Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Woman in Her Thirties on the Other Side

(*cross-posted on www.teachablelit.com

When I was pregnant with Anna and still teaching, a colleague told me that after I became a mother I would become a different teacher. That I would be more empathetic; that I would understand more all the ways my job mattered (and didn't matter). I never got a chance to fully understand if he was right, since my teaching jobs now are very different than every day in a public school. But now that I'm on the other side of the coin, with a child now almost finished with Kindergarten, I get what he was saying. Here are a few things I've learned about school, now that I'm a parent:



1. My words really, really matter

Anna loves school. Loves. Aaron loves school so much that he cries most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings because he can't go to school. I credit great schools and teachers for that, but I got to thinking the other day about how many times I dealt with kids who had huge chips on their shoulders about school. Teachers were always out to get them. The system was always 'stupid' or rigged. In my years teaching, I always blamed that way of thinking on being a jaded teenager. It never occurred to me that those were sentiments they were probably hearing at home, too. So even though I'm totally in support of asking questions about methodology and rationale, at home it's really important that my kids hear that I think their teachers are worth listening to and learning from.

2. Teachers don't get paid enough

I mean, who doesn't know that? But I know it so much more now, now that I'm part of supporting a family and trying to figure out budgets and college and savings plans. So many teachers are parents, too. We can't possibly think it's okay to keep them juuuuust above the poverty line, when their jobs are so important. We can't possibly put the demands we do on teachers and not compensate them for it. And yet we do.

3. It's a little, teeny tiny bit okay to miss school sometimes

I was a strict teacher in several ways, and one of those ways was with attendance. If school is in session, you go. Unless you're sick, someone is dead, or some other major calamity is going on, you get to school. I had very little patience for kids who were constantly off to long weekends to hunt or play a sport, and I had ZERO patience for the parents who sent me emails from the car telling me their kid was missing the next couple days to hang with grandma so could I please send some work.

I'm getting angry just thinking about it.

But now, on the other side, I am more understanding of this. Don't get me wrong- Disney is not an excuse to miss a week of school. And no, your family trip up north isn't equal to the learning you get in your classroom environment.  But family time is so scarce for some families (mine included), and sometimes there are some things that can be carefully calculated to be an okay-ish reason to skip school.



As long as you tell the teacher FAR in advance.

And don't email from the car.

And don't act surprised when your kid comes back to school and is behind- that is what happens when you miss school.


4. Why didn't I ask for help??

I often tell the story of the time I was photocopying the play Antigone for my sophomores because I didn't have enough copies for my class. Not only is that illegal, but it went against everything I stood for as a writer and reader. But what was I supposed to do? I needed the books and didn't have them.

It never occurred to me to send out an SOS call. I could have asked the PTO, I could have emailed the parents in my class, I could have put out a desperate plea on Facebook. I don't think it was pride that kept me from those things-- it was this weird sense that I was on my own island and that no one was supporting me.

But now, on the other side, I would welcome an email like that from my child's teacher. In fact, I just sent an email asking her if there's anything I can re-stock for her room for next year as an end-of-year gift. The parent community is there to help, and I should have asked for it when I needed it.


5. And speaking of community...

We are in this together. Principals often say things like that, how 'we are a community' and 'we are a team', but I can't say I ever truly felt that when I was teaching. I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water as the waves of work and expectation crashed over me. But we are a community, and those aren't just words to appease parents and board members. We are all working toward the same objective of lifelong learners. It would be awesome and transformative if we acted like it.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties Teaches the Art of Failure

It's been a rough week for Anna. First, she got strep throat after a whirlwind weekend in Arizona. Anna is allergic to penicillin, and the first antibiotic she took made her sick. So she took another and is better now, but any woman in her thirties who has children knows that strep throat along with complications with medicine is like... the worst.

Healthier times. 

Then on Monday, someone tripped into her at the bus ramp and caused her to trip and fall on her forehead. The result was a fairly nasty goose egg, which we treated alternately with chocolate and an icepack. 

Look closely and you will see the damage...

And then there was last night. 

Let me back up. 

I have made no secret about pushing swimming on my children. Swimming is, in my mind, the perfect sport. Lifelong. Individual AND team. No helmets or blades. Low impact. Gender neutral. Plus, I was a swimmer. I know swimming. Swimming rules and that's just the bottom line. 

We've had both kids in swim lessons since about six months old. Go ahead and judge all you want, but it has been a great activity for us (despite it being a pain in the a$# a lot of time), and again, if I want swimmers, I have to start them young. And now that Anna is six, she's gotten pretty good. Certainly able to hold her own in the pool, and she loves the "fun meets" at the place we go to, where all the kids swim the width of the pool and it's not really a competition because everyone gets a ribbon. 

So last night they held try outs for the real, Pleasantville Swim Club. "Try outs" is a bit misleading... you're on the team as long as you can swim strokes and breathe with control. Anna did a great job at backstroke-- 25 meters all the way across the pool, and while she certainly wasn't fast she was definitely capable. But freestyle was a struggle. She got across, but you could tell she was working really hard. Not a lot of control in her breath. My heart sunk. 

And sure enough, she came back to me after talking to the coach and said, "The coach said I'm not ready just yet." All smiles. NBD.

I'm a teacher at heart, and I think I always will be. In my head, I know two things:
  • This is not a big deal. At all. Like not even an little tiny bit of a big deal. 
  • "Failure" is character building and an extremely important part of life and growth. 
But Anna. 

She is my baby. 

My world. 



And I know that it's important that she learn lessons though hardship, and I know setbacks will make her a strong, independent woman, but, well...

A woman in her thirties probably doesn't need to go on. If you have kids or love a kid with all your heart you know exactly what I'm saying. 

Because I don't sleep when I'm worried, upset, excited... Fine, because sleep is not exactly my strength, I was up tossing and turning all night about it. Had I pushed too hard? Too soon? Was I putting MY wants on my child without considering hers? Was I becoming the mom I always vowed I'd never be?

I am surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful women, who assure me I'm doing just fine. And my lovely Jie-Jie reminded me of this story, about how failure was the secret to this entrepreneur's success. So I'm okay now, and might actually sleep tonight! Hooray!

Inspired, I went out a bought a chocolate cake today to celebrate two things: The first and most important being Anna, how great she did at try-outs, and her (seriously ridiculously) mature attitude about just trying again next time. 


And I bought the cake for me. For being the imperfect mom who loves her so much and will be beside her every step of her way. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Woman in her Thirties and the Happy Year of No

The last six weeks or so have been just lovely. Truly. I'm not being sarcastic. After a craptastic year of 2016, culminating in the worst ear infection known to man (almost three weeks of hearing loss! Awful!), I made myself a promise that 2017 would be better. And it has been. 

Don't get me wrong. I haven't gone on any crazy vacations. I didn't hit the lotto. L's travel is just... well, let's not talk about it. Work is busy. The kids are awesome (but busy). Life is exactly the same as it was.



But the difference is my implementation of The Year of No. 

I've mentioned several times that I'm the perfect person for New Year's Resolutions. I'm a woman of my word, and when I make a promise, I see it through. So making myself the promise to start saying no more intentionally wasn't just shooting from the hip for me. It was a calculated tactic to deal with the utter insanity of 2016. I'm sick to death of being a yes-(wo)man. No is my new word. 

This is not to say I haven't done stuff. 'No' hasn't meant sitting home with Netflix when I could be out doing something that makes me happy. Part of my self-realization this past December when I felt myself falling into some serious doldrums was that I love being busy. I love my job. I love my kids. I love having great friends and the desire to do more. I love doing stuff. 

But I want to do my stuff. IT IS TIME FOR ME TO DO MY STUFF. 

For me, 'my stuff' has included attending some really interesting educational talks, a day where I worked only on my third book (and got over a major plot hurdle. YAY!), a short weekend away to SF to celebrate a birthday and also spend time with some really important people in my life, seeing a movie with my Minnesota besties, and spending a lot of evenings hanging with the other man in my life: Harry Potter. (I'm almost done with book 4.)

I also cut off four inches of hair. (I want to cut off another four.)

And bought tickets to Hamilton next month. (GAH!!)

And started using Instacart more. (Heaven.)

And said 'I just don't want to', when I felt peer pressured to go out for drinks the other night. (Amazing how quickly that will shut people up, when you are just honest with them.)

I say no to volunteering for things I don't feel passionate about. I place at least two immovable yoga sessions per week on my calendar. I hire sitters when I need them and feel zero guilt. I turn down activities that don't appeal to me. I say no even when I could say yes, simply because saying no gives me more time for me. And when I give more to myself, I'm able to give more to others. These guys, in particular:




I started this blog eight years ago, thinking I was pretty wise about the world. A woman in her thirties wears pearls. A woman in her thirties doesn't buy cheap wine. All of that might be true, but the truest thing so far for me now, at thirty-eight, is this:

A WOMAN IN HER THIRTIES SAYS NO. 

Thus, she is liberated. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties Resolves for 2017

Well, here we are at the last day of 2016. You know I love me some New Year's Resolutions, so here are mine. Warning: I am suffering with a nasty ear infection, and if you haven't been a woman in her thirties with an ear infection before, let me be the first to tell you it sucks. The gloves are off, people. Here we go.

1. The word of the year is NO.

Unintentionally, 2016 was the year of 'yes' for me. Sure, I'll volunteer that. I'll host this. I'll organize them. I took on a lot in this last year, not the least of which being going back to work, and did so while desperately hanging onto the joy of being home with my kids. I have been like those Chinese dancers who have a billion plates in the air, and they're all spinning, and the crowd is gawking and waiting for the first plate to fall. Because it will.


Let me be clear: I have LOVED all I've taken on this year. I've learned so much and grown a lot. But there's also a saying in writing that I believe to be true in life: if a sentence doesn't move the plot of the story along, get rid of it. Being more intentional with my time and energy is going to be hard. I hate disappointing people and I hate passing up a cool opportunity, no matter what it is. But for the sake of my children, my marriage, and my sanity, that's exactly what I'm going to be doing a lot of this year.

2. See Hamilton. 

Are tickets outrageous? Yes. Do I have the capability of hopping over to Chicago one weekend to see the show, even if I DID get a ticket? Not really. But as Angelica Schuyler so eloquently put it, 'Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.' It's just gotta happen. I don't know how yet. But it will.

3. Stop helping people who don't want help. 

It's no secret that I'm overwhelmed with sadness about the results of the election, and the countdown to the inauguration has sent me into some very serious reflection about who I am, what I value, and how I can help. (Really help. Not ranting on social media. Actually DOING stuff.) This reflection has made me realize something really startling about myself: I spend a lot of time trying to help people who really don't want my help. This doesn't make me a martyr. It makes me a time-waster and a bit of an asshole, quite honestly. And it has to stop. I have my eye on a few organizations that really could use what I have to offer, and I'm going to be giving them my time and energy.

(These are my kids, happily giving away three bags full of unopened toys to Toys for Tots this Christmas. So proud.)

4. Write. 

For God's sake, writing has been the one refuge I've had my entire life. My ONE thing that I can do well, that makes me feel like I'm contributing to the world. And yet I've made very little time for it this year. Partially because I've filled my time with other things, and partially because I've been working on something kind of hard, and the writing of it is draining.

But here's the deal. I won two kinda big awards this year for Edge the Bare Garden, and to throw away the opportunities those awards present me because I'm 'too busy' would be supremely stupid. So I need to finish what I'm working on, for the love.

5. Enjoy.

See these guys? They are the best children in the world. I am the luckiest woman in her thirties ever. Not even Hamilton can compare to the brilliance of being their mother. So I'm going to work on enjoying them, every day, even when I'm tired and it's hard and I just want to sleep.


So, take that 2017. My ear hurts, my hair is a mess, and I can't remember the last time I Swiffered Daniel's dog hair from my kitchen floor. But hey, it's a new year, and I'm on a mission to make it a great one.

'Just you wait....'

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties Listens

Dear Anna,

This week you are six years old. Six! Ready to count 'em?

1.

2. 

3. 

4. 

5.

6. 


Six. Whole. Years. 

You now 'get' the world in a way that's rather astonishing to me, so instead of taking this post as an opportunity to tell you how great you are, (and believe me, YOU ARE), I'm going to get a little serious here. To do anything else at this point in time is silly, and when you look back on November, 2016 someday, you'll know exactly what I mean. 

*Warning: political thoughts forthcoming. Don't read if you don't want to. But if you don't want to, maybe that's precisely why you should. 

Anna, you have seen me pretty downcast this week. There have been many, many tears. I can only hope that you will read this one day, long after the forthcoming President's term(s) are over, and can tell me that I was overreacting, that all is well and fine. 

It doesn't feel that way now.  It feels the opposite of that. 

Someday, I will tell you how I see politics. I want to come up with the right combination of words, because words are of the utmost importance to me. My talk to you will involve a genuine belief that when we all do better, we all do better. That our wonderful country is flawed in many ways, and we cannot ignore them or pretend they don't bother us so therefore they don't exist. I will tell you that you are no better than the person next to you, and don't you forget it. I will tell you that when you cast a vote (indeed, when you make a purchase, when you post on social media, when you do pretty much anything in this world), you are making a values statement. You are saying, very clearly, what matters to you. 

Remember how I talked about how words are important to me? Guess what's more important. Values. And talking about values means nothing when you can't put your money/vote/actions behind it. 

I wish I could say I saw the results of this election coming. I didn't. I was shocked to my core, and remain so. I actually made a bet with your beloved Ye-Ye that Hillary would win, and I had already spent my $200. Ye-Ye was right again. Such is life, as your grandma would say. 

But more stinging than the loss of cash is the loss of identity. Because part of the sadness I'm coming to terms with this week is that I am, in my own way, to blame. I assumed Hillary was a shoo-in. I surrounded myself with people who shared my views or were too afraid of my contention to tell me theirs. I allowed the media to keep me totally hosed-- Donald Trump is a reality show clown, a joke. But he was not a joke. He was many things, but he was not that. He is the next President of the United States of America.

I did not listen. 

The fact of the matter is, some of the kindest, hardest working, most wonderful people I know voted for Donald Trump. You know them, too. The only thing that has made me feel remotely better over the last week is to listen to them, if they're willing to talk. I'm reading thoughtful articles from the other side, I'm more vigorously challenging the media (the media!). I'm silencing my own self-righteous echo chamber. There is reason to be frustrated with this current administration. There is reason to distrust Hillary Clinton. For some people, this election result is positive.

And yet, because you are now a big girl and need to hear this, it is devastating to me. Utterly and completely. Such is life.

Being a parent changes everything. You'll see someday, if you choose to have children. You see the world through their eyes. You'll consider their formative years, you'll judge your future decisions based on their interpretations of them. I'm scared for you, my sweet girl. More than that, I'm worried for the friends you're making in school who might not live as privileged a life as we do.

So my wish for you on your sixth birthday is that you will turn into a better listener than I have been. I wish that you will keep an open mind and heart, even when it's hard. This is very difficult for me now. Maybe it will be easy for you. 

I have hope it will be. I will never forget coming to your room in tears on the Wednesday after the election, and telling you that Hillary Clinton did not win. Your response was, 'Will she be okay?'. This is you, Anna. Always looking out for others. I assure, you, my lovely six year old, that Hillary Clinton will be fine. I can only wish that you will continue to be on the lookout and advocate for the ones who aren't. 

I love you,
Mom

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Working Woman in her Thirties

Well, it's been about seven months since I started working, and in the (very few) times I've blogged since then I've been saying I should really write about what it's been like going back to work. I'd say the fact that I haven't blogged with any regularity since then should answer that question.

As we say in our home, it's been Cuckoo Town.


But good Cuckoo Town. Here's what I've learned in the last few months, and the list grows daily.

1. My favorite word is NO.

Want to volunteer for such-and-such? No. Want to bake brownies for the blah-blah-blah? No. Want to have a play date, then go to another play date, then schedule one more play date after that? No. No. No. I was actually fairly good at saying no before going back to work, but now that I'm working I think I say no 20-25 times per day. And that doesn't include saying no to my children. No is my favorite word. NO. NO. Say it, and be empowered.



2. Working is awesome.

I have it easy. First off, I work at my own schedule. I don't have to be in an office at any particular time. Second, I was able to stay home with my kids during the YEARS of no sleep. Working would have been far less awesome during that difficult time. But now that the kids have school, now that we are all doing our own thing, going back to work has reminded me that I'm really valuable to this planet aside from birthing and caring for children. For me, that has been wonderful, and important, and made me feel more like the me I used to be, except better, because kids make everything better.


3. Everyone is going to judge you. That's what people do.

I'm well aware that people think I'm crazy (WHY would you go back to work when you don't have to?) or maybe a little selfish (because of all the no's...) or maybe a little insane (why wouldn't you just teach part time instead of starting a new career?). There are answers to all of those questions, but to be honest, this woman in her thirties doesn't have time to make anyone else feel comfortable with MY decisions. So, as my wonderful mother would say, 'if you don't like it, you can shove it'.

4. Something's gotta give.

I would never pretend that juggling our schedules, particularly given the fact that L is gone SO STUPID MUCH, is a cake-walk. It's hard. For me, the 'thing' that gives most is food. It's not that I was some gourmet chef before going back to work, but I definitely put more thought into food than I do now. And that's a bummer for me. I'm working on fixing it. In the meantime, have I mentioned the wonderful raviolis at Trader Joes?

5. Mom support is pretty much everything. 

There is a special place in heaven for the people who invented grocery delivery service. For the friends who see you're frantic and don't offer judgement but rather offer to take your kids for an hour. (I LOVE YOU, FRIENDS!) For the makers of those Usborne Sticker books that keep my children occupied. For my bosses who are also women and moms and understand that having the ability to be home and meet the bus stop cannot be quantified in dollars.

And of course, for my kids and my husband. Because since I've gone back to work, I have valued my time with them so much more. It makes my heart happy to hear them say, 'Mommy is going to work today', because it also means that they will appreciate our pre-sleep-book-snuggle time in a different way now, like I do. Which is to say our time is so precious-- theirs and mine-- and when we are together, we reap the benefits of all the ways we've grown in our time apart.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Woman in her Thirties' Current Obsessions

Remember when I used to be really good about blogging weekly? Sigh.

There is so much to catch up on. Anna started kindergarten. Aaron started preschool. Fall is here and it's gorgeous, L's travel is BANANAS, and all is well and good. There's just so much to say that I don't know where to begin, so instead I'll share some of my current obsessions so I can look back on this time fondly someday and remember this crazy crazy time of life.

1. Ages four and five.


You know what's great about my kids right now? Everything. Time can freeze now.


2. Hamilton.



There is nothing I am more obsessed with right now than this soundtrack. I read somewhere that Lin Manuel Miranda is being compared to Shakespeare. SHAKESPEARE. And you know what-- THAT IS A LEGIT COMPARISON. This soundtrack gets better and more brilliant the more times I listen to it, and I WILL SEE THIS SHOW SOMETIME IN THE NEXT YEAR SO HELP ME GOD.


3. Podcasts



I don't think I would be able to maintain sanity throughout this election cycle if it weren't for this podcast. Fascinating and powerful and proof that it's always been kinda nuts when it comes to electing Presidents, so take heart, all ye of 2016.


4.  Love Warrior



I don't know how to say this without sounding really dumb, but I don't follow a lot of mom blogs.  (But, don't YOU have a mom blog?) I know, I know. I normally would have passed on this book, but I heard Glennon Doyle Melton on a Podcast (see? Obsessed.) and liked what she had to say. Then I got this book, and it is blowing my mind in all different pieces and directions. I need all of my girlfriends to read it and talk about it and cry about it and reflect on it with me.

What am I missing? And, who's coming to Hamilton with me?