Thursday, March 14, 2019

My Toddler Tells Me "No," and I am Here for It

She's finally learned the "n-o" word.
And I have to remind myself that THIS IS GOOD.
She is learning autonomy. She is expressing boundaries. She is her own person.


This is a milestone in her development, a way for her to feel independent.


This is an opportunity for us as parents to practice listening to, validating, and acknowledging her opinions without giving in and caving to her.


"No" is a healthy, positive word. It's what I want her to say if someone tries to slide a hand up her shirt.
Or offer her a drink.
Or drive her home after they've been drinking.
Or show her porn.
Or ask her to send nudes.
Or a million other less-than-desireable and potentially dangerous and deadly behaviors.


She will not be able to say "no" to those big things if we don't let her practice saying "no" to the little things.

No, you don't have to give hugs if you don't want to. I don't care if it's grandma or the nice old man at church or your cousin or your friend or even Mommy or Daddy. We respect your body, and you can say "no" if you feel uncomfortable.

No, you don't have to wear that shirt I picked out. Pick out your own (weather-appropriate) shirt, even if it doesn't match. It's not the end of the world. It's a shirt.

No, you don't have to eat any more if you aren't hungry. That doesn't mean you get a cookie or junk food. But it's your body. We offer you healthy food, and you decide how much you're going to eat.

No, you don't have to be happy and agreeable all the time. We don't even expect that of adults! I will help you through your big feelings. I will parent you through your disappointment and anger and frustration and sadness. I will teach you emotional intelligence. Happy is not the only acceptable emotion. We'll work on processing your feelings together.

I can hear some of y'all right now: "You're letting your kid run your life," and "You're the boss of her. The authority. This is why kids have no respect anymore-- they do whatever they want."

That is absolutely not what I am saying.

There are four types of parenting styles:
1) Authoritarian: strict, controlling, rigid, demanding but not responsive
2) Permissive: indulgent, lenient, accommodating, responsive but not demanding
3) Uninvolved: neither responsive nor demanding
4) Authoritative (the ideal): both demanding AND responsive, seeking to retain authority while also being responsive to kids' desires and needs

Setting boundaries and having age-appropriate expectations and offering choice (when possible and appropriate) and respecting personhood is not permissive. It doesn't mean I'm not her God-given authority. It doesn't mean I am raising a rebellious hooligan who will be wreaking havoc on society (although eventually kids make their own choices and we can't control them, so talk to be again in 15 years).

Respecting my daughter's "no" is me not wanting to raise a people pleaser.
It's me wanting a child who thinks for herself.
Who has a healthy respect for authority, NOT a blind allegiance to it (do you know how often an imbalance of power is present in abuse situations? Way too often)
Who is confident in her convictions
Who engages in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it at all costs.
Who feels comfortable sharing her true, authentic self because she knows I will love and accept her for it, even if our opinions differ, because she is her own person.

"No" is good. "No" is healthy. And it's my job to help my daughter develop her "no" by keeping the end game in sight. Parenting isn't about raising compliant, robotic little cherubs. It is about raising respectful, functional, capable adults.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Motherhood and Body Love

*Trigger warning: self-harm and eating disorder mentioned.* 

The year is 2006. I'm an honor roll student who's active in church, choir, volleyball, and various school clubs. I am an editor for my school newspaper, a go-to babysitter for neighbors, a regular fixture on my church's praise and worship team. To most of the adults in my life, I look like a responsible, accomplished young lady with a bright future.

No matter what my day holds--driving thirty minutes away for a voice lesson, spending two hours at volleyball practice after school, meeting up with friends at the library to work on a project-- every morning begins with a ritual: step on the scale.

It ends the same way, too. Every night, I step on the scale to make sure I haven't gained any weight since 7 a.m. that day. If I haven't, then I reward myself with a spoonful of peanut butter. If I have, it's water only, or something that's zero calories, like a few pickles.

Looking back, my heart breaks for that teenage girl. She was smart and beautiful and capable and talented, but she was insecure and hurting and self-conscious and paranoid.

My journey from an anorexic self-harming teenager to a strong and confident 30-year-old woman has been one I've shared with many. But now that I have a daughter of my own, I want to revisit some of the highlights of my struggle and healing because I am seeing them in a whole new light.

Almost everyone, no matter how beautiful they are or how "perfect" (by society's definition) their body is, has insecurities. Models will tell you this. Bodybuilders will tell you this. The people we look at and WISH we looked like also don't like things about their bodies.

When I was 17 and 18 years old, I weighed 30 pounds less than I do right now, and I am currently at a healthy weight for my height and body type. I still thought I was fat and unattractive because I viewed myself through such a distorted lens. The emotional turmoil I felt inside spilled out in the form of self-loathing and self-harm.

It is terrifying and devastating for me to look back and think about what I used to say to and about myself.

I look back on my teenage self-- no cellulite, tanner, thinner, no gray hairs or wrinkles, super white teeth-- and realize that being happy with my body wasn't as much about my actual body as it was about my attitude and values. I possessed a lot of physical traits that society and the world told me were "attractive," and I still hated my body. My attitude was wrong. My priorities were wrong. My values were off-base. 

I was starving myself; I was self-harming. I was going to Target to try on size 4 pants and still finding flaws with my body, peeling the pants off in disgust and determining to make myself throw up once I got home.
Hello, spray tan and 16-year-old self.  

Now I'm older. I'm paler. I have more gray hairs than any 30-year-old I know (it's genetic). I still get pimples. My stomach and thighs have stretch marks, my once-perky breasts aren't quite so perky anymore, and I have varicose veins on my legs. I definitely have cellulite, and my teeth aren't super white anymore.

But I am so happy with my body and so grateful for it.

I'm thankful my body can play volleyball and work out and run, if I so choose.
That my vocal cords can produce beautiful melodies.
That my arms can carry 18 bags of groceries in one trip and rock my toddler to sleep.
That my body has been able to create and sustain life.
That my ears can hear music and then my fingers can go to the piano and replicate what I heard.
That I can walk, talk, run, lift, and do so many things that many other people physically cannot do.
We all have different things we can be thankful for when it comes to our bodies.

Why do we care so much about appearance, y'all? And why are we still passing down these messages to the younger generation of women coming up?

It shouldn't matter that I'm not tan like society tells me I have to be.
That I have curves that make it impossible to buy pants.
That my stomach is soft and very "poke-able" (as my daughter, who pokes my bellybutton every day, can attest to)
That my hair is fluffy and frizzy 99 percent of the time.

Here's what I wish I could've told my teenage self:
1) Appreciate what your body can do, and don't take any of its abilities for granted.
2) Be more concerned about how you treat people than with how you look.
3) Having a healthy body is more important than having a beautiful one.
4) If other people start talking negatively about their looks, you don't have to listen to it. You also don't have to compliment them if they're fishing for compliments. You can reiterate to them that being healthy and kind are infinitely more important than living up to society's expectations.
5) Don't comment on other people's bodies.

Here's what I want to tell you, my dear readers:

1) What you might perceive as a compliment about someone's physical appearance might do more harm than good. For example, when I was a senior in high school, I went and visited my potential college. I practiced with the volleyball team and ended up attending there. Six months later, I had dropped about twenty pounds, and everyone commented on how good I looked, how thin I'd gotten-- and I know they meant it to be positive.

What they didn't realize is that I got thin by starving myself. Literally. I went for ten days without eating a real meal one time. I used to eat pickles and banana peppers because they were low or zero calories. Every time I showered, I tried to make myself vomit. I weighed myself obsessively. I would say "no" to friends when they invited me places because I was afraid there might be food involved somehow. I was cold all the time, my breath smelled weird, my heartbeat was sluggish.

But the well-intentioned comments about how thin I was getting fueled my fire, unfortunately.
People telling me I was beautiful and attractive only made me feel worse.
So now, I usually refrain from making comments about someone's weight loss or beauty. There are some exceptions to this-- I have friends who post their workouts on social media, so sometimes I'll tell them I can see their hard work paying off. I always try to tell pregnant women they look beautiful. And even in those situations, I'm really hesitant and paranoid I might be triggering someone.

2) It isn't helpful to tell someone to "eat a burger" if you think they're too thin. I cannot emphasize enough how unhelpful and hurtful this is. Not every thin person isn't eating. The beauty of humanity is that God has created us all different, and that includes our bodies. It's rude and insulting to make comments telling people who you deem as "too skinny" to eat some sort of fattening food.

More importantly, though, you don't heal from an eating disorder by "just eating." That's not how it works. Eating disorders need to be addressed at their root causes through professional counseling. "Just eat" isn't going to fix the problem if there is one.

You know how I know?
My eating disorder got WORSE after people knew about it. After I told a female youth group leader, who then told my parents, who then sat and talked with me about it. But I didn't get professional help and it actually became EASIER. Because I guess people thought that since I had admitted my behavior, I was going to stop. I didn't.

I did get professional counseling in college, and that's when I started the healing process. I didn't start healing because people told me I needed to eat more. That wasn't helpful at.all.

3) Kids are listening to and watching us and how we treat our bodies. 

I decided when I was pregnant that my daughter's health and safety would always come before adult's feelings. I've tried to live by that rule (I'm still a work in progress).

So if someone starts to talk about dieting or losing weight in front of my daughter, I ask them to stop. Or I just walk away. I am her protector and her advocate, and I refuse to subject her to those toxic conversations if there's anything I can do to avoid them.

I've also had to make changes in how I speak: Now, if I find myself wanting to criticize my body when I get out of the shower or try on clothes, I refrain.
Instead, I point out to my daughter how amazing our bodies are:
"These feet have run many miles. They even ran a 10K one time."
"These thighs are strong from years of playing volleyball."
"This stomach has expanded to carry life and birth it into the world."
"We eat vegetables so our body feels good and healthy."

It felt REALLY awkward to say those things aloud at first. I felt silly. I felt fake. I felt weird.
After all, I was used to standing in front of the mirror and sucking in and poking and prodding, lips pursed and shaking my head.

But now, my daughter is watching me. Listening to me. And I'll be damned if I don't do everything in my power to cultivate a positive body image that she can imitate.

I also try not to talk negatively about food, although I admit I am still a work in progress. I try really hard not to say things like, "I'm going to be bad and eat this cupcake. It's going to go straight to my thighs!" And IT IS HARD because I have been programmed to say those things (haven't we all, ladies?). I try not to complain about how my clothes fit or don't fit or make me look "fat" in front of my daughter-- if something doesn't fit, I just get rid of it now; I don't hold on to hope that I'll squeeze back into it someday (thanks, Marie Kondo).

How I talk about my body and her body and other people's bodies is so very important and will shape her mindset for years to come. I pray earnestly that I can help her cultivate a positive one.

4) It's easy to go all "Christian-ese" and throw out well-meaning cliches, but most of the time, they're not helpful. 

I grew up speaking Christian-ese. I'm as fluent in that language as English and sarcasm.

As a teen, I knew that I should "find my worth in God" and that "He values inner beauty over outer beauty." But I didn't really understand HOW to find my worth in Him. I didn't know what inner beauty REALLY meant. Because even the Christian women I was around wore make-up and dressed fashionably and got their nails done and told their daughters they needed to "get some sun" if they were looking too pale. I was told that I shouldn't wear yoga pants around boys in case I "tempted them," as if they were animals with no self-control or accountability.

How is that valuing inner beauty?

(Truthfully, I need a separate blog post to go into more detail about the damage that the messages I was hearing at church and from Christian leaders in my life did to me. But I suspect a lot of Christian women can relate to hearing toxic messages about their femininity and their bodies growing up)

What is helpful, in my experience, is actively and consistently modeling God's love and grace. Treating all people, regardless of what they look like, with dignity and respect because they are God's children. Affirming people for the way they treat others and love others instead of how they look. I think those are some good places to start.

5) Men, there is a LOT you can do to help the women in your life out. Speak positively about the strong, smart, creative women in your life. Avoid objectifying and sexualizing women. If you have a daughter, affirm her skills and talents and passions.

When you offer praise or compliments, make sure they're not primarily about looks. Tell your sister she has awesome leadership skills. Tell your daughter you're proud of the way she stuck with her math homework, even though it was really hard. Tell your wife you love how creative she is, or how kind she is, or whatever.

And remember, men have body image issues, too. Because I'm not a man, I don't feel qualified to speak on them, but I don't want to ignore that fact. 

6) Raising a daughter in today's society scares me sometimes. 

Right now, my toddler will dance in her diaper in front of the mirror. She doesn't know or care that she is pale (an undesirable feature, by the world's standards-- trust me, people comment on my pasty skin color all.the.time and think it's okay to do so). She doesn't care that her tummy is protruding or that she has leg rolls. She looks at herself in the mirror and cracks up laughing and smiles. She loves herself. It is so pure, so innocent, and my heart breaks when I think about her ever looking at her body in any other way.

There are media messages everywhere telling her she's not enough, both explicitly and implicitly.
There are men who will try to grab her butt in public. Who will find her on social media and send her inappropriate messages. Who will catcall her and give her unwanted sexual attention and try to sexually violate her.  I know because all of those things have happened to me.

I can do two things:
1) I can try to help change society, and
2) I can raise her to be strong and confident.

I'm trying to do both of those things. I'm trying to take my experience, my pain, my baggage and turn them into strengths and learning experiences.

I hope you'll join me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Four Types of Small Talk New Moms Endure

I love almost everything about being a mom: the tiny fingers that entangle themselves in the hairs at the nape of my neck and pull like we're playing tug-o-war. The sharp teeth that rake themselves on my skin when a nursing session is coming to an end. Spending 90 percent of my waking moments literally trying to prevent Katherine from falling off the bed, choking on cat food, playing with cell phone chargers...

But one thing I don't love?

The small talk.

I used to be able to go to Target and NOT TALK TO ANYONE. Thank you, self checkout! I could run in, grab mascara and granola bars and a new scarf (ha, as if I ever only grabbed three things), use the self-checkout lane, and LEAVE.

No awkward conversations. No forced smiles and courtesy laughs.

Not anymore, folks. Something about having a baby just attracts strangers
. Can they smell the sweet scent of an infant with their bloodhound noses? Can they spy Katherine from across the parking lot with their x-ray vision? I don't know... but I have spoken to more strangers in the past eight months than I ever thought possible or healthy.

It's not just that I am the worst small talker on earth. No. That's not the only reason I dread taking baby girl in public.

It's the NATURE of the small talk. I feel like the conversations fall into one of the following categories:

1) Increasingly Intrusive Interrogations. This strange old lady--let's just call her "Nancy"-- starts off with the innocuous but predictable, "How old is she?" Safe territory. But undoubtedly, Nancy gets bold and tiptoes dives right in to dangerous territory: "Is she sleeping through the night yet? Is she still nursing? Has she started solids yet? When are you having another one?"

No, Nancy. Those questions make me want to dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge. Not only are they not really of a stranger's business, but they also raise my hackles. Sleep is such a sensitive issue. We, for example, do not and will not cry it out or sleep train. And frankly, I don't want to get into a discussion with stranger Nancy about why that is.

Same for nursing. I'm going to nurse for at least a year. Thanks, American Academy of Pediatrics, for the recommendation: "What we do know is that as your child moves from babyhood toward toddlerhood, breastfeeding continues to act as a source of profound comfort and security, laying the groundwork for a confident, happy, and healthy future. For this reason, as well as the continued nutritional and immunologic benefits of breastfeeding, the AAP advises mothers to continue nursing beyond the first year for as long as mutually desired by mother and child." <-- emphasis mine (

But this is SO looked down upon and judged in our society (I totally plan to blog about that later, by the way) and I don't feel like defending my choice to a stranger.

2)  Uber-awkward Oversharing. I'm relatively comfortable discussing topics that might make others squirm. But when Nosey Nancy starts sharing about her baby grandson's poopy diapers and her own birth experience? Well, that's when I have to call it quits. I don't know you like that.

3) Touching and Tickling. I guess this isn't technically "small talk," but it's a behavior everyone engages in with the little munchkin.

Honestly, I am generally okay with others holding and interacting with Katherine. At every school event I've attended, I've basically passed her around to my current high school students like a hot potato (if you've never seen a football player bounce a little baby, it's THE cutest thing EVER, y'all). I am totally fine leaving her with sitters and in church nursery. She does GREAT with other people. I don't think I'm overprotective (but even if it was, it's my kid, so *shrug*).

But during flu season when strangers would come up and grab her hands (and she was teething)? I found myself exhausted trying to contain her hands and come up with scripts to keep them from touching her.

Whyyyyyy are you touching her?

But here's the other thing: we want to teach Katherine healthy body boundaries and body autonomy (hence why I just bought Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear, which will be here Tuesday. So you'd better believe that if my toddler doesn't want you to touch her or hug her or high five her, I will be supporting that 100%-- I don't care if you're a stranger or her family member or my friend.

4) All the Advice. I try to extend grace and understand that others are offering advice because they want to help. However, it gets exhausting when I'm just trying to pick up some groceries at Kroger and I'm getting advice that doesn't even jive with my parenting philosophies.

It goes in one ear and out the other, but it does eat up time and we all know babies are basically ticking time bombs.

I guess the positive aspect of taking Katherine in public, which I should probably focus on more, is that she allows me to connect with others. Babies draw people together. They make people smile and remind them of the joys of the simple things of life.

People are nicer to me with Katherine is with me-- they let me cut them in line. They hold doors for me. They let me cross the street or park in the closest parking space. And for that, I am very grateful.

And I'll try to get better at the small talk, y'all. Because I guess it just comes with the territory.

Monday, December 3, 2018

What I Say Matters

Words matter. 

As an English major and a writer, I know this. Words have the power to create marriages and peace treaties. They also have the power to destroy lives and start wars. They are nuanced and sometimes complicated and sometimes beautiful, and I've always known they were incredibly significant and powerful. 

Despite this knowledge, I'm sometimes quite careless with my words. They tumble sarcastically out of my mouth. They build a mountain of gossip because I want to fit in. They attack the driver of the minivan who just cut me off on the interstate because DON'T YOU KNOW THAT BLINKERS ARE THERE FOR A REASON?

My mom used to tell me that it was never my actions that got me in trouble-- it was my words (and sometimes facial expressions; I could destroy nations with my eye roll). There's a reason that the Bible says we can't tame our tongues, and I used to use that as an excuse to say whatever I wanted. 

Then I had my daughter. 
My fiercely independent little girl. 
With big blue eyes and a laugh that causes her whole body to convulse with joy and super sweet dance moves and the desire to wave at every.single.person we see in Target: "Hi! Hi! Hi!" and she will not stop, God love her, until the intended recipient of her overly enthusiastic salutation reciprocates. Bless her. 

This little girl understands so much of what I say. She's 16 months old, and I can tell her to put her books away, and she (usually) does it. If I say, "food," "snack," "hungry," "dinner," "breakfast," or "lunch," she immediately points to her mouth and starts violently signing "PLEASE!" in sign language. If I say, "Sit on your bottom so we can put on your shoes," she sits and sticks her foot up in the air.

She may not be saying a whole lot right now, but she sure is listening. 

She understands words. 
That means that what I say in front of her matters. How I say it matters. Even more than ever. 
Because my words will become her inner voice. 

Those words will help shape how she views herself and the world. What an ENORMOUS, sobering responsibility; it makes me want to duct tape my mouth shut right now and seal it with super glue. Truly, it's intimidating to think that everything I say in front of her shapes her as a person. 

Despite how hard I try to be cautious and thoughtful with what I say, I'm so far from perfect that it is painful and embarrassing. 
I yell at her sometimes. I start sentences off with a sassy, "Girrrrrrrllll." I've let a not-so-savory word or two slip in front of her before. That's just the tip of the iceberg, y'all. 

But I am conscious of my words and tone around her, and that's a start. 

I try to tell her things I know will build her confidence and enhance her emotional health. Kids believe everything we tell them. Why not use that to our advantage by telling our kids they are kind, gentle, capable, good at solving problems, hardworking, funny people? They'll believe us and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

I believe this is especially important with girls, whose self-esteem peaks at nine years old. 

These are some that I've told her recently: 

When she brushed her own teeth: "You did it!" <-- my go-to instead of saying "Good job" or "good girl" 
When she finally figured out how to successfully buckle her carseat straps without my help: "You are such a good problem solver. When you keep trying, there's nothing you can't figure out!"
When I told her to stop climbing the stairs and she listened: "Thank you for being a good listener." 
When I was putting her down for naptime: "I'm so glad God made me your mom."
When we were at the library and she was sharing toys with a little boy: "You're such a good friend to others. You're so kind to people."
When she threw herself backwards screaming because I told her not to touch the stove: "It's hard to be told no, isn't it? It really stinks."
When we were at swimming lessons and she did literally propel herself halfway across the pool to me with her chubby legs: "Wow, look how far you swam! Your body is so strong!" 
All the time: "I love you and I like you." <-- the "I like you" portion is crucial. 

I'm not going to lie-- sometimes it's hard to think of positive things to say. I feel silly saying some of the things above. Or maybe it was a rough day and all I really want to do is just pee by myself and drink my coffee hot and maybe not deal with 17 different temper tantrums. 

To be fair, I also said some not-so-great things to her, too. 

When that happens, I keep the following in mind:

"[T]here is a ratio of 5:1 positive feelings and interactions for every one negative feeling and interaction. If this ratio is closer to 1:1 or, worse, 1:5, then the relationship is likely will be unhealthy and even toxic.  Researchers have found this same “magic ratio” present in other healthy, positive relationships as well such as teams at work, friendships, and classrooms" (APA Center).

So, I force my pessimistic, snarky self to be verbalize positivity.
And you know what?
It doesn't just benefit my daughter. It benefits me to verbalize affirmations or reframe challenging moments in my own mind. I find myself talking more positively in my OWN mind because I think, Would I want my daughter to talk to herself this way? To beat herself up for forgetting to pay a bill? To criticize her stretch marks? To lack confidence?

And of course, the answer is a resounding no.
What I say matters-- to others, to myself, and most especially to my sweet girl.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Mom's Favorite Question

"So what do you do?"
The dreaded question.
In the past, it was easy to answer: "I'm a teacher."

The inevitable follow-up questions would also be easy.
"What do you teach?"
"What grade?"
"Eleventh and twelfth."
"What books do y'all read in class?"

You get the picture. It was simple to communicate because I had a career, and I could talk about that career.

Sure, I did a lot more than teach-- but when people ask "what do you do?" what they are REALLY asking about is your occupation or career.

If someone asked me, "What do you do?" and I was honest, I could answer
-wipe a toddler's butt five times a day
-create piano mash-ups of songs I hear on the radio
-crossword puzzles, and lots of them
-play volleyball until my knees creak and pop in protest
-use dry shampoo liberally
-drool over Joanna Gaines' kitchen
-eat Cheerios off the floor

I wonder how they would react. Disgust? Confusion? A polite laugh?

When I decided to leave the classroom and quit teaching, I wasn't the most stressed about losing that income. No. I was most anxious over how to answer this question, "What do you do?" Probably because so much of my self-worth was (and still is) tied up in my productivity, perceived work ethic, and contributions to society (I'm working on that, y'all. One thing at a time).

I dreaded this question also because the answer is a little complicated.
1) I'm not technically just a stay-at-home mom. I make a tiny but of money writing and editing for a local magazine. I coach. I teach four-year-olds once per week. So, I'm working part-time, really.
2) There is a stigma attached with being a stay-at-home mom. It's infuriating, but it exists.
3) The potential retort, "I wish I could do that, but we can't afford it." Well, you might be able to afford it, but you wouldn't be able to have a lot of the things you want for your family, and that's okay.
4) Another: "Wow, you're so lucky."
5) Yet another: "I could never do that."
6) And my favorite, which I've actually been asked multiple times: "So now that you're not teaching, what do you do all day?" One person even said, "So do you just chill all day?"

As someone who has always prided herself on being the busiest and doing the most, the thought of people perceiving me as a lazy mom who sat at home and did nothing was paralyzing. Utterly paralyzing. I'm working to free myself of others' opinions, but clearly, I have not yet arrived. I'm still a work in progress in that area.

So, what DO I do? Some of same things working moms and dads do. Some of same things stay-at-home dads and other stay-at-home moms do.

Is staying home easier than when I was teaching? Honestly, so far, yes. It is easier for me to have proper work-life balance, for me to have energy to give to my daughter each day, for me to have patience with her and time for my husband and friends. But so far, it's easier than teaching was. I know that's not always going to be true. I know this isn't true for every parent who stays home. I'm just sharing my experience.

Have I regretted leaving teaching? Yes and no. Deep down, no, I haven't. I have peace about leaving. But there have been a few moments I've second guessed myself, if I'm being honest. I'm super goal-oriented (fellow firstborns, raise your hands!), and I'm also incredibly altruistic; I have to be helping people to feel useful. So, yeah, a few times I've gotten to the end of a day, glanced around my littered house,  caught a glimpse of my unwashed hair in the mirror, and thought, "I literally accomplished nothing today."

Which, of course, isn't true. 
I sang hymns to my daughter before nap time and took her to the library after she woke up.
I changed her diaper six times and applied diaper rash cream to her red bum, despite the fact that she was writhing like an eel and screaming like a banshee.
I fed her three meals and cleaned up said three meals from the floor because she still doesn't understand how a freaking spoon works.
I changed her outfit because she thinks her sippy cup is a water toy.
I read Don't Push the Button! to her no fewer than 17 times, and I practiced reading with enthusiasm and a variety of accents. Then we read at least ten other books multiple times each.
I hugged her when she bumped her head and played "catch" with her for thirty minutes and kept her from climbing up the stairs and pulling the cat's tail.
Some days, I even manage to sweep, vacuum, wipe counters, do dishes, or fold laundry. Some days, not so much.

I pay someone $10+ an hour to do all that stuff I listed above; it's called babysitting. So even if all I did was keep her alive every single day, we parents LITERALLY pay someone to do that when we decide to go on a date or whatever.

Being a working mom. Being a stay-at-home mom. One isn't necessarily superior to the other. One isn't harder than the other. 
It really all depends. It's situation. It depends upon you and your partner, if you have one, and your child(ren), and your personality, and so much more.

So, what do I do?
A little bit of this,  a little bit of that. Not as much as I used to do, that's for sure. But everything I do, I do with so much more peace, positive energy, and perspective than I did before. For that, I am thankful and blessed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When Former Teachers Make Waves

It's officially been six months since I decided to leave teaching, four months since I've left the classroom, and a month since a new school year started. So, I've had plenty of time to process my decision and a little time to live my new normal.

My plan last year was to not teach full time but still be involved in my old school by substitute teaching. It's really difficult to get qualified subs, especially ones who are willing to work on Fridays. As a licensed teacher who was familiar with the school and county, it would have been a benefit to the school to have me sub. It was a win-win: the school would get a qualified sub, and I would get to be around students and coworkers. Oh, and do you know who's negatively affected when there's a shortage of subs? The students, for one. And the teachers, who are required to give up their planning period to cover others' classes. So, having subs is crucial to everyone's success and sanity.

When I say I am highly qualified to be a substitute teacher, I'm not exaggerating. In order to sub, one must have two years of college. That's basically it. I have my master's in education, my teaching license, seven years of experience, nominations as my school's teacher of the year (and the t-shirt to prove it), three file folders full of letters and cards from former students, and several other teaching accolades and awards. So, like, I wasn't there to just collect a paycheck or let kids play on their phones all class. I LOVED teaching and the kids.

Y'all... there are substitute teachers out there who don't even show up for jobs, who don't follow lesson plans, who cancel at the last minute, who curse at students, and worse. So... yes, I really would've been an asset to the school.

Well, subbing didn't work out, and not because I didn't want it to.

At first, I was livid. I was hurt. I was in disbelief.

But when you choose to write blog posts about some of the issues with the education system, including at the school level, there are consequences, and this turned out to be one of the consequences. 

So, I did what I always do when I'm having a hard time processing: I prayed. God, I do NOT get it. I listened to You when You told me to leave teaching. I felt like You were prompting me to speak out about the truth of my experience...Why am I being punished for speaking being bold and brave? 

And I didn't get a clear answer for a while.

I avoided school events, despite former students asking me to attend, because I knew I was not welcome and that my presence might cause awkwardness. And, honestly, because I'm not used to not being held in high regards by places of employment or former places of employment. I'm a hardworking and competent employee.
But I learned that there is more to doing a job than just being qualified or having satisfactory and exemplary job performance (as all my formal written reviews, observations, and feedback demonstrated)-- there are others' personal feelings to take into account. That's still a bit of a hard pill for me to swallow.

So, this has been a slow processing journey. It's been somewhat daunting thinking about cutting my ties with my former school and even with teaching altogether. As I have always said, I love the school and the people there and teaching in general.

But being bold is worth it.
Doing the right thing is worth it.
Modeling that for my daughter is worth it. 

When I was in the classroom, I didn't speak out or pushed back for fear of retaliation. I tried to ask questions anonymously or by submitting them to our teacher's advisory committee or faculty council. I tried to fly under the radar (unsuccessfully).

This is why I think schools need to create ways for teachers to feel free to share concerns or constructive criticism. Here are just three idea I have, and teacher friends, I'll bet you have more:
1) When a teacher leaves, conduct an exit interview not with the building principal. I actually was never given an exit interview. At all. I followed up and was told I should have received a link with questions to answer. I don't remember receiving such a link, so I asked for it to be sent to me again, and I am still waiting (a month later) for a response to that request.
2) Administer an anonymous staff survey, per the VDOE guidelines, page 28, about principal performance. This survey should not result in additional professional development for teachers, passive-aggressive comments towards teachers, or any other negative consequences for teachers. As a teacher, I was required to give a survey to my students every year and analyze the data and set goals for myself. Therefore, it seems logical to me that administrators should lead by example. And why stop there? What about central office personnel or school board members administering surveys to parents, teachers, students, and community members? Making a Google Form or Survey Monkey is super easy.
3) Give teachers a safe way to ask questions and inform them of the appropriate channels of communication should their first attempt at asking a question not be effective. Having served on the faculty council at my school for two years, I can tell you that we attempted to solve numerous problems, but I was sometimes unsure of how to move up the chain of command if a problem wasn't solved by the people on my campus. This is basically a nice way of saying that, to be honest, sometimes our valid concerns were flat out ignored, and we weren't always sure who to go to next.

I was scared-- terrified, even-- to make waves for a few reasons: 
1) I have an unhealthy relationship with authority.
2) My incessant need to be respected and liked.
3) My fear of losing my job and not being able to get another one in teaching ever again.
4) My fear of being treated poorly by those who disagreed with me.
5) My fear of losing relationships with my colleagues and bosses.

As I've been ruminating on this entire situation, I've thought to myself, What would I want my daughter to do? Would I want her to cave out of fear of others? Would I want her to be silent when she saw things that could be improved, when she witnessed verbal abuse and blatant disrespect, when she saw protocols not being followed? Or would I want her to have the courage to stand up for what she believed was right?

The answer is easy, even if the act of doing it is hard. 

If I want her to speak out, I have to model that. It's one thing to say, "Speak up! Speak out!" It's another to actually do it.
Y'all, if I'm being honest, I wish I'd had the courage to speak up when I was still teaching. I wish I hadn't cared so much about not making waves-- someone's got to drop the first pebble in the pond.

There would have been ramifications, for sure. But I wish I'd had more courage, more fortitude, and a more healthy outlook on my job and my own self-worth. I wish I'd known what channels to go through to be heard and to induce potential change. I regret not doing more. Because if every single teacher spoke out about the things we witnessed, change would have to happen. All of us couldn't be ignored. We've seen this play out across the country in teacher strikes and walkouts and marches. But many of us are afraid to speak up, and rightfully so.

Not being allowed/able/welcome to sub at my old school has turned out to be a huge blessing, although it took me a while to see it that way. I'm teaching a homeschool co-op class where I get to use my reading specialist degree and expertise more than I did in the classroom. I now have set days where I can work solely on magazine interviews, phone calls, and writing. I'm more relaxed because I'm not preoccupied with school stress.

Tonight I attended a school event and had a fabulous time reconnecting with old coworkers and students. After next year, I won't know any kids at my former school, anyway, so it'll truly be time for me to move on. But I realized tonight that I'm not going to let fear of someone else's reaction to my presence rob me of the opportunity to see people that I care about or to attend something I enjoy. 

And there is GREAT freedom in that, in realizing I am not responsible for others' feelings. There is great freedom in knowing that my intentions in speaking out about the toxic environment of teaching were and still are pure-- not to slander, not to tear down, but to start conversations so that there can be improvements for the sakes of our teachers and students. If someone else can't see that, that is not my issue. I need to stop worrying about their reactions and their feelings.

So, I write to you tonight free, happy, at peace, and thrilled to spend tomorrow not in a classroom but at music class and then the swimming pool with my tiny human.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

All the Lasts

I was flipping through Katherine's baby book the other day-- well, let me be honest: she doesn't have a baby book. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. Instead, I bought a first-year calendar, complete with stickers like "First Steps" and "First Word." I then wrote in significant events like "First High School Basketball Game" or "First Poop-spolosion Diaper." You know, the important things.

The first year of your baby's life is full of tracking firsts. I was prepared for that.

I wasn't prepared for the intense emotion of all the "lasts," though.
Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography 

Last time in newborn sized diapers.
Last nap  in her baby swing.
Last night sleeping in our room in the Pack N' Play.
Last nursing session with a burp cloth on my shoulder or the Boppy pillow supporting her weight.
Last nap taken in mommy's bed with her.
Last car ride in the infant car seat.
Last time being able to sit through an entire church service.
Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography 

The thing about the "lasts" is that you don't always know they're "lasts." One minute you're sleeping downstairs in a recliner or on an air mattress with your baby in a bassinet so your husband can get a full night's sleep while you're on maternity leave. The next you're taking one-year cake smash pictures and trying to figure out HOW your baby is now so strong that it takes your entire body weight to smush them into their carseat and buckle them in.

Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography

The first year of motherhood, of course, flew by. Everyone said it would.

But, if I'm being honest, parts of it dragged. Like the times when I'd spend twenty minutes trying to get an angry, screaming, flailing baby to latch on to my bleeding nipples, tears streaming down both our faces. I totally understood why people gave up on breastfeeding in those moments.
Or the nights when I would pace the room bouncing her, literally counting my steps-- up to 100, then starting over-- numerous times. I totally understood why people let their babies cry it out.

Mothering her through firsts and lasts has both made me so much more confident in the type of parenting we're doing and so doubtful of my abilities as a mom. It's this strange, confusing paradox. And every time I think I've conquered something, Katherine does something new, and we're back to square one.

Realizing that the time flies and everything could be a "last" without me knowing it has helped me cherish the minutes, the events, and the mundane.

It's helped me find peace with letting her nap on my lap as I stare at the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. I won't be able to hold her forever. Dishes will still be there.
It's helped me not stress about the fact that she's not walking or talking as much as other kids her own age. I mean, it is kind of sweet that she still crawls up to me and holds her hands out so I'll pick her up. Before I know it, she'll be running out the door and not giving me a second thought.

And I want to make these precious, sweet moments we're having last.