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?

10 Things I Don’t Care About

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and/or know me in real life, you can attest to the fact that I care, a lot, about a lot of things. I talk about these things in most of my posts. Today, however, I’m thinking about things that I don’t care about in the least. Behold:

  1. I don’t care if you tell me “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
  2. I don’t care about plain red Starbucks cups.
  3. I don’t care about who does or doesn’t stand up for the National Anthem.
  4. I don’t care about transgender people using their preferred bathroom.
  5. I don’t care if college and university faculties are liberal.
  6. I don’t care that the media reports the facts, and that some journalism outlets also feature commentary that I may or may not agree with.
  7. I don’t care that many young people think they are special.
  8. I don’t care if someone receiving government assistance has a smartphone or a nice purse.
  9. I don’t care about anyone’s immigration status unless they are a violent criminal.
  10. I don’t care that English is not America’s official language.

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What do you not care about?

It’s Hard To Go To Church In Trump’s America.

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

It’s hard for me to go to church these days.

It’s hard for me to give up my precious, fleeting family time to transport my toddler across town, stand in a room with people I don’t know and listen to a sermon that’s just a little too long. It’s hard to go by myself with my son when my husband is working, and it’s hard to go as a whole family on my husband’s Sundays off, when we would really rather be doing something else together. It’s hard to make the effort. Especially now.

The truth of the matter is that it’s hard for me to go to an evangelical church in the wake of Trump’s election. I don’t think I belong there anymore.

I don’t belong with a group of people that by and large believes Trump is worthy of being president.

I feel uprooted, disoriented. Homeless. The evangelical church is the body into which I was born and raised, where I was educated and how I came to faith. I’m not sure where to go next.

Knowing that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, I was interested to see how the leaders at our new church here in Atlanta would handle the election aftermath. Would they be silent about it? Call for unity? Reference it obliquely? Or speak out against Trump’s nativism, racism, mysogyny, etc.?

On the second Sunday after election day, the pastor at church preached a sermon on living out the gospel in everyday life. I was cautiously hopeful that he would reference the obvious elephant in the room, but he didn’t get any more explicit than saying something like “our current cultural context.”

He made the point that the first human occupation was gardener, not soldier, that we can’t force other people to believe the same things we do, but that we can live out our beliefs in our daily lives. All pretty basic stuff, but the phrase “gardeners, not soldiers” stuck out to me. At the time I interpreted that to mean that it is not Christians’ job to be culture warriors. And I found it vaguely reassuring.

But as I got to thinking about it later, I realized that this phrase also seems to be discouraging of Christians’ efforts to take a stand against the worst parts of this upcoming administration. Obviously, I strongly disagree.

If there was ever a time to fight like hell for things that are true and right and fair, it’s now.

Before November 8th, I already knew that I was more forward-thinking than most evangelicals, that I cared more about equity and racial justice and public education than most. But I have been absolutely shocked to discover just how far removed I am from the evangelical tribe. And even more, I am embarrassed.

I am so embarrassed that calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” wasn’t enough to get evangelicals not to vote for him. That mocking a disabled reporter wasn’t enough. Or saying that he would deport millions of people, including citizen children. Or wanting to create a Muslin registry. Or admitting to, and then being accused of, sexually assaulting women. And those are just for starters.

Because these things did not directly affect most white evangelical Christians, they were able to disregard them. And that attitude makes me feel ill. The privilege is breathtaking.

I know that evangelical ministers have a difficult task in front of them in this moment. Regardless of their personal beliefs, many are figuring out how to pastor ideologically divided congregations, what they can and cannot say to avoid offending different groups of people in their churches. But this timidity is keeping me from seeing much of Jesus at church right now.

Jesus is with the poor. Jesus is with the oppressed. He is with the marginalized. Jesus is with the groups of people that Donald Trump’s supporters mock, shame and attack, whose schools and places of worship they deface.

Instead, I am finding Jesus during restful moments at home with my family. I see him in my classroom, where children are making breakthroughs, learning to do things they never thought they could, and becoming moral people who care about others. I see him in organizations that work on behalf of the downtrodden, and those that work to protect the environment.

I’m not sure where all of this is leading me, and leading my family. For the first time in my life, I am pondering concepts like “spiritual but not religious.” I know that’s not the answer, though.

I want to belong to a body of believers, a place to study and worship and learn more about God. I just think the evangelicals have lost me, and I’m not sure what comes next.

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.

I am not the Pinterest mom.

I saw a funny Buzzfeed video a while ago about the different kinds of moms you meet.

Apparently there are five different types: the PTA mom, the hipster mom, the crunchy mom, the parenting expert and the hot mess mom. (Not sure where I fit here…maybe a bit of parenting expert, crunchy and hot mess, all rolled into one?)

I would like to respectfully submit one more: the Pinterest mom.

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Chestnut creatures, anyone?

We all know the Pinterest mom. She does homemade crafts with her children on the regular. She takes family photos on holidays with all offspring in coordinating outfits. She makes her children’s Halloween costumes and does Elf on a Shelf. She thoroughly documents each moment of her children’s lives with baby books, scrapbooks and photo albums. She throws elaborate, themed birthday parties for toddlers with a professional photographer present. She always remembers to squeeze every last ounce of special out of her children’s special days.

Well, this is not me. At all.

I am not great at this aspect of modern parenting. I typically don’t think to take a family photo on holidays until about 10 pm when Jonah has been asleep for hours. The idea of doing a craft with my toddler fills me with dread. I would theoretically like to create a scrapbook for my son but I doubt I would ever actually follow through with it. I forgot to get Jonah an Easter basket until everyone else’s photos appeared on Facebook.

I don’t know exactly why I’m so bad at all of this. Maybe it’s the combination of having a busy life plus a general lack of craftiness/artistic ability that just makes me generally bad at all things Pinterest-y.

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I often feel some guilt and anxiety over this, and I haven’t been able to get on Pinterest much since Jonah was born because of it. Not doing the things that most of my contemporaries seem to do with their children makes me feel like somewhat of a failure as a parent. Did a fun day really happen if I forgot to document it? Is Easter still special for my 15-month old if I forgot to get him a gift? Do I still have a beautiful family if we don’t have many photos all together? WILL JONAH BE UPSET AS AN ADULT TO NOT HAVE A BABY BOOK???!!!

I’m trying to remember that these things look good, but they don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. They’re extra.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the ways I am really knocking it out of the park as a parent. Jonah loves being read to, and books are his favorite toys, because we have read to him every day from birth. He is extremely friendly and social. His vocabulary is exploding. He isn’t a picky eater and regularly eats lots of different kinds of foods, such as Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese and Chinese. He is obviously intelligent. He is such a happy, loving little guy. I like to think that means we’re doing a lot of things right.

And honestly, I think focusing on the positive is the answer to so many of our issues around insecurity and anxiety as mothers. Cut yourself some slack, mama…you’re doing fine.

And for all the Pinterest moms…I salute you and your crafty ways! Want to come make/plan/organize some of that stuff for me?

What about you? Do you love Pinterest or does it stress you out?

This post originally appeared on BlogHer.

I Had An Easy Baby.

I had an easy baby. There. I said it.

It’s the kind of thing you don’t like to admit in a mixed group for fear of offending someone. It sounds like gloating–like someone talking about how they can eat anything they want and not gain weight. But it’s true.

Jonah has been easy from the very beginning. I only threw up once during my pregnancy. Once I got past the first trimester I felt pretty energetic. My blood pressure unexpectedly went up at around 36 weeks, but even with preeclampsia I pretty much felt fine. Even though my labor had to be induced, it only lasted about 10 hours, and I had an amazingly positive experience. I only had to push for 45 minutes.

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Jonah latched easily and nursed well from the beginning. None of us got much sleep for the first month or so, but after he started sleeping through the night at about six weeks I began to think maybe I could handle this parenting thing after all.

Jonah has turned into a real extrovert who is generally entertained whenever he’s around lots of people. He is happy at daycare during the day, happy with grandma on his days with her, and happy with us at home at night (unless he hasn’t napped–then not so much). In general, he has always been an unusually pleasant baby who seemed to not cry much and to be soothed easily when he did get upset.

As he’s become a toddler, these characteristics continue–so far. For the most part, he eats what we put in front of him. He goes to bed with a minimum amount of struggle. Even though we are starting to get into the tantrum stage, he is still remarkably sanguine most of the time. Being around Jonah is fun. (Notwithstanding the things that are just hard about toddler life.)

Though I think we were just lucky that Jonah was born a good-humored little guy, Jonathan and I have been very intentional about doing certain things in our parenting to help keep it this way. We plan our days around his sleep schedule. We don’t expect him to sit still and quiet for long periods of time in public–it’s not gonna happen anyway, and it would only end in tears for everyone involved. Jonah and I spend a lot of time outside. But I would not say that we have done anything extraordinary, or that we have some secret to share for raising a happy child that other parents don’t know.

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It sounds awful to say that having an easy baby isn’t what I expected, but it’s true. I expected parenting to be harder than it’s been so far. You don’t hear a lot about easy babies–instead, you hear the horror stories, about babies with colic who cry for hours, about babies who refuse to sleep through the night well past 12 months old, etc. I’m not sure if this is because parents with difficult babies talk about it more as a way to commiserate, but I know that, so far, parenting has been easier than I was led to believe it would be.

While it’s good to be prepared for the difficulties that may lie ahead, I think all of the negative stories do a disservice to expectant parents. Expecting to not sleep and to not be able to go anywhere for months on end is not the best way to approach a major life change. If I could give any advice to moms-to-be, it would be this: There will certainly be hard moments, but consider the possibility that life with a baby may not be as hard as you fear.

When people meet Jonah they typically have one of two responses:

  1. It’ll change when he turns 2.
  2.  Just wait till the next one!

In a way I know we are due, if things work like that. We’ll see on both counts!