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?

2017: Engage

Well friends, here we are – almost. 2017.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to enjoy this time of year, where people are thinking and planning and dreaming of a new year and what it will bring. Last year, I wrote about how rough 2015 was for my family and about seven reasons why 2016 would be better. And 2016 did turn out to be great for us, though not for the country as a whole. I’m curious about what’s next.

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image via pixabay.com

At the end of 2015, I chose a single word that embodied all of the goals and aspirations I had for the upcoming year, how I hoped to be in the new year. I stole this idea from someone else, and I think it’s a great way to focus one’s new year’s goal-setting. My word for 2016 was joy.

My 2017 word of the year is…engage. As I think about my goals (I hate the word resolutions) for the new year, all of them have to do with being present, involved, engaged in my life and the broader world. I feel like many of these are introvert’s goals, the tension between being engaged in external activities and staying in our comfort zone always being a bit real for us. I often feel a tension in my life between action and inaction, in ways big and small: between reading on the couch versus taking the dogs for a walk, between planning to go to a women’s event at church and then backing out at the last minute, etc. This year, I hope to choose action more often than not.

So engage it is. Here are my goals for the new year:

  1. I will make time for writing, even when life is busy.
  2. I will get involved with our new church (will write more about this soon) and make some friends.
  3. I will live a healthier lifestyle. (Obligatory weight loss #newyearnewme goal. But for real, though!)
  4. I will donate more money than I did in 2016, to church and to causes benefiting human rights, children, animals and the environment.
  5. I will take the initiative to make plans with new friends. This is hard.
  6. I will stay informed about what is happening in this country, and I will make sure others are, too. This relates to the upcoming Trump presidency. In 2016, my writing enabled me to make a few people aware of how Trump’s victory was being experienced by those most vulnerable to his upcoming presidency. I will make sure that these people, and others, keep paying attention.

 

What are your goals for 2017? And what’s your word of the year?

Rainy day reflections

I’m sitting here at Barnes and Noble, drinking an iced coffee and eating a pumpkin muffin. Today it’s raining all day, but it feels like fall, and that is something to be celebrated. Jonathan encouraged me to steal a couple of hours away this afternoon (sweet man!). I should be working on guided reading lesson plans, which is purportedly what I came here to do, but instead I want to return to my long-neglected blog.

I haven’t been writing for a couple of reasons: 1) I forgot how much creativity good teaching requires. I also forgot how tired I am by the end of the day. After Jonah is asleep and I have time to myself I haven’t been able to muster the energy or creativity to write anything. 2) I have been deliberating on what to write publicly about my job. More on that below.

We’ve been in Atlanta as a family for a little over a month now. For the most part, the transition has been a dream. For example:

  1. We absolutely love our new home. We are settled in and about 97% of the way unpacked. The house is such a blessing for our family and so much more than we could ever have afforded or expected to have on our own without family support.
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    Our backyard view
  2. Jonah has transitioned amazingly well to my mom watching him during the week. He didn’t seem to really be phased by the change. He absolutely loves his Nonni and looks forward to going to her house. At the same time, he talks often (every day or two) about all of the family we left behind in NC. When Jonathan’s parents visited over Labor Day, Jonah picked back up with them as though we had never been apart. I like to think that his heart is big enough to hold love for the multitude of people who inhabit his world.14262843_1607457612887825_1594653374_n
  3. Jonathan quickly and easily got a job working from home that he will likely be able to continue once he starts school in the spring.
  4. We think we have found a new church home here.
  5. I’m loving my job. If you remember, during my job search I got a very, very strong sense that this job was the one that was right for me, though the others seemed to make more sense practically. I haven’t been disappointed.

As I mentioned above, I’ve made the decision that the wisest course of action is not to talk about my job in detail on the blog. This may seem like CYA (cover your …), but my school system tends to get a fair amount of attention, and I’m just trying to be smart. Here are the important points:

  • I feel more effective than I ever have as an ESL teacher. The time away from the classroom in an administrative role made me a better teacher.
  • I feel respected. I’m not a novice teacher anymore. It’s nice to have people come to me for help instead of it always being the other way around.
  • I like working with almost all older students. Upper elementary, baby!
  • Many days I am home at 3:30. That is something I never would have predicted when we decided to move to Atlanta.

6. I feel a great sense of balance in my life since we moved. Jonathan and I are getting         more date nights out and quality time together than we have since Jonah was born. Being home earlier in the afternoon means more time with Jonah. Even though I’m now commuting 25 minutes to work, I’m actually spending less time in the car than I did this previous year between taking Jonah to and from daycare, going to and from tutoring, my in-laws house, etc.

This will have to be all for now. Thanks to everyone who hung around and waited for a new post from me! I promise it won’t be this long until the next time I write. In the meantime…enjoy fall!

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.

Six Thoughts On Six Years of Marriage

Yesterday was Jonathan’s and my sixth anniversary. Six years is hard to believe! (What’s even harder to believe is that we will have been together for TEN years in November.) We were such little babies when we got married. Check out these kiddos:

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This is right after the ceremony. I love this picture because it was a candid shot.

Jonathan and I got married when we were 21 (him) and 22 (me), two weeks after we graduated from college. I wish I could link to a post I wrote that is running on YourTango in a few weeks, about marriage advice for other young brides, as it has a lot of the thoughts that are running through my head about marriage these days. Here are some other thoughts I’m having around our anniversary:

  • Anyone who says their marriage is always easy is a freaking liar. So…
  • You have to be willing to ride out the crap, say you’re sorry and try again to somehow talk to each other. And…
  • Marrying young can sometimes make it harder, because you both have growing up to do. But…
  • Over the years my marriage has taken on this easy rhythm and comfort level that is really wonderful, and that wouldn’t be there if we were just now getting married. For example…
  • We have learned what works for us and what doesn’t. Like the whole “Don’t go to bed angry” thing? Not good advice for the Loves, because we both need our space and usually feel completely better in the morning. We finally learned that. Ultimately…
  • We are a team. We are willing to entertain each other’s seemingly crazy ideas, like renting out our house and buying another (him) or seeking to adopt from foster care (me). I feel confident that no matter what happens, Jonathan is always in my corner.

So there you have it; this is where we are after six years. In my posts, I try to portray a real picture of what my marriage is really like, because I know when I read status after status saying things like “My husband deep-cleaned the whole house, mowed the yard, potty-trained the toddler in one day and brought me breakfast in bed, I’m so lucky!” it makes me wonder if something is wrong with me/my marriage because I struggle to get Jonathan to pick up his dirty underwear from the bathroom floor. (A lesson I’ve learned about that? Pick your battles.) I’m not saying those people are lying, but that that is just not everyday life for most couples, and acting like it is is a bit deceptive.

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This is my marriage, real and unfiltered, and still beautiful.

Dreams, Hopes, Thoughts and Plans

The following post may be ill-advised. I’m going to write about a dream that Jonathan and I are developing for our family. We haven’t completely decided on it yet, and it has been more or less a secret. Not for much longer.

Writing about something is one of the main ways that I process it. This topic being one of the main things I have been thinking about recently, the time has come to write about it. Here goes.

Jonathan and I are thinking and praying about adopting a child from foster care.

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This idea developed in the way that a lot of plans do in our marriage. Jonathan mentioned something, I agreed, and I got to work on researching the details and the best way to carry it out. I’m obviously the planner in our family. (I kid you not, this seems to almost always be how we make major decisions. This is how we came to rent a house, get a dog, buy a house, get another dog, have a baby, and buy another house).

We have talked about adopting since before we were married, and I’ve read about adoption issues in the past, but we hadn’t discussed it recently. About a month ago, Jonathan mentioned in passing that we could adopt for Baby #2 rather than get pregnant again. “Why have another biological child when we could give a home to a child that’s already here and needs one?”

And so I began to research again. I decided pretty quickly that international adoption and domestic infant adoption weren’t for us, partly because of the expense, and partly because of the potential for ethical issues in these types of adoptions. (Especially international adoption).

Foster care adoption is not without its own ethical issues, but to me it feels the closest to finding parents for a child who needs one rather than finding a child for parents who need one.  I’ve been reading a lot, and I’ve learned a lot, especially from blogs written by and for adult adoptees. (Like these here, here and here). I’ve read some things that almost scared me off. That’s right: I’ve learned that adoption isn’t cut-and-dry, all positive happily-ever-afters. (I plan to write a post about all the things I’ve learned about adoption, and problems with the way many Christians discuss adoption, another time.)

But still I return to the idea: more than anyone else in modern society, infants and children in foster care need homes. They are truly the “least of these.” The statistics for those who age out without a family are horrifying. 

Do you ever feel like God puts an idea in your head, and then keeps pointing you to it to make sure you don’t forget about it? Rarely have I felt as strongly like God was telling me to do something as I have with this. Ever since we first began talking about it, something related to foster care or adoption has come to my attention at least once a day, without me seeking it out. One of many examples: I pulled up one of my favorite blogs earlier this evening and this post was staring at me from the front page. Alright, I get it, God.

So, yeah. This is what has been going on with us. I’m a little scared of it. I’m not sure exactly where it will take us, or when. We may decide now isn’t the time. We may decide to wait until our biological kids are grown and then to foster/adopt older children or teenagers. Who knows? What I do know is that God’s heart is here. And it’s where mine is, too.