“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” --Guillaume Apollinaire

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rip Current Safety: A Survival Guide for New Moms

Hey mama, I see you.

I see the struggle and juggle that is your life today. I see your toddler clinging to you and crying for your attention while your infant needs to be fed. Everyone needs everything immediately, and you are the only one who can give it.

I see how hard you are working to smile through, to push from the surface those feelings of being overwhelmed, to put on the face that will allow me to think everything is okay. I can see your attempts to employ sheer will and quick blinks to keep your tears from falling, to hide the truth that all of this is more than you can handle in this moment.

As always, you look beautiful, yet I can see the signs of exhaustion on your sweet young face. I know the toll that night after night of constantly interrupted sleep can take on you physically, emotionally, and mentally. I know that even formulating a rational thought is a monumental task in this moment.

Do you feel like you are caught in a rip current of mothering tiny people? That all of these things, the sleep deprivation, the hungry baby, the needy toddler, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the endless cycle of nursing and diaper changes, not to mention the needs of your husband and the hundreds of other assorted obligations, are dragging you farther and farther away from shore? That you are struggling to keep your head above the water, or even to get a breath before the next wave hits and in your exhaustion you finally sink below the surface? Do you realize that your struggle to keep constantly moving toward the shore is adding to the exhaustion threatening to overwhelm you?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers these recommendations for swimmers who are caught in a rip current, and they might be useful for you as you attempt to survive the current that is your life right now.

“Keep calm. Don’t fight the rip current.”
If you participate at all in any kind of social media, you will be tempted to panic. Moms will blog about the nirvana that is mothering their happy, chubby babies. You will see perfect photos of perfect nurseries and perfect smiling families. You will see the Duchess of Cambridge rocking skinny jeans just six weeks after giving birth. You might panic because these images do not reflect the reality of your days. You might wonder what you are doing wrong because your baby is fussy or not gaining weight like the charts say she should. You might feel like a failure as a parent because your toddler points at your infant and says, “No baby! Go away, sissy,” instead of spending hours gazing at his new sibling with love-filled eyes. You might look at your skinny jeans and cry because you are still wearing the sweatpants that your bought when nothing else would fit. Take a deep breath and don’t give in to that panic. Realize that people post on social media only what they want to you to see. Of course your friend or coworker doesn’t post a picture of herself in ratty pajamas with hair that has not seen shampoo or a styling tool in two days holding a screaming baby who has blown out her diaper and now has poop up to her shoulders. She doesn’t want anyone to see that, but it happens to everyone. Even Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge blows out her nappy from time to time. Keep calm. Don’t fight the current that is your reality.

“To get out of the rip current, swim sideways, parallel to the beach. This will get you out of the rip current so you can swim back in with the waves helping you along.”
As a parent, you will be in a constant state of making choices for your child. Breast feed or bottle feed? Vaccinate or not? Co-sleep or crib? Sleep training? When to introduce solid foods? When to potty train? Will your kids participate in sports? Music? Dance? Public school? Private school? Home school? Friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers, will offer their their comments and often their criticism regarding your parenting choices. At times, you will be overwhelmed by doubt, wondering if you are really doing what is best for your child. Don’t get swept away. Don’t fight the criticism or try to justify your choices. Just get out of the current.

“When out of the rip current, swim at an angle away from the rip current and toward shore.”
Before you dove into this thing called motherhood, you had friendships, interests, hobbies and dreams. Those things are still there. They are the beacons that draw you back to shore, to who you were, to who you are now, to who you want to be. Perhaps more than any other experience in  life, motherhood reshapes who you are and and how you see the world. Suddenly the waters of your life can seem choppy and a little terrifying, but know that once you get out of the current, you can use those landmarks to get your bearings, to find your way back to the shore, and to put your feet back on solid ground.

“If you can’t escape this way, try to float or calmly tread water. Rip current strength eventually weakens offshore. When it does, swim away from the rip current toward shore.”
Mama, I know that the current is strong. I am here to tell you, it is okay to float. I am begging you to float; rest where you are and gather some strength to continue the struggle. There are going to be days where floating is all you can do. You want so badly to move forward, to get even one foot closer to the shore, to feel the firm ground and to have solid footing. Float today and rest: leave the dirty dishes in the sink, let that load of laundry sit in the dryer, and order a pizza for dinner. Hold your baby close, and smell her sweet tiny head. Take your toddler’s chubby, sticky little hand and let him lead you to the backyard for an adventure or to the floor to play with trains or dinosaurs. Just for today, use their nap time for your own nap. Give up that precious opportunity to fold those little onesies, pick up the toys, or mop the kitchen floor in favor of a few minutes of rest.

“If at any time you are unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.”
Sometimes the current is just too much for you to handle on your own. Even if you pride yourself on being a strong swimmer, one who can handle whatever comes your way, there is no shame in asking for help. Ask your husband. Ask your mom, your sister, your friend, your coworker, your in-laws. Be specific about your needs. Do you need someone to come hang out with your kids for an hour so you can sleep or take a walk with your husband? Do you need someone to come and rock your baby because she won’t….stop…screaming? Do you need advice? Do you need someone to commiserate? To problem solve? To take your toddler on an outing? To sit with your baby so you can devote your full attention to your toddler? Ask for help. That help might be just what allows you to survive.

One last fact about rip currents: while these currents are strong, they are relatively narrow, and they eventually weaken. In the oceans of motherhood and of your life, this rip current is such a narrow space, a tiny amount of time. The current will gradually weaken. Day by day, things will get easier, and you will once again have your feet on solid ground. Years from now when you look back on this time when your babies were small, you will not give a thought to the current that threatened to sweep you away; instead you will look back in awesome wonder at your time in the ocean.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Better Half

 Today I am happy that my boys have an amazing daddy to help them grow up into wonderful men.

Hi there! Long time, no see...uh, hear? read?  Well, whatever, it has been over a year since I have posted on this blog. I am sure there are many people who greatly appreciate a break from me spouting off, but that is a topic for another day.  Today, on Father's Day, I want to celebrate one amazing daddy.

A long time ago, I was dating this guy.  He was a pretty amazing boyfriend!  He encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things.  He was a hard worker with big dreams, and he urged me to follow my own dreams as well.  He was laid back and could go with the flow.  We had a great time together. In dating terms, this guy was like Superman!  But before long, I found his Kryptonite.  This guy was terrified of kids.  The smaller they were, the more they scared him.  I love babies and kids.  Hmmm....could this be a deal breaker for us?

Fast forward a few years.  I am now married to this guy, and even though there were some ups and downs, we were enjoying being a couple.  We took fun vacations, went to concerts, and enjoyed dinners out and late nights with friends.  Imagine my surprise when one day, out of the blue, he said , "Hey, do you think we should have a baby?" I was excited, but admittedly a little concerned about how he would deal with an infant.

Seven years and two little dudes later, I have to tell you that this guy has turned into Superdad! Those who know me well might say that I can be slightly neurotic, perhaps even a little anal-retentive, in terms of parenting.  Okay, I'll admit that even perfect strangers are probably quickly able to see this quality in me, so I am especially grateful that my boys have a daddy who balances out my craziness.  Where I am careful, he is fun.  When I am worried, he has perspective.  When I get uptight, he finds the humor in the situation.  When I get frustrated, he is patient.  While I make sure they have fruits of veggies with every meal, he makes sure they have some treats. He reads to his kids, watches Nascar, Monster Jam, and Cupcake Wars, and he whips up a mean grilled cheese. He makes time for Little League practices and games, classroom parties, and just plain fun. When I leave for a week to chaperone a school trip, he doesn't even blink...and the house looks better than it did when I left and many of the honey-do jobs are finished.  He models for them how to be good dads and husbands, and for that, I am more grateful than I can ever say.

Happy Father's Day, babe!  I love you.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why Teachers Love June

Today I am happy to be a teacher.

I know what you're thinking.  Of course she's happy to be a teacher.  DUH! It's June!  What teacher isn't happy to be one in June?  Wish I got three months of vacation to sit back, relax, and enjoy summer!  Want the truth?  By the beginning of June, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.  By the beginning of June, my morning coffee consumption is double what it was in September.  By the beginning of June, the natives are restless, and my patience is starting to wear thin.  But June is one of my favorite times to be an educator, and the reasons why may surprise you.

I would be a liar if I refused to admit that I look forward to having some time off during the summer months.  I love the fact that the school year calendar gives me and my colleagues a few weeks to recharge our batteries, to renew our enthusiasm, to take part in classes that allow us to earn some of the credits required to renew our teaching certificates, and to work on classroom projects that we may not have time for during the school year. I enjoy having a family schedule that is less hectic and harried and that allows us to do some of the things that we simply don't have time for during the school year.  I treasure the extra time I get to enjoy with my husband and our boys.  I take some time to read books that are written for adults and that do not have titles like Action Research: A Guide for Library Media Specialists or Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don't Learn, and I don't feel guilty about it.  (For the record, those are both books that have been valuable reads for me professionally, but sometimes I just want to read some Janet Evanovich or some fluff about sexy vampires and hot werewolves with exceptionally ripped abs.  Is that so wrong?)  I especially enjoy the fact that my alarm clock is not screaming in my ear at every day at 5:00 AM.

Even if it were not the start of an extended break, June would still be one of my favorite times to be a teacher.  Why?

In June, I have a moment  to catch my breath and consider what I can do to be more effective next year.

In June, my colleagues and I have the opportunity to reflect on the school year, to revisit some of the challenges we faced, and to celebrate some of the victories we experienced with kids.  This always leaves me teary and excited to come back in August.

In June, I get to spend a week on a trip with soon-to-be high school freshmen, seeing the wonder in their eyes as they visit new places, hearing their laughter as they enjoy time with friends, and getting to know them as individuals outside of the school setting.
In June, I get to attend 8th grade recognition and see students who came into our building as awkward and needy little kids leave as confident and charming young adults.

In June, I hear thanks from parents who realize that they are not the only ones who have poured their hearts and souls into helping their children be successful academically or socially.

In June, I am the recipient of tearful hugs from kids whose lives I have touched and I get to hear, "I'll miss you" from kids I didn't think really cared whether I was there or not.

In June, I know that I have made a difference, and that is the most meaningful reward a teacher can receive.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grocery Grievances

Today I am happy to buy groceries.  Why? Because I can.
I hate grocery shopping.  Whew, I'm glad that neither of my children can read yet because that statement would most certainly have sent one of them running to his father yelling, "Dad! Mommy said 'hate' and  made it bold and underlined, and we don't use that word! It's not a nice one!"  Oh well, if that statement earns me a time-out, then so be it.  I'm not too proud to confess my hatred of this task, and I would guess that many of you have similar feelings.

Since I really enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating even more, I am quite surprised at how much I hate grocery shopping.  Nerd alert!  If you think I am at all cool, please just skip to the next paragraph.  I wouldn't want to ruin any illusions that you might have about me.  I take great pleasure in clipping coupons for the items I use, perusing the weekly sale flier, and planning out the meals for the week, and I always arrive at the store armed with a well-organized list that should, at least in theory, allow me to quickly and efficiently gather the items I need to prepare healthy and delicious meals for the next week and then to go about my merry way. 

In reality, the trip always takes longer than I planned. During the school year, I usually get groceries on Saturday afternoon or evening.  If you have never been to the grocery store at that time, please, I implore you to heed my advice: do not do it.  Ever.  I do realize that perhaps it would be a better idea to get the shopping trip over with on Friday evening, but at this point in my life, Friday nights are reserved solely for getting into my jammies and falling asleep on the couch at an embarrassingly early hour while the kids loudly engage in some pretend play involving cars or trains and a series of catastrophic crashes.  (Yes, I am fully aware of how lame I am. No need to point it out.)

After I have successfully made my way through the Saturday shopping crowd, I usually have to make at least one trip back across the store for something I missed.  It is not uncommon to find that at least one of the advertised sale items around which I so cleverly planned our meals for the week is out of stock. When I finally reach the cashier to check out, I usually realize that I have left my coupons in the car or once again forgotten my environmentally friendly reusable bags.  And I swear that it is utterly impossible for me to walk of there for less than $100 even on the days when my list does not include many extras like medications, hair product, greeting cards, or the ever important Power Gel or Sports Beans that my hubby, the triathlete, likes to add to the list.  We won't even talk about the pleasures of trying to get groceries with kids in tow.

Last weekend, however, I was happy to be in the grocery store. It was not a magical peaceful day when everything was in stock and there were no lines at the checkout, I was not surrounded with rainbows and unicorns, and no, I was not dreaming.  The grocery store was in its typical state of Saturday mayhem.  But on that day, I was simply grateful to have the opportunity to fill my cart and to marvel at the abundance with which I am blessed. 

Are you wondering how you too can feel good about spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon fighting crowds in the grocery store? I'll let you in on my secret tip: spend some time volunteering in a food pantry.  Last week, a colleague and I had the opportunity to do a service project with our middle school student council kids.  We traveled to Mel Trotter Ministries to volunteer for a few hours.  This organization provides many services to homeless and needy individuals and families in the community, one of which is a food pantry that clients are allowed to visit twice a month.  While we were there, we sorted food that had been donated and stocked shelves so that clients who were coming to get food during the weekly distribution hours would be able to find what they needed.

I was so proud of our students who were polite and respectful to staff and clients alike and who cheerfully did whatever they were asked.  When we got back to school and sat down together to process for a few minutes at the end of the day, I was impressed with the thoughts they shared about their experience working at the food pantry.
A few examples:
  • "Being there kind of made me think about how we are picky and we always want the best or the coolest clothes and stuff, and the people who were coming there today were happy just to be getting something to eat."
  • "I noticed that they had tons of certain things like cans of corn or beans, and Mary [who assigned them their jobs while we were there] told me that is because people donate the things that are cheapest to buy."
  • "I was glad that we can go to the grocery store and get what we want."
  • "I don't think I would want to eat a lot of that stuff! Did you see powdered milk? Gross!"
Reflecting on this conversation, I started to realize what I spoiled brat I am!  No exaggeration, I will not purchase a canned item if it is even a tiny bit dented.  I get annoyed that there is a six foot section of tortillas and I am not able to find the exact low-carb Weight Watcher friendly tortilla that I would like.  Oh, and you do not want to cross my path if the grape tomatoes are mushy or the store is out of reduced fat Italian blend shredded cheese. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. The list of grocery grievances could continue, but I think you probably get the point.

The magic moment that made this grocery trip pleasant? It was the moment I came to the realization that I can go to the grocery store any time of the day or week that is convenient for me; I do not need to arrive between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM on Thursdays if I want to feed my family.  There are aisles and aisles and aisles of almost anything I could want and certainly all of the basics that I "need".  I can buy the exact brand and flavor of juice or cereal or corn and black bean salsa that I or my family prefer. For Pete's sake, there are thirty different salsas to choose from in the ethnic foods aisle not to mention the fresh varieties available in the deli!  I am not limited to castoffs or items that have been donated by generous individuals or businesses. If my kids are with me, I can afford to bribe them with a treat or splurge on the gallon of chocolate milk. Then, after I have finished loading up my cart and paid for my groceries without wondering which bill will have to wait until next month, I pile all of those wonderful groceries into my car and drive home.  I don't have to shove everything into my backpack or duffel bag and get on the bus, hop on my bike, or hoof it several blocks or more to get home.

Next time you are seething in the cereal aisle or having a meltdown in the frozen section, stop and think about how fortunate you are to be able to buy groceries at all.  I think you will be happy to be there too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadbeat Alert!

Today I am happy that my son has no doubt that his mom and dad will take care of him.

My husband and I are getting ready to send our oldest baby off to kindergarten in the fall.  Okay, one of us is completely ready while the other is struggling a little with the fact that this kid is growing up so fast, but that is a topic for another day.  E-man is the kind of kid who prepares for new experiences by asking questions.  Lots and lots of questions: questions about every aspect of the experience that he can imagine, then some more questions on related topics and usually a few additional questions on topics that could only be related to the original topic in the mind of a five year-old boy.  And after he has had some time to mull over the answers we've given in response to his questions, he has an entire new round of questions to ask. 

As you can imagine, the topic of school is pretty dominant in our family conversations these days.  Here is a recent example of a conversation we had in the car:
"Mom, after I finish preschool, I will go to kindergarten?  And then what will happen?"
"Yes, you'll go to kindergarten.  Then you will go to first grade. When you're in first grade, you will go to school all day every day.  After that you will go to second grade."
"And then I will go to third grade and fourth grade and fifth grade? How many grades does school have?"
"Twelve grades.  And then when you are finished with all twelve, you go to college."
"What is college?"
"Well, it's a school that you go to when you're kind of a grown-up, like Brooklyn [a family friend] goes to college.  You go there to learn how to do the job you want to do when you grow up.  Like I went to school to learn how to be a teacher.  What do you think you would like to do when you grow up?"
"Well, I don't know.  Maybe I could do what Daddy does because I watched him and helped him lots of times, so I already know how to do it. I don't really need to go to college."
At this point in the conversation, a cement mixer drove by, effectively ending any discussion about future college and career plans.  After all, he is a five year-old boy. 

A few days later, the conversation was revisited:
"Hey Mom, I've been thinking about it, and I want to be a dad when I grow up."
Awww, I thought, how sweet!  That is because he has an amazing daddy!
"But I don't want to go to work."
Oh, he is going to tell me that he wants to do fun things with his kids all day long. He is going to be an amazing daddy someday too! 
"I don't wanna have a job, but it is okay 'cause you can just take care of my bills for me."
This kid melts just melts my heart. Wait...what?!? Did he just say he doesn't want to ever have a job and that he expects to live on my dime for the rest of his life?

If you know me well, you know that I am prone to overanalyze even the smallest statement or incident.  Of course I started to wonder where we went wrong. Have we missed teaching some crucial concept?  Would he really be content without working a day in his life?  Does he actually expect to mooch off us throughout adulthood? How do you teach the value of being a self-sufficient adult who can function as a responsible member of the community?  Will my  kid be a deadbeat? (Hmmm...wonder where he gets that whole questioning thing?)  Aaauuggh!

After a day or two of questioning our parenting skills, I came across a news story about a four year-old boy in the Detroit area who died from starvation and neglect.  My initial reaction was anger at the adults in this little boy's life as well as those who were conspicuously absent.  Evidently, the boy's mom passed away, bio-dad lost custody when he went to prison for felonious assault, and the boy was living with an aunt and uncle.  When he was removed from the relatives' home shortly before his death, this four year-old boy was 37 inches tall and weighed just 24 pounds.  The uncle and aunt had to know that something was very wrong, yet they did not help him or get help for him until he was unresponsive, nearly dead. I don't know the specifics of their situation.  Maybe they had too many mouths to feed or, as the old country song goes, too much month at the end of the money.  I tried not to judge, but I cannot help but think that neglect on such a level would have to be willful and not simply an issue of finances. Seriously, how can one human being watch another human being starve to death and do nothing about it?  I was beyond furious with the people who were supposed to be caring for this child.

Eventually my anger gave way to pure sadness when I thought about what little guy must have experienced, or more accurately what he did not experience, in his short life.  My heart ached for this little boy who did not have someone he could trust to meet his most basic needs.  If no one bothered to feed him, I assumed that it must have been a rare occasion that anyone took the time to snuggle this kiddo or read to him or wipe his tears when he was hurt or sad.  I thought it would be a safe bet that no one helped him learn to throw or catch,  helped him learn letters, numbers, shapes or colors, checked his closet for monsters so that he wouldn't be afraid when he went to bed.  I guessed that no one had a conversation with this boy about what he dreamed of doing when he grew up.

That is when I was struck with the realization that...brace yourself, this might be shocking...the worry I was had about my own son's career ambition was utterly ridiculous!  Was I really concerned  by a five year-old's statement that he didn't need a job because he knew he would be taken care of ? Did I actually believe that this meant that he would turn out to be some kind of deadbeat?  Please! If he were a twenty-five year-old  making that statement, yes, there would be reason to worry.  But for the moment, I am thrilled to realize that at the tender age of five, he has no idea what it really means to need, to go without or to be neglected, and truthfully, I hope he never has to learn.  He firmly believes that his dad and I will always take care of him and provide whatever he needs, and for today* I will cherish the thought that he trusts in us completely.

*For today...but twenty years from now, E-man, you should definitely plan on having a job and paying your own bills!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My life has been ruined!

Today I am happy to have a mom who was willing to push me when I needed a shove and to hold me when I needed some love.

I have a confession to make, and I hope you won't think less of me for it.  I went through a time in my life, maybe even a few different times, when I thought that my mother's exclusive goal in life was to ruin mine.  I have decided that now is the time to let the world know the truth. Well, maybe the whole world won't know; it might be more accurate to say that the one or two people who are not already sick to death of hearing what I think will know the truth, but I digress. 

The acts of perceived oppression by my mom, and truth be told, by my dad as well, fell into two categories: acts of omission and acts of commission.  In other words, I believed that that my mom intentionally did some things to make me miserable and at the same time intentionally did not do other things that could have improved my quality of life.  Please consider the evidence and decide for yourself.

Disclaimer: If you are expecting some trashy talk show tell-all or angry, accusatory confrontation, please stop reading now.  You will be sorely disappointed.  I have enjoyed a life that has been full of love and blessings, and some would even say that I have turned into a reasonably well adjusted adult.

Exhibit A: School  
In the years B.E. (before email) my parents had to field a significant number of telephone calls and notes from teachers who wanted to discuss my work completion habits, or more accurately, my complete lack thereof.  I believe said teachers also made some allegations effectively stating that I was of the opinion that school was a purely social event designed solely for my entertainment.
What my  mom did not do: make excuses for me or tell the teacher to stop picking on me.  Seriously, how unfair! Their expectations that I participate appropriately and waste my time with the silly tasks they assigned were completely lame.
What my  mom did do: held me responsible for the choices I was making and enforced appropriate consequences when I did not take responsibility.  Yes, she actually thought that it was important for me to realize that I should give my best effort at whatever I do and that I should get my work done before goofing off.  (Note: I still struggle with that work before goofing off thing occasionally, and if I am going to be completely honest here, that would be on most occasions.)  Can you believe that?  Consequences?  Harsh stuff, huh?

Exhibit B: Social Life
I was never part of the cool crowd in high school or college.  I blame my parents who did not encourage me to do the fun and amazing things that would have made me cool like staying out all night or going on wild Spring Break trips.
What my  mom did not do: believe that it was more important to be my friend than to be my mom.  That's right, when I did things that crossed the line, she let me know, even when it resulted in me getting angry with her.  Even when I became an adult, and I use that term loosely, my mom and dad expected me to live by their rules as long as I lived in their home, and no amount of buddying up to either would change the fact that some things were just not acceptable under their roof.  The nerve of her!
What my mom did: set curfews, appropriate boundaries, and (gasp!) rules that I was required to follow.  She also expected me to have a job to earn money for college tuition and even to show up on time and for every scheduled shift.  Honestly, do you know how many evenings and weekends I would have had free to party and get into mischief if not for that silly job?  Even worse, paying my own tuition had a very nasty side effect.  I actually started to care about my school work, and I spent much of the precious little party and mischief time was left after my job studying, writing papers or doing homework.
Exhibit C: Oh, never mind...
I realize that I have been blessed with a pretty amazing mom who always tried hard to teach me right from wrong and to show me the right way to live even when I did my best to make her just as miserable as I believed she was making me.  I am thankful that she never gave up on me or took the easy way out even when I acted like a little witch or worse.

And now look at the life I am living.  I have an amazing husband and two beautiful children of my own, and I am surrounded by friends and family who love and care for me.  I, along with my husband, am able to provide a comfortable and stable home for our children and to see that their emotional, physical and developmental needs are met.  I am involved in a lively church community where I have many opportunities to see, feel and share God's love.  I get to go to work at a job that I love.  I am a responsible adult with good credit who owns a home and is able to hold a job.  I've had educational opportunities that have allowed me to earn both bachelors and masters degrees.  I have never been arrested, tried for a crime, or incarcerated.  All because my mom was out to ruin my life all those years ago.

Thanks a lot, Mom!  I love you.