Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

PoP #19: Potty Training

I am not used to having a child that triumphantly declares, “And I make Mama so happy!”

I am used to my older daughter, going her own way, not really responding deeply to the words, “That doesn’t make me happy.” I am used a preschooler who sat in her chair at the dinner table for three HOURS (not exaggerating), staring at a piece of pizza that she refused to eat.

Imagine my surprise that my soon-to-be three-year-old derives deep satisfaction by making his mom happy. Who rejoices in his mom’s approval.

Say what?

Some kids care about making Mom happy?

Yassss!!!!

So potty training.

The End is nigh, friends. It is so nigh.

I can be totally content doing overnight Pull-Ups until this kid is four.

But I’m beyond done with the constant vigil of diapering a child. For the past seven years, since 2013, since the beginning of Obama’s second term, since the premier of the first Frozen, we have been changing diapers and Pull-Ups and a significant number of those were cloth, which means thousands of loads of laundry.

And for an added bonus, Child # 2 went through about 8 months of on-again-off-again Toddler Diarrhea (for no apparent reason, which resolved seemingly overnight when he was almost 2). I cannot tell you how many times we woke up in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night) to a toddler absolutely covered in poop juice. From the back of his head to his toes. Covered.

Child # 2 is the reason we have a Steam Cleaner. And the ability to initiate hazmat protocol at 2:00 a.m. with a toddler screaming less than a foot from our faces. And the reason we probably spent $150 on tubes of diaper cream. (Pro tip for new parents: Resinol. Google it. Buy a lot.)

What I’m saying is… We’ve worked hard for this reprieve.

And I am ready for it.

"It All Goes By So Fast": 2010-2020

We were three years into this decade before the biggest memories were made. It’s strange to think about now, but what did we do from 2010-2013? I remember that we traveled to Finland and Maui. We spent a lot of time with friends, cooked a lot of breakfasts…

… and experimented with making prickly pear lemonade and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

I wasted a lot of time worrying, wondering if I would ever be able to land a full-time job in my field.

And then one day, there was a newborn hand, wrapped around my finger

Maybe you remember something similar

Maybe if you thought hard right now, you remember

That bouncer where they slept, all swaddled, mitted, and capped

The beep of the microwave (tsk-tsk) as you warmed water for a bottle

The smell of Pampers and Similac and detergent

The creaking of the tea kettle as you boiled water at 3:00 a.m.

All the onesies, the bibs, the burp cloths, the swaddles

And all the Googling.

All of the Googling.

Normal baby poop.

Milk allergy in newborn signs

Breastfeeding milk production normal

How to stop breastfeeding

When does a baby start teething?

How old is a 20-pound baby?

Best car seats

What does croup sound like?

Croup vs. whooping cough

Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?

My toddler won’t chew disorders

Toddler diarrhea

How often do toddlers get diarrhea?

Bleeding diaper rash remedies

And then, the Googling stops. Mostly.

One day, you just decide, To hell with it. It is what it is.

You decide the toddler is more like a preschooler and you let him carry scissors around the house, and play with teeny-tiny Legos, and walk around without a Pull-Up on.

You’re on the brink of Life without Diapers, but not there quite yet.

There is Light. A Sweet and Glorious Future beyond the constant wiping of butts.

And you wonder, How did I ever get used to wiping another person’s butt?

That whole area of another human being used to be totally private and off limits. And then, suddenly, you became completely responsible for the care of another human’s butt and genitals.

It was strange.

But so was the feeling of another person growing inside you, jostling your internal organs, barreling through your genitals, and causing your breasts to ache, throb, and leak.

It was all very strange.

How their tiny cries subsided when they smelled your skin, felt your heartbeat, and heard your voice.

You weren’t expecting to be so moved by this. You weren’t prepared for the swallowing of your heart, how the gentle breath of a newborn on your chest could eclipse all the pain, emanating from top to bottom, inside and out.

You weren’t expecting that you could be this utterly exhausted, and still be strong. And still practice patience. And not completely lose your shit while on the brink of sleep-deprived psychosis.

You expected them to be earthquakes in your life, each a great shifting in the plates of your being. You expected there to be changes, fractures, new landmarks, and new paths to chart in their wake.

But you didn’t expect that it would lead you to new beauty.

That it would create new oases, new islands.

And now here we are.

On brink of having a three-year-old and a six-year-old.

My babies are not babies anymore.

They have become tiny people with personalities that converge in some respects and diverge in others.

It goes by so fast, they all said.

Does it really?

There were moments that felt like hours. Times when I, hand-to-God, prayed that we could all survive the Present Moment. If we could just get through this day, everyone alive, it would be a win.

A huge win.

If I could just get to the end of today, when the kid or kids are asleep, I will be okay.

How many more hours until bedtime?

How many more hours until I can go to work and someone else can do all this?

Oh, Sweet Lord, if I have to tell you to eat your food one more time, I’m going to completely lose it.

And, there it is. I’ve lost it.

The truth is more like, The nights are long, but the years are short.

The last six years of care-taking is settling in on my face, in lines that are not going away and little patches of gray hair that will one day make a magnificent streak (though I’m not ready for that just yet).

At get-togethers and parties, I’m realizing that, Whoa, I’m no longer the youngest adult here anymore.

I’m most definitely approaching 40.

Time. Oh, Time.

I feel fickle for feeling this way.

I also feel like they were right.

It goes by so fast.

On Getting the Job (A.K.A. Falling in Love with a New Job)

I feel like I’ve just left an abusive, toxic relationship and fallen straight into a healthy, functional one.

Does this happen?

Is this how people work?

What the hell?

***

This kills me because I actually truly LOVED teaching.

Okay, not all the lesson planning, assessment making, grading, and tracking. The stacks of books on other books, the Post-It lists that never seem to be completed crossed off. And then all the micromanaging from above to point out all the times that I didn’t keep a few of the 10,000 things straight.

So like I said, what I truly loved was the TEACHING. (Advising was a close second.)

I loved the relationship building: the conversations, the jokes, the stories, the updates. So really, it was the people. Both the students and my colleagues. And the fact that I was providing a service that was helping others. Bonus points for the fact that I was helping a vulnerable population. It truly checked (most) of the boxes that I needed in a job to be fulfilling.

I just dealt with the mountains of work that came with it.

***

Let’s go back to the interview for the job that I landed, just months after being turned down for a corporate job at an educational technology company.

It started out great.

Looking through the windshield of a car and seeing a line of cars, all stopped behind a stalled train at railroad tracks.

Yes, that was me: Stuck in a line of cars at a railroad crossing. When a friend wished me luck on the interview by text, I sent him this picture to let him know how the day was going so far.

No big deal, right? I still had 40 minutes until the interview and I was only 12 minutes away.

But this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that the train moved forward a bit… and then back a bit… then forward a bit… and back a bit… see-sawing along the track with no apparent end in sight.

So I called the contact person, and she assured me it was no problem at all.

I ultimately arrived at about 9:10.

The interview was with three people on the team. They took me to the Green Room.

“Is this actually a Green Room?” I asked.

Yes, it was. This was where they might help someone get ready for filming.

They had a list of questions, and they were all good ones. A lot of them were questions I had anticipated and planned for. A few of them were unanticipated and I thought I rallied well in answering them. They told me more about the job: It would be in the production department of eLearning, so I would be assisting with filming shoots and doing things like writing scripts for videos and helping with sound editing. I would be trained to do a lot of different aspects of create high-quality videos that would be used to supplement face-to-face instruction.

My first thought was:

Shit. This is way over my head. When they figure out that I don’t have much experience in any of this kind of stuff, they’ll ghost me.

My second thought was:

You totally have experience for this job! You’ve done video and sound editing! You’ve written scripts for videos! You are well-versed in all things higher education! HUSTLE, GIRL!

So I hustled. I talked about the projects that I had done, the software that I used, books that I had read, and my understanding of living out learner-centered teaching. The things that I said were very similar to what I had said in a previous interview.

Which was a problem at times because when the conversation would veer toward my background and why I was looking to change careers, I kept thinking, Don’t say that! That might have been the reason you didn’t get the last job! You were too honest! Button it up! They don’t have know the level of dysfunction that you’re coming from! Why can’t you just say that you’re looking for a better opportunity?!?! SHUT UP!

But honest, I was. Albeit tactful.

It felt like a good interview. I thought I did great.

But then I thought I did great at the last interview…

***

On my first day of work, I walked into the office and my name was already on the door.

Swoon.

In half-a-second, this job had already made me feel more included than my last one, which “welcomed” me as a full-time instructor by sticking me at the other end of the building because they just couldn’t figure out how to add another cubicle in either of the two offices where the other teachers had desks. And, yes, there was plenty of room. (True story.)

This was my new office and office-mate. And there was my desk. With TWO computer monitors?!?!

And would you mind reading this email that I’m about to send to the division to make sure that I represent you well?, my new boss asked.

Um…. I wondered, Is this somehow a trap?

Then my new boss walked me across campus to orientation rather than setting me loose with a campus map.

And on my second day of work, he gave me a full campus tour of all the buildings. We spent an hour and a half just walking around, him introducing me to administrative assistants and random people in the hallway that he knew.

And apparently I’m getting paid for this?

Wait, what?

I don’t have to be actively teaching or grading or creating something every moment of every day?

Sometimes, I would find myself in a conversation with my new co-workers and I would realize 40 minutes had passed. Sometimes the boss would keep the conversation going.

Of course, we would go back to work. But no one seemed to feel guilty about taking time to talk to each other. There was no feeling that we had just squandered 40 minutes and now WE WERE EVEN MORE BEHIND!!!

Is this what some people do at work? It’s okay to sometimes spend 40 minutes talking?

Could it be that there are jobs where the pace doesn’t consistently move at 100 miles per hour, exhausting you to the point that when you finally do have a chunk of time off, all you want to do is wall yourself off from people for a solid week, just to recover from the emotional and mental drain of simply fulfilling the requirements of your job? (Which, by the way, are totally industry-standard, so it’s not like you have any reason to complain. I mean, everyone in your field is overworked and underpaid.)

Have I just been a white-collar factory worker for the last thirteen years?

Every moment of the day carefully portioned and allocated to the endless tasks that encompass teaching.

I repeat: Is this what some people do at work?

To be clear, it’s not just days and days of talking. Some days have been filled with meetings, filming, and writing. I like those days. Others have been more low-key. And on those days, I find plenty of ways to continue to grow and learn. (Hey, did you know that there are jobs that will allow you to do professional development and trainings during your work day? Wonder of wonders!)

I think that’s what is different: the fluctuations in pace. The pace of this new job is like drinking from a water fountain with variable pressure: You’re always able to drink, but at different speeds.

And this is shocking to me, having spent the last 13 years drinking from a firehose, turned on to full power for eight-weeks straight, five times per year. Each time someone turned the hose off, I was so water-drunk, exhausted, and disoriented that I couldn’t do anything for days when a break mercifully presented itself.

***

This week before Christmas has typically been a time when I haven’t had to work.

I would use this week to delve into creative projects that had been on the back burner for months while I paddled along through life.

I would probably watch The Family Stone (my sappy, no-one-wants-to-watch-with-me Christmas movie). I’d get Christmas shopping done, address the cards, and bake cinnamon rolls.

Then, I’d brace for the impact of doing all the Christmas stuff with kid or kids in tow.

But this year, I do not miss taking this week off at all. Not one bit.

My husband has told me for years that he thought I’d be happier at a job with a slower pace, but with less time off. Maybe you wouldn’t burn yourself out so quickly, he said.

Wise words. Though I didn’t recognize them at the time.

This one’s for you, BG.

PoP # 18: New Job, New Life

Two months into a new job. And really loving it.

I haven’t done a mostly picture post in a while, so enjoy.

Muddy Henry (a.k.a. What?!?) (Summer 2019)
The note reads "Have a great day! I love you!" Mom.
First Day of First Grade Sandwich Note (August 2019)
New Office: Harvest Edition (September 2019)
The Art of Vacuum Sealing (October 2019)
Felicity inspects the seal on a vacuum sealed bag.
Inspection (October 2019)
45 Minutes of a Six-Hour Fall Drive avec Enfants (October 2019)
Felicity is She-Ra. Henry is a dinosaur.
Trunk or Treat: Happy Edition (Week before Halloween 2019)
Halloween: Scared Edition (Halloween 2019)
I love you Dad because you bake for me.
Expression of Sentiment for Paternal Unit (October 2019)
I love you Henry because you are funny.
Expression of Sentiment for Fraternal Unit (October 2019)
Top Tooth Loss (September 2019)
First Light Set Up for On-Site Aviation Shoot: The I-Can-Do-It! Edition (November 2019)
Henry is super smiling about pulling seeds from a pumpkin.
Henry S. Pumpkins. (ANY QUESTIONS?) (October 2019)
Display of Sibling Affection (November 2019)

On Not Getting the Job (A.K.A. Why It was Clearly for the Best, Part 1)

A few months ago, I got into my car after having a great series of interviews with a potential future employer. It was for a position related to instructional design, a field which I don’t have a degree in, but whose skillset is similar to my current job. With all the additional professional development and coursework that I’ve taken in integrating technology into the classroom, I’m more than qualified for the position.

The words mentioned to describe the company culture were exactly what I was looking for: creative, collaborative, candid, future-focused, problem-solving. All in the service to creating educational materials that are learner-focused.

The benefits were good: health insurance, PTO, sick days, tuition assistance, flexible hours. Written into the job description was the expectation that I would continue to learn and attend conferences about trends in educational technology.

The interviews–all four of them–were fantastic. The questions they asked me felt like softballs coming in slow motion. I knew my way backward and forward through topics like adult learning theories, learner-centered instruction, educational digital technologies, and transformative education. I quoted books I read. I mentioned real life examples. I made connections between different disciplines. I talked about my successes, my shortcomings, my research, and my goals.

So I felt good about the whole thing.

Why would they go through so many interviews with me if they weren’t serious about me?

Before I left, the director gave me a business card with her contact info. I turned it over in my hand and ran my fingers over the large quote:

Confidence is success remembered.

I felt good about the whole thing.

And yet.

There was that voice in the back of my mind… (I think we all have one)

Someone else is better than you. You don’t have the credentials they want to see. You’re too risky. If they wanted you, they would have offered you a job today. They didn’t even want to talk about start dates. 

But I was going to be positive. For once, I was going to believe that I could get this job based just on my resume and good interviewing skills. Even if I didn’t know anyone at this company, I knew that I was competent. And qualified.

So I needed to be confident.

Confidence is success remembered.

You got this, I told myself.

Isn’t that what everyone tells you these days? No matter what your chances are, no matter how bleak the outlook, there’s always someone out there in the Facebook Universe who cheerfully memes at you: You Got This!

Until, you don’t.

empty chairs around a table

Thank you for meeting with the team. Unfortunately, at this time, we have decided to go with another candidate.

Really?

Seriously?

Master’s degree. 13 years teaching experience in higher education. Frequent professional presenter. Strong communication and collaboration skills. Self-starter. Lifelong learner.

You’re going to pass on me? 

Seriously?

And then, from the back of my mind, the voice speaks up.

Of course they passed on you. You don’t have a degree in instructional design. Someone else did. And that one manager you talked to didn’t seem to really like what you said about resolving conflict. Didn’t you notice that? She made a face. You know she did. What did you say? What did you do wrong?

What did you do?

What did you say?

What is wrong with you?

If you were such a catch, they would have found a way to hire you.

It’s a huge company. They have tons of money. It’s not that you were qualified and they didn’t have the budget.

They. Just. Didn’t. Want. You.

You.

You were four years older than one of managers that interviewed you. Remember when she found out that you both graduated from Miami, but then apologized when she realized that it was four years after you did? You missed your window there. Everyone your age at that company is in management, and you don’t have management experience. That’s kind of what people mean when they say stuff like, “she wasn’t a good fit.” It’s a cover for reasons that shouldn’t be stated in a rationale for not hiring someone. Like she’s too young, too old, too educated, or not educated enough. (At least compared to who we currently have on staff.)

Shit. When was I supposed to become a manager? How? There were never any opportunities to become a manager at my current employer.

Shit. I should have left by now. When? When was I supposed to leave?

After I had the first baby? When I had a toddler? When I had the second baby? When I had two small kids?

I stayed because I needed something that I could handle while I was out of my mind being a parent to young kids.

I stayed because of the students. Even though I was underpaid by $30,000. Even as my autonomy shrank and shrank and shrank.

I stayed because I loved what I did. Because I believed that I was making a difference.

Shit.

Shit.

Shit.

This is what happens when you keep putting others before yourself.

Shit.

How can you feel so sad about losing something that, apparently, you never had?

Time passed.

I applied for and interviewed for other jobs.

In my search, I noticed just shortly after I was turned down from the job I wanted that they had re-posted almost the exact same position.

W. T. F.

What does that even mean? I wondered. Did the person quit already? Did they just not hire anyone and re-open the search?

So I did something I wouldn’t have done ten years ago. I emailed the same director that I had originally reached out to and told her I was going to re-apply. I truly thought, in my gut, that she had been impressed with me. But that maybe I was interviewing against some candidates that had degrees in instructional design.

She responded. She said that they did have another position open up, but they already had some “highly qualified candidates” for it. However, she would still like to “get to know me outside of an interview situation.”

That sounded promising. Maybe she did see my talent and creativity. Maybe she really was impressed with me. Maybe she had read some of my posts on LinkedIn that highlighted articles that I had just published. Maybe we could talk about how my particular area of expertise could help out her company. I came with some ideas. I didn’t over-plan. But I prepared some ideas.

After all… She wants to get to know me, I thought.

When I finally sat down with her weeks later, we started with some small talk and I mentioned that I was still interviewing for other jobs (which was true) and that I thought it was going well.

And then, her truth started coming out.

It turns out, she thought I didn’t interview well.

She thought that my training and education were lacking because I didn’t mention the word “objectives” when I answered her question about how I would design an online course.

Sitting here now, I recall that I talked about conducting a needs assessment and considering how learners would interact with content, with each other, and with their teacher, and how the course would progress from beginning to end, and how I would incorporate interactive and engaging content using learning apps to deepen knowledge connections.

But I didn’t mention the word “objectives.”

She wasn’t sure I knew what objectives were. She wasn’t sure that I actually knew how to design and implement a class.

What words can I use to describe how I felt in that moment?

Oh, yes.

Utterly shocked, comes to mind.

She thinks I’m not competent, I thought, my fingers digging into my coffee cup, my expression freezing on my face.

Wait, what?

SHE THINKS I’M NOT COMPETENT!?!?!

I clarified that yes, it’s possible I didn’t mention the word “objectives,” but that I thought that given the fact that I have a Master’s degree in teaching and that I’ve been teaching for 13 years, that I could assume she knew that I knew what objectives were. I told her that I chose to focus on the more interesting parts of the online class that would show where I really shine.

My mistake. Because, in her view, you cannot rely on a person who has been a teacher to know what objectives were.

Which is actually a pretty good representation of how American society sees teachers.

Thanks for that, America.

But fine. Point taken.

And then I understood the problem: I made assumptions. And she did not.

She interviewed for the lowest common denominator. And I thought I was having a conversation with a fellow professional in the field.

In her view, as a person who didn’t know me, I had to start from the basics.

My mistake.

I gripped my coffee cup and nodded continuously, being respectful. Because that is what you do when you are talking to someone in a powerful position who might be able to offer you a job someday. You don’t tell them that their measures of assessment are incredibly archaic, not to mention ineffective. And you don’t say, You know, I actually do know what objectives are! Because that seems incredibly inauthentic, and who would actually believe you now, after you had been told of your error?

She just wanted to share this information with me because as a woman, she has been feeling more empowered recently to help other women out who are in difficult positions. She was just like me, trying to break into another field, and she wished that someone would have told her what it was that kept her from getting a job.

So there it was: She was saving me.

This White, affluent, high-level corporate executive who had “made it” was sharing her wisdom with someone less fortunate. She drove 20 minutes from work to meet me at a coffee shop, during her busy Friday, to let me know that the reason I didn’t get the job wasn’t because I didn’t have a stellar resume.

It was because I didn’t say the words that she wanted to hear.

Completely, obliviously unaware that she was participating in the same esoteric practices that keep good potential employees from breaking into new career paths. The lack of self-awareness involved in the conversation was truly difficult to process.

Just wanted to let you know, she explained. Because I’d want someone to do the same for me.

Well, then.

To this day, that same job has been re-posted and re-posted several more times. What floors me about this whole process is how she doesn’t realize that I’m not the one who lost.

I have the skills, the knowledge, the creativity, the experience, and the drive that she should want in a candidate.

What kept me from getting the job was her strict adherence to the old-school interviewing techniques of not asking many follow-up questions. It was her reticence to engage with me as a colleague, and her assumptions that I couldn’t be trusted to know certain fundamental knowledge. It was her disregard for the meaning of what it means to have a Master’s degree.

In any case, I didn’t get the job.

And it was clearly for the best.

Why would I ever want to work for someone who saw me through those kind of eyes?

A Time to Say Good-Bye

When my dad died five years ago, I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye.

Since then, I’ve had a few dreams about him. But nothing that has given me much closure.

Until recently.

The dream went like this: My dad is alive. So is my mom and her new husband, Warren. And everyone is okay with this.

It’s a dream, right? You know how dreams are.

It’s also Thanksgiving and we’re back at our old house in Huber Heights. The table is set up in the living room, which is awkward. But that’s because my youngest sister’s bed is set up in the dining room, and we’re all coping with that.

Fine.

There are lots of chairs around the table, but no one is sitting down. I see that it’s because, apparently, everyone has already eaten except me. I feel hungry. And yet I’m frustrated because there is food all over the table and the floor. I start picking up, scraping bits of food into my hands: lemon wedges, wet and cold Spaghetti-os, cracker crumbs, and rice. Absolutely nothing that looks like anything we would actually eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

No one is helping me. Actually, I can sense that they are annoyed that I’m cleaning up. They’re all talking with each other, laughing, having a great time.

Apparently, my dad and Warren are old pals. I can hear my dad’s laugh above everything else. That cutting HA! that interrupts what someone else is saying, just before saying, “Well, that’s just like what they did down there in…” And he segues into a new story. They’re off to the races.

Ah, whatever, I think as I get up from scraping up food from the carpet. Maybe later.

By the time I get over to where I think my dad is, I see my mom sitting on the sofa, staring out the window, a book on her knees. She’s sad. And she won’t talk about it.

And she’s also pregnant. Like third-trimester pregnant. At sixty-some years old. Her hands rest protectively on her belly.

It’s a dream, right?

Suddenly, she’s gone. The book is still there, conveniently left open to the page that she was reading, marked with underlining. The heading reads “Brain Disorders.”

“It’s her decision,” my dad says. He’s there now, sitting on the couch.

“Why won’t she talk about it with me?” I ask.

“This isn’t about you. This is between her and God.”

“But…” I can’t think of the words. But what I feel is this immense emptiness opening in the fabric of my life. This is isn’t about you. This is between her and God.

Through the window, I see the tree in our backyard tipping over, its roots becoming exposed to the air.

“I don’t want her to make that decision,” I finally say.

“It’s not about you,” he repeats.

He is not somber. He’s actually quite jovial about it. His health has been restored to the last time that I remember him being physically and mentally well, probably around 2007. He tries to help me see the positive possibilities. What if the brain disorder actually benefits the baby? He tries to give me examples of babies with certain brain disorders who were born in the past and who are now astounding doctors. He places his fingers close together and far apart, saying something about the spaces between synapses.

“But we don’t know what type of condition the baby has,” I say.

“You can’t know everything that you want to know,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to trust God.” He is laughing.

Laughing!

The nerve.

“Dad?”

“What?” he says.

I reach over and grip his large hand in mine, pull it to my heart and lock it there so that we are connected from fingers to elbow. This is not something I ever remember doing when he was alive. Our family wasn’t big into hugs and we certainly didn’t hold each other’s hands.

But I don’t have the words anymore.

All I have is the grief of his loss.

The knowing that when this is over, he’ll be gone again. He will slip away for months or years, away into realities that I cannot sense or galaxies where I cannot travel. He’ll be gone again and I’ll still be here.

And I won’t know when I’ll see him again.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel that I’m sending out everything that I want to say but can’t find the words for. All the empty spaces in my life where he should be. All the moments that he should have seen with his grandkids. All the times that I regret I didn’t spend more time with him. All the jealousy that I have for my peers who still have their fathers with them. All the love that I still have for him that has nowhere to go, nowhere to land. And so it swirls inside of me and rises at unexpected moments. Crying in the store over 0.99 cent cinnamon rolls. (I would pay you $1 NOT to eat them!, I had joked.)

My roots are raw and exposed, my world is upside down.

I pull him all the way to me, into my very heartbeat.

And he starts weeping.

He doesn’t deny how I’m feeling. He doesn’t tell me it will all be okay. He stops mentioning God and the possibilities.

He just weeps with me.

We don’t talk anymore. I just hold his arm against me until all the emotions are gone and what remains is stillness. Peace.

Once all these emotions have been released, the truth that remains is that my father is Gone.

And I don’t have to be okay with that.

I’m not angry. Anger is just an emotion that covers a far deeper wound.

No, the anger is gone.

Now, all that’s left is love and pain. And it’s not wrong. It’s not a failure or a flaw. Sometimes, this is just the way that it is.

Sometimes, love just plain hurts. Sometimes life grinds cold Spahetti-os into the carpet, pulls out trees by their roots, and takes away the people that you love the most. And it gives zero shits about how you feel about any of it.

But there is also Peace to be felt in the middle of it.

But first, the pain has to find its way out. It cannot be numbed or ignored or medicated. It needs to be felt and acknowledged, directed and released.

The only way to Peace is through the Pain.

***

I woke up shortly after that, replaying the bits and pieces that I remember over and over. Dreams are often slippery suckers. But I think this one will stay with me for quite a well.

It felt like a chance to show my dad what I’m carrying with me through this life, now that he is gone. But also to assure him that I will be okay, as long as I have someone to hear my stories, as long as there is an outlet for the emotion to flow through me and settle elsewhere. It’s the bottling up that makes grief unbearable.

It felt like a space to catch my breath.

A moment to hold on with all I have.

A moment to decide to let it all go.

It felt like my chance to say good-bye.

When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
and, Yes, I know
that you are with me;
you, my moon, are here with me,
my sun, you are here with me,
with me, with me, with me.
 
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer.

with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you

“Con Te Partiro” Lucio Quarantotto, as sung by Andrea Bocelli

On Rising Again: A Remembrance of Alyssa

Alyssa,

We were cousins who grew up states apart, seeing each other sometimes in the summer. You were two years older than me, always finding out things before I did. Always reaching milestones before me. We survived the traumatic hairstyles of the early 1990s, which inevitably led to us inhaling whole cans of Aquanet over the years.

True warriors, right?

But I didn’t know you like your family knew you. I only have a few memories that still remain sharp, even today.

Here is my favorite one.

In the summer of 2000, my friend and I were driving from Ohio to California, as a celebration of finishing high school. Our first stop was Minnetonka, MN, where we stayed with Grandma Bundy. Our second stop was Sioux Falls, SD, where you had just moved. My friend and I met you at the hair salon where you had just started working. Grinning from ear to ear, you greeted me like an old friend and insisted that we try out this burger place that you loved.

Over burgers and fries and sodas, we talked. You were 20 years old. I was 18. You seemed so much cooler, so much more grown-up than me. Your life was taking off, and it was exciting. You had an apartment of your own. A full-time job. You were the one calling the shots, and you reveled in your freedom.

While we sat there, a song came on that made you howl.

Yes, howl.

You threw your head back, laughing, saying, I LOVE THIS SONG! And right there in the middle of the restaurant, you belted it out, wiggling in your seat, arms and hips twisting in opposition.

I did not know the song. But you knew it word for word.

The best thing about being a woman
Is the prerogative to have a little fun and
Oh-OH-oh-oh, Go totally crazy, Forget I’m a lady
Men’s shirts, short skirts, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Really go wild, yeah, Doin’ it in style, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Get in the action, Feel the attraction, Color my hair, Do what I dare
Oh-OH-oh-oh
I want to be free yeah, to feel the way I feel
Man! I feel like a woman!

Young. Wild. Free.

I think that is how I will remember you best.

***

Although we didn’t really talk much over the years, I heard updates from my mom. You got a new job. You started a new business. You got married. You became a stepmom. Life was no longer Young and Wild and Free.

Yes, Life had taken off. But instead of riding a rocket to the stars, you found yourself navigating life in a hot air balloon. Fueled by your energy and drive to keep rising. Tethered by so many ropes. Carrying a basket holding all those you loved. You traveled a bit. Then, came back down. Then traveled more. Then, back down. Up and down. Over and over. Your will, the fuel that kept you going.

Did you ever have the chance to ride in a hot air balloon? It seems like it would be just the kind of adventure that you’d like.

Years ago, I went hot air ballooning on my honeymoon. There was a lot about the trip that surprised me, but the most surprising thing was this:

The pilot didn’t have a fixed landing site.

In fact, it was impossible to do so because the trajectory of the balloon shifts as the air currents change. At one altitude, the wind may take the balloon east. At a lower altitude, it may shift west. And so safely landing the balloon requires that the pilot be able to make adjustments and readjustments to the landing process, depending on the air currents and the landscape.

Is there a better metaphor for how many of us live life?

Hard to think of one.

You faced a lot of shifting currents as your life took off. Through the ups and downs, the surprises, the detours, and the unexpected mid-flight landings…

You kept rising.

For that is the true Measure of a Life.

It’s not about how high you rise or how far you travel.

It’s about how many times you get back off the ground.

And it’s about the people you carry and how much you lift them.

That’s what makes the loss of you difficult. You lifted so many others with you.

***

You shared memes on Facebook about raising teenagers. You seemed to be carrying a lot on your shoulders. One of the last memes that you shared was this:

That line haunts me.

We are almost there.

There.

***

How could any of us have seen this coming?

How could we imagine a future in which you died so suddenly?

Here one minute. Gone the next.

Your sister reminded us in her first post after your death that, Life is a vapor (James 4:14).

Yes. It truly is.

Even to live 80 years. A vapor.

In the millions of years that life has churned on and on and on.

A vapor.

And yet, what we do matters.

How we live our lives matters.

And when the atmosphere finally swallows the vapor that is our Life, this thing that we so painstakingly lived day after day, all the energy that we poured into our goals, getting up each morning, drinking the coffee, doing the things, making decisions, dealing with the outcomes of the decisions that we made and those that we didn’t, may we all have the perspective to hold to this Truth: All that we did mattered.

Every damn moment of it mattered.

But rest assured, no one does Life perfectly.

The true impact of our lives is measured in how we used that time. Whether we chose Love. Or not.

It’s measured by how often we chose forgiveness over grudges, mercy over vengeance, compassion over resentment, empathy over judgment, inclusion over exclusion, gratitude over envy, contentment over greed.

And so, Alyssa, when you lifted others with your sheer willpower, it mattered.

When you made space in your life for people you loved, it mattered.

When you listened to someone who was hurting, it mattered.

When you apologized for something that you had done wrong, it mattered.

And every time that you gave Love to someone, it mattered.

Love is the whole point.

It’s all that has ever mattered.

***

A final clear memory that I have of you happened during the summer when your family of six came to visit my family of seven. (How did we fit thirteen people in our tiny 1,000 square foot house? One of life’s great mysteries.) I think you may have been twelve. I can’t remember for sure.

One of the ways that we got everyone out of the house was a trip to Eastwood Lake, a fifteen-minute drive from our house.

We went canoeing.

And as a stepmom to teenagers, I’m sure you can appreciate the recollection of what happened next.

With the surface of the water so still, your father rested the oars against the sides of the canoe and closed his eyes.

Then, to the horror of my siblings, he started singing.

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace like a river in my soul…

He didn’t have a bad voice. That wasn’t the issue. It was just Parents are so embarrassing. And what if other people hear him and look at us? What would we even do? Is he ever going to stop? How many verses are in this song?

But after it became clear that your dad was invested in this moment, you threw caution to the wind.

You sang with him.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean in my soul…

Looking back now, it was the right thing to do.

To be present and support those we love is always the right choice.

***

I believe in a God that sees through us, from top to bottom and beginning to end. I believe in a God who sees all our flaws, our mistakes, our failures, our weaknesses, and our sins. And knows the difference between them.

But I also believe in a God who sees our intentions, our motivations, our faith, our courage, all the things we’ve done right, all the love we gave, and all the goodness we shared.

And finally, I believe in a God that gathers us in and brings us Home.

May you rest forever in the spirit that you lived.

Rising again.

Young. Wild. Free.

Home.

***

If you’d like to help Alyssa’s family in their time of need, you can donate here.

Alyssa and her siblings: two younger brothers and her younger sister.
Some of the people you loved most: Your siblings. (2009)

A Farewell to Teaching (for now)

It’s true.

After thirteen years of professional teaching, I’m leaving my career as a full-time ESL teacher in higher education to be an Instructional Media Designer for the eLearning Division at Sinclair Community College. I will be working mostly with faculty who are developing instructional media for their face-to-face classes, from concept to production. 

Fifteen years ago, I walked into the first class that I ever taught.

I was 22 years old. A teaching assistant for the English department at Wright State University. No teaching experience. Just my Bachelor’s degree, as a testament to the fact that I, at least, knew how to write an essay. And presumably, could figure out how to teach someone who was four years younger than me how to write an essay.

I loved it.

Okay, not all of the time.

Not when I was providing feedback on the thirteenth paper in a stack of twenty-five. But overall, it was awesome.

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Graduation, Master’s Degree: June 2006

When I taught my first ESL class in the LEAP Intensive English Program at Wright State, it was even better. I was able to use my love for linguistics to inform my teaching practice. My work was not only rewarding, it was challenging. I found that I was constantly making connections between my Bachelor’s degree in linguistics with my teaching practice. My students genuinely appreciated me. They thanked me after classes and wanted to take pictures together. They actually visited me during office hours. They told me their concerns and their problems.

And I reached out to them. When my parents first moved to Texas (and later, Minnesota), I invited my students to Thanksgiving dinner in our small apartment, several years in a row. My husband and I cooked for them, and they also cooked for us. We talked about families and marriage, children and religion, stories and recipes. And we laughed a lot.

People who aren’t teachers hear over and over again how much a teacher changes the lives of their students.

But teachers know that this relationship is reciprocal.

Students change their teachers.

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2006: One of the first classes that I taught professionally

In 2006, when I first started teaching Saudi women, I quietly wondered if my female Saudi students might feel free enough to take off their hijabs if I were welcoming enough.

Through my monocultural worldview, this was how I saw hijabs: they were impediments, barriers, obstacles to overcome.

At that time, I saw difference as an obstacle. And the best way to deal with it was to pretend it didn’t exist and that everyone was the same. As long as I treated all my students in the exact same way, my teaching would be effective. After all, it’s really all about having the best informed instructional approach, right?

Thirteen years later, I can see now that acknowledging difference is the first step towards working to create an equitable classroom for all students.

I am able to see a hijab as a religious expression for my Muslim women, something that many of them wear out of a love for their faith and a symbol of their devotion to God. It’s neither an obstacle nor an ornament. For many of my Muslim women, it’s grafted into their religious expression.

It wasn’t one person who changed my perspective. It was an ongoing parade of different students, male and female, in and out of my classroom, term after term, year after year. Each of them, an individual thread, weaving together with hundreds of other threads, to create a great tapestry of what has become years of experience with intercultural communication.

When I stand back and look at the last thirteen years of my life…

I see that I am the one who has changed.

I understand now that we are all looking at the world through our own cultural lenses. They revealed to me the invisible threads of American culture, values, and worldview that hold together, and sometimes, entangle me.

And so I say, with so much more humility than I had when I first started teaching, THANK YOU.

Thank you, to my thousands of students.

From Saudi Arabia, China, Kuwait, Libya, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Oman, UAE, India, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Chad, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Gabon, Togo, Benin, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, and Panama.

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2009: Volunteer teaching for Miami Valley Literacy Council

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2012: Teaching high school students from Peru

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2012: English for Engineers, students working on a collaborative group project

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Circa 2013: One of the many Conversation Groups hosted by our program

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End-of-Term Party 2014

Thank you for changing me.

I know I was a serious teacher (who hated late homework), but it is my sincere hope that I left you with the feeling that you were valuable and important to me.

I hope you know that I think you are courageous.

What is courage, after all?

It is the ability to accept that life is full of moments of darkness: from failure, rejection, fear, grief, and uncertainty. And yet, to be courageous is to walk into the dark moments and say, “Even if I fail, even if I’m rejected or afraid or lose people that I love, and don’t know what comes next… I will try.”

Your journeys across oceans and time zones, carrying with you the wishes and dreams of the families that sent you inspired me every day.

You showed me courage, day after day.

I saw many of you in your most vulnerable moments, just days after your planes had landed and your feet first touched U.S. soil.

You were tired and disoriented–and we greeted you with English placement tests and two full days of “orientation.” (Sorry about that. It wasn’t my call.)

I hope I was kind to you.

I hope that when you were hurting, I was there for you.

I hope that if you weren’t passing my class, I was able to have a conversation with you to assure you that I knew you were working hard and that grades should never tell you whether or not you are worthy of love

I hope I made you think critically about something that you had never considered before.

I hope we laughed together.

I hope that when you go home and tell your family about “Americans,” you remember me.

And my favorite saying, “It’s bananas.”

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2019: My students giving poster presentations on our university’s alternate day of learning

It was not an easy decision to leave teaching, but considering the goals that I still want to accomplish in my professional life, it is time.

I’m also thankful for the support that the University of Dayton and UD Publishing have given me for my professional development over the years, all of which was inspired by the work that I do with my students. With their support, I was able to complete a graduate certificate in Technology-Enhanced Learning, which better prepared me for this future line of work. In addition, during my years at UD, I’ve presented on interdepartmental collaborations, intercultural communication, second language listening, learner-centered teaching, and digital technologies for language learning. I’m proud of the work that I’ve accomplished with the help of talented TESOL professionals, both those with whom I’ve collaborated, those who have mentored me, and those whom I have mentored. Although it was not required for my job and I often spent vacations and weekends researching and planning these presentations, I enjoyed these opportunities to grow and learn and keep my eyes open for what’s out on the horizon.

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I won’t say that “I hope I’ll come back to teaching.”

The truth is, I know I will. At some point.

I might come back to teach face-to-face classes, if it works with my plans. I might decide to teach fully on-line (which could be super cool, I think).

We’ll see.

But for right now, it’s time for this next step.

Summer Healing

Child care.

A silent house.

Wildflowers.

A long run.

A quiet mind.

And this.

Summertime.

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:

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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.”

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