When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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Confessions of a glassy eyed, frazzled, (sometimes crappy) Mother

I live in a state of overwhelmedness.

I am not alone. Though I am a newly evolved creature, only evolved in our modern times, there are many of us.

You see us everywhere, though you don’t know it.

Racing from our homes early in the mornings (earlier than many of you even have to be up)…

Dropping our children at day care (preschool, elementary school, etc….insert any of a number of locations, or several different ones as the case may be)…

Rushing to soccer practice (ballet, baseball, gymnastics, football…pick your poison, or more likely poisons)…

Racing around the aisles of the local grocery store as if we were at the roller derby (glancing at our watch and then making a crazed beeline for the checkout while biting back a naughty word we never would have said in public a decade ago)…

We’re everywhere, (doing an endless list of duties) though you don’t recognize us.

We look like everyone else (well except for the slightly glazed look to our eyes that sets us apart if you  pay attention).

Perhaps there is a bit of a frantic, harried air to us, if you know what you’re looking for (Who am I kidding? We probably look frantic or completely dazed depending when our last cup of Starbucks was consumed–easily identifiable, well at least as half cocked!) .

Who are we?

We are working mothers–a new breed of mother. An exhausted, overwhelmed, and often discouraged group of women.

Synonym for working mother?

insainityInsane.

in·sane
inˈsān/
adjective
1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.
     synonyms: mentally ill, mentally disordered, of unsound mind, certifiable
2. characterized or caused by madness
     synonyms: maniacal, psychotic, crazed, hysterical
3. in a state of extreme annoyance or distraction
     synonyms: mad, crazy
That sounds pretty much accurate. Insanity–caused not by the chemistry of the brain, but rather the chemistry of the circumstance, or more accurately, “Life-stance.”
working momCircumstances imply that it can be changed or altered, but, unless I somehow miraculously end up single without children in the morning, I don’t see that a change of “circumstance” would really alter the state of existence which keeps me certifiably insane (or at least I feel like I could be) half the time.
I am, by varying degrees, alternately crazed, hysterical, mentally disordered, affected by moments of extreme annoyance and/or distraction–all on a daily basis.
To be a working mother means that I am being pulled in a million different directions, by a varying number of sources, at any one given moment, in other words, simultaneously.
Mad_HatterI am wearing so many different hats, that you might call me the “Mad Hatter.” (wink, wink, so very punny!)

What this means in reality is that I am tired all. of. the. time.

I never feel like I am giving enough to anyone (and that is usually, sadly, true), and so most days I feel like I suck.

I suck at everything.

I suck as a mother. I suck as a wife. I suck as a person. I suck as a contributing member of society.

I have an invisible F plastered to my forehead. F for failure. F for fool–for I am a fool to think I can do so much and somehow do it all well.

failureThere are simply too many irons in the fire, and that means that something is going to burn–or so often, lots of somethings.

juggling_momWhen you’re juggling so many balls, they begin hitting the floor, and then, I, the juggler, feel like I suck.

It’s not that there are more balls in the air than anyone could possibly handle.

The problem is me, the juggler. The finger does not get pointed at the ball, it is pointed at me. When that ball hits the ground, I hold the blame. Me. No one else.

I’m not the mother I want to be, the wife I want to be, the teacher I want to be–and I am certainly not the “me” that I want to be.

I can’t be, and I know that in my head, but the heart… well that is something else entirely.

And as if living under that perpetual shadow of guilt isn’t enough, then there are emails like this one from my 6 year old’s teacher:

Dear Heather and Aaron,

Lily has left her backpack in the car today.  It seems that she has a habit of misplacing things.  Please help her to become better organized and  ready to go.

Thanks,

Ms. ———-

It’s the end of May and my 6 year-old forgot her backpack for the second time this year, and I get a “you’re a crappy Mommy” note from her teacher.

parents-to-blameAnd this isn’t the first time.

I get one when I don’t have the opportunity to read with Lily because of one of my son’s late night baseball games.

I get one because I forgot to sign her folder on a night we really did read.

I get one because Lily, wanting to read on her own, misplaced her “book baggie book,” and, for a couple of days went to school without it because things were too busy at home to search the house from top to bottom and find said book that somehow ended up at the bottom of the toy bin.

I get one to encourage me to come have lunch with my daughter, because the stay-at-home Mommies do that and the children of us sucky working mothers are feeling left out.

I get one that encourages me to volunteer in the classroom like the stay-at-home mommies do, after all, it’s not fair that only some mommies do it all.

I seem to get one for ever real and imagined shortcoming this teacher believes I have.

Every time I get one of these notes, I feel the judgment being passed on my parenting. I feel the pointed finger and the scowling face. I feel the recriminations.

Working-Mom-Ecard-e1353971518875But the thing is, I already feel guilty most of the time. I don’t need her help in that. I feel guilty for the things I miss, the things that I am too busy–or too tired–to do, or to do as well as I wish I could–when my kids tell me about a last minute project at 7:00 at night and we have to scrounge around the house to try to make something work, when my daughter is a living painting and I can’t get off of work to see her, when my son has his “graduating from 5th grade Awards Breakfast” in the middle of my fourth period final and, instead of going, I have to settle for pictures.

I don’t need a disparaging note to make me feel like a crap mother–too often I already feel that way.

I am not alone in this. I think all working mother’s exist in this state, though to varying degrees I’m sure. It doesn’t matter that we are doing what is necessary to keep our families afloat.

working mom 2It doesn’t matter that we struggled with low level depression through the “stay at home” years, and this is a necessary component to our emotional well being.

It doesn’t matter that by working, I’m able to provide my children with the big house with the pool. Or that I’m able to pay for football and gymnastics and camps and lessons and all the things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

When my children turn sad eyes to me because I can’t go to their presentation, all the reasons for doing what I do, don’t seem enough. When a teacher (who has never had children herself by the way), points out my failings, all the benefits in the world fall short.

All I can do is do the best I can, and pray that it is enough. That my best will be good enough. That the good I am able to do, imperfect though it is, will outweigh the dropped balls and the metaphorical “scorched dinners.”

I may not be able to be the room Mommy, but no one loves their children more than I do.

I might see my husband like a ship passing in the night (much less having an actual date with the man who started me on this whole path to insanity!), but he knows (I think) that everything I do is because I love him and our children.

And it might take me a decade to write my book (hopefully not–I’m shooting for July), but it will get done.

At the end of the day, all I can do is the best I can do–and hopefully love makes up the difference.

Just another pretty face–being an adolescent girl–it’s all in the packaging

My daughter has started asking me what the songs on the radio mean.

That meant I had to actually start paying attention to what I was bee-bopping along to, because, I realized, half the time I had no idea what in the world the songs were about.

So, I started paying attention. I started actually listening to the words . . . and I was a bit dismayed by how many a)were about sex, b) were encouraging very negative behaviors, and c) were about sex. Did I mention how many were about sex–casual, meaningless sex?

tove loI’ve never really thought that deeply about the messages of many of the songs I listen to. I put the radio on and find myself enjoying the beat and the style, and so sing along without really knowing what I’m singing, or if I do, it really doesn’t penetrate, and, up until now, my kids were too little for it to really matter.

But now my nine year old daughter wants to know what they mean…and I find that I don’t want to tell her.

How do I tell her that, “Oh, honey, this song is about a girl who does drugs and goes to sex clubs because she misses the boy who dumped her so badly? (Tove Lo’s song so aptly named ‘I get high all the time’)” Umm . . . no, I just switch the station whenever that song comes on.

taylor swiftOr how about the new Taylor Swift (my girls love her–a model for young girls??) song about hooking up with a guy for the weekend because he looks good ( not because he is good, nope, just looks good) and she doesn’t really care if it lasts or not (song named “Blank Space”) so long as she has a good time. . . do I want my daughters to think that sex has no deeper meaning than if you find someone good to look at or not?

Or how about all the songs that objectify women. That’s fun. “Oh, honey, this song is just about how a woman’s only value is in how she looks and whether or not a guy can get her into bed . . . ” I’m not ready for that conversation yet!

The tendency for Hip Hop and Rap to throw around the “bitch” word and refer to women in all sort’s of sexual ways is notorious, and frankly, those songs are never playing on my radio, so let’s look at the genres that do get played in the family car…

sexismHow about Keith Urban and his “Little Bit of Everything.” For those of  you who haven’t heard it, here’s part of the first verse:

“I want a cool chick that’ll cook for me

But’ll dance on the bar in her tan bare feet

And do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me.”

Nope, not sexist at all. :/ Is that what I want my daughters to think a healthy relationship in the 21st century looks like?

The lookism that is rampant in our culture, the objectification of women, is sadly something that I have become numb to on a conscious level–I don’t notice it that often except when it hits me over the head.

Having my precious, sweet, innocent daughter ask me what a song means was one of those “hitting me over the head moments.” Knowing that my tween daughter is about to walk into this ugliness, where her creativity, her innate goodness, her bright inquisitive mind are all going to take a backseat to her pretty face and a body about to blossom kind of pisses me off. My daughter is amazing, and so much more than how she looks! She is so much more than whether boys think she’s hot or not.

But this is what we do to our girls. This is adolescence for a female.

aibileenI want to wrap my daughter up and keep her safe from the ugliness out there–but I can’t. It’s our world and she has to live in it. So, I need to figure out how I can combat all the negative messages she receiving on a continual basis.

I just recently got around to watching the movie “The Help” (a truly outstanding movie with so many rich ideas I might have to devote a blog to it at a later time). What Aibileen said to that little girl–on repeat–really stuck with me. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Notice that she doesn’t say she’s beautiful– though she could have. She doesn’t mention how adorable she looks–though she certainly did look adorable. She focused on what that little girl really needed to know about herself. That she was kind. That she was smart. And that she was worth something.

That is what I can do for my daughter. I can remind her of who she is and what really matters.

Three boys playing tug-of-warMy son is a very handsome little fella. Every once in a while someone tells him that.

More often, he is told that he is smart, that he’s athletic, that he’s got potential. When he gets compliments, they are things about him. It’s not that he’s not good looking–it just doesn’t really matter that much for a boy. I mean it helps, but it’s not what’s most important.

My girls on the other hand, the vast majority of their compliments are about how they look. They continually hear that they’re cute or pretty or skinny–but much more rarely do they hear that they are kind or smart or talented, though they are all these things and more.

Their father and I tell them that they are smart and good and funny and talented, but the world around them focuses on how they look. Are our voices enough to make a difference?

Back in my dating years, I was always floored at how deep and intelligent guys who should know better were drawn to the pretty faces of shallow and flighty girls. This always stumped me.

peny-and-leonard-leonard-penny-32729301-1224-792Half of the guys I crushed on were just sort of  “meh” in the look department. It didn’t matter that much to me. It was their minds or their wit or their passion that drew me, not what they looked like. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be attraction, but attraction was so much more than what they looked like!

Nearly every guy I knew thought he deserved a drop-dead looker (even if he was a less than stellar specimen of the masculine race). And so many of them wouldn’t consider going out with an amazing girl because she was plain. This never made any sense to me.

papertowns2John Greene in his book “Paper Towns” puts it so well. “[It’s] always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” It makes no sense, but when it comes to females, that is what society (and guys) tell us is the most important factor when it comes to date-ability.

He furthers this idea in his book when he refers to a character who is popular and sought after by the guys in the protagonist’s school. Greene states about this girl: “She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch . . . [we]have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children”– and yet, the boys came swarming. Here was an awful, hateful girl, but her good looks made all that was negative about her disappear.

What is wrong with us?

I always marveled when I was young at how important it was for me, and for us as girls, to hear affirmation about how we looked. What did I do to contribute to how I look? Was it some great fete? Did I expend great effort? Was this a great achievement on my part. No, no and no. It was simple genetics–something I had no control over, and yet something I am told over and over again, is the most important part of who I am.

According to this idea, we are set up from the beginning to succeed or fail and nothing we do is really going to alter the outcome. Doesn’t really seem fair to me.

As a parent, it makes me angry–and it makes me feel so futile, the one voice in the noise of a society that says that how they look means so much less than who they choose to be.

helen of troyBut this isn’t a new problem, it’s not uniquely 21st century and it’s not uniquely American–though perhaps the prevalence of the idea is more oppressive because of this age of social media. This is a problem that is as old as time, and for all our gender equality, we don’t seem to be making any inroads on this particular facet of the problem.

In her book “Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher states “In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both necessary and a sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.”

She goes on to say that “America today is a girl-destroying place” and that “Girls have long been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much . . . girls are trained to be less than who they really are.”

I don’t want that for my girls. I don’t want my girls reduced to less than the dynamic individuals they truly are. I don’t want them to look for their value in how the male gender perceives them. I don’t want them to think that sex is something to approach casually or that it has no real meaning attached to it.

Somehow I need to fight this tide and help my daughters know that they are amazing, brilliant human beings, and not just pretty girls.

tween girls

It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, women, and human beings, to let girls know that their worth is in who they are–not in how they look.

Even giants can have a shoe fetish you know!

tall girlMost of the time, I don’t feel like a giant.

There have been a few times when I have felt like one.

When I sprouted from a normal 5′ tall to a 5′ 8″ amazon height in the fifth grade . . . then I felt like a giant.

It probably didn’t help that my classmates called me Amazon Woman (the fragile female  adolescent ego doesn’t take that so well).

But, eventually the boys caught up, and I felt pretty much normal again. Tall, but not so tall that I felt like a freak.

giant girlWhen I went to Bangladesh, there I felt like a giant. I was very much the giant among the Lilliputians. I towered over many of the men, much less the women. I pretty much felt like a sideshow freak for most of my three months there. I was a novelty to them I’m sure, this big, white haired giant of a woman with the strange colored eyes.

They’re probably still talking about me today, twenty years later. “Do you remember when that giant girl who said she was young, but who must have been old, because she had white hair, came to visit? Do you remember her strange eyes . . . and so huge! Do you remember her feet!” and then they shudder at the outlandish freakishness of the memory. . .

Yep. I will become a myth passed on to their children. Maybe I’ll morph into and angel over the years, or maybe a vampire or a demon as the stories are re-told.

vampire girlThat could be kind of cool. The big white-haired freak will become their boogey man. I’ll keep their children from sneaking out of bed at night. I’ll be the tale to spook the little children into obedience. Awesome.

Perhaps I have a complex. Maybe it’s residual PTSD from the experience . . . I went to help, and instead I left pathologically warped. So much for karma!

Yep, definitely felt like a giant then!

But, for all of that, I am not so tall that I haven’t at times felt downright small.

(Okay. Maybe I should restate that. On one lone occasion I felt small. And maybe it doesn’t count. Standing next to a 6′ 7″ Scandinavian freak of nature probably isn’t fair to count . . . )

So, maybe the idea of feeling small is foreign to me, BUT I don’t usually feel like a freak outside of the aforementioned unique circumstances.

fit dammitAnd when I go shoe shopping.

Yep, shopping for shoes does it every time.

Look at me! The big ol’ giant with the ginormo feet!

When shopping for shoes in Bangladesh, (the sandals I brought broke) I became a spectacle of enormous (catch the pun, haha, enormous, taheehee) proportions. When I, using halting Bangla, communicated what I was after, the shop attendants started staring at my feet (no no, that’s too polite, gawking would be more accurate), talking rapidly, all the while using great hand gestures to express their awe at my greatness (catch it, another pun . . . aren’t I hoot!).

bearded_ladyPicture it. The one blond head towering over them, and a crowd of little men beckoning other little men forward to stare at the anomaly, feet the size of . . .  well, I doubt they had a decent comparison! Quite literally, a crowd of people started jockeying for position, all to get a glance of these feet. I was the bearded lady. I was freakthe freak they didn’t need to pay to see.

And this is when I wore a size 10 shoe.

But then I got married, and had this wonderful idea that having a slew of little babies would be fantastic!

If someone had told me that my feet were going to get even bigger as a result, I think I may have changed my mind!

Who needs affection and cuddles when your feet are at stake!

Alas, no one warned me, and I got pregnant not once, but four times.

Little Serena did minimal damage. She was little. I stayed little. My feet stayed in the realm of . . .well, at least not obscenely huge by American standards.

But then I got pregnant with my son, all 9 pounds 13 ounces of him.

I turned into a whale.

My poor feet had to carry said whale around.

My feet, large though they were, were not made to carry around a whale.

Pacific Walrus hind feetIn protest, they spread. They morphed from feet into flippers.

Yes, I am now known as “she of the flipper feet.”

Thank you, Gavin.

I did not just go up a size. Oh, no.

I went up a size and a half. From an, “I can get shoes anywhere” 10, to an

“I’m sorry, we carry shoes not . . .whatever it is you call what you put on your feet” 11 1/2.

I don’t know where it is they expect us giants to shop. I sure haven’t figured it out.

Even places that used to carry shoes in my size, are no longer carrying them.

drizellaOut of desperation, I used to wear the cheap faux shoes at Payless, because at least I could make them fit (If I tried really, really hard . . .think Drizela from Cinderella–“They do fit . . . I tell you they do . . . ” as I force my foot into an obviously too small shoe . . .).

But these days I have about four choices at Payless.

Ugly, UGLY, UGLY-ASS and

grandma shoes“Dear God, would anyone be caught dead wearing those!”

Just because I have huge feet, does it mean I have to be completely lacking of any sense of style! I mean, seriously!? Grandma shoes! That’s what you’ve got for me? Really?! Nothing but, God awful, so ugly even my grandma wouldn’t wear them, shoes! Come on! I’m a girl too–if a giant one!

So, over the last few weeks, I went to store after store, and left deflated.

No shoes at the store for me (I felt like Mary being turned away from inn after inn–rejected, unwanted, marginalized!).

Finally, in desperation, I scoured the internet, and scoured some more. Finally (do you hear the chorus of angels singing?) I found shoes in my size.

So I bought some.

And I bought some more.

And, “Oh! Those boots are so cute! And they have them in my size?!” so I bought some more.

I went a tiny, tiny bit crazy.

My inner girl could finally, after a decade of plastic, too tight trendy shoes or comfortable ugly-ass grandma shoes, come out and not only play, but downright dance a jig.

So, yeah, I bought a few pairs of shoes. . .

And then my husband saw the bank statement . . . (damn it! The one day he beats me to the mail box!) and asked me why in the world I spent that much money on shoes without at least talking about it with him first (the audacity of him!).

So, I did what every girl cursed with flipper feet would do. I broke down in tears. I mean, I started balling. Full on, sobbing basket case.

Because: “You just have no idea how hard it is to be me! I’m a girl too! I want to have pretty shoes too!”

I think he was probably sorry he even asked.

My latent psychosis was definitely more than he had bargained for.

But finally, I too, have pretty shoes!

cute shoes

Well, hello there! Long time no see!

comfy chairThe other day I had a rare day off with an empty house. My children were at school, my husband was at work, and for the moment, it was just me and my own thoughts, a turn of events I have become unaccustomed to in recent years.

I smiled in bliss at the solitude, appreciating the absence of sound. I settled into my comfy leather chair, snuggled beneath my favorite afghan with a steaming cup of Joe in hand, ready for a nice long chat with myself, a veritable wandering into the hallways of my own soul, reconnecting with an old familiar friend.

But this time, I greeted my solitude, and myself, as a stranger. When I tried to connect with my thoughts, I was overcome with silence–like friends too long apart I had become awkward in the presence of my own mind. My thoughts tumbled around my children, my husband and my job. They skittered amongst the practical, the responsible, the mundane. The thoughts of reflection, of self-knowledge were gone, their whisperings lost in the clanging of necessity. All I heard was the noise of the practical, the thoughts of others, ideas borrowed from books or the radio, my voice, the voice so uniquely me, was silent.

It is a very uncomfortable thing to come face to face with one’s self and to see a stranger. It is a feeling a do not like at all.

I used to be intimately acquainted with my own thoughts. I started a journal at the tender age of ten when I was too young to put much beyond the literal happenings of my day onto the paper. But, the practice led to introspection, which led to reflection. I grew in my knowledge of myself. I discovered who I wanted to be. I reflected on my place in the world and how I interacted in it. I knew who I was, who I had been and I had a clear picture of who I wanted to become. I don’t know this any longer.

It is not an altogether new thought, this reality that I am no longer intimately acquainted with myself. It has risen to the surface, a bubble appearing on the surface of a pond to disquiet the surface by its presence, but the ripple caused by the bubble spreads and fades, and that knowledge is ultimately forgotten in the noise of adulthood, of motherhood and marriage, and the clamor of needs.

disappearNow, I know who I was, but not who I am, nor who I want to be. In this moment of quiet, I confronted the stark reality that I as an individual have gone “Poof” up in smoke, no more substantive than the roles I fill. Me, the individual, this woman named Heather, exists only in relation to others, take them away and there would be nothing to ground me, I would drift away like a bit of fluff in the wind.

From the comfort of my chair, I stared unseeingly out my windows to the gray day before me and wrestled with the questions. How do I, when there is so little time and not enough of me to go around as it is, become re-acquainted with myself? How do I delve passed the responsibilities and the grinding of daily necessity to find the me that I am, not the me that I was?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. All these are things I am.

But these are all roles I fill, parts I play. I am more than the sum of these roles I play for others.

Who is Heather, the woman? Who am I apart from necessity and responsibility?

I was stumped.

Freight-11-728x400This year the reality of this freight train called life has come crashing into my consciousness. My son and my eldest daughter are transitioning from childhood to tween-ness and all the craziness that entails. My baby is not a baby but instead an increasingly tall, long-limbed girl as if she were a piece of taffy that God pulled from both ends, stretching her out. My husband and I have been married for fifteen swift, fleeting years (dear God! How did that happen! Surely I am not old enough to have been married for so long!). And this summer marks my twenty year class reunion. Excuse me as I swallow passed the lump in my throat . . .

I remember going to my ten year reunion and there was another class who was having their 25th reunion. I remember thinking how old they were, and how far removed from high school. I remember feeling so incredibly far from them, as if they were at a place I could not quite conceive of myself as ever reaching . . .

But here I am, a breath away, nearly there–and the breath within me stops, and I feel a suspicious knot in the vicinity of my heart. I am so busy with living, that I am not living, and my life is speeding past and soon I will be old.

CAM00708-1The High School I teach at is putting on a play of “High School Musical” and the director sent a campus wide call for high school pictures from all the teachers so last night I went digging through my old albums to see what I could find. It took a while. Apparently I left almost all of my childhood behind when I left my little rural town for the big city, and I didn’t really look back. I left almost everything at my parents’ house. I uncovered one year book and just a handful of pictures. One of the pictures was of my mom and I on graduation day. I recognized myself. That’s the me I know, the me I remember. That’s still how I look, isn’t it?

The more I looked at the picture, the more I realized that that girl is not me and I am not her. I looked at my mother in the picture and realized that I am the age my mother was when I graduated (actually, I’m a couple of years older!). I likely have more in common with her than I do the girl brimming with youth and hope.

I looked on that girl as a stranger and wondered what she would think of me if she were to meet me today, as I am now. How would she view who I have become? Would she think I’ve accomplished anything worth accomplishing or would she think that I had settled, defaulted to the original setting of life, the treadmill, that factory setting?

Would she recognize me as once being the her she is or would I look so entirely different that I would be nothing more than a stranger she just happened to be meeting?

Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s an epiphany brought on as I sense the ever-widening distance between myself and the students I teach, but I find myself realizing that we can never allow ourselves to become too busy to know ourselves. That is simply not okay. We cannot be a stranger to our own minds, our own dreams and aspirations. And we cannot rest on old dreams, the aspirations of our youth.

Marriages flounder and struggle and die. Fingers are pointed, blame is passed around. We declare, “I am not happy” as if our spouse is to blame for the lack of happiness we feel. “I don’t love him anymore” we say, not realizing it is hard for someone to love us, when we ourselves are lost even to ourselves.

mom self careHow can someone really love me if I don’t know who I am? And how can I love myself if I don’t even know myself? And how can I be happy if I don’t even know what I want?

I value my role as a wife and mother too much to give them a pale copy, a shadow of the woman I was meant to be. And I can’t become that woman if I don’t know myself.

Knowing who I am, who I want to be, is a responsibility too–and it is one that we, as women, too often neglect. We need to move it up our priority list. We need to give it time.

Do your husband a favor. Do your children a favor. But most importantly of all, do yourself a favor. Don’t become a stranger to the person you are. Take the time to reaquaint yourself with the you you have become, and take the time to figure out who you want to be in the future. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your family.

Sometimes the Most Ordinary is Extraordinary

I’ve always admired people who are content. Contentment has always been an elusive, out of reach quantity to me. It doesn’t seem to matter where I am, what I’m doing, or what I have, there is always a persistent longing. I want more.

I’ve always envied my sister this quality. She has always seemed content. It doesn’t mean that she lacks ambition or success–she has both in her life. Rather, she seems able to enjoy where she’s at while she’s there without longing for the next step.

Not me. From as early as I can remember, I always wanted more. I wanted to be the best, the prettiest, the most successful, and, no matter what I achieved, it never felt like enough. Yes, I have a competitive nature (I come from a highly competitive family after all), but it seems to me that this is something deeper than competiveness.

I think that I am a product of the child psychology of my day–Baby Boomer psychology. Unlike their parents, the parents of my generation taught us to aim high. They were idealists. The sky was the limit and we were told that the only thing that would stop us was ourselves.

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I grew up hearing that I was special–I would change the world. I had a destiny that I needed to reach for, a life I was meant to live. I was special. Not ordinary—the definition of special. I was extraordinary—extra-ordinary

This all sounds great. Everybody wants to be special and who doesn’t want to change the world? I embraced it.

After I graduated from High School, I put those ideas into practice. I traveled all over the world trying to make a difference. I went to Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bangladesh doing everything from teaching English to providing cyclone relief to teaching Bengali mothers the basics of hydration and hygiene.

And then I got married. I had children. My life changed. I changed.

Now, I find myself living a life that is the epitome of “ordinary” and the only things that I have been changing are years’ worth (literally) of dirty diapers and the dryer vents from the mountains of laundry that I do on an almost daily basis.

I am the epitome of the “soccer” mom (though my kids don’t play soccer). I have my 2.5 children (we’re going to round up in my case), a mini-van (well, actually an SUV), and my lovely house in the suburbs (which includes a pool to splash around in on those unbearable Texas summer days). I attend PTA meetings and little league (okay, so maybe not baseball, but football and gymnastics). My life is very, very ordinary–but it’s quite lovely—but it’s ordinary—and I am supposed to be extra-ordinary. I’m supposed to change the world.

I’m sure most of the Gen Xers didn’t take their parents and teachers quite so literally. They didn’t soak up that idealism and let it worm its way into their very DNA. But I did, and despite my lovely life, I long for more. I have not learned contentment—contentment is not something I was taught, and it slips through my fingers, completely intangible no matter how hard I try to grasp it.

But I’m learning.

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I’m learning, that it is not in the quantity, but in the quality.

I’m learning that I don’t need to change the world, just a few–and that starts right here right now. It starts with the neighbor who had a new baby, the friend who has cancer, and the student who thinks no one cares. It starts with what I can do in the world that I am in.

I might not get to sing for an audience any more and soak in the applause of a crowd, but when I sit down to play on my piano in my study and belt out a Broadway tune, my children sit enraptured. Theirs is all the praise I need.

I might not turn heads when I walk down the street, but my five year old thinks I’m beautiful.

I might not be the most popular mom on the block or have the most friends, but my kids sure love hanging out with me.

Being special doesn’t have to mean that you are better than everyone else—it means that you are extraordinary to a few. And my daughters think I hung the moon.

For today, that’s all the special that I need to be.

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I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

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We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

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But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

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Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

Sometimes less truly is more . . .

This has been a year full of change. After four years of being a stay at home mom, we decided that it was time for me to go back to work. Lily, my youngest was four and she is a very social little girl. She was ready for school and I was ready for work.

Some moms seem to thrive in their stay-at-home status. I was not one of those moms. Financially, it made sense for me to stay at home, and honestly, I felt compelled to stay at home, but it was a constant struggle for me. I adore my children. I love savoring the moments with them, filling up my jar of precious memories. I love the changes but mourn the amazing moments that growth leaves behind. I love spending time with my children above all else, but, I did not like me as I struggled to conform to this role I seemed to be so ill-suited for.super_hero_mom_poster-rb00ac9d631604ce3822afbae9898c56d_wad_8byvr_216

For years I have struggled with a sense of guilt. Being a loving, consistent mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. Shouldn’t that be “enough” for me? I would look at some of my friends who seemed so content or even blissful in that role, and I wondered why I was so unhappy. A good mother would be content in that role, right?

I was full of trepidation when I accepted the contract to go back to teaching. Would my children suffer? Would I be able to balance everything? Was I doing the right thing?

It didn’t take me long to realize that the decision we had made was the right one for us. I am such a better person with the challenge and mental stimulation that teaching gives me! I am happier, and, I believe that I am also a better mother.

 

That is not to say that this year has been an easy one. For seven months we made the grueling commute from home in south Dallas, to our jobs in north Dallas. (Anyone who has ever driven in Dallas during rush hour knows how awful that was!) Now imagine that same commute cooped up with three bored children . . . in the car with you . . . for the entire commute! Yeah! That has become my vision of what hell must be like! My littlest, literally, seemed unable to stop talking. Imagine the running commentary of a four year old at 6:30 in the morning before you’ve had your first cup of coffee . . .059

 

In fact, it was so bad, that we decided to move to North Dallas in the middle of the school year! Crazy I know, but such a good decision! My son is like a whole new kid (I won’t even get into the troubles we had with him this year! :S) since we moved. It’s amazing what a difference having time to play after school can make!

So, what’s the point of all of this? I guess what I want to say is that no one can know what is right for you and your family. I stayed at home because I needed to, and I don’t regret the time I spent at home with the kids. I just wish I had spent less of it feeling guilty for not being who I thought I was supposed to be!

Being a parent requires such balance. It is easy to lose ourselves in caring for our children. It is also easy to be a crappy parent because we are too focused on what we need and not focused on what is best for our children. Being a good parent means putting our children in front of ourselves. But it also means, being able to tell the kids to go watch a show or play in their rooms for a bit so that you can keep a sense of your own identity in the midst of this crazy thing we call parenting.

Yes, you could take the time to work on your child’s reading or to play another game with them, but sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, because, after all, that is what makes us the best parent of all!

A little dose of clarity and a large dose of gratitude

We live in an age where it is the “in” thing to dis America. It’s en vogue to talk about all the things that we have done wrong. It’s almost chic in some circles to talk about our country with venom and disdain.

I never agree with such opinions, but I’ve gotten used to them. I disregard them with a sort of complacence. I take them in stride and ignore them, most of the time.

Every once in a while there is something that shakes the dust off of my patriotism and makes it burn bright again. The fire of pride and gratitude toward this country that has given us so much begins to pull me from my apathy, and I find it impossible to remain silent. I am PROUD of this country. I am humbled by the safety and prosperity it has allowed me. And I am grateful for all the men and women, alive and dead, who have poured their lives into creating this country and protecting its freedoms.

So to what do I owe this fresh stirring of patriotism?

Well, it started when I browsed my Netflix options a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled on the movie “The Patriot” and decided to give it a re-watch.

Though not very accurate in the historic details, the movie does a great job of capturing the American spirit and the sacrifice required of the revolutionists to give this dream of democracy a chance. So many lost their lives–fathers, husbands, brothers–to give us the chance to live in a land where even the richest and most powerful are held to the law, and where even the weakest among us is protected.

Now obviously, we didn’t do everything right. We had to fight again for the equality of all men in the Civil War, but, may I remind you, that slavery was (and still is in many countries) a world-wide epidemic, and it took us a mere 150 years to begin to right that wrong, whereas most countries took far longer than that to make the same changes we made (not to mention the many countries that still enslave their people today). It was a horrible thing, but even today we are still trying to right the wrongs of generations long gone. Show me another country on this earth who has done the same.

My second surge of pride came from reading “Memoirs of a Geisha.” I’d seen the movie–which I LOVED–and decided to give the book a read. It’s even better than the movie. It is poignant and lyrical, and it pulls you into a world that is so very different from our own–and it doesn’t let go.

What does a book about Geisha in Japan have to do with my pride in America you may ask? Well, it has a lot to do with it in the form of contrast.

You see, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve seen places quite similar to the Japan of pre-WWII. They are places where the powerful rule with an iron hand and no one protects the rights of the poor and the weak. With my own eyes I watched a truck hit a rickshawala and continue driving when I was in Bangladesh. He was left there injured and possibly dying–and there were no consequences for the truck driver. He continued on, living his life untouched by any reckoning for the injury he caused another.

I went to a conference with the leaders of Bangladesh (long story about how I got to be there!) and watched as they ignored the one token woman speaker (because she was a woman of course) who tried to get them to do something, anything, about the number of women who go missing on a regular basis, never to be seen again. These countless, nameless women dead as the result of the anger of a husband who fears no reprisal. And that just touches on the injustice.

What about the poverty? In my country no one needs to go without food. The poor of America are better off than the middle class in a place like Bangladesh! It was with horror that I traveled the streets of Dhaka. The number of mutilated and disfigured people who mobbed my rickshaw was staggering. What was worse was hearing that it was common for a mother to intentionally disfigure her child because a child such as that would receive more sympathy, and thus more money, from foreigners. And that might likely make the difference between her other children eating or starving. Such a harsh reality!

The workers in most of the world can only dream of an eight hour work day and a five day work week!! I wonder what the rickshawalas of Bangladesh would think to hear of the ease and comfort of an American work environment? And what if I then told them of how often we still find reason to complain about it!?

Or how about the little children I saw working in the hot sun? I will never forget the image of a little girl sitting in the sweltering heat with a large rock, a chisel, and a hammer. She sat there making the large rock into pebbles. Why did she do such a thing? Because without the little bit of money she would bring in, there would not be enough money for all the members of her family to eat.

           My children get to be children. My children need not fear that they will not eat. My children know that they are safe and protected.

Many children in our world today do not know this. Many children fear hunger and know nothing of safety. Just like Cheyo in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” many young girls today are still sold into sexual slavery. It’s rampant around the world. Don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll be shocked to see the extent of this horrible trade in our modern world.

I am so incredibly grateful for this country I live in! I am grateful that I am safe, and that my safety, and more importantly, my children’s safety, is relentlessly protected. I am grateful that my country provides a safety net that ensures that those down on their luck need not fear hunger. I am incredibly grateful that my rights as a woman are not secondary to the whims of my husband. I am grateful that we live in comfort and prosperity, because, believe me, we are one of the most prosperous countries in this world! We are so lucky!

I guess what I want to say is that, any time I gain perspective, when I am reminded of the reality of the rest of the world we live in, and compare it to what we have here . . . how careless we so often are! We take so very much for granted and instead of feeling grateful for what we have, all we can see is what we don’t have.

We are the luckiest of people to be born in this amazing country, to have the opportunities that we have, and the freedom and security to pursue those opportunities!

On this Fourth of July, take the time to gain some perspective. Take the time to realize how lucky we are, and how much of a debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have given their lives to give this great experiment a chance– and to those men and women who have protected it, for our sakes, ever since.

Bye, bye crazy toddler days! Hello lazy, hazy days of summer! I’ve been missing you!

This summer has been a summer of firsts for me as a mother. It has officially launched me into the next phase of parenting. I am no longer the mother of babies and toddlers. I am now the mother of big kids. Lily, my littlest, will be four in a few weeks, and she acts older than that. The days of hovering and constant watchfulness are a thing of the past, and as much as I enjoyed my children at this stage, I can’t say that I regret the passing of these days, at least not yet.

I knew this day was coming. As Lily told me the other day, “Soon I’m going to be four and then I’ll be sixteen!” She’s not far wrong on that. The time will move so quickly it will feel like that I’m certain, and my girls take after me; they act older than their ages and so I knew that the baby days were about to pass me by forever.

The high stress days of toddlers and temper fits, bolting children hiding in the clothing racks, and constant danger due to lack of coordination are behind me. The days of increasing independence are here. Each day will take my children a bit further from me and more into being capable and independent in their own skin (when I put it that way it is enough to make me cry!). My children will always need me, but they will need me less with each passing day. Their school, teachers and friends will begin to exert almost as much influence over them as my husband and I do. It is a sobering thought!

And yet, my fledgling freedom, the faint stirrings of a me forgotten, can’t help but excite me! To be me again and not just an extension of my children! It sounds heavenly!

So many parts of me were put on hold when I had my children. I haven’t drawn a picture since Arabelle was a baby. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve sat down and played the piano. I’ve only recently started writing poetry again, something you need a measure of peace and time for reflection to create, and since I’ve had neither peace nor time . . . . So many things that were foundational to who I am have had to be put on hold, and I won’t lie, at times it has been suffocating!

I realized that the next phase had arrived the other day when I took my kids to a splash pool. It’s a pretty great place when you live in Texas where we’ve been in the 90’s for weeks already. The water’s not deep, there are fountains everywhere and there is a big play structure in the middle with a water gun and a water slide. It’s little kid heaven!

As it turns out, it’s Mommy heaven too! You see, there were a bunch of lounge chairs under a big tree and the breeze was blowing and it feel COOL under that tree. There were two lifeguards on duty and the pool was enclosed so there was no danger of my children running off or being in any danger. Very quickly I realized that I could sit back and only keep a casual eye on my kids. The kind of vigilance I needed last summer was not necessary this summer!

I read a chapter in my book. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of my happy children playing in the background. I took the time to notice how pretty it looked underneath the tree with the sun filtering through the leaves. And I felt peaceful. With all three of my children there, I felt peaceful. Not happy, not content, but PEACEFUL. It was heavenly!

Yes, I know I will miss the antics of my children when they were little. I will miss each day being a new discovery. I will miss baby kisses and cuddles. And nothing is cuter than the cherubic features of a toddler. It’s why I take so many pictures, to capture the moments, to remember. I know I will miss it.

But, big kid hugs and kisses are pretty great too. And the things we are able to do together now that Lily is old enough are a lot of fun. And the chats we are able to have are really pretty wonderful. And the freedom and the peace . . . well, they have been a long time coming!