Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: writing

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

Norma,

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

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

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

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

I smiled. You rocked.

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

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

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

Norma and Felicity

Norma and Felicity: October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

I hope I got the answers right.

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

I hope I don’t let you down.

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

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

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

A brief moment passed to let that information sink in.

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

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

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

It was always about the journey.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, after all, what was worse than failing?

I was young. I was insecure.

***

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

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

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

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

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

Reciprocity like that is rare. And it is powerful.

***

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

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

I was so, so full of joy.

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

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

I had been there before. Many times.

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

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

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

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

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

That made coming home so joyful.

***

What happens when we die?

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

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

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

And I’m willing to say, I don’t know.

What happens when we die? 

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

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

I thought a lot as I ran.

And then clarity hit me.

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

I was wondering.

I was in wonder.

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

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

To wonder? To think?

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

Sometimes, clarity hits you in odd ways.

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

Sometimes, it seems almost supernatural.

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

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

And all I saw was,

Norma.

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

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

With gratitude,

Sharon

Elon, Take Me Away

Elon,

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

Take me away in your spaceship to the stars.

 

I haven’t always been interested in space travel.

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

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

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

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

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

Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.

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

Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.

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

Societies are slow to change.

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

Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.

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

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

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

The same happened in the United States.

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

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

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

Just a thought.

***

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

Really? That was the main takeaway?

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

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

I think you’re magical.

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

You create electric cars that can drive themselves.

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

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

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

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

 

I dig it.

You’ve made me a believer.

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

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

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

Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)

Elon musk 2

***

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

Nah.

You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a storyteller.

And I am full of stories.

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

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

My special talents include:

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Me

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

 

And oh, and this is AMAZING.

 

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

 

September Ramblings, Because I Can’t Focus

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.

#smallblessings

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.

Reality.

Back to work.

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

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

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

Richard Scarry

Hippoelephantzebra.

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

Mom love. Love moma.

IMG_20180412_103000

I thought you would sleep in the next morning.

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

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

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

Kind of.

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

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

Felicity cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

You’re like me.

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

But you’re also not like me at all.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

To learn to read and write.

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

To dive into math and science.

To figure out how to build friendships and make amends.

To solve puzzles.

To fail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You already have them.

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

But most importantly, don’t serve yourself.

Serve humanity.

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

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

I’m so happy for you.

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

Love,

Mom

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

I did something stupid.

For the past two months.

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

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

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

For free.

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

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

It seemed like such a great idea.

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

I signed up for two on-line classes.

Then, four days before our summer term started…

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

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

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

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

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

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

burnout

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

But it didn’t make it any easier.

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

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

All covered in poop juice.

Here you go, Mama! You’re welcome!

***

But now, The Great Exhale has come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think you get the point. Just sooo done.

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

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

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

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

Trade-offs, I guess.

***

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

So much I want to do.

Let it all begin.

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

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

EXCUSE ME?

You’re going to bring the Bible into this?

Oh.

No, you don’t.

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

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

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

But above all, to be Christian is about Love.

As any former Bible memorizing prodigy will tell you:

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

Where are we?

Is this the United States?

Bring on midterm elections.

I’m ready.

PoP # 14: “Daystar”

Four years later. Still hard.

Dad and Sharon 1982

My father and me (at 15 months), 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you, Dad.

Miss you.

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

Someday, things will get easier, right?

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

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

 

“Lex” by Ratatat

 

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

 

“Help, I’m Alive” by Metric

 

“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave

 

“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen

 

“Rivers and Road” by the Head and the Heart

 

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

 

“Growing Up” by Run River North

 

And always,

“Mhysa” by Ramin Djawadi

 

“Weekends” and “Holidays” as a Mom…

…aren’t really weekends and holidays.

Today, when someone says to me, “Only one more day until the weekend,” I think, Nooo!!! It can’t be!!!

When I come in to work on Monday morning, sometimes I sing, “It’s the Most. Wonderful. Dayyyyy of the Weeeek!” (If you missed it, I go to work to “relax.”)

Not kidding. Ask my students.

When people describe their weekends using the words, Nothing much, or Pretty low-key, I think, You lucky dog, You.

When someone says, “Any big plans for the holiday,” I think, Yes, keeping my children alive and keeping myself sane until it’s time to go back to work where things are so much easier.

Where I can just do work without having to simultaneously mentally track a toddler’s location at any given moment.

Where I can do things like think. And eat while sitting down. And zone out.

Before I had kids, I never understood the “I never get to sit down to eat comment” that I would sometimes hear from mothers.

Just insist that your kids sit down so you can sit down, I would think. I would never let my kids dictate whether I can sit or stand.

Oh, sweet naive little Me.

It’s not that kids insist that you stand while they eat.

It’s more like, the toddler pushed his food off his tray. So you need to pick that up.

Or the older one slid into her chair at the table and managed to take the tablecloth with her. And there goes her plate. And she’s trying to pick up the food off the floor–and mashing it further into the carpet.

Or Surprise! The toddler decided now is a good time to poop.

Or. Or. Or.

A few weeks ago, one of the funniest tweets by parents published by Huffington Post was, “Every meal with my children is fifteen hours long.”

Amen, Girlfriend. Amen.

holiday

***

So it was just recently Memorial Day weekend, as you’ll recall.

How do I even explain to you how I was feeling by Sunday night, when I can usually see the light at the end of the tunnel…

By Sunday night, I found myself staring at a sink full of pots. My husband said, “Just go sit down. I’ve got this.”

In my head, I thought. No. Please. Seriously. Let me occupy myself with inanimate things that can’t cry to pull at me or give me sass or yell for me to wipe their butts after they’ve pooped.

But what I said was, “No. Please. Right now, I just really need to be away from kids. They are bringing me no joy right now.”

Truth.

Until that point, I had taken both kids to church so Doug could stay home and do house repairs without interruptions. To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind this time because both kids go to the nursery and I sit in the luxury of unattached solitude in an air-conditioned space with the stability of the music and liturgy reminding that, Hey, it’s going to be okay.

After that, while the toddler napped and my husband got a head start on cooking for the weekly meal (that’s how we save time prepping meals in the week), I had taken the older one to a children’s museum for two hours of Run-Around Time, followed by a trip to Target (because the toddler needs new shoes), although the older one really didn’t want to go. And Mama, you could just drop me off at home first, How does that sound?

No.

But I don’t wanna go!!!!!!

Then, because I couldn’t stomach the idea of sitting in their play room while the toddler turned into King Kong, attempting to bust down the baby gate, it was two hours outside in the hot humidity of May (!?!) while my kids played at the water table. The toddler–who is finicky about which sippy cup he’ll use to drink his milk versus which one he’ll use to drink water–was actually gulping cup after cup of (certainly) parasite-infested water directly from the same table that 24 hours earlier had been sitting in our garage, covered in garage dust and spider webs.

Gulp. Gulp. No problem drinking today, Mama!

Oh, sweet, sweet Lord.

The water table is actually a great idea. For about fifteen minutes. That’s about the longevity of both children being occupied by only the water table.

water table.jpg

Depicts 0-15 minutes of play.

After fifteen minutes, the sphere of entertainment grows by about a foot every several minutes.

First, they’re wandering over to the mulch and bringing handfuls of it over to the water.

Then, they’re finding the broom in the garage and bringing it over to the mulch.

Because it needs to be swept?

Then, they’re pulling their tricycles and bikes over to the water table.

Why? Does there ever have to be a reason?

And maybe they’re even bringing the scooter, which belongs to the older child (although it’s the toddler who more frequently requests to use it) which means that one parent is hunched over the toddler on a scooter, carefully guiding it down the driveway while said toddler teethes on the rubbery handles, his slobber landing on his new toddler shoes. (The slobber, I’ve heard, helps break them in.)

And then the older child says, “Let’s play Little Red Riding Hood, Mama. You’re the Big Bad Wolf and Henry’s the grandma.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Three Bears.”

Oh, that makes sense.

And then it’s time for dinner, but they’re covered in sweat and sunscreen and snot (?!?) and water table parasites. So it’s actually really Bath Time. So all their clothes come off in the laundry room and they’re running around the house naked or in just a diaper while you’re picking up the trail of shoes and towels and clothing they’ve left behind. So you’re trying to get everything straight into the washer–only, there’s already a finished load that needs to be dried and a dry load that needs to be folded. So you’re doing that. And then it hits you–

Oh my God, where did the toddler go?

And he’s rummaging through the diaper changing area, chewing on latex gloves with a smile on his face.

Death avoided again.

Winning.

Then baths. Then dinner. Then dishes. Then vacuuming for the third time. Then laundry. And, oh yeah, I need to do my laundry.

Then bottle for the toddler, books for the older one.

Collapse.

I really can’t think of anything more exhausting and less holiday-like than spending 72 hours with my own young children.

Every holiday, in my head (and sometimes aloud), I think, Someday, holidays will be holidays again.

Until then, pass the parasites, I guess.

PoP #10: Homework

Feels like an important moment in time.

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