Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Playing Video Games While the Kids are in Daycare

Final Fantasy VII Characters: Red XIII, Barrett, Cait Sith, Aeris, Cloud, Tifa, Cid, Vincent, and Yuffie.
Final Fantasy VII Characters

Summer is usually the time that I write more, but I’ve ended up using the past two and a half weeks just immersing myself in the healing power of Doing What I Want to Do.

This past academic year was rough. Extremely rough. I took six graduate classes in one year while teaching full-time. And I presented at three conferences. And then there were the two kids.

I don’t mean this to sound like I’m so Amazing Because I Do So Many Things. It was actually kind of stupid of me to over-commit myself to so many responsibilities. If I learned anything from this past year, it’s this: Although my mental breaking point has risen dramatically since I had the kids (surprise! surprise!), IT STILL EXISTS.

In mid-June, there I was. Dissolving into tears at a Saturday Morning Breakfast when a friend asked, “How are you doing?”

How am I doing?

Does it matter?

I’m dying inside. 

I haven’t had more than thirty minutes to think about something besides responsibilities in over SEVEN MONTHS.

I don’t do anything besides chores, work, school, chores, work, school. 

Well, yes, I exercise, but I get up at 4:00 a.m. just to do that. 

I haven’t seen adult TV since April. Period.

I haven’t done anything creative, FOR ME, for ten months.

I think that’s what has hurt the most. I’ve been holding onto a list of Things to Do that is about 100 items deep, and every time I knock enough of the things off the list and edge closer to a moment when I can do something that I want to do, SOMETHING ELSE FOR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES ITS PLACE.

Well, that’s just motherhood, hon’. Get over it, part of me thinks. You can do something for yourself in fifteen more years. 

And so the fight goes on.

This is the headspace of Mother of Two compared to Mother of One.

I truly don’t know how my mom survived being Mother of Five.

She didn’t drink. She had no vices that I could see. Her weapon was optimism.

I still don’t know.

***

So this is what burnout looks like.

Dusting off the ole’ PS 2 (purchased in 2001…) and playing Final Fantasy VII from the beginning, this time checking off the acquisition of each and every damn Enemy Skill, leveling up the characters beyond what they need, and grinding away at enemy fights with high AP.

Burnout is reveling in the complete obliteration of fake monsters, which you’ve already beat at least five times before, mind you, (even if it was years ago) that cower with your use of Beta or Bolt 3. It is actually mentally and physically enjoyable to watch yourself knock out Boss after Boss in a few major magic attacks–when you’ve spent the entire academic year grinding away, teaching the same classes over and over again, wondering if you’ve yet told that joke to this current roster of students.

Oh, they laughed, so nope, that joke was still new to them. But you are so very tired of yourself. You don’t find yourself clever or interesting anymore. Teaching has become a bit of an out-of-body experience where you actually–while verbally giving instruction–imagine a reality in which you are finally completely ALONE in a cabin, high in the mountains, with nothing but silent snow falling all around and six more books in the Wheel of Time series to read.

That’s burnout.

That’s what I’ve been coming back from over the last two weeks.

***

In mid-May, I came across this blog post about the level of burnout that working moms feel, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

However, it’s conclusion was this: Hey, Moms. Be vulnerable and let people know that you can’t do it all. Be real and don’t pretend that it’s all okay.

Um. Thanks. That’s not helpful.

I’m real all the time about how things are going. A month ago, an energetic co-worker saw me in the office’s kitchen and cheerfully asked how I was doing.

I said, “Running on fumes.”

“Awww, poor thing. Sorry to hear that.”

Which, yes, is somewhat nice to hear, but it doesn’t do much. And I’m certainly not expecting acquaintances to solve my burnout problems. I might also hear or “Eck, that sucks” or the murderously infuriating, “Well, this time goes fast, so don’t waste these moments!”

But it’s not helping to be vulnerable and real with people about the stress that I typically carry when I’m working full-time and taking care of two little ones.

That’s because the problems are systemic. When you live in a country that PITIFULLY supports parents, you end up with high levels of stress and burnout among working parents. (Not just working moms, hello.)

The 40-hour work week sucks for parents because you’re probably spending an additional 3-4 hours each day just caring for kids. And when you’re done with that, you just want to sleep. So really, between working and caring for kids, you’re putting in 60+ hours.

AND THEN HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.

Only it’s not the “weekend” anymore. It’s 24 waking hours of taking care of your kids, or at least keeping them safely occupied.

And if at any point in this post, you’ve had the thought, Oh please, move on, hon. This is your responsibility–You are proving my point.

Being real and being vulnerable about these issues doesn’t help because too often society says that parents (in particular, moms) should not only selflessly accept their responsibilities–they should revel in these most sacred of moments, when the children are small. Because that is what GOOD MOTHERS do. They find endless amounts of fulfillment and life satisfaction simply in seeing their children thrive.

If that’s what a good mother is, then I’m doomed to be a Mediocre Mom.

As much as I love my kids (and I really do), I cannot pretend that neglecting myself for months on end doesn’t have its consequences.

Right now, the consequence looks like this:

final_fantasy_vii_rerelease_screenshot_01

Of course, it truly does help when you hear your two-year-old says this:

***

Okay, truthfully, that’s not all I’ve been doing. I’ve definitely needed time to myself, but I am still very much me–and there’s part of me that just cannot be tamed, I guess.

We have finally filmed a video on knife sharpening for our YouTube cooking channel, which we have been planning to film for the past ten months. I’ve laid it out. It’s edited. It’s mixed and almost produced.

There’s also another project that I’ve been quietly working on, which I’ll debut in a few weeks, if not earlier.

More to come.

And, hey, thanks for reading and not judging.

Hopefully, I’m not scorched in the comments for “being real.”

5 Years

Dad and Sharon 1982

“I Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard

 

Heaven is a place we hold.
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go
If you’re there
When the world comes to gather me in
I will be blessed

 

Funerals

The last post that I wrote was over three months ago.

I’ve started a few posts, but haven’t been able to finish them.

Partly because I haven’t really had an hour to breathe since mid-February.

Partly because I have nothing to say.

Partly because I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start.

Truth be told, this time of year always gets me a little down. Every year since my dad passed away in June 2014, a general malaise and “I’m-so-done-with-this-whole-life” attitude sets in around Memorial Day and doesn’t lift until mid-June (which, sadly, is always when Father’s Day happens).

There are still a few hundred others things I should be doing right now (and as I type this, I’m falling further and further behind), but I am utterly burned out, and WHATEVER, I need to do this.

In the mood for some rambling?

Here we go.

***

Three months. Three funerals.  

One, a lifelong friend who has known me since I was 8. Her death, expected, but still difficult.

One, an acquaintance, whom I had only met only a few times. Husband of my colleague. Father of four. His death, sudden and unexpected, the last page of his story, ending in mid-sentence. Tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.

One, someone whom I have never met, but whose words created a new space for me in the Christian faith. Writer. Theologian. Mother of two young ones. Her death, also unexpected, tragic, confusing, and unbelievable.

The lifelong friend that I lost was the mother of a close friend, the kind of person who knew everything and anything about how you grew up, who you were, and what kind of person you are still becoming. Her funeral was the only one that I had any time to process, a full “luxurious” nine hours to speak at the funeral, cry, and rest with a coffee cup in hand while hearing and telling stories. (Thank you, babysitters.)

And then there were three tornadoes that tore through my hometown, though mercifully not through my neighborhood. On the morning of Tuesday, May 29th, I got texts and messages and emails, “Are you okay? Let me know.” Our community’s tragedies, front page national news.

This is the tough part of Life.

When you have to keep doing all the responsibilities, all the work, the chores, the parent-teacher conferences, dentist appointments, birthday parties, oil changes, groceriesgroceriesgroceries, not to mention all the future-focused, long-term plans (Should I go back to school? When? Change jobs? When? What kind? Where? How?)

Do all of that, while you’re reminded over and over again that:

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

We will all die.

Our children will die.

The homes that we build and the things that we acquire will blow away, burn, or crumble.

The great achievements that we work toward and glory in will fall into ruin and be forgotten.

Even if what we do amounts to something on this planet, Earth is still in the midst of the Milky Way, which is spinning towards Andromeda, and billions of years from now, all of this will explode in another fiery end.

What does it all mean?

pexels-photo-1205301

Image credit: 01234567890, pexels.com

***

Okay, right, obviously it does matter to my children that I teach them how to love and show kindness. That I live my life in a way that I want them to live.

Of course, yes, that matters.

I guess what I’m wrestling with is the truth that,

the plans and aspirations and goals that I have in my life… aren’t really that important at all.

What does it matter if I never have a boss that can appreciate my competence rather than be threatened by it?

What does it matter if I’m never paid enough for the work that I do?

What does it matter if I never make another creative thing–a book, a post, a video–that other people enjoy?

Why does it matter so much to me that I be productive, that I continue to achieve… because all of things that I’ll make and achieve are really just dust.

Or, more likely, bits of data, easily erased or buried.

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

That truth is the same for all of us.

But perhaps what is different is our conclusions about that truth and how we let it affect our lives.

***

And then there were these words from Nadia Bolz-Weber at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral.

While it was still dark.

***

So I guess there is something that you find at the bottom of the pile of grief, that continues to grow because there’s never time to process it all.

Peace.

There is some measure of peace in knowing that it’s okay.

Whatever I do.

Whatever I don’t do.

Whatever I plan to do, but am never able to accomplish.

It’s okay.

All is well.

Is Anyone Having Fun on Valentine’s Day? (and What I’ve Been Doing Lately)

On February 15th, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment on “Singles Awareness Day,” focusing on how single people shouldn’t feel so alone because everyone else, apparently, had such an amazing Valentine’s Day.

Psshhh…

Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.

Valentine’s Day Prelude

Wednesday, February 13th: Spent the day at home with the toddler because of a diarrhea bug, which was mercifully mostly over by Wednesday. Lost time for grading and planning.

The Big V-Day

  • 4:15 a.m. – 5:10 a.m.: Glorious morning run under the stars

(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)

  • 5:12 a.m: Voicemail from public schools. Daughter’s kindergarten class is cancelled because of a water boil advisory due to a major pipe breakage. No problem. She’ll just spend the day at daycare, right?
  • 5:30 a.m.: Bathe the toddler whose poop has turned into sludge and has mercifully remained contained in his footed pajamas.
  • 7:00 a.m.: Daycare decides to also close because of the water advisory. Reverses course 15 minutes later. Children finally dropped off and settled by 7:40 a.m. Daughter forgets all classmates’ valentines in the car.
  • 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Teaching all morning, lunch for five minutes, grading/planning, public student poster presentations
  • 3:30-4:30: Drive home, make dinner for the kids
  • 4:30-4:45: Eat a leisurely 15-minute dinner alone before getting the kids (salad, hard-boiled egg, peanut butter pretzels)
  • 4:45-5:30: Retrieve children from daycare
  • 5:30-6:30: Feed children/ wash dishes/ sort through bags of valentines, crafts, and candy/ do laundry/ give baths/ dress kids for bed
  • 6:30: Husband arrives home
  • 6:32: Husband says, “Go, you’ve done enough. I’ve got the kids.”
  • 6:35: Daughter says to me, “My panties have poop in them. Can you help me?”
  • 7:00: Go to bed alone.

The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.

High. Five.

So, let’s dispel all those myths that married people / people in relationships are having amazing Valentine’s Days.

Because at the end of the day, what married couples of so many years with young kids really want is SLEEP.

#truth

***

Oh friends…

This is going to be quite the year.

That has been the feeling for at least the past 12 months, since the youngest child started becoming mobile. In the back of my mind (as I’m transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer or moving dry dishes to the cabinets or dirty dishes to the dishwasher), I’ve had this nagging feeling that…

Perhaps, it’s all over.

“It” being my ability to reclaim any empty moment for myself.

If, by some miracle, an empty moment finds me during the day, and I choose to use it for myself, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of Oh my God, you should be doing something else right now! You are so far behind!

But then, the thought: Behind who? Behind what?

Who am I comparing myself to?

My pre-child self? Because she’s been dead for quite a while. And the hope of her resurrection is pretty much gone.

But then there’s the realization that, There is no end to this.

At least not for the foreseeable future.

This is my life now.

Moving from task to task to task to task until the day is done.

My life has become an endless treadmill of tasks that begin at 4:00 a.m. and pull me along, chug, chug, chug, until I throw in the towel at 6:45 p.m.

***

I don’t mind being busy. Sometimes, I even revel in being busy. Instead, what pulls me down is when I feel like I’m not growing or changing for the better. If I’m not pushing myself to learn more or grow, boredom soon sinks in. And that makes it harder to find joy and purpose in what I do.

So with that in mind, here are a few things that I’m trying out this year, as a way to grow and change.

Relearning algebra, geometry, and trigonometry via Khan Academy

The rationale here is…

I’m afraid of math. And I’m tired of being afraid of math.

So I wondered, What it would be like to learn math without being afraid of failing? What if I could go at my own pace and see how far my limits take me?

It’s also great preparation for taking the GRE (I may or may not be thinking about a Ph.D. program in the future).

algebra.JPG

Learning how to write computer code

Again, this is something that I’ve been afraid of. Maybe because it’s mostly a male-dominated field? But it seems like learning how to code is becoming not only useful, but necessary as computing power doubles, triples, quintuples.

Reading the Wheel of Time series

This is unabashed escapism. I’m okay with that.

Some mothers have daytime TV.

Some have romance novels (I never could get into those. Too formulaic. Too many one-dimensional characters.)

I’ve got fantasy fiction.

Eye of the World.jpg

So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.

It’s going to be a Long. Long. Journey.

PoP # 17: This is Why We Need a Lemonade Stand in our Driveway

Behold.

The glory of our driveway.

a.k.a. the Site of Endless Driveway Turnarounds.

 

 

This is also the reason my husband staked two steel trellises on either side of the driveway. Which, yeah, are continually knocked over by people who don’t know how to stay on a driveway.

So. A lemonade stand.

Good thing our daughter wants to be a “Lemonader.”

A Long December: Reflections on a Decision that Changed Everything

Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.

Christmas night.

The humidifier steams. The white noise machine zzhhhhhhs.

Faint lights from passing cars travel across the walls.

With his soft breath against my shoulder, I rock back and back and back. One year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. As many Christmases as I can remember.

Plenty of happy ones.

Plenty of ones filled with tension. (Growing up in a house with four teenagers will do that).

Plenty of forgettable ones in my 20s. (That limbo between getting married and having kids.)

Now, we’ve entered a series of Christmases that no longer mean comfort and joy or the most wonderful time of the year.

There was the Christmas of Nausea (2012), when I grasped for ginger candy and Sea Bands or whatever anyone suggested that might help me ride the waves of first trimester nausea. From December until mid-January. (Truly a delight, let me tell you.)

And the 37-Weeks-Pregnant Christmas (2016), when I told myself that I only had three weeks left to go. (It turned out to be another five weeks. Yeah.)

And all those fun Christmases of Illness (2014, 2017, 2018). 2017 was by far the worst, as the baby’s diarrhea stretched on for a few weeks, taking us all down into its shitty vortex.

And the downright sad Christmas (2015) when the baby’s heart stopped beating. After I had a D & C on New Year’s Eve, I sat in the parking lot of Whole Foods while my husband bought me a slice of apple pie. I listened to “Long December” by the Counting Crows and cried.

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe

Maybe this year will be better than the last

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself

to hold on to these moments as they pass

But if I’m really thinking about the Christmas when everything in my life changed direction, when I started plotting a course that brought me to this rocking chair, with this child in my arms, while my oldest sleeps in her bed across the hall, I always end up traveling back to Christmas of 2002.

It was Christmas Eve. 11:00 p.m. At Wal-Mart. And I was standing in the card aisle. Looking for cards for a few friends and my boyfriend. I had no trouble picking out the cards for my friends.

But I was having the hardest time picking out one for my boyfriend of three years.

Forever and always. My one and only. Meant for each other.

I couldn’t even pick them up to consider them.

Because I understood, suddenly and completely, that I couldn’t see a future for us anymore, the way that I used to.

What was our future? It was his vision for what we would become. A married couple. A house. No kids. I could be a teacher, but did I really need any more education than a Bachelor’s degree? Why did I want to travel when he was the most important thing in my life? Wasn’t a life with him good enough? And kids? Why have kids? They just ruin a good thing.

And for a long time, I thought, Yes, of course. You’re right. You are the only thing that I want in life. I couldn’t possibly want anything else. Right. I don’t want kids. Nah, too much work. We’d be much happier by ourselves. Living our life together without kids getting in the way.

But I did want more. Much more. And in time, conversations about the future brought me back again and again to a realization that I could not ignore.

We had come as far as we could together, but now there was more pulling us apart than was keeping us together.

And although my heart had been feeling that way for some time, I didn’t want to give up. I had poured so much of myself into making it work. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked his family. I didn’t want to make life more difficult or more inconvenient for anyone.

And above all, I didn’t want to believe that although love can bring people together, sometimes it wasn’t enough to keep them together. No one makes movies or songs about the power of finding someone with compatible values and goals for life, or someone who trusts you and works with you to resolve conflict. It’s not sexy enough. And if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to even articulate the problems.

I just remember thinking, This isn’t working.

I thought that a lot.

And yet, I was like the women in my family who came before me: devoted and long-suffering, servile and contented.

To end this relationship was not within my repertoire. At all.

But I also couldn’t lie to myself.

And therefore, I wouldn’t lie to anyone else anymore either.

I paid for the cards for my friends, got in my old car, turned the heat up, and flipped on the radio. The voice of Stevie Nicks reached through the speakers and the tears rolled.

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don’t know.

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

Because I built my life around you

But time makes you bolder, children get older

And I’m getting older too

I didn’t realize it yet, but when I left that store that night, I had changed the entire trajectory of my life.

Because the very next guy that I dated became my husband.

Three years later, we were married.

And we had two kids.

Doug_Sharon_2002_01

***

I know. I know.

It’s what we’re tempted to believe: That all the decisions–good and bad–that we’ve made in our lives have brought us to a point for which we’re ultimately grateful.

But, had I made different decisions, would I have ended up somewhere else, where I would be equally as grateful?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But what I do know is that I did something extraordinary on Christmas Eve of 2002.

For years, I imagined my future, married, but no children. Never kids.

But on Christmas Eve of 2002, I allowed myself to imagine a different future.

A life in which, someday…

maybe…

I might have kids.

It turns out, as it is with a lot of things, the biggest steps that we take all start with a thought.

The simple willingness to imagine a different future.

That ability to imagine a different future has taken me far beyond the original course that I had plotted for my life. It has helped me imagine that I could get a Master’s degree. And travel overseas. And change my political and religious beliefs. And write a book. And lose forty pounds. (Three times, yeah.) And relearn algebra. (It’s true.)

And, yeah, it has helped me to imagine a life that includes kids.

And, with endless gratitude, it has helped me imagine a future moment in my life when my children won’t always need me every moment that they are awake. And a time when we won’t have to pay for babysitters. And a time when we can travel with them without losing our minds.

What about you?

What different future do you imagine for yourself?

And what will you do tomorrow to help you get there?

May you surprise yourself in this next year.

2018 Year in Review: a.k.a Why Doing Nothing is Sometimes Everything

While I normally LOVE to be productive and useful, the past few days, I have done little else besides completely veg out.

This is what I do to myself: I do ALL THE THINGS. For months on end. (I won’t even list them out. I’m sure you have your own list of ALL OF THE THINGS).

And while I’m doing all of those things, I think in the back of my mind, When I finally have some time to myself, I’ll do X or Y. (And X or Y is usually a second-priority item from ALL OF THE THINGS that I just don’t have time for).

And then I hit a wall.

And then I do NONE OF THE THINGS.

(Are you like that? I can’t be alone in that.)

I don’t do skirts or pantyhose. Or makeup. I “sleep in” until 5:30 or 6:00. (Sad? Meh. It’s tolerable.) It’s the fluffy pink bathrobe around the house (most of the day, at least). In this week before Christmas when I’m not teaching, without a shred of guilt, I send my beautiful children to daycare.

And I am finally alone.

And what do I do?

Let’s start with what I DON’T do.

I don’t think about upcoming presentations or writing that I could be doing. I (mostly) don’t write. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s simply because after so many months of giving pieces of myself to everyone else, I’ve got to have time to turn inward and fill my own cup.

Instead, I watch movies and shows. I read books. I listen to podcasts or read articles that I’ve been meaning to read for months. I exercise when I want to. I send the cards, I dole out the Christmas bonuses to every lovely daycare teacher that deals with our kids, and I stuff the stockings.

In fact, I kind of love that part of Christmas. Because it gives me time to think about the people in my life for whom I’m grateful. It takes a village, right? Damn right, it does. And I want my village to know that I’m grateful for every blessed day that they take care of my kids so I can continue to pursue my own goals.

I also get the few gifts that we’ll give our kids. (Don’t tell them, but it’s a few small games, some Play-Doh, hand puppets, and some winter clothes.) We don’t really do many gifts at Christmas. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Seriously. What’s the point? Instead of gifts, what we’ve said we’re going to do for each other is give the other person a solid day of not having to take care of the kids from sunup to sundown.

(Merry Christmas, BG. Love you.)

Love my kids.

Love ’em.

But I also enjoy such privileges like, I don’t know, setting my own agenda. Or making a decision based on what I feel like.

Guess what I discovered over the past few days while my kids have been at daycare?

7:00 a.m. is the perfect time on a winter day to go for a run. The sun is just starting to come up and the frost is still crisp on the fallen leaves. It’s light enough to easily spot patches of ice, but the sun isn’t high enough yet to blind you. And in that perfect light, your breath comes out in fluffy white puffs, momentarily adorning the air.

And I love lying still on the middle of the living room floor, eyes closed, no damn phone in my hand or notifications calling for my attention, for a solid 30 minutes.

And laughing about South Park’s Buddha Box.

And crying with PBS’ newest version of Little Women.

And thinking about Black Mirror’s Hang the DJ.

And reflecting on how much the kids have grown this past year.

 

So this Christmas, I’m happy to Bow Out, Sign Off, and Check Out.

And be happy to do None of the Things.

Hoping you all find your own Time and Space and Peace.

Sharon

POP # 16 : I’m 37!?

Because I have pretty much no time to write lately due to a combination of factors and because I feel like, Come on, it’s been a whole month and you’ve written nothing

Totally expecting to find only memes related to the infamous Clerks’ line of “I’m 37!?!“, I was surprised to find that googling “I’m 37” led me to a several humorous tidbits that have helped me to celebrate my 37th birthday this year.

Enjoy.

  1. Bad Science Journalism: According to what I can only assume I should view as bad science journalism, the age 37-38 is when you start to feel old. I have to say though, I don’t typically “feel old” yet. Well, at least until it’s 6 p.m. By 7 p.m., I’m begging to crawl into bed so I can be ready to do it all over again at 4:30 the next morning.

2. Monty Python: I’m not a lover of Monty Python (though my husband is). Still, this made me laugh out loud.

3. “37 Things I’m Thinking about Now that I’m 37” by Casey Lewis.

Please enjoy this gentleman’s thoughts because I really don’t think I could have done any better in explaining where I’m at in work, relationships, and reckoning with my place in the world.

And here are some birthday artifacts that I’ve found particularly humorous. Kudos to my birthday buddy, Cate, on her clever birthday cake ideas.

IMG_20181117_190553784

She’s also great at picking cards. (We’re also Game of Thrones buddies.)

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Cards from my husband (respects my love for puns) and daughter (practicing “cursive”):

My daughter’s first “Writer’s Workshop” in her kindergarten class. The teacher interviews one student a day and records their ideas on paper for the whole class to read together.

IMG_20181019_173947

Lately, most days pass by in a blur of responsibilities with barely more than 10 minutes at a time for me to catch a breath and retreat into much-needed alone time.

And then I remember:

Christmas is coming.

Oh, sweet Lord.

Here we go.

And yet…

IMG_20181008_111032

On Wonder: A Eulogy to My Physics Teacher, Mrs. Norma Howell

Norma,

I can still see you holding my three-week-old daughter in our living room, rocking in the glider. You offered to stay overnight at our place and help out with the night feedings on occasion, and we gladly took you up on the offer.

You cradled her in your arms, your gaze landing on her tiny face, your hands tracing her tiny hands. You said, “Oh… This is the best.”

“Really?” I asked, thinking of how unbelievably sleep-deprived I was. “The newborn part? Not when they were older?”

“Well…” You paused for a moment, before breaking into a wide grin, “Actually, it was all pretty awesome. But this… I just have such fond memories of my nursing my boys.”

I smiled. You rocked.

“But honestly,” you said. “I really loved it all. Every moment of it. I’d do it all over if I could.”

We talked for a time about your health, as you had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years earlier.

“I remember praying to God,” you said, “And I said, ‘Well, if this is my time, then it’s my time…'” Then you broke into that same wide grin, “I thought, ‘But, I sure hope it’s not!’ Turned out it wasn’t yet, and now I’m just grateful for every day I have here.”

Norma and Felicity

Norma and Felicity: October 2013

After the initial shock that you had recently passed wore off, I combed over my memories of you. Things you had said to me first as a student, and then later as a kind of occasional life mentor. And I arrived at a common refrain:

I’m sorry I couldn’t see what you were trying to show me.

I remember all those times when I was your student and I was working through physics problems. Rather than teaching the laws of physics deductively without fully understanding their application, you used a clever, inductive reasoning approach to help students discover the laws for themselves.

I didn’t realize how clever of a method it was. I just knew it was making me think. A lot. And because I didn’t trust my own logic and judgment, it made me nervous.

When I’d come to you with a set of questions or completed problems, ready for you to approve so I could move on to the next module, I remember thinking…

I hope I got the answers right.

I hope I don’t look stupid in front of you.

I hope I don’t let you down.

I remember you gently asking me to consider, once again, what was the difference between acceleration and velocity.

You knew how to talk to a fragile overachiever like me. You didn’t tell me I was wrong. You just asked me to “tighten up” my understanding.

You were also merciful to the class as a whole. I remember a time when our entire class failed a quiz. You stood at the room, your right hand clutching the frayed edges of notebook paper, and you said somberly, “Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is…everyone failed.”

A brief moment passed to let that information sink in.

“The good news,” you continued cheerfully, “is that you can take a second quiz to replace that awful grade!”

For you, there was never failure. There were just more opportunities to try again.

For you, it was never about arriving at a destination.

It was always about the journey.

***

I wish I could have seen it that way. I wish you could have brainwashed me completely into seeing the world as full of wonder and possibilities.

It makes me sad to admit it, but I held myself back in your class.

I wish I could have let go of my fear of getting a bad grade in order to really embrace the deeper mysteries that this universe holds.

But I was young and insecure. I defined myself by what I achieved. And if I didn’t achieve, who was I? What did I have to define myself?

And so, I wouldn’t allow myself to imagine a future in which I was uncertain of whether or not I would succeed. I wouldn’t take the risk of pursuing a career in science or math. Because I was convinced that eventually, people would realize that I was an impostor. It would all catch up with me and I would fail.

So instead, I would carve out a path on which I wouldn’t fail.

Because, after all, what was worse than failing?

I was young. I was insecure.

***

After high school, I stayed in touched with you because your son married my good friend, Linda. I saw you over the years at get-togethers at your house or Linda’s house, and each time, you were the same: smiling, laughing, joyful.

You still peppered your speech with intonation and emphasis that made a lot of what you were saying into either Great News! or A Good Joke!

You were always interested in what I had to say, no matter what I talked about. You were that way with everyone, I think, and it’s why people loved you. You cared about what people said. You didn’t just listen–you heard people. Maybe this was because you found joy, real joy, in the happiness of others.

This is partly what made you such a great teacher: You were able to see me as a whole, complicated, unique person, someone more than just the scared-of-math-and-science teenage girl sitting on the left side of your class from August 1999 to May 2000.

But your willingness to being authentic with me also helped me see you as a whole, complicated, unique person.

Reciprocity like that is rare. And it is powerful.

***

Last night, I had a dream. It was one of those recurring dreams that you feel like you’ve had hundreds of times before (and it’s a mystery to you why you’ve always forgotten about it in your waking life).

I was walking a perfectly paved path, high in the most beautiful, lush mountains I’ve ever seen. But it wasn’t cold. Even the highest peaks had no snow. As I walked that path, I was completely free of any responsibility that I’ve ever had. I was so untethered, I felt like I was floating.

I was so, so full of joy.

And the music. If I knew how to compose music, I could have written out all of the notes when I woke up this morning. But that memory is fading.

What stays with me from this dream is my certainty that I was coming back.

I had been there before. Many times.

And I was home among something beautiful and wild that had missed me as much as I had missed it. And my joy was coming from the realization that I had been away for so long on a journey that had taken me everywhere but here. That everything I needed to do and everything that people needed from me was completely finished.

But it was the journey that made my coming home so joyful. For how can you be as joyful to see something that you never left?

It was all those moments spent with my own students, from countries far and wide, who first awakened my own curiosity in other ways of seeing the world. The same ones who helped me open my mind to the fact that (shockingly) there were so many ways of seeing and living in the same world.

It was all the times I thought well, this well definitely be the thing that breaks me… and then it wasn’t.

It was all the happiness, the stories, the hugs, the missed chances, the blatant mistakes, the fights, the kisses, the stress, the doubts, and all the uncertainty of the journey…

That made coming home so joyful.

***

What happens when we die?

I used to be so certain of the answer to that.

I used to be so well-educated on all things spiritual, particularly in my senior year of high school. I had answers, and those answers were supported by carefully selected Bible verses.

But I’m being a lot more honest with myself these days.

And I’m willing to say, I don’t know.

What happens when we die? 

During my morning runs this week, I thought about this over and over again.

If we are more than body, what happens to us? Where do we go? Do we travel to some higher dimension that we can’t possibly imagine with our three-dimensional brain? Will I return to this heaven in the mountains, some strange place that calls to me for reasons I don’t understand? Do we review our lives in retrospect, weighing everything we’ve done? Do we wait between worlds until we feel ready to move on? Are we re-united with the ones we’ve lost? Or do we lose all sense of self and join a larger, higher consciousness? And what would that even be like?

I thought a lot as I ran.

And then clarity hit me.

I was finally doing the thing that you were trying to teach me.

I was wondering.

I was in wonder.

I was allowing myself to not have the answers. To allow myself to live in the space of uncertainty. And I was doing it without thinking of myself as a failure.

Isn’t that what you were trying to teach us the whole time?

To wonder? To think?

To allow yourself to not have the answers, but by God, to think about it.

Sometimes, clarity hits you in odd ways.

Sometimes, it comes to you as you think about a loved one passing.

Sometimes, it seems almost supernatural.

Because when I slowed to a walk during one of my morning runs, I looked over at the sign for the apartment complex down the street. Lots of things around here are named “Normandy.” Normandy United Methodist Church. Normandy Elementary. Normandy Ridge Road.

But in that moment, the sign of the apartment complex was partially covered.

And all I saw was,

Norma.

It was my honor to have met you in life. I hope we meet again, if that’s what happens when we die.

If you see my dad (You can’t miss him. He’s about 6′ 3″, mostly bald, and he’ll be wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, tucked into his swim trunks, which he calls his wrestling todds), please tell him that I’d give anything to listen to one of his annoying political rants, even if it meant hearing the words Make America Great Again hundreds of times–as long as he makes me his Famous Thresherman’s Breakfast when he’s done.

With gratitude,

Sharon

Elon, Take Me Away

Elon,

After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…

Take me away in your spaceship to the stars.

 

I haven’t always been interested in space travel.

Truth be told, I’ve only recently found the idea very appealing.

I’m pretty sure the strong desire to leave this planet is emanating from a deep sense of doubt in humanity’s ability to overturn–or at the very least disrupt–rampant systems of oppression.

  • Women continue to not be believed when they are sexually assaulted. Or if they are believed, their pain isn’t important enough to actually change political will.
  • Wall Street continues to do its ludicrous work even though it robbed American taxpayers out of trillions of dollars.
  • Gerrymandering continues to silence and marginalize the most vulnerable.
  • Refugees and immigrants continue to be the scapegoats for every imaginable social ill.
  • Trump. Trump. And Trump.

I could go on. I won’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues.

And so. Here we are. Women are told to vote (assuming our vote makes a difference–it doesn’t always). We are told to run for office (assuming we have the means and support to do so).

Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.

But in the meantime, if I’m really being serious, I have more faith that you can get us off this planet than I do in the American electorate’s ability to consistently move our country forward. Climate change is happening fast and if we’re still having arguments about whether or not it exists…

Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.

Or it could just be a logical estimation of the possibility that enough people who disagree with the direction of the country will actually be motivated enough to travel to a polling place and cast a ballot.

Societies are slow to change.

For most of human existence, patriarchy has been systemically and structurally embedded in society after society. (Precious few have managed to organize society differently.) Now that many of the factors that originally led to the necessity of patriarchal societies have been altered (division of labor, access to education, etc.), those same underlying assumptions that supported patriarchy are being either called into question or actively fought against.

Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.

Unless, that is, the people in those societies are taken out of their cultural context–and planted somewhere else.

This is one of the reasons why New Zealand and Australia were the first nations in which women gained the right to vote (1893 and 1902, respectively). European settlers (or invaders, from the indigenous people’s perspective), removed from their previous cultural context and banding together to build a life in a new land, were suddenly very flexible on the issue of women’s rights.

Women were, in fact, key to building these societies.

The same happened in the United States.

Women in the U.S. first gained the right to vote in…Wyoming.

And so, Elon, it’s not so crazy to believe that hitching my wagon to your star is, ultimately, quite feminist.

Might I suggest that our new civilization have some political structure where 50% of positions of power are necessarily occupied by women?

Just a thought.

***

I know people have called you erratic for smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s show…

Really? That was the main takeaway?

You talked about so many more interesting topics than that, like your vision that AI could be used as a tertiary level of cognition. And the fact that everything we put on the Internet is “a projection of our limbic system.” (Mind. Blown.)

I watched the whole thing (in 10-20 minute snippets over the period of a whole week while I folded laundry, graded papers, and ate lunch at my desk while simultaneously answering emails…).

I think you’re magical.

PayPal wasn’t your passion. It was just a $100 million thing you did so you could sink money into what really interested you: developing real plans for getting humanity off this planet (since we haven’t mustered enough political will to seriously try to figure out how to stop completely trashing it.)

You create electric cars that can drive themselves.

You build rockets that can take off–and land back on Earth.

You dig holes to develop a futuristic hyperloop that someday might take us across the country in like, 10 minutes, or something obscenely fast.

You create solar panels for roofs and electric semi-trucks that can haul the entire weight of a diesel truck–Uphill.

And you talk about the future with not only hope, but confidence.

 

I dig it.

You’ve made me a believer.

When I saw Interstellar, I thought, “Okay, if I were living on a spaceship that is basically a moving city, I could totally be sold on the idea of leaving Earth.”

Let’s leave behind a world that makes fun of science and learning and instead, embraces curiosity, courage, and the path less traveled (or never traveled, as the case may be).

Let’s try once more to make a different world where systems of oppression don’t emerge because of our lack of resources, tribalism, and ingrained patriarchy.

Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)

Elon musk 2

***

Maybe you can’t tell, but I have a celebrity-crush on you. One of those crushes that you have for famous people that you’ll never meet in real life, but somehow you still think that maybe there’s the very minuscule possibility that our paths could cross… And if they did…

Nah.

You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.

I’m married. To a very great man, at that. He is extremely smart, too. He had me at his tattoo of the Golden Ratio.

(Can he come, too? Oh, and maybe my two kids? I swear I’m raising them to be decent human beings.)

Your achievements have come up in conversations among our friends, many of whom are engineers. I’m pretty sure my husband’s words were, That dude doesn’t care about money and he’s just crazy enough that he might actually succeed.

Admittedly, I am not a scientist or engineer. I did well in high school biology, physics, and chemistry (I excelled at balancing formulas.) I struggled in algebra, but I loved geometry (Proofs were fun.) But science and math were really not my thing although I have tons of respect for those who live and breathe those fields.

But your new world is going to need more than scientists and engineers who can help take us into the future.

It’s also going to need people who can make sense of our past.

We need stories to help us understand who we are and where we’re going. I am quite certain that without stories, humanity is lost. Human beings need storytellers.

I am a storyteller.

And I am full of stories.

I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”

  • I am curious and I love to learn. I changed my major in college to linguistics because concepts like a universal grammar and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis fascinated me. (Arrival was an amazing movie on several different levels.) Also, I loved the rule-governed nature of phonology, morphology, and syntax.
  • I’m down-to-earth (merely a figure of speech, I assure you), persistent, and hard-working.
  • I balance life between being driven by outcomes and diving into creativity for creativity’s sake.
  • I enjoy a good pun.

My special talents include:

  • writing
  • teaching
  • knitting
  • speaking in cartoon-ish voices
  • gestating life well past 40 weeks (for a few more years)
  • giving birth with no drugs

Thanks for giving me hope that as a species, we may not be doomed to a future in which misogynistic, narcissistic, entitled men are necessarily destined to rule this planet indefinitely, to the detriment of the vulnerable and voiceless.

People like you make me remember that there are many people in the world who are trying to improve the planet and preserve the longevity of our kind.

Sincerely,

Me

P.S. Can we please leave Mitch McConnell and his ilk behind? Much appreciated.

 

And oh, and this is AMAZING.

 

And for those of you who didn’t immediately get the reference in the title…

 

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