Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: love

One More Moment

Dad,

What I have to say is kind of a mess right now.

Stay with me as I take you through some things that I’ve been thinking about.

***

It has been seven years since I saw that message from Mom.

Call me as soon as you can.

And I just knew. Before I pressed Call, I knew that at the end of the conversation, I would know that you were gone. I remember looking at that button on my phone thinking, Just one more moment before I know for sure. I need one more moment of not knowing. Just one more moment before I know and I can never not know again. I need just one more moment.

This is not happening.

But it is.

I sat at the top of the stairs and I pressed, Call.

I heard the words and they rattled inside my mind like marbles in a jar. Away. Passed. Unable. Last night. Nurses. Dad. Breathing. They were all words that I knew and understood, individually, until they were forced to be in the same sentence. I had the context to expect these words. You had not been doing well for weeks after you fell. I was expecting this.

My mind understood. But my heart did not.

The reality of losing someone who has seen your hand grow from the clenched fist of a newborn to the open palm of an adult. Someone whose memory populates the entire landscape of your childhood and teenage years.

It should not be possible to lose someone as important as you were to me.

And yet it does.

All the time.

***

The first time that Felicity asked seriously about death was shortly after the pandemic broke out, no doubt fueled by the never-ending news updates about the virus. She was six years old. We were watching Hook, specifically the scene when Rufio dies. When the movie ended, she was sobbing.

I had never seen her cry like this before. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “What happened to Rufio?”

“Well, he died,” I said.

“But what happened to him? Where did he go?”

I could feel my heart seizing in my chest. This was an important moment and I literally had no words. I almost wished that I was still 19 years old, certain of the destination of souls depending on who was right and who was wrong.

So I did what all smart parents do.

I stalled. And then I put the question back to her.

“Where do you think he went?”

“I don’t know!” she sobbed harder.

I panicked. Like I said, I had never seen her like this before. This moment was crushing her and she was seeking out my comfort and certainty.

Say something! I chided myself.

“No one knows for sure what happens when we die,” I began. “But I think that we go to be with God.”

She sobbed even harder.

And I instantly knew that it was the wrong thing to say.

“I don’t want to be with God! I want to be with you and Daddy!”

“You’re not going to die, Kermit. You’re going to be fine. This virus mostly hurts people who are older.”

“But what if it does?”

I swallowed the growing knot in my throat, pushing it deep into my stomach and straightened myself. She wasn’t saying it–but I knew what she was getting at.

“Is that what you’re afraid of? That me and Daddy will die?”

“YES!” she continued to sob.

At this point, three-year-old Henry walked into the room and saw Felicity crying. He walked over to her and put his arms around his sister and said, “S’ok, Ficity.” She hugged him back.

And in that moment, my three-year-old had given more comfort to her than I had.

Of course telling her that she would “go to be with God” was a terrifying concept. Who was God to her? Some large, unknowable entity who lived up in the clouds. Although she had learned in church that “God is Love,” her six-year-old brain understood love as a packed lunch, a hug when you’re sad, and the voice that says “good night” before the light goes out.

I pulled her into my arms and held her while she sobbed.

And then I told her the truth.

“You will never be alone. Daddy and I have surrounded you with friends and family so that this will never happen. Even if you lose me and Daddy, there will be someone to take care of you. You don’t ever have to worry about who will take care of you and Henry.”

“Who will take care of me?”

And then we spent the next five minutes listing, in order, the people that would take care of her. I started with those we had designated as her legal guardians should such a situation arise. Then, I kept going. I named every friend that we had incorporated into our lives, one by one, holding a finger up for each person who loved her and cared about her. When I ran out of fingers, I made her hold one of her fingers up for the names that I was still listing.

When we got to twenty names, we looked at our fingers and then I held her hands in mine.

“You will never, ever be left alone. Ever.”

***

The day after you died, I got a bouquet of flowers from my friends.

Our friendships are special.

I understand this more now that I’m approaching 40. To continue to share weekly dinners and breakfasts with a group of friends throughout your 20s and 30s is not typical. We’ve taken vacations together, both long and short. We’ve stayed after parties and helped each other clean up. We’ve made each meals when we were sick. We’ve supported each other through the stuff that we don’t talk about with just anyone. We’ve come together to support each other as we’ve lost parents. Six times over now.

And when the pandemic came, we moved our dinners to Zoom and suffered through the constant, Wait, what did you say? Go ahead. Wait, me?, just so we could stay connected.

After 15 months of separation, we had our first in-person dinner a few weeks ago. When I hugged my friend, Ben, I said, “I’m not letting go first.”

He said, “Okay.”

And we just stayed like that for a full minute.

What is a word stronger than “grateful”? If there is one, that’s how I feel toward my friends.

I wish you had a friend group like this when you were alive.

***

Dad,

Does time make it easier?

Sometimes.

It’s not so hard when I’m remembering the things about you that make me laugh and smile. All the ways that you were completely unique and unforgettable. Whenever I see someone dressed oddly, I remember that one time we were at the gas station together. I took stock of what you were wearing on a hot July afternoon through the driver’s side window of your sedan. You were so tall that all I could see was your belly, covered by a blue and maroon striped dress shirt, tucked into teal and black swimming trunks. When you got back in the car, I laughed at your bare feet, shoved into brown loafers. You grabbed a McDonald’s napkin from your glove compartment and mopped at the sweat underneath your baseball cap.

It’s also not so hard when I’m remembering things you used to say. Whenever situational context pulls something you would say out of the depths of my memory, it makes me smile. You lack motivation, but not know-how, you used to say our border collie, Gator. Down at the Old Country Buffer, you would say to talk about the restaurant, Old Country Buffet. It’s the Boss! You know they call him the Boss?, you would ask me every time Bruce Springsteen came on the radio in the car.

But then sometimes, no, time does not make losing you easier.

It hasn’t been easy to hear How Great Thou Art or Amazing Grace. I miss the way you would lower your head and mutter the words. Not sing. You weren’t a huge singer. But mutter, yes. You were a soulful mutterer. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.

It’s not easy when Felicity reads a story to Henry, cover and to cover, and he asks her what the difference is between a My Little Pony storybook and a My Little Pony comic, and she comes up with a perfect child-appropriate answer. You never got to see them like this. I wish you had.

And the squeezing of my heart when I look at Henry’s school pictures and I think, He has my eyes. Which means he has Dad’s eyes.

Those are the times when it is not easier.

***

After seven years of life without you, I understand a few things better now than I did in the immediate days after you passed.

First, the times when I’ve felt your loss the most were the times when I built the walls high and kept everyone at arm’s length.

These were times when I was perpetually stressed by the endless juggling of work and care-taking when the kids were small(er). To be honest, I was afraid of running out. Running out of what? Everything. Energy. Time. Love. Everyone wanted something from me and so I gave and gave and gave–almost as if I were trying to beat life to the punch. Ha-ha. You can’t take away when I’m readily giving and giving and giving. And that’s what I did.

Until I had nothing left except numbness.

And in that quiet numbness, the feeling of loss would rear its ugly head at surprising and unpredictable times. And I was shocked by it. I thought I was fine. I had been getting everything done for everyone else, hadn’t I? But in all that business, my heart called out for me to acknowledge what I had lost.

Dwell on it? No. But acknowledge? Yes.

I don’t fully understand why the acknowledgment matters so much. But something within the human heart calls out for remembrance. It’s why we have namesakes and statues and days of remembrance. Perhaps we sense on a primal level that the worst horror of death is in the Forgetting.

Maybe it’s why no matter how far I meander here and there throughout the year and throughout my writing, my steps and my words always bring me back to this sacred space of remembering you around this time of year.

Second, after seven years of life without you, I can say for sure that the one thing that has helped the most is this:

My commitment to keep my heart open to Love.

To welcome new friends into my life.

To share my house and food, conversation and laughter.

To sacrifice for those I love, even when I’m not sure of the outcome.

To listen and believe and comfort.

To give and hold.

Every act of love and care that I’ve given someone else in the time since your death has healed me.

Because every act of love proves I have not surrendered to the pain of loss.

Because every act of love is an act of Courage.

People who have lost understand this more acutely than those who have not. Because after someone you love dies, you have the evidence that the act of loving can feel like a painful, reckless act.

Because the more people you love, the more you have to lose.

And so to continue to love after you have lost proves, once and for all, your tremendous bravery.

You understand this, Dad, especially because of your experience as a father. That first child that enters your arms opens a giant hole to your heart that remains exposed forevermore. The more children you have, the more vulnerable you are to the ways they can hurt you.

And you were a father of five.

To love deeply is the definition of courage. So much can go wrong. But it is the act of loving that gives us the greatest joy, the greatest reason to not only live, but thrive.

***

When I want to remember you the clearest, I always find myself in the passenger seat, you in the driver seat, hand on the wheel. I don’t know why, but we are headed south on route 127, going toward Oxford, back to Miami for classes. We pull over for Croissan’wiches–sausage, egg, and cheese–and coffee from Burger King and we eat from fast food wrappers in the front seat. We talk past each other over and over again because the space of our common ground is shrinking now that I’m building my own life, replete with different interests and concerns. We both feel it, crumbling on all sides of us, accelerating now that the time we spend together is limited to school breaks and summers. It pushes us closer together for the moment even as the edge approaches fast.

But I couldn’t see that.

I was looking somewhere else.

Somewhere off into the distance.

Somewhere where you were not.

I was falling in love, making new friends, traveling, taking class after class after class, and redefining my beliefs. I was growing up, reaching out, moving on.

And you were standing there.

Is this the terrible pain of parenthood that they don’t tell you about?

That as you are standing there, the circle where you stand with your kids gradually and imperceptibly shrinks over the years? Until you realize that everything around you has changed and your shared common ground has dwindled to only your shared moments from the past?

Maybe it is.

And maybe your wisdom to me now would be to say,

Stop looking off into the distance. Stop looking for the approaching edge. It will get here soon enough. Just stand with me. For now.

For one more moment.

Just one more moment before everything changes.

Just one more moment.

Love this moment.

Write it on your heart.

And when it’s time to let go, remember that they can be loved by others, just as much as they were loved by you.

Find comfort in that. Because I know it’s true for you.

It is, Dad. It is absolutely true.

But I still love you.

And I still miss you.

Sharon

We danced to “Unforgettable.” It’s still true.

***

On Grace

So I’m still writing.

Still from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

And there is a theme that I keep circling in different ways through different characters.

It’s this idea that people understand and anticipate things going wrong or falling apart or people failing them. Perhaps we prepare ourselves for this inevitability because we know that people are flawed and the world is imperfect. Whatever it is, we have created rituals and systems to deal with these imperfections. We have all kinds of rituals and systems set up to deal with tiny infractions (being caught in a lie) as well as with huge transgressions (sexual assault, murder).

But we are not prepared for grace.

Or forgiveness.

Or healing.

These things are too much for the mind to accept–because we can be so married to the idea of our own unworthiness. Or perhaps we distrust the ability for others to be altruistic. Perhaps the framework that we’ve created for our world is such a meritocracy that conceiving of grace is impossible.

What I’m saying is that when healing or forgiveness or grace is extended, it’s not uncommon for the recipient to view it with mistrust–all the way to the point of refusing to accept it.

I see parallels in this time of pandemic. This idea that even if there were a vaccine that were 100% effective, today, not everyone would take it–simply because of a lack of trust.

Healing, forgiveness, and grace can be freely given. But they don’t have to be accepted.

This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot.

6 Years: If He Were Alive Today…

We’d probably be arguing about whether or not fears of the COVID pandemic are warranted.

I would plead with him to either wear a mask, (I’m not wearing a mask, he would practically hiss) or to stop going to Wal-Mart altogether. (You know, they got a deal on russet potatoes this week? Five pounds for $2!)

He would blame the spread of the disease on protesters, (That’s what you get for protesting! No one is making them do it!) and we’d go back and forth about the right to protest, perhaps a whole two turns, before he’d digress into something like, You know, this country was also full of protests during Vietnam. To which I would say, Exactly! And he’d say, Lot of good that did them. And I would face palm myself. And then he’d say, It doesn’t even concern you. It’s right there in the phrase: Black Lives Matter.

At this point in the conversation, it would be time to turn our attention elsewhere–because neither of us was going to change each other’s mind.

We’d talk about the weather, the kids, my work, Doug’s work, and house repairs. If we veered too much into local and state pandemic policies, I’d guide it back to a good book that I’d read, and he’d remind me for the thousandth time that he really loved Louis L’Amour’s westerns. Have you ever read any of those?

At some point, we would eat something that Doug had cooked: fried chicken or steak with billowy garlic mashed potatoes and blanched green beans. Dad would say a murmured prayer that no one could hear, head bowed low, and then silently eat his whole meal before wiping his mouth and pronouncing, “Well, you done good, Sharon.”

And we would laugh.

If my dad were alive today, we would be having some tough conversations. I know that. For sure.

But I also know that I’d rather have him alive to talk about them than to not have him at all.

***

What is Getting Me Through (Week 5-7 of Pandemic Coping)

Weeks 1-2 were a mix of denial and anger, all set to rhythms of Survival Mode, acquiring food and necessities, making sense of pandemic life, and figuring out how to rearrange the landscape of life in a way that we can all live with in this house.

Weeks 3-4 have been, so far, my low point. Replete with the constant wishing things were different, feelings of helplessness, and depression.

Week 5 was my Saturation Point of News. Since then, I’ve only been able to stomach 20 minutes of NPR while I’m making dinner. It’s just enough for me to think, Yep, things are still awful and No, we still don’t have a handle on this.

By Week 6, the depression started to lift as we were faced with the news that we’d been expecting for weeks: Sorry, no more school for your kids this academic year.

And our President thought it would be a good idea to look into using disinfectant to “clean out the lungs.”

This week, Week 7, I feel mostly resigned to living life like this through the summer and well into fall. In my mind, I overestimate (I hope) that we’ll be doing this same type of life through Christmas.

In Week 7, I was able to see my mom in person, though from six feet away and with masks.

In Week 7, I learned that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease–it affects the whole body through blood clotting. And I read this ICU nurse’s account of the inconceivable situations and grief that she and other healthcare workers are facing right now.

***

In all this darkness, I want to make plenty of room for the things that are still bringing me light.

  1. My partner–My rationality, my burden-bearer, my chef and gardener, accountant and engineer. The person I still love to watch TV with (although we rarely have time to do that anymore).
  2. Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
  3. Watching my kids grow closer together–This is both unexpected and welcome. They (generally) love being around each other. My daughter tucks my son in at night and tells hawks to “Stay away from her little brother.”
  4. Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
  5. Attending church services via YouTube. I was surprised by how much my nerves are calmed every week by just hearing familiar songs and the liturgy. When so much is changing, my mind craves the unchanging, the stable.
  6. Taking on a short-term contract to help move some classes online that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
  7. Re-watching the entire American Pie series. And then all of the Austin Powers movies. (Apparently, this is the extent of problem-solving and just the right level of dumb that I need in my life to balance out all the soul-crushing news.)
  8. Reading “Dear Students: There is No Afterwards,” a letter written by a professor to Notre Dame students who won’t be returning to school. Profound and spot on.

It is freeing if we learn to accept that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over to others. That is the kind of lesson we are taught when we are young, though it often remains on the level of a noble idea that we may opt into or out of depending on our mood. What all the many sufferings of adult life show us is that this idea is actually the high and unbending rule, and it governs our bodies and our relationships and everything else, without exception. 

Leonard J. DeLorenzo

There will be no return to “normal” because we are all forced to face our own vulnerabilities now. And so the question put to us now is, How will we react to this vulnerability? What will we do?

9. Listening to Kate Tempest’s “People’s Faces.” But first, grab a box of tissues. You’ll need it.

Her poem hits all the right notes for this moment in time.

The uncertainty, the desperation, the frustration, and the sadness.

But also the hope.

The current’s fast, but the river moves slow.

Kate Tempest, “People’s Faces”

Holding onto that truth today.

The Line Between Exasperation and Gratitude: (Week 3 and 4 of Pandemic Coping)

…is so very real, is it not?

I feel emotionally dizzy.

I mean, honestly, what bizarre disaster movie are we living in?

From what I recall, even Hollywood couldn’t conceive of the current crisis. In all the apocalyptic movies that I can recall (Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), the fictionalized president of the United States displayed a measure of calmness and wisdom that the balanced the public frenzy.

We don’t have the opposite of a calm and wise leader.

What we have is actually much worse.

We have a delusional, narcissistic, inattentive compulsive liar. In addition to his irredeemable character flaws, throughout the duration of his time in office, he has managed to drive away all of the last bastions of intelligence and competence from the White House so that he is now solely surrounded by sycophants and butt-kissers that hold onto their jobs by constantly showering him with unearned and exaggerated praise for even the smallest achievement while covering up his most egregious errors, which he makes based on his personal intuition (“That’s my metrics.”) which has always been and will always be directed by his own self-preservation.

Could we ever have imagined that a President would suggest that healthcare workers are either “squandering” or stealing masks? Or who would stand by the statement that the National Stockpile doesn’t belong to the States? Or who would encourage the general public to buy drugs that haven’t been properly vetted for fighting coronavirus? Or who would push conspiracy theories that the media is purposefully overhyping the coronavirus because they want to hurt his chances of re-election?

Just… what?

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THE ELECTION.

At least nobody who’s immediate livelihood is dependent on whether or not they are able to keep their jobs three weeks from now.

Just when you think our President cannot possibly make us feel worse about having him as a leader…

He rises to the challenge.

I just cannot.

This is literally the worst time to have this man in office.

I would take so many other politicians in his place right now.

Mike Pence, whom I despise for his “spiritual” quest to rid the country of birth control and abortion? Yup. Approved.

Mitch McConnell? Put in him.

Lindsey Graham? In this pandemic, I LOVE Lindsey Graham.

Mike DeWine, the governor of my home state of Ohio, whom I didn’t vote for in the last election? I kiss his feet.

I would literally take just about anyone in this entire country who has the ability to apply reason to situations, seek advice from experts, and speak in a calm manner.

My six-year-old is a better choice.

My three-year-old is a better choice.

(Although, admittedly, he’s at his best first thing in the morning or after a nap. Even then… He’d probably be less dangerous to the American people because he would be distracted enough to let others do his job. As long as tiny Oreos are involved.)

***

So that’s the exasperated part of me, lately.

But I want to clarify that it’s not my only mode right now. Because at the height of my exasperation, when I feel that I cannot possibly take another day’s news, my rational brain kicks in and I remember gratitude.

Despite the madness that continues to swirl around my house, we’ve managed to create a zone of (mostly) peace and normalcy within these walls.

It’s different.

It involves more teleconferences, Zoom meetings, and screen time than I’d like to admit.

But it also involves being in the yard and the garden a lot. And taking walks. And having the kids around as we prepare dinner. And reading books together. And listening to audio books as I fold laundry, do dishes, change sheets, and vacuum.

We took our kids to fly kites. They loved it.

It doesn’t leave much time for us (parents) to be alone.

Being a parent during a pandemic without any tangible social support networks turns out to be hard.

It’s hard if you’re still lucky enough to have a job that you’re trying to do while the kids are awake. It’s hard if you’ve just been laid off and are looking for work when all the jobs that are hiring require you to put your health and safety at risk. It’s hard if you have a job–but you’re wondering for how long.

But who am I kidding? It’s hard for just about everyone in different ways.

So, gratitude.

We have jobs.

Getting into the field of e-learning last year turned out to be the absolute best decision I could have made at this point in my life. I recently took on a short-term contract as an independent consultant to advise and collaborate with faculty at a small, private university who are moving their traditional face-to-face summer courses into the online format.

We have a home. We have a yard where the kids can play.

We have food. More than enough food, honestly.

We have education. And friendship. And camaraderie (even if only online right now).

We have love. And laughter. And a sense of humor.

And these days, we **do** have something that we didn’t have two months ago.

Shared purpose.

A reason to look beyond the frustration and stress that we’re experiencing and look for those whom we can help.

For there is always someone who needs more help than you do.

***

And here’s where the emotional dizziness comes in. Because if I think about it long enough, my mind swings back to the realization that…

Wait… I cannot stop at gratitude.

If all I do is focus on what I’m grateful for and not be concerned about how others are suffering, nothing changes.

The cracks in our systems that are opening and swallowing so many people, they will remain.

Just because I have what I need does not, and SHOULD NOT, make me stop noticing and raising issue that the systems that are supposed to support and protect Americans are broken.

It does make me wonder though…

…will Americans finally put their collective foot down?

Will they push for the urgency of providing health care to all Americans?

Not a stop-gap. But real, actual, tangible access to health care that anyone–working, unemployed, full-time, part-time, retired, disabled, even (gasp!) non-citizens–can receive health care at a low cost?

What about sick leave?

What about family leave?

What about universal child care and preschool?

What about humane systems of incarceration?

What about preserving the human rights of anyone who is in this country, not just those who are citizens?

Or will we, once again, be too busy to push for real change?

Will 45% of Americans, as always, follow the President’s advice?

Not me.

Each day’s news, each day’s death toll, each day’s mental and emotional burdens are driving this experience deeper and deeper into my memory. It’s exposing all the flaws of capitalism run amok.

This cuts too deep for me to allow it to be “quickly forgotten.”

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)

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.

IMG_1618

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.

H&E_Stories_41

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.”

Funerals

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

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

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

Partly because I have nothing to say.

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

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

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

In the mood for some rambling?

Here we go.

***

Three months. Three funerals.  

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

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

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

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

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

This is the tough part of Life.

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

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

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

We will all die.

Our children will die.

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

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

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

What does it all mean?

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Image credit: 01234567890, pexels.com

***

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

Of course, yes, that matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It.

Just.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

That truth is the same for all of us.

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

***

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

While it was still dark.

***

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

Peace.

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

Whatever I do.

Whatever I don’t do.

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

It’s okay.

All is well.

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