Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: blogging

Please Don’t Try to Be the Best: A Letter to my Daughter on her First Day of Kindergarten

Last week, I bought your first backpack for kindergarten (not your first one ever—you had one for preschool). While we were shopping, I thumbed through the spiral-bound journals, remembering when I was eight years old, and my mother bought me my first scented diary. I let you pick one out for yourself and you chose a light pink one with a unicorn, the words Make today magical scrawled across the front.

That night, you stayed up far past your bedtime. You wanted to write in your notebook, but you’ve only just learned how to write the alphabet. So you pulled out your Richard Scarry book and copied words from it.

Richard Scarry

Hippoelephantzebra.

Then, you wrote your oft-repeated motif from your fourth year of life,

Mom love. Love moma.

IMG_20180412_103000

I thought you would sleep in the next morning.

But there you were at 4:00 a.m., standing next to my side of the bed. You didn’t touch me to wake me up. You just stood there until I opened my eyes to the light of the hallway.

“Henry’s talking, Mama. So I’m going to write in my notebook now. Are you going to do yoga?”

It turned out that Henry was just sleep-talking, but I got up anyway since I usually get up early to exercise. To you, exercise always means yoga. But instead of yoga, I lifted weights while you copied words into your notebook while eagerly watching me lift weights to my workout DVD. After fifteen minutes, you joined me in lifting weights.

Kind of.

You picked up a two-pound weight with your right hand.

Since this happened to your left elbow a few weeks ago.

Felicity cast

You and I “worked out” together. You, with a 2-pound weight and a haphazardly stretched resistance band. Me, with 10- and 20-pound weights.

And when we were done at 5:00 a.m., we took a walk down the street, you wearing your brand new backpack. With the tags still on.

You told me about how excited you were to start kindergarten and all of your plans about what you would put in your new cubby in your new school. You recited all the steps that will be involved in getting you to your new school.

“First, I’ll get up in the morning and get dressed. Then, Daddy will take me to daycare and I’ll eat breakfast. Then, someone will drive me on the bus to kindergarten. And then what, Mama?”

We went over the steps several times, our sneakered feet moving quietly across the pavement, the moon high in the early morning sky.

Of course, by 1:00 p.m., you completely crashed at naptime.

***

I’ve learned a lot about you in the first five years of your life.

You’re like me.

Caring. Lover of books. Curious. Persistent to the point of Stubborn. Strong.

But you’re also not like me at all.

You’re a Natural Born Leader. Optimistic. Super-sociable. Pusher of boundaries. Observant. (You can spot a tiny cricket, hiding behind the vacuum cleaner, from across the room.)

Some mothers say they love the baby years. Some say they love the toddler years (though I think they’re few in number). Others love the preschool years. And although I had moments when I couldn’t get enough of your newborn smell, I have to say…

I think I’m going to love the school-age years.

***

Here’s what I want to say to you as you turn five on your first day of kindergarten.

If I cry when you leave, it’s not because I wish you were still a baby. Still small enough for me to encircle in my arms. Still young enough to believe that I can keep the moon from fading from the early morning sky so we can walk together, uninterrupted for hours.

If I cry when you leave, it’s because I’m so excited for you.

To learn to read and write.

To find out what interests you, makes you curious, drives you crazy.

To dive into math and science.

To figure out how to build friendships and make amends.

To solve puzzles.

To fail.

To make bad decisions, and (hopefully) learn from them.

You won’t understand this just yet, but someday you will:

Please, please, don’t try to be the best.

Please, please, don’t try to be perfect.

There will always be someone who is better at something than you are.

I don’t care if you get all A’s. I don’t care if you’re the best at clarinet or soccer or gymnastics. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re class president or voted Best Artist.

Please, please, don’t live your life according to ways that you think will earn my love, my attention, and my respect.

You already have them.

Find what you love to do. Find what you’re good at. Try lots of different things. Read lots of different books. Ask questions.

But most importantly, don’t serve yourself.

Serve humanity.

Do good. Follow a higher calling. Keep your moral compass pointed north.

Don’t create a life that leads you down a path of wanting more money and more power. It’s futile and unsatisfying. And it will never be enough.

I’m so happy for you.

Happy that I get to be a witness to it all.

Love,

Mom

PoP # 15: Toddler Shoes

Can you tell how much I love to shop for toddler shoes?

toddler shoes

I sincerely hope this supply gets us to December.

On Shaming Other Mothers: A Book Review of “I’m Just Happy to Be Here”

Last January, a video was circling around Facebook of a mother who was putting her children in a grocery cart, in the middle of a winter, in below-zero degree weather…

..and they weren’t wearing shoes.

Oh, the howling that ensued.

Child abuse! That’s the worst! Some people shouldn’t have kids! I would have called CPS on her ass!

That was the general tone of the comments.

Maybe you agree. Maybe you think this woman deserves to be shamed on social media.

I’ve got a book for you.

Happy to Be Here

Janelle Hanchett, “I’m Just Happy to Be Here,” 2018.

Janelle Hanchett is the blogger of the wildly popular blog, Renegade Mothering. (Check out this recent post, “You are Not Going Crazy: America is Gaslighting You.”)

She’s a married mother of four children. She has a Master’s in English. She’s whip-smart. Hilarious. Cutting. Raw. Emotional. Authentic.

And she’s an alcoholic.

With borderline personality disorder.

Say what?

Yeah. Guess what? All of those things can happen together.

And, luckily for us, Janelle was ballsy enough to put it out there for the whole world to see.

This book will make you re-examine your stereotypes of motherhood. It will make you stretch your definition of who can possibly ever be redeemed for the consequences of their bad decisions and years of absence or neglect. It will repeatedly evoke emotional reactions that will force you to consider the limits of your No Judgment Here mentality.

It definitely did so for me.

She shows us how the mind of an addicted person unravels in stages, how an addicted mind can rationalize one step, then the next one, then the next, until you’ve lost everyone you love and you’re living in a trailer, pooping into bags (that’s the extent of my spoilers).

Then she recounts the concerted energy that she put into self-reflection in order to pinpoint the actual thoughts, insights, and specific decisions that she made in order to take back her life.

What Janelle shows us over and over in her book is that shame doesn’t motivate people to change. 

Only love can do that.

And love starts with empathy.

***

Let me repeat that.

Shaming another mother for her bad mothering doesn’t make her stop being a bad mother. Especially when addiction or mental health is involved. (And let’s be honest, either one or both of those factors are usually involved when mothers go completely off the rails.)

Yes, you’re right: the mother who brought her kids to the grocery store in winter without shoes exercised terrible judgment.

You’re right.

But how does “being right” help those kids?

It doesn’t.

It just makes you feel better about yourself.

Posting videos like this is an exercise in vanity. And as Janelle’s mentor reminded us poignantly in her book,

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?

In a twist of true irony, the pursuit of “being right” is often responsible for Janelle’s downfall into addiction. It’s her Achilles heel. She must be right. She cannot be wrongUntil, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore about who is right and who is wrong.

Rarely, if ever, is “being right” the destination on the path to happiness.

***

Whether or not we want to admit, the United States needs this book right now. The opioid epidemic and all the subsequent outbreaks of substance abuse that have stemmed from it are turning a lot of women into lifelong addicts.

If you’re not one of them, be grateful. Period. Don’t follow that gratitude with a list of reasons that other women did become addicted. (a.k.a. Well, if they hadn’t done this, then that wouldn’t have happened!)

But more importantly, you need to develop some empathy for the mothers who do struggle with addiction.

These women don’t need your shame. Neither do they need your pity.

They need help. They need love. They need friends. Sometimes those all come together.

***

There is so much truth in this book. And it’s for everyone. Not just women who have experienced addiction. I found myself nodding along in many places throughout this book. Janelle unearths beautiful kernels of truth in surprising moments throughout her difficult journey.

The most powerful moment for me came in the following paragraph, which I read in a children’s museum as my daughter played. There I was, reading this book on my Kindle, in a crowded room, children running and playing, parents scrolling on their phones.

And me, crying.

Of course, I was crying. (Hope it wasn’t too obvious.)

She writes,

I didn’t want the pain to be gone. I wanted it to mean something.

When I found my voice, I didn’t find answers–I found purpose for every moment I had lived. I found power in every blackened room in my mind, every fear, every sad parent, every futile word and nightmare memory.

Because it led me to you, to the place where we are the same, to the place where words draw a line from my bones to yours, and you look at me and say, “I know,” and I look back at you, thinking, Well, I’ll be damned. I guess we’ve been here all along.

I know, Janelle.

Thank you for your gift of this book.

The Great Exhale (a.k.a Teaching Burns Me Out)

I did something stupid.

For the past two months.

It started with the idea of taking advantage of my benefits as an instructor at my university. Because as a full-time faculty member, I get 100% tuition remission. Which sounds awesome. Except for the fact that when you’re teaching double the number of contact hours (18 hours) that most other faculty members in the university are required to teach (9 hours), you often work more than a full-time job just to stay ahead.

In March, while working with the eLearning department to create some recorded videos for my class using a lightboard, I learned that our university offered courses in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”

Not only that, I could get a graduate certificate in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”

For free.

I had already been looking at ways of taking classes in instructional design that wouldn’t cost me much money, but I hadn’t found any free options up until then. And I certainly didn’t know that the very university where I teach offered such classes.

And all of the classes were 100% online. I could do the work whenever I could fit it in my schedule.

It seemed like such a great idea.

And, I rationalized, It’s summer. Enrollment is projected to be pretty low. And I probably won’t be teaching the full 18 hours. So…

I signed up for two on-line classes.

Then, four days before our summer term started…

I was told that I wouldn’t, in fact, have any reduction in hours over the summer. One of my colleagues took an unexpected medical leave, leaving one course that needed to be filled. Instead of teaching two classes, I would be teaching three classes. And I would also be scheduled for tutoring.

During the same time frame as the classes that I would be taking.

A smart person would have dropped at least one of the classes.

Turns out, I’m not such a smart person sometimes.

I’m a bit of a maniac. Or a glutton for punishment, depending on how you look at it.

Well, I thought. Buckle up, everyone. Life is about to get bananas.

burnout

***

May and June were an absolute blur this year. Most of my days started at 4:15 a.m. (so I could run or do PiYo) and ended at 8:00 p.m., leaving my husband to put our older daughter to bed. But it’s still light out! I would hear her protest through my earplugs. (Yep. Still wearing those. Oh, and an eye mask. Because at 8:00, it’s still 90 minutes away from sunset in the summer.)

I worked on classes in small bursts whenever I had time throughout the day, which wasn’t that often or very predictable. Two of my very best friends came over on Saturdays/Sundays to watch the kids just so I could have some concentrated time to sit down and work on the class projects that required full, uninterrupted attention.

I also researched and wrote four proposals for conferences next year: MEXTESOL (1), Ohio TESOL (1), and TESOL International (2).

I also worked with a colleague on a paper that we’re submitting to an academic journal.

Sometimes, part of me thinks, Why? What are you doing? Just function in first gear for a while, for the love of God.

Then, the other, louder part of me says, There is no better time than now. Things are not going to get easier. Free classes in something that you’re way interested in? Lean in and be the badass that I know you are.

And so, I have been leaning in a whole lot this year.

***

The Final Boss of this summer was the last week of classes and my final exams. And not because of all the additional deadlines and grading that awaited me.

It was because of the fact that my husband traveled to Monterey, California (poor thing) to present at a radar conference. For the whole week.

You know what’s not so fun? Getting two young kids to school with lunches and diapers and sheets and sunscreen by 7:00 a.m. so you can be to work by 7:45.

I have to admit, it was my turn at this. He took care of the kids while I presented at TESOL 2018 in Chicago and was gone for four days. I remember when I came home, the look on his face that said, I need to go for a long drive by myself for a while.

But it didn’t make it any easier.

Especially when the toddler’s occasional morning poop explosion turned into a five-day streak of progressively more disgusting poop explosions at 6:00 a.m. that peaked in impressiveness (seemingly with the fullness of this month’s moon?).

Nothing quite like your toddler beaming with pride as he hands you his blanket that he’s been holding so tightly…

All covered in poop juice.

Here you go, Mama! You’re welcome!

***

But now, The Great Exhale has come.

I finished those two classes. (And I’ve started one more, to run another six weeks.)

I’m done teaching classes for this academic year. (It’s a full two months after all other faculty in the university have been dismissed for the summer… I’ll just leave that there.)

I turned in my final exams, submitted my grades, cleaned my desk, hugged my office mates, packed up my Erma Bombeck “You Can Write” mug, and rolled out of the parking lot, music blaring.

Quite honestly, I think I’ve stuck with teaching because of the summer break. As much as I fell in love with teaching ESL and learning from my students, the job really takes its toll on you.

Fall semester isn’t so bad. I can do four months back-to-back when I know Christmas break is around the corner.

I can do it if I take in one big, long breath.

But in the six-month stretch from January to July, I find myself (quite predictability, perhaps) gasping for breath by mid-May. I’m just sooo done. Done with the manic planning-everything-for-this-new-course-that-you-need-to-teach-just-days-before-a-term starts, pondering the next lesson, the next quiz/test, is everything copied for tomorrow, did I post the homework for that class, and what about that class, the student tracking, the student tracking, the student tracking. Emails about information missing from the student tracking. Emails about my plans to professionally develop myself. I must have goals for myself, after all. And they must be measurable and demonstrated. Performance reviews that leave me wondering if any of my exceptionally good work is recognized at all. (I could tell stories… But I’ll just leave this there.)

I think you get the point. Just sooo done.

And at that point, there’s still another six weeks to go.

To be clear, I am grateful that I have a job.

I’m even more grateful that I have the time off.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I know how vastly underpaid I am for my education and experience when I talk with my peers who are engineers or program managers, or even teachers in public schools. (Not private charter schools, though. That’s what happens when teachers aren’t unionized.)

Trade-offs, I guess.

***

So here we are. Another summer awaits me and I’ve got plans. Here are some of the things on my plate, each included to help me fill my cup before I have to go back and pour it all out again for next year’s students.

  • Web design and development class (online)
  • More videos for our YouTube channel : Smoked pulled pork, a breakfast series, and possible a series on different sauces, soups, and dressings.
  • Looking into creating an on-line course through Teachable for specialty sausage-making. Because, yeah, there are probably a good number of organic, food conscious hipsters who would totally pay us a nominal fee to learn how to make sausage in fifteen different flavors. (Tandoori or bulgogi or loukaniko sausage, anyone?)
  • Knitting something for Felicity for her first day of kindergarten (Because I haven’t knitted anything since Henry was born. And I have a kid who’s starting kindergarten?)
  • Losing the last four pounds (I’m on a roll, baby.)
  • Watching a series of lectures from Open Yale Courses, African-American History 162 by Dr. Jonathan Holloway. (Because it’s important at this point in our history.)
  • Reading books:

 

(Side Note: We saw WellRED Comedy–the three-man group who wrote Liberal Redneck Manifesto–when they came to Dayton. So worth the cost of tickets and babysitting. If you’ve never even heard of the Liberal Redneck video that started it all, you have got to check out Crowder’s video that went viral about the transgender bathrooms ridiculousness from several years ago.)

  • Experimenting with new graphic design software that came with my new pen and tablet purchase. What do you think of this?
Felicity sketching

I used two pre-sets here: “Modern Painting” and “Pencil sketch.” (Using Clip Studio.)

 

And with this new pen and tablet, I can do awesome things like this,

 

 

 

Imagine that sped up to take only five seconds total. Overlay it on an image.

So much I want to do.

Let it all begin.

Kids Belong with their Parents, a.k.a. Why Is This Confusing?

I think I was pushed over the edge with this latest hullabaloo when Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the Bible in their rationale for the policy change.

EXCUSE ME?

You’re going to bring the Bible into this?

Oh.

No, you don’t.

You don’t get to tell me what’s in the Bible. Lucky for you, I was a young prodigy at memorizing paragraphs of the Bible.

Don’t talk to me about the “rule of law.”

To be Christian is to recognize the balance of Law and Grace.

But above all, to be Christian is about Love.

As any former Bible memorizing prodigy will tell you:

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 3:10)

Where are we?

Is this the United States?

Bring on midterm elections.

I’m ready.

PoP # 14: “Daystar”

Four years later. Still hard.

Dad and Sharon 1982

My father and me (at 15 months), 1982

One of my father’s favorite songs was, “Daystar.”

He particularly loved it as sung by our small church’s music minister, Darrell Sproles.

Lily of the Valley,
Let your sweet aroma fill my life
Rose of Sharon show me
How to grow in beauty in God’s sight
Fairest of ten thousand
Make me a reflection of your light
Daystar shine down on me
Let your love shine through me in the night

When it was sung at his funeral in June 2014, it meant a lot to me that my name was in the first few lines.

If I could talk to him now, what would I say?

After I’m sorry for ever causing you pain and I love you,

I probably would tell him that his grandchildren would have loved to have known him.

He always had a very tender way with kids aged 2-5.

Love you, Dad.

Miss you.

PoP # 13: Songs for Women who Burn the Candle at Both Ends

Someday, things will get easier, right?

Until then, here’s a playlist of recent songs that I’ve enjoyed while running

at Early Hours when No Human Should Need to Wake Up Just to Have Some Time Alone

 

“Lex” by Ratatat

 

“Snow (Hey Oh)” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

“Help, I’m Alive” by Metric

 

“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave

 

“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen

 

“Rivers and Road” by the Head and the Heart

 

“Let’s Be Still” by The Head and the Heart

 

“Growing Up” by Run River North

 

And always,

“Mhysa” by Ramin Djawadi

 

PoP # 12: Preschool Graduation Humor

When you pay $$,$$$ for 4.5 years of full-time, year-round infant/toddler/preschool daycare, you’re damn right we get a tassel.

felicity-graduation.jpg

There goes your college fund, Kid. Love you. Hope you had fun.

Just kidding.

We never had plans for a college fund. That’s why your mom teaches at a university.

For the win. Again.

PoP # 9: At 15 months postpartum…

Weight Goal Met

This time was a doozy.

I’ve been up and down the scale four times in the last 18 years, losing a total of about 130 pounds over the years. So I’m fairly accustomed to the changes that need to be made and the habits that need to be formed in order to be successful at weight loss.

I’m great at commitment. Fantastic, even.

But it’s true what they say about age–the older you get, the harder it is to lose it.

Which is why I’m so damn proud of myself for having reached this goal.

In a future blog post, I’ll go into further detail about how I lost the postpartum weight this time. (Mostly because I’m too overwhelmed with Life and Work right now to do the topic justice. But in time, I will.)

In the meantime…

15 months later

50 pounds lighter than the end of the pregnancy

37 pounds lighter than  the beginning of the postpartum period

Boom.

Now time to lose the last five pounds that I never lost from the first pregnancy.

PoP # 8: Dinnertime…

… has been so pleasant lately. Have a listen.

 

Multiply that by 45 minutes.

It’s why meal times are an absolute eternity right now.

Sweet Lord, give me strength.

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