A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
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 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:
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.”
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
All is well.
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.
Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.
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.
(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)
The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.
It’s going to be a Long. Long. Journey.
Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.
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.
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?
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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,
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.
Lately, it’s hard to commit to writing about any single topic for any period of time in a meaningful way.
There’s just simply no time to develop anything that I want to write about.
Maybe I’ll tell you that I signed up to be the Hospitality Chair of the PTO for my daughter’s school. Actually, scratch that. I signed up both of us–me and my husband. For a few reasons. First, feminism. Second, I kind of like being nice to the people who are teaching/caring for my children while I work. They are the reason I can do anything else at all.
Or maybe I’ll tell you that the toddler has a 50% rate of having diaper explosion in the morning. On the bad mornings, it’s all over the crib. (And sometimes the floor. That was how Labor Day greeted us.) On good mornings (for me, at least), it happens at school. On okay mornings, it happens in the highchair, where it can mercifully pool in the seat.
I could tell you our family survived the first stomach bug of the season. It was a quick week of passing it around the house. (Patient Zero was, of course, the toddler).
I experienced my first all-out sprinting in heels through the daycare on the morning that my husband came down with the bug and–SURPRISE!–I needed to take the kids 10 minutes south to daycare before driving 25 minutes north to go to work.
And I didn’t fall! (It’s shocking, I know. Calm down.)
Or maybe I’ll tell you that I’m learning about the possibilities (and potentially horrors?) or augmented reality in my Seminars in Technology Trends in Education course.
Gamify me, I guess?
Or how about the impending doom that I feel when I think about Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed as the ninth Supreme Court Justice? I have a whole 2,000 word post called “So You Want to Overturn Roe v. Wade?” that I haven’t published yet. It’s emotional. It’s cutting. It’s snide. Just not sure I’m ready to put that out there.
We could talk about how I subscribed to LetGrow.org because I’m kind of frustrated at the idea that letting my kids play outside by themselves–down the street at the park! Gasp!–might earn me a visit from the police. I’d like to meet other parents that believe we’re a lot safer now than we’ve ever been and it’s not neglect to allow your kids to play unsupervised.
Have a little faith in humanity, people.
I could talk about the fact that I realized several weeks ago that I now eat the same breakfast that my dad did for as long as I can remember–black coffee and a hard-boiled egg.
W. T. F.
We could talk about the fact that my current college students pointed out that they weren’t born yet when Titanic was first released.
Right. Of course, they were born in 1999.
God help me.
Or how those lines in my forehead are becoming a little more permanent. And God, they really do follow the same path of the face that I make when I say, “Huh?”
I could tell you that before I grade a pile of papers, I sometimes daydream about what I’ll do on my next vacation. I scroll through my Google calendar and think about when I could get away from it all for even just one or two days. I map out my favorite cabin in the middle of nowhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and think about when we might be able to get back there.
Would we need to bring the kids? Could my mom watch them? It would be nice to just sit in a cabin in the woods and write for a like a whole week. All by myself. Writing, writing, writing. So luxurious…
And then I realize that I’m sitting in front of a stack of papers, that my students have been writing, writing, writing.
Back to work.
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.
Then, you wrote your oft-repeated motif from your fourth year of life,
Mom love. Love moma.
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.
You picked up a two-pound weight with your right hand.
Since this happened to your left elbow a few weeks ago.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
(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.)
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.