10 Things I’ve Told Myself This Week

My mind is almost always going a mile a minute – pondering, reflecting, planning. Is this okay? or What will happen if _____? or What do I think about ____? Here are a few things I’ve been saying to myself this week. See if you notice a theme.

1. It’s okay to stay home from the gym this week; you’re sick!

2. It’s okay to leave work to go to the doctor. They can survive without you for one     afternoon.

3. Yes, you and Jonathan are doing a good job managing Jonah’s screen time.

4. You’re not a bad mom for having a babysitter two Saturday nights in a row.

5. You’re not a bad mom for taking a few minutes for yourself between getting home from work and picking up Jonah from Nonni’s.

6. It’s okay that you haven’t written a blog post in a while.

7. You will have a job next year. (More to come about this, perhaps.)

8. You and Jonathan and doing a good job with the dogs. They are loved, happy and healthy.

9. It’s time to find some friends here. But the thought of that is pretty exhausting!

10. You can’t do much about the fact that the world seems to be going to hell right now. Do what you can and focus on the positive.

 

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What has your self-talk sounded like this week?

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How I Achieve A Balanced Life

When I was younger, I had a very distinct vision of what my life would be like by the time I was 30. In this mental picture, I saw myself being a woman who juggled multiple challenging demands with ease: successful, fulfilling career, loving marriage, a couple of wonderful children, free time to pursue personal interests, etc. And me, easily navigating it all. Kicking butt and taking names, basically; having achieved that most elusive of things: work-life balance.

I am now 29. And while I wouldn’t say that I am kicking butt and taking names or some type of #bossbabe, for the first in my life I feel like I am getting close to having and successfully balancing all of the great things in my life that I described above.

Now, I know that the concepts of “having it all” and “work-life balance” are gendered in ways that are problematic. Men don’t frequently get asked how they balance work and family, or if it’s hard to find time to work and parent and spend time with their spouse and maintain a home. Only women get asked those questions, and judged on the basis of them. But the fact remains that work-life balance is an issue that many women do struggle with, so I wanted to explore how it’s working for me these days while acknowledging the problems that exist with it.

A few important things have changed since we moved to Atlanta that help make my work-life balance more possible: 1) support from my family that has resulted in a little breathing room financially and logistically, 2) a much happier work situation,  3) the fact that my school district actually pays teachers a living wage and 4) that I’ve been really trying to nurture my personal passions.

Living two doors down from my family has been amazing. Our normal weekday routine now involves my mom taking care of Jonah, as I’ve mentioned. And more than that, just the fact that there is always at least one backup person to help in case of an emergency feels very reassuring, especially to me, who tends to prepare for the worst-case scenario in all situations. I can breathe easier now.

As to work, I read a quote posted by some random person on Facebook the other day which said “It’s a lucky man or woman who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.” (I just looked this up and it turns out it’s a Joe Biden quote.) This is where I am about teaching. I know that what I do matters, and I’m happy to go to my school every day. It’s what I want to spend my days doing.

On the practical side, I feel better-treated than I ever have as a teacher. There are several responsibilities that our current school system helps its teachers with, such as lesson planning, so that makes life a little easier and less stressful than previous teaching jobs.

More importantly, for the first time I feel like my colleagues and I are being paid close to what we are worth. To illustrate: I am making $10,000 more than I would were I to be teaching now in North Carolina, with the same years of experience, same degrees, etc. I am making $20,000 more than I did last year at my non-school system job. THOUSAND. Not hundred.

All educators deserve to make this, and more. Making enough money allows a person to do a few things for themselves. My family can now afford a gym membership and some housecleaning help without feeling like we won’t make it to the end of the month, which is where we were in 2015-2016. Money being extremely tight led to me being both less healthy and more stressed, because there was always work that needed to be done at home once I got home from my day job, and because I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself.

It’s hard to practice self-care when you literally can’t afford any non-essentials, and when you can barely afford the essentials. To employers: want your employees to be happy at work and have a good work-life balance? Pay them a freaking decent amount of money.

Because I feel less stress in other areas of my life, I’ve had the freedom and space to devote to people and things that I love. When I am spending time with Jonah and Jonathan, I can be all there, not worrying about when I will have time to clean the house or do those hours of lessons plans or if we can afford to go to a museum.

It’s kind of a snowball effect: just like stress in one area tends to build up and spill over into other areas of your life, peace can be the same. Remove a tremendous stresser in one area, and everything else gets calmer and more peaceful. Serenity spreads.

I’m also devoting more time to my personal passions. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am writing more regularly than I used to, because I actually have time to do it. I am also getting to go to yoga and Pilates at the gym weekly, which I love but couldn’t afford in the past.

I know that I am tremendously lucky, and I am so thankful for how my family has been blessed over the last year. Is everything perfect now? Of course not. But I’m feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in a long time, maybe since Jonah was born and Jonathan and I took on the responsibilities of parenthood. I feel…balanced.

To sum up: in my experience the answer to the work-life balance question is the following: get outside help from family (or friends) if you can, do a job you find fulfilling and find an employer who will pay you what you’re worth, take care of yourself physically, and take time to nurture your inner life and do the things that you find meaningful.

 

How do you achieve work-life balance?

How I’m Hitting My Stride As A Teacher

What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?

Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?

I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.

I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.

 

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image via Pexels.com

Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.

I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.

I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.

So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).

I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.

Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.

But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.

I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:

  1. Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
  2. A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
  3. No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.

I’m feeling grateful and blessed.

What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!

What I’ve Learned from Being White in a Black World

I am a white woman. All my life, I have been surrounded by people who looked just like me. Though I have lived in many different places, starting when I was a child the one constant I could be sure of was that when I walked in to a space, I would find many people who looked and talked like I did. This affected how I carried myself, my comfort level and my confidence. No matter where I went, I felt like I belonged and like I had a right to be there. This was true of my schools, churches, workplaces, stores, etc. You name it.

I have never been the minority. Until now.

In my new life in Atlanta, it is common for me to walk into places (especially in and around where I work) and be one of only a few white people there. At first I felt uncomfortable to stand out so much. I felt like I was being watched or judged for being different when I just wanted to blend in. My own voice sounded strange and awkward to my ears. At work, kids had lots of questions about my eyes and hair, because most of them had never had a white teacher before.

And then it hit me…this is how life is for people of color EVERY. DAY. Times about 100.

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Atlanta. image via pixabay.com

When we first moved, I felt some trepidation when I entered a space as the only white person in the room. Now I’m more used to it. I’m making friends and fitting in. I have been treated with respect and kindness everywhere I have gone, but it has taken some getting used to, this feeling like maybe you don’t quite belong. Even if no one says anything.

So what I’m realizing in a whole new way is how much harder it is for a person of color in a white environment, when unfortunately white people often DO say something. When white people often perform microaggressions upon people of color on a daily basis and think nothing of it.

I’ve also seen how, as a white minority, I still benefit from white privilege everywhere I go. I can go into a sketchy-looking gas station with bullet-proof glass around the cash register and not have to worry about anyone bothering me, or about the cashier staring at me to make sure my hands are visible at all times. Instead, people tell me I look like a teacher and thank me for what I do. True story. (More than once.)

When I see a cop, I don’t have to worry too much about being stopped by him or her, and about what might happen if I did get stopped. Even though I have a tendency to speed and my car tag is out of date. (Oops.) I don’t have to be scared of an interaction with the police.

So I am thankful. I’m thankful for this experience of life as a minority, and I wish I could have had it earlier. I lived in a comfortable, sheltered suburban white Christian bubble for far too long, and one of the reasons I’m happy we moved to Atlanta is that my son’s experience is going to be different.

Jonah will learn early that there are lots of different kinds of people in the world and that white is not the “right” way to look and act. He will have classmates and friends of different races from an early age. He will learn that diversity is beautiful, that the world does not look like an evangelical church on Sundays. He will learn that as a white, privileged person he can be a voice against society’s subjugation of black Americans and other minority groups.

If you as a white person have never been in the minority anywhere, I suggest you try it. White people can never truly understand the daily experiences of people of color, but flipping the script and engaging in an environment that’s not all about you is a good place to start.

6 Resolutions for Life in a New City

Yes! You read that right. In less than a month, we are moving from this…

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to this.

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10 points if someone can tell me what this picture makes them think of…

Pretty much my whole side of the family–parents, siblings, grandmother and now aunt–lives in Atlanta. My parents have been trying to convince us to move there for pretty much the whole time we’ve been married, and we’re finally doing it! Even though we could have moved before now, many factors are now converging to make this the right time. We’re going to be moving in to my grandmother’s house two doors down from my parents, while Grandmommy will be joining the crowd over at my parents’ house. My mom is going to watch Jonah full time. Financially this move is a no-brainer.

I’ve moved a lot in my life–if my count is correct this is number 14! But this one feels different. As far as we’re concerned, this is it: home forever. Atlanta is big enough, diverse enough and with enough opportunities and resources that we see no reason to ever move again.

So I’ve been thinking about goals I have for my life in the new, big city that will most likely be our permanent home. Here are six things I will and won’t do in our new town.

  1. I will be intentional about finding friends sooner rather than later. I wasn’t so great about this in Greensboro. With work + family + pups + miscellaneous responsibilities, my life is pretty full already, but I still need friends–not just long distance, but in person. Spending time with friends is good for me. It’s part of taking care of myself. 
  2. I will invest in activities that I enjoy. I’ll be okay with spending a little bit of money to do fun things, both with my family and by myself. (Like yoga! I’ve got to get back to it!)
  3. Jonathan and I will have a regular date night. Since money will be a little looser and there will be a multitude of potential babysitters around, this will actually happen on a regular basis.
  4. I will walk the dogs every day–and I’ll make Jonathan help me! Our yard is going to be much smaller so this won’t really be optional, plus it’ll be a good way to make sure I get daily exercise.
  5. I will not let work consume my life. It took me a while to find this balance in Greensboro, and now that I’m contemplating teaching again (easiest job to find from a distance) I need to make sure that I maintain that balance.
  6. I will not spend more than 20 minutes commuting to and from work. This is important as everyone knows Atlanta’s traffic is legendary. I’ll be miserable if I’m spending my whole day in the car.

(In case anyone is wondering about our plans to become foster parents, that is on hold for now due to the move. It is something we still want to do in the future).

Other people who have moved to a new city/state recently…any goals/ideas/positive changes for post-move?

Recipe of the Week: Sesame Garlic Beef Tacos

A couple of weeks ago I shared the recipe for the white chili I was making that night, and a lot of people really liked it! So from now on I am planning to post one recipe a week–whatever I happen to be cooking that I think readers will like and be interested in.

Funny story about how I came to find this fusion taco recipe: Last week at work I was preparing for a children’s event when I discovered that I had forgotten to prepare a crucial component of one of the craft activities, thereby resulting in me needing to cut out 2,450 magazine pictures in 2.5 days. Yes. That happened.

So as I was in the midst of cutting out pictures from Better Homes and Gardens I came across this recipe for sesame garlic beef tacos. I was about to cut up the page when I looked again and decided to save it instead. I made it for dinner this past Tuesday. I’m so glad that I did, because it was really, really good. And easy. Even with a crying toddler clinging to your leg.

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Here is the recipe:

Sesame Garlic Beef Tacos

These are beef tacos with a pickled slaw on top, topped with Siracha for extra heat.

Time start to finish: 30 minutes (*Note: This actually took 30 minutes, and it always takes me longer than what they say.)

  • 8 white or yellow corn tortillas (I used corn.)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stack tortillas, wrap in foil. Heat 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain fat, set aside.
  3. Add sesame oil to skillet. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds over medium heat or until lightly browned. Stir in soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return beef to skillet, heat through.
  4. To serve, spoon beef onto tortillas. Using a slotted spoon, top with Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Slaw (below). Serve with lime wedges and Siracha for extra heat if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Slaw:

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 tbsp. sugar, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Add 1 cup very thinly sliced cucumbers and 1 cup shredded red cabbage. Let stand 15 minutes or up to 6 hours.

1 taco: 250 calories

My whole family really liked this. I actually plan to make it again next week! (Gotta use up that whole head of cabbage now.) Next time I’m going to make it a little spicier as I thought the flavor was a little on the sweet side if you didn’t add Siracha. And I also overcooked the beef while making this due to the aforementioned crying toddler, so I’d like to see how much better it will be the second time.

Ease of making recipe while simultaneously caring for a young child: Difficulty level 1/5

If you make this, let me know how you like it!

Working Moms: Where Are You?

Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: Where are all the working moms? Regular readers know that I am a full-time working mom of a toddler. Other than a 3-month maternity leave, I’ve worked since my son was born. Statistics say that I am one of many, many working moms of young children in America: 64 percent of women with children under age 6 work or are actively looking for work, and 70 percent of those work full time.

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Since this is the case, why do I only know a handful of other full-time working moms, either in real life or virtually? Most moms I know either stay home or work part-time. Maybe this has something to do with my immediate context in the South, where “traditional” families are perhaps more common than in other parts of the country. And I read a lot of mommy blogs, which tend to be written by SAHMs. Maybe most full-time working moms don’t have time to blog.

Perhaps this is a leftover element from my younger years, but there is something about being different from most people around me that makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m not privy to some secret that others share. I find it annoying that staying home still seems to be what is considered normal for moms of young children, even though, as the statistic I discussed above indicates, working is now actually more common. You wouldn’t know it. I would like to take Jonah to a toddler storytime at the library, but when do you think they are? Weekday mornings. I joined a toddler playgroup Meetup, but when do they always want to meet? Weekday mornings. Moms’ bible studies? You guessed it: Weekday mornings. I. AM. A. BIT. OVER. IT.

Me working full time is what works for my family at this point–it’s not really optional. However, it’s what makes me happy, too, though I won’t lie and say I haven’t occasionally felt envious of those who get to stay home. Overall though, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from my job. I like making my own money. I’m proud of myself and what I do, both at work and at home. I like the example that I’m giving my son of a strong, accomplished woman. Another reason to be glad that I work: Recent studies show strong, long-term benefits for adult children of working mothers.

But really: Where are the working moms? Let’s be friends!