And those three things alone seem like enough to fill a lifetime, one with or without passion.

Last weekend my family was in town for a visit. It was 90 degrees and our window air conditioners were losing the battle against the heat. In response, the adults sat around the twenty dollar inflatable pool that we’d purchased for the kids, and hung our feet in the water, drinking beer, while our children splashed and screamed and played.

I turned to my brother and said, “I feel like this is the most luxurious thing in the whole world.”

And it was. Family, together. Talking, laughter, play.

In that moment I had no more clarity about my passion than I had the moment before. But somehow it just didn’t matter.

It was enough.

Rachel

 

 

 

Education mothering PARENTING

My Guilty Mother’s Day Treat

By way of explanation of how things have been going lately, let me simply say that my son has been introduced to Happy Meals, and that we’ve lost no time in catching him up on what he’s missed.

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Some of this was because we went on a great vacation to Florida, and haven’t totally caught back up to the pace of life. Some of this is because our work schedules have been changing and busy, some of this is because my BFF, Mr. Tired, has been hanging out with me a lot more lately, staying way past his welcome.

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Mother’s Day is always preceded by Teacher Appreciation Week, a week I take pretty seriously on this side of the profession, because as a teacher there were a lot of times when I felt pretty under-appreciated.

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But Mother’s Day–well it’s never been that big of a day to me. I still feel like I’ve just barely started wearing my mother hat, so it doesn’t occur to me to capitalize on such days. When I got flowers from my in-laws (and chocolate covered strawberries that are DELICIOUS!) I felt a little like my teachers, who had genuine surprise and befuddlement on their faces when I showed up in their room with chocolates and candy.

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In other words, I think Mother’s Day is still about MY mom, about the moms who actually know what they’re doing, not the moms who are still deciding whether to pull into the McDonald’s drive-thru again, or go home and scrounge up a meal of pinto-beans and brown rice, the two ingredients I know for certainty are in my cupboard. (I know I’m gonna hear from some of you veteran moms here, telling me that this never changes. Understood.)

If I am sounding harsh, I guess I’m also feeling a little harsh about myself lately, too.

Last Monday was a challenging day at work and I came home and needed a BREAK. I’ve been doing sketch notes, so I spent a lot of the evening practicing my handwriting, and different ways to drawing icons and banners. Our family dinner consisted of all three members of the family plugged into a screen, a situation I promised myself would never happen.

It happened.

As bedtime approached, my son put down his iPad (or rather, the iPad he has decided to call his own) and said, “Should we go upstairs and play, Mama?” And so I set the timer on my phone and promised myself to be fully dedicated to paying attention to my son for the full time we were upstairs.

We ended our time with my son crawling into my lap as I asked him about his day. His face lit up, and he looked like he was sitting in Santa’s lap, telling him what he wanted for Christmas. He was so excited to tell me about his day, or rather, about all the things he loves to do best, which is what usually happens when we ask how his day has gone. “Um…I went to the park, to the library, to Grandma and Baba’s house, talked to Nammy and Papa…”

The joy on his face made me cry. I felt so sad that I hadn’t stopped what I was doing sooner and paid attention to him sooner, and shut our screens down to have a decent family dinner, etc, etc, etc.

The guilt set in.

I’ve been thinking about guilt a lot lately. How many times it feels like being a full time employee makes me feel like a part time Mom, and whether I should feel badly about that, should feel empowered about that, should try harder to “Lean In”, should work harder to protect my time at home.

And mostly I feel all of those things, and then go hang out with Mr. Tired, who understands my woes.

To add insult to injury, there has been this breathtakingly beautiful video going around on the Facebook, written by Nichole Nordeman, a music artist I love. It’s called “Slow Down” and is all about how quickly our children grow up. She sings, “I am your biggest fan, I hope you know I am, but do you think you can somehow slow down?” All the while the video shows photos of children reaching all of their developmental milestones, catching each moment perfectly.

It’s beautiful. Seriously, it’s beautiful.

But it hasn’t helped with the whole guilt thing.

And this is the point where I feel like I should say that you shouldn’t feel guilty. Right? That’s what we do for people we care about, we help them to stop feeling badly, we come alongside and tell them that they are an amazing mom, that they are doing the best they can, that they are beautiful and strong.

All of those things are true.

But that isn’t what my friend said to me when I told her about the guilt I’ve been feeling lately. Here’s what she said:

“Rachel, maybe you can reframe guilt. Guilt is a powerful motivator. It helps us stay connected to one another, it reminds us that our time is limited. Guilt has its place.

But when guilt has done its job, you need to set it down. When you’re going out to hang out with your friends or you’re getting some time for yourself, write the word guilt on a stone, and put it in the garden on your way out the door. Lay it down.”

OK, so that “friend” is actually my therapist, but wow.

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I look at this week, and there have been some reasons for me to feel guilty, some ways in which I don’t feel like my life has been in balance, some places of disconnection to family and friends. And then there has been some guilt I’ve hung onto, guilt that has kept me from enjoying the moments that were mine to enjoy.

There were definitely some moments when I kept the guilt stone in my pocket, instead of dropping it in the garden.

It’s Mother’s Day, and it’s beautiful and sunny, and I am full of hope for this day. Today I am writing the word guilt down on a stone. And I can hold it during breakfast with my husband and my son to remind me that I don’t need to be checking my cell phone as we eat, that there is nothing so important that can’t wait another hour.

But later, when I leave for work tomorrow, when I go hang out with a friend, the stone stays behind.

It isn’t perfect, it doesn’t solve everything. But my pockets are full right now, and I want to know that their contents are things I actually want. If guilt is gonna be there, then let it be there for a reason.

It’s an unlikely Mother’s Day present, but I’ll take it.

-Rachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Top Chef Parenting: Pack Up Your Knives and Go

Top Chef is my current favorite TV show. It’s exhilarating to watch incredibly talented people brought to their limits while making really yummy looking food, episode after episode. I’m fascinated by Padma’s outfits and have totally bought into the drama that the editors so deftly create, left to wonder who made the best food and who has to pack their knives and go. And except for the couple of seasons when the contestants are mean, it’s usually good clean fun.

One of the recurring themes on Top Chef is that none of the chefs like to bake. Baking challenges are met with groans and cuts to side interviews with one of the chefs saying something like, “Baking is the WORST. I knew this day would come. I might go home today.”

As best I can tell, the reason so many chefs dislike baking is that it is so hard to get feedback on whether or not your cake or souffle will turn out. At least not until it’s too late. You can taste the batter before you put it in the oven, but until that toothpick is inserted, it’s hard to know if your food will cook through, your bread will rise, and your flan will set.

For example, I once made chocolate chip cookies, a recipe I have pretty much perfected, and they were completely flat, except for the chips. I realized too late that the baking soda was old. How could I have known that by tasting the batter? And if I had tried to pass those cookies in a competition like Top Chef, you better believe I’d be sent packing.

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with anything?

Well, for one thing, I have been baking a decent amount lately, and it has got me thinking to how alike living is to baking. And more specifically the living I’ve been thinking about lately is parenting.

One of the hardest things about parenting is that it’s really hard to tell if you’re doing it well or not. I mean, you reassure yourself over an evening glass of wine that the child is safe and fed, and that counts for something. But you know all the while that there’s a 100% chance that there will be things that you don’t get right, wounds that your child will bring back to you and hold in your face in two decades, quirks that you find endearing that your child finds intolerable.

It’s inevitable and it’s terrifying.

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old-

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old?

I have never been the type to read parenting books. I get overwhelmed as soon as someone introduces me to any multi-step plan guaranteed to give results. Usually the step one assumes a level of proficiency that eludes me (like have a clean home or car, just for example). 

I am always hyper-aware of the Tom Colicchios of the parenting world (or really, of the world) ready to critique and nitpick. Not that I even need a Tom Colicchio. Most times I do a pretty good job of tearing myself apart without any help.

What I guess we’re left with is a whole lot of ambiguity. Gilda Radner has a great quote, “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

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Truthfully, I rarely think of ambiguity as delicious. Annoying? Yes. Scary? Absolutely. Delicious? Not so much.

But also, ambiguity is inevitable.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it would look if I loved myself as much as I loved my son. How would I talk to myself after eating a full chocolate bar? How would I respond to myself when our bedtime routine still sucks after two and a half years? What would I say to encourage myself when I meet yet another person who seems to have arrived at my life goals and is five years younger than me?

What would I say to my son when he says that he just isn’t sure if the cake is going to turn out or if he’s just a bad baker and should pack his knives and go home?

For one thing, I think I would say to stop listening to the Tom Colicchios.

Instead of feeling like I’ve failed at life for eating a candy bar, I might say something about how delicious candy is, and how sometimes it’s good to let ourselves have a treat. Instead of hiding my shame about bedtime, I might comment about how nice it can be to get in the extra snuggle time.

And when the toothpick comes back gooey, I might just say the cake needs a little more time to bake. The story isn’t finished yet. That we don’t know what will happen.

I might say something obnoxious about delicious ambiguity.

The truth as best as I can tell is that parenting is a lot like baking. There’s a lot of waiting and hoping that we’re using the right recipe along the way. And there’s no real set bake time, or guarantee that we won’t have really bad baking soda.

But baking is also fun. There’s the smell of the melting chocolate, the calm of kneading bread, the peeks into the oven to see if the top of the cake is brown, the sneaky spoonfuls of raw cookie dough. And there’s the promise, the hope, of a beautiful warm baked good at the end.

If this whole life thing were up to me, I’m not sure there would be a lot of ambiguity. I’m a little like the Top Chef contestants, preferring the immediacy of cooking to the chemistry of baking, not wanting to have to wait and see, preferring instead to get instant results.

But maybe it’s good it isn’t up to me. I imagine we’d miss the chocolate cake.

-Rachel

 

 

PARENTING READING

Fat Girl Yoga

I have always hated yoga.

Yoga is for other people. Thin people. People who get jazzed about things like smoothies with kale, who have candles for reasons other than covering the bad odors in their homes. Do an image search for yoga and it seems that yoga is best done in silhouette on the edge of cliff, a dock on the lake, or in the middle of a field.

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And, well, I’m not one of those people. And also I live in a crowded city, nowhere near a cliff or open field.

Also yoga is about centering and mindfulness and releasing your body, and I have always had a really complicated relationship with my body. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I still remember the shame I felt in gym class when I was weighed in front of my peers and my weight was a three digit number compared to their two digit numbers.

But the worst part about yoga is that no matter what class I attend, it is almost a guarantee that I will be the fattest person in the room.

I’ve spent the good part of my son’s two and a half years avoiding cameras, eating in secret, wearing layer after layer of clothing, and fantasizing about the someday when I will become one of those yoga women who can wear all white by the lake and hold a tree pose for as long as I want in the sand.

But I had been hiding a long time before that.

There have been a lot of diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, The Weigh Down Diet, the Geneen Roth Diet, and the Luna Bars and Seltzer water diet (my personal method of dropping the freshman 15). There’s also been a lot of binging. More binging than dieting, if I’m being honest. There have been times when I am sort of okay with how I look, and times when it is hard to leave the house, especially when meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in some time, who will certainly notice my thirty pound weight gain.

I’ve also done a lot of therapy. I mean, A LOT of therapy.

It was in therapy, talking about all my attempts to stop eating so much food, when my therapist asked me, “Rachel, what else is as big as your hunger?”

Immediately images came rushing to my mind.

I could see my heart, my love for my family, my ambition, my joy, my passion for God, my passion for life.

And I saw my fear of being big. Of being loud and strong and beautiful and powerful.

After my session with my therapist I sat down and made a list of all the things that I want to be able to do without shame, especially without shame about my body. It included things like wearing lipstick, getting a tattoo, running as long as I want, wearing tight clothes, and eating as much as I want in front of anyone. Anything that popped into my head and was immediately met with “maybe when you lose some weight” went on the list.

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Fifth on the list was, “Do yoga”.

I sat with the list for some time. I read through it again and again. I read through it enough times to confirm my realization that not one item on the list required me to lose a single pound or change my body in any way.

But a lot of them require me to be seen. A lot of them required me to let myself be big.

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So I bought lipstick. I bought two shades one week, and went back for two shades the next. Lipstick was the gateway to makeup, which was the gateway to wearing clothes without additional layers. I sat and planned my tattoo, discussing it with friends to gather ideas. But I kept coming back to #5 on the list.

Finally, I called up my trusted friend and scheduled a time to go to yoga. We went.

And I was the fattest girl in the room.

There were moves I could not do, like grabbing both my ankles behind me in a reverse boat pose. I took full advantage of the teacher’s offer to return to child’s pose whenever a position was too challenging. An hour passed by, and I didn’t die. No one said a single thing about my weight or my lack of yoga skills. I did not fall on my face and break my nose, as I had worried I might. No one pointed and laughed at me.

In the last few minutes of class, tears rolled down my face. Tears of gratitude for a body that is strong and flexible. Tears of pride for finishing the workout. And tears for my body. A body that has served me and protected me. A body that has made me ashamed. A body that has kept me safe. A body I have blamed for so many struggles. A body that is mine.

Of all the dieting strategies I have tried, one I haven’t tried yet is to get bigger. To be as strong and beautiful and loud and powerful as I am.

Two weeks ago I walked past one of the assistant principals I work with, and she stopped in her tracks, looked me up and down with her eyes and her finger and said, “I see you, Rachel. I see you.”

It was terrifying. And it was exhilarating.

The next day she asked me what has been going on, why I’ve been “jazzing it up.”

So I told her the truth. I told her that I’ve decided to finally show up for my life.

And though I didn’t tell her about it, I’ve also continued to show up for yoga class. Maybe just to prove that yoga is for people like me, too.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. I’m reading a great book by Jes Baker called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. It’s all about body love, for people of all shapes and sizes and it’s nice to keep in my purse for moments when I’m feeling like maybe shrinking, and all the baggage that comes with it, is actually a good idea after all.

 

 

 

 

 

friendship PARENTING

Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend

True confessions: Facebook rants fascinate me. Like, I definitely get why they are problematic, but sometimes I just want to pull out the popcorn and read some comments. Kardashians step aside, my friends have your drama BEAT!

So a few months ago I was joyfully scrolling when I landed on a rant from one of my FB friends. I’m not close enough with him that I knew the context of his frustrations, only that he was annoyed with his friends for exclusionary behavior.

Here was his comment:

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And ever since, I’ve had a hard time getting his words out of my head. “You should never make anyone work hard to be your friend.”

Being a parent is a pretty great free pass. A get out of jail card I’ve used endlessly. For example, I haven’t been on time to anything in the past two years. When I give you an ETA, it’s really more of a window, a casual suggestion.

It also works really well as an excuse why I can’t participate in activities and events. For good or bad, a sick kid is the perfect answer to how to avoid the social event I’ve been dreading.

In addition, since I have been sick over the last year, I have had an even better excuse. I am a sick mom of a toddler boy (and I work full time). Sometimes I want to just tattoo that sentence to my forehead by way of explanation.

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And it gets really easy to operate out of this sense of scarcity. Because I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And saying yes to one thing usually means saying no to something else and if I’m not careful I can over commit and the whole assembly line shuts down completely.

Not to mention that right now it is tax season and my husband is a tax accountant, so we’re busy.

Which is why when my husband and I got an email recently from the pastor at our church, asking if anyone in the church would be willing to make treats for the time between our two church services, I deleted it.

But over dinner that night my husband said he was thinking we should sign up to bring brownies. So I said, “Why, we already do a lot for church. Let someone who isn’t doing anything sign up.”

My husband baked brownies anyway, and I was grumpy about it all weekend.

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(Though maybe a little less grumpy once I actually got to eat the brownies.)

But it gives me pause. Because I think there are seasons of scarcity. But I can’t help but look around, at the incredible life I have full of friends and community, and see not scarcity, but abundance.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when I keep everyone around me at the fringe and margin of my life because, well, it’s just easier. I wonder if there are times when I hold all that abundance closely to myself, hoping that none of it gets away.

I wonder if there are times when I make it hard for people to be my friend.

So I’ve been reflecting on what it looks like to say yes. To live with a little less fear. To trust there is going to be enough for me, even if I share a little with my neighbor. To take a moment to stop dwelling on my own forehead tattoo, and glance up to read the tattoos of the people around me.

To bake a few extra brownies, just in case.

A few weeks ago I met a woman at the library. She was there with her husband and two sons. While watching our boys play together at the train table, with occasional commiseration about the typical mom challenges, she asked if I knew of anyone who was a good babysitter. I asked if she knew about the local mom group in the area. I found out that she didn’t, that in fact, she just moved to the United States six months ago and is still learning the ins and outs of our shared neighborhood.

And I almost left it right there.

But before scooting out of the room to chase my son, we exchanged numbers.

When I got home later that night, I sent a text:

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I’m not sure if the playdate is going to happen. And there’s still a part of me that worries I don’t have time for another friend, or that saying yes to her would mean saying no to someone else.

And I think that’s probably true.

But then again, why not? It would be a good excuse to bake some more brownies.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Pomegranates and Really Bad Bedtime Routines

My one piece of advice to parents? Get your kids into a good bedtime routine.

Just don’t ask me how to do it.

If the books are to be believed, I think there’s something about “consistency” and “same time each night”, two areas on the life report card that leave me hovering right around a C-.

Our motto for parenting is “do what works, until it doesn’t, then do what works.” And that’s true of the bedtime routine, too. We’ve done what works, which has sometimes included a swing, a crib, a crib mattress on the floor, a queen-sized mattress on the floor, a night light in the wall, co-sleeping, sleeping alone, a bath, a song, and always, of course, a book.

It has also included parent tears and children tears, vomit, tantrums that end in dirty diapers, and, well, you get the point.

I’m going to be honest, I work under the assumption that we are the only parents that have this problem. But I remind myself that, at least as far as I know, most kids don’t co-sleep when they’re in High School.

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On the topic of things we’re trying to do better, my husband and I are working, or rather, eating our way through cookbook of salads. (Is it still called a cookbook if you don’t cook?) I bring it up not as a humble brag, but to both give the book a shout out, and to explain why a pomegranate was sitting opened, a fourth of its seeds taken out, on our kitchen counter.

My husband had commented that he didn’t think he was going to finish the pomegranate and, because we do have a tendency to get distracted and let fruit go bad, asked if we should keep it or throw it away. Playing my role in what has become a familiar scene, I insisted I would finish peeling it, or whatever it is that you call removing the fruit from a pomegranate. Shucking?

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I did end up peel-shucking that pomegranate, mostly because I enjoy any kitchen task that gives me an excuse to watch Gilmore Girls and still feel productive. As I watched Rory have her heart broken by Jess for the hundredth time, I pulled the skin away from the pomegranate seeds. And I realized for third time (since we don’t really eat that many pomegranates in our home) how beautiful those perfect red beads are, like jewels hidden inside their rhinoceros-skin exteriors.

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So last night, while I was rocking my baby boy to sleep, or rather, rocking him, since there was no sleep going on, I looked down at his beautiful, perfect face and his tiny, George W. Bush ears, his long eye-lashes, and his dimple, and kissed his forehead.

“Sing, Mama?” he asked.

I sang. And then, we sang. First, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and then “Give Yourself to Love”, and “Jesus Loves Me”.  And I listened as my two year old started, for the first time, to sing along with every word to the songs that I have sung him each night. He grinned as his tiny, high-pitched voice matched mine, recognizing my delight in his newly revealed ability.

And it was like peeling away the ugly rhinoceros skin of our lack of bedtime routine, and seeing the little gem of it stuck inside, just waiting for me to find it.

I imagine we’ll keep tweaking our bedtime routine, continuing to make it work. But even when it doesn’t, I guess it’s not always so bad after all.

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

fathering mothering PARENTING

My Mental Breakdown in the Middle of A Target Store

I am losing my mind. Little by little.

This past month my son has been sick. It hasn’t been a major sick, it’s been a cough that wakes him up three to four times a night sick. Roughly translated, that is a “wake your parents up three to four times a night” kind of sick.

For a month.

Add to this fact that the weekends have been filled with mandatory professional developments on Saturdays.

I’m feeling a little panicky even talking about it.

My husband said recently that a baby’s REM cycle is 45 minutes. On nights when I am too exhausted to sit in a chair and rock my baby back to sleep and place him in his crib, opting instead to bring him into the bed with my husband and me, I imagine I’m waking up about every 45 minutes.

I am showering a lot less than I used to. Back to the sloppy ponytail. My brain feels like someone has replaced the gray matter with Styrofoam. As a friend of mine said, her own children grown and this stage of mothering far behind her, “This level of sleep deprivation is outlawed by the Geneva convention.”

And yet here I am.

But this happens, right? Those days when the most basic needs seem to be too much work, so they are stripped to only the most basic of the basic needs.

It became clear that my sore throat on Monday, coupled with the delirium, mandated a day away from work, a day for rest. Except, after tossing and turning for over an hour, sleep was not available to me. So I did what every other person losing his or her sanity does.

I went shopping at Target.

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I had no illusions about my intentions at the Target. I was there to SHOP. I grabbed the cart, not the basket, and started making my way methodically though the entire store, letting my cart push me more than the other way around.

To be fair, this was a trip that had been needed for some time, but because I could not be bothered to write down the many items needed in our home, like outlet covers to keep our toddler son from electrocuting himself, it became necessary to walk through every single aisle just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

Or that’s what I told myself.

Among my purchased items: a loofah, cream of mushroom soup, a sippy cup, a suspension shower rack, 2 picture frames, outlet covers, 2 bins to fit inside our IKEA bookshelf, and gum. I also scheduled an eye appointment, since apparently Targets are now small countries with infrastructure and eye clinics. I almost scheduled to get a strep culture to see about my sore throat, but I have an HMO and wasn’t willing to pay $90 out of pocket.

Oh, and I bought a candle.

It was actually the purchase of this candle that put me over the edge.

There I was, standing in the candle aisle at Target. You know the one. It makes you remember all the yoga and meditation that you should be doing to live a more mindful and healthy life. It’s the one that makes you feel like maybe if you just lit a few more of these beautiful candles in your home, a fung shei fairy would appear and magically transform your house from what it is into a Zen garden with straight lines and empty space.

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The candle I picked up had a big red label that said, “BE JOYFUL!” in tall font. I smelled it. The combination of peppermint and sage transported me to the moments of sitting in our living room in Minnesota, unwrapping the Christmas decorations one by one. It reminded me of my dad’s collection of nativity scenes, many with candles whose heat causes the whole scene to spin and spin. It reminded me of Christmases when money was too tight for a tree, and then the doorbell rang and a tree was sitting, like magic, on our front porch.

The tears came immediately. Because I desperately wanted to hug my dad. And because those precious moments, like the ones with my family at Christmas, are so perfect and beautiful, tight with love and light. I cried because I wanted that candle to transport me to my family, to Christmas, to sleep. I cried because I knew that it may take a few months, but Christmas will come again.

I cried because sometimes just the thought that Christmas will come again can make the sleep deprived moments when I am a lunatic crying in a Target seem a little less lonely, a little less frantic, a little, well, less.

And, I cried because I was tired.

My mom promises me that one day I will wake up and I won’t feel tired anymore. I’m holding onto that promise for dear life. That promise, like Christmas, helps me keep getting up, keep doing the basics of basic, even after the days when the tears flow in the middle of a suburban Target store.

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I took the “Be Joyful” candle home. It has not transformed my living room. But smelling it is a good reminder that this moment is fleeting, and there can be pockets of joy even in the midst of losing my mind.

henri nouwen

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

PARENTING

Facebook is Ruining My Life

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I’m getting a new phone on Saturday. My iPhone 4S (yes, people still have those) has been slowly dying. First, my son ate the Otterbox Defender case. When I went to try to replace the case at Verizon I was told that they no longer keep the 4S cases on the floor. After convincing the salesclerk to go into the back and retrieve the box of unwanted iPhone 4S cases I decided it might not be worth $60 to buy a case for a phone that doesn’t even warrant display in a Verizon store. (This made the salesclerk’s day.)

So my phone has been naked for the past several months, and during that time I have dropped it approximately three hundred fifty seven times, and my son has chewed on it more times than that. Only one speaker works, it shuts off completely at random intervals, the battery runs out after twenty minutes, and the screen has a small crack in the corner.

Still, all in all, I’m pretty impressed with this small piece of technological wonder, and its ability to defy all odds and power on with 95% reliability.

However the newest development has caused me to bite the bullet and purchase a new phone. Why? Well, my phone no longer opens any programs except phone, chat, and music. While it technically opens Safari, it only provides a 3G network. According to the Verizon representative I talked to, that’s the equivalent of dial-up. So basically, my phone has the computing ability of my 2007 Motorola Razr.

This development has meant that none of the apps I have downloaded will load. The phone crashes when I try to look at Facebook, for example. Just an example.

Well, technically, it’s THE example. Because I look at Facebook a lot. A LOT. And not being able to access Facebook on my phone for the past week has shed some light on the depth of my addiction.

My average day, it turns out, generally starts by turning off the alarm on my phone, and immediately checking to see if I have a red number hovering over the blue f on my phone’s home screen.

But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. When stuck in traffic, car at a stop, I find myself reaching for my phone. Yes. Please shame me for this, because it is terrible.

Then there are the moments throughout the day, those moments when there is even a tiny little pause. It’s those moments when I get the sensation that I am forgetting something, that there is something I am meaning to do. Then it hits me. Facebook. I should be checking Facebook.

The evening continues with much the same. Facebook is a constant fixture in my life. I’ve checked Facebook four times already while writing this post.
But seriously, does that even matter? I can’t possibly be checking Facebook any more than anyone else. How many times have you checked Facebook today?

But not having Facebook has forced me to spend my time differently. I’ve been sending longish emails to some of my friends. I’ve been tracking what I eat into My Fitness Pal. I talked to my coworkers at lunch today. I ordered reeds for my clarinet so I can start practicing again. I’ve been reading books.

And then when I do get on Facebook, generally at night after my son is asleep, I notice that there are 12 notifications and I quickly browse through them to see if there are any I even care about. And the answer is that I mostly don’t.

But I sure do like that red number. Especially when it is such a high number after a long day away from the page. But there’s a lot I don’t like.

I don’t like that Facebook is controlling so much of my life. I don’t like waiting for my Facebook to load, hoping that someone somewhere has noticed something I’ve said or done, and feeling badly when the red number doesn’t appear.

I don’t like that I’m the person who looks at other people’s kids and thinks about whether they are as cute as my own. Obviously none of them are. Except for that one. And that makes me angry.

I don’t like the news stories that leave me hopeless.

I don’t like looking at pictures of my friends with kids and hoping to see that they, too, still wear their baby weight.

I don’t like hating the posts from my family members who disagree with me politically. I don’t like how self-righteous I become, justifying how balanced and fair I am because I get angry with people on both sides of every issue.

I don’t like the jealousy when I see someone has bought a house, or published a book, or discovered the secrets to the universe while I fumble along learning a new job.

I’m tired of the compare game, because I always lose. And even when I win, I still lose.

For the record, I have checked Facebook two more times while writing that last part.

So maybe, as much as I don’t like those things, I can’t help myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could end this post by telling you that I am quitting Facebook? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic declaration of mindfulness and balance, rising above it all by quitting the comparison game? Wouldn’t I be so incredible?

Well, I’m not quitting Facebook. I love the updates from family and friends. It’s still my primary source of news, local and abroad. It’s still where I look to find the funniest memes.

It is, after all, a pretty incredible means to keep in touch with my family, spread between three continents. And I do actually enjoy seeing my friends’ babies, even the ones that aren’t as cute as my son. Especially the ones that aren’t as cute as my son.

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And I like being liked. In the Facebook sense and the real world sense of the word.

So there are no declarations of quitting Facebook to end this post. But maybe when I pick out my phone on Saturday I will think twice before downloading my Facebook app.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

How To Make A Baby: The First Year

It’s been almost a year since I pushed a human being out of my body. This past week I have been literally aching to have another baby. I’m telling myself this sudden desire for baby number two is a result of this important birth anniversary. Biology is an incredible thing. (I think I hear my mom cheering.)

I’m not going to give you the play by play of how our baby, or any baby for that matter, was made. Sorry. Or maybe, you’re welcome. But what does it take to “make a baby” a success?

I have read a lot of parenting articles, blogs, and books and some have been helpful and some have been not helpful, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is that nobody really knows. Therefore I feel as qualified as anyone else to offer you my personal conclusions about parenting, one year in.

“Good Mom” Does Not Equal DIY

Every day my son gets a sheet from the daycare chronicling his day. Without really talking about it, my husband and I have been saving them. That is, until a few weeks ago, when the sheets had accumulated on every surface of our house and in the cracks of the seats in our cars, in purses, bags, drawers, and the diaper bag. I asked my husband if it was important to him if we kept them. He was surprised, saying he had only been saving them for me.

Then my husband said, “Huh, I guess I just imagined you were more of a scrapbook kind of person than you actually are.”

I threw them away. All of them.

In a perfect world I would scrapbook everything from my son’s first footprints to the sheets he brings home from daycare. In a perfect world, I would have remembered to take the photo each month with my son in his cute onesie stating his age (I did three of the first six months, and then realized around month six, when all the pictures looked exactly the same, the purpose of the stuffed animal sitting next to my friends’ monthly baby picture updates: size perspective. I’m a quick study. By the time I’d made this discovery my son had had a diaper explosion, ruining his six month onesie, and ending the project.) In a perfect world this isn’t what my son’s first photo album would look like:

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Let it be known it took me five minutes to dig this box out of the closet for this photo. That’s how low this is on my priority list.

In anticipation of my son’s first birthday my coworker and I sat during our lunch break and browsed Pinterest photos for ideas of first birthday themes. I got so excited looking over the ideas and planning out foods. I settled on a dog theme, complete with puppy chow snacks. An hour later a different coworker asked me what my son’s first birthday party theme would be. In a moment of clarity I said, “Rachel’s House”.

We’re ordering the party food from Costco. Funny thing? I have no regrets about how I’ve been spending my time. And my son still seems pretty happy whenever I enter the room. Though I suppose there’s still plenty of time for him to hold the lack of photo albums against me.

“Sleep Training Sucks Balls”

I apologize for the language. Allow me to explain. I recently got back in touch with an old friend from High School. Via text she told me she’s been reading my blog and then said, “Are you still sleep training? Sucks balls!!!” I laughed for a full five minutes.

It isn’t just that we have tried every sleep configuration possible, including: holding him through the night, co-sleeping, him sleeping next to our bed, us sleeping next to his bed, sleeping in the play pen next to the bed, moving the crib into our room, moving the crib into his room. We’ve tried sleeping in the swing, sleeping in the bouncer, sleeping on the floor, with and without blankets, pacifiers, comfort objects, mobiles, and sound machines.

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The bigger challenge is the fear. The fear that even though he’s slept the last three nights, we’re one bout of sickness away from starting over. From the dreaded beginning. Or the fear that he, and we, will never sleep again. Ever.

By the way, for all of you itching to tell me it gets better, I know, I know. Wanna know what’s even more helpful than telling me it gets better? Offering to take an overnight shift to watch him.

Finally, a parenting law: the moment a baby falls asleep one of the following will happen: a doorbell ring, a dog bark, a phone buzz, firecrackers, battery operated toys coming to life with creepy songs and flashing lights, car alarms, kitchen alarms, or fire alarm. If none of the above happen, you will trip and stub your toe on the way out of the sleeping baby’s room. If you break your toe without making a noise, you win. This is Truth with a capital T.

Do What Works Until It Doesn’t. Repeat.

Sometimes it works to leave dishes piled on the kitchen counters and onto the floor. Sometimes it doesn’t. Then we wash them. Sometimes it works to feed our son organic food. Sometimes it doesn’t. And we give him regular generic brand apple sauce. Sometimes it works to drown your postpartum sorrows in endless slices of cinnamon swirl bread with butter. Sometimes it doesn’t. And you buy bigger clothes and eat less carbs.

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All random examples of course.

I felt some guilt over the fact that for awhile the only thing that calmed my son down while riding in the car was listening to Eminem and Rihanna sing the song “Monster”. Did I listen to too much top 40 radio while pregnant? Likely. Is it worth listening to “Monster” forty times in a row to avoid a long car ride with a screaming baby?

You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

Tell the Truth 

I cried for four hours every day the week after my son was born. The crying slowed down a little each week until I only cried every other day, once a week, and finally only when watching heartwarming videos. (OK, Always sanitary napkin commercials. Their marketing campaigns have been impressive lately.)

I recently realized I drove home with my son’s carseat not snapped into the carseat base, as the carseat base had a sock, a highlighter, and a metal fork in it.

When my son was three months old I put too much weigh on the handle of his stroller and he fell out of the stroller and scratched his eyelid. Arguably one of the worst moments of my life.

We switched to using brown sheets because that was easier than changing them as often as our son threw up on them.

I know, gross.

But also, a relief. This past year some of my favorite moments have been when I have told one of these stories to someone and they’ve respond with, “Oh, let me tell you…” and then matched or topped my story with one of their own.

There aren’t a lot of answers, but there sure are a lot of stories.

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One year. I can’t believe it’s already been one year. But my almost standing, almost walking, almost talking son is proof that indeed, life continues, ready or not. It may be awhile before baby number two (sorry Mom) but in the meantime, I am the proudest mama of my little one year old.

Thank you for the lessons, my sweet boy. Happy Birthday.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

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