Doing (almost) everything wrong: instant motherhood.

William Shakespeare once wrote:

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Substitute greatness with “motherhood” and I fall into that third category. I wasn’t born a mom (because…that would be weird) and I didn’t achieve motherhood. Instead, I had motherhood thrust upon me. Not with an infant (or two) that I could bond with, nurture, and mold, my kids are fully grown little people with opinions and personalities and eternal souls that I’ve been given the amazing privilege of helping to raise.

And I’ve discovered the secret of motherhood. Seriously, I cracked the code.

None of us have any clue what we’re doing. 

Oh sure, there are books and blogs and recommendation. I’ve done research on blended families, on step-parenting. I’ve adjusted my expectations and made several (dozen) lists. I’ve learned so much along the way. An absurd and ridiculous amount. So much that I often forget the things I learned before and make the same mistakes 6 or 8 dozen times.

For example: did you know that you don’t actually have to engage with your child when they are being ridiculous? So when you send them to straighten up their room and they insist that nerf guns spread out across the entire floor is”good enough” because they need an arsenal, even though we’ve been over and over what counts as a clean room all summer. Apparently you don’t have to get into an unending “No it isn’t,” “Yes, it is!” battle of wills with an 8-year-old. You can just say, “you know the expectations,” and WALK AWAY. Magic!

Anyway, there are days when I feel like the absolute worst person, like I shouldn’t even be allowed around children. When they are mad at me, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut and when they are hurting, you better step back.

But then there are these moments, beautiful and glorious. The moment when Little One didn’t throw a fit when he sat next to me instead of J at dinner, when Flipflops asks me for help with his summer reading. A random, unprovoked hug or a thank you or an I love you.

I’m pretty sure I’m doing almost everything wrong. Maybe, just maybe, though, I’m doing something right.

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My “perfect relationship” is ruining my life.

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I am not a morning person. Seriously.

I’m under the impression that morning people are a bizarre race of quasi-human and shouldn’t be trusted.

I have a certain lifestyle to which I have become accustomed and it involves frantic mornings of oversleeping, hasty work preparations and speedy drives to school, while putting on mascara with one hand and trying not to spill my life-giving coffee. It might not be graceful, but it works for me.

And then came this guy.

J is staying at my house this week since the gremlins boys are with their mom for a month (!) and I’m still in school for a couple more days. It’s been a treat to have him around in the evenings, enjoying our snapshot of domesticity: making dinner, playing cards over coffee, etc. Since he’s sleeping in the guest room, I don’t notice when he wakes up until he comes into my room with a cup of coffee in hand and gently pulls me from slumber. Before I realize it, I’m caffeinated, dressed, and out the door to school on time. ON TIME!

How dare he?

I am not a morning person. I don’t do on time. I revel in the adrenaline rush of the last-minute. Nevermind the calm serenity of leaving on time! Where’s the excitement? Where’s the drama?!

Meh, I guess I could get used to this…

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The Beautiful Life…

This weekend I achieved a relationship goal of cinematic significance. Every sappy love story has one great kiss in the rain. Allie and Noah from The Notebook, Paul and Holly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Charles and Carrie from Four Weddings and a Funeral have filled our heads with the romance and emotional significance of the watery embrace.

tumblr_m3o3ln6nzd1qks92eo1_500Turns out,  much like everything else in my life these days, my kiss in the rain was nothing like I’d expected. Instead of a semi-frantic meeting of impassioned lovers, J and I giggled through our rainy kiss with the sounds of a neighborhood block party going on in the background.

Saturday night, J’s neighbor, SuperMom, and I decided to put together a little Memorial Day grill out for Sunday afternoon. We recruited a handful of neighbor families who pitched in a brought side dishes, and piled what turned into a couple dozen kids into SuperMom’s garage once it started raining. After a traditional grill out menu, the adults gathered around to chat while the older kids made up some kind of dodgeball alternative and the little ones ran laps around the cul-de-sac, jumping in every available puddle.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier.

Take a moment to enjoy your beautiful life: the silly moments, the perfectly imperfect moments, the moments you’ll never forget.

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An appeal to the mommas…

I am not a mom. I’m a cat mom, but that doesn’t really count.

I’ve never given birth, or experienced morning sickness. I’ve never rocked a baby for hours at night, tears streaming down my face from exhaustion as I plead with God to take this ear infection away so that we can all get some rest. I’ve never felt the surge of pride and fear that comes from watching my little one take his first steps.

I am not a mom.

Then three of the most amazing little humans crashed into my life full force. I felt my breath knocked out of my lungs with the noise and chaos they brought with them. They are loud and rambunctious. They vehemently defend points of view that are not based in fact. They are constantly covered in mud and have no idea what is appropriate to wear to church (I’m looking at you, Flipflops.)

And I love them. With every fiber of my being I love these small people. I love them so much it’s confusing. How can I feel so connected to people I didn’t give birth to? Up to this point, did I really understand love at all? The questions bombard me as I feel the daunting and overwhelming task of doing right by these boys.

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I am not a mom.

I would never try to replace their mom. I know that the struggle must be intense for her to be without them and the best I can hope for is to help her do her job by extension. I’m not qualified for the position, but I’m doing my best.

So I help Little One clean his room and wrap MacGuyver in a towel when he’s wet and freezing (obstacle run…it was a thing.) I made a deal with Flipflops that I would DVR some show he likes if he would get his baseball things together the night before practice.

I expected to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, tired. What I didn’t expect was the cold shoulder I’d receive from the moms. With some notable exceptions, instead of helping me learn the ropes this group of women treat me with disdain. If it were overt, I’d be much better able to combat it, but it’s hard to fight a generalized coldness.

So I appeal to all the mommas out there. Be kind to other mommas, mommas-in-training, step moms, expectant mothers, and well-meaning girlfriends. You have no idea what a difference you make.

I am not a mom, but I am trying.

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Let men be men by letting boys be boys.

I have something to say.

I expect J to open doors for me. I expect him to walk me to my car at the end of a date. I expect him to help me with my coat and offer to carry my shopping bags (which, no joke, are usually his shopping bags).

Now, I don’t have to worry about these things. He always opens the door. He comes around to let me out of the car (unless I’m driving, apparently the rules are different then). He walks on the street side of the sidewalk, even if that means moving me to his other arm. Unless I trick him out of it, he always pays for dinner or coffee or tickets to wherever. I tease him a little about his chivalry, but I never dismiss it; I always thank him. Not because I feel obligated to, but because I want him to know how much these small acts mean to me.

e119a73f114933e5619ebda890cfee07In my classroom, when I want an act of physical labor performed, I ask for a young gentleman to help me. Not because I don’t think that the girls in my class could handle it, but because I want to teach my boys to be men. Men who stand when a lady enters the room and hold doors open. Men who grow up to be husbands and fathers and take care of their families no matter what, even if it means working 3 jobs to make ends meet. Men who conduct themselves in a respectable and dignified way.

But I teach middle school.

An expectation of miniature men is unrealistic, even damaging. Boys will be boys. I see it every day. Boys smirk and laugh about inappropriate things. Boys throw things at each other and tease. Boys are hyper and rowdy and can’t sit still for an 84 minute block. It’s not hate speech when boys taunt each other. It’s not a danger to the school environment when they can’t sit still. It’s childhood playing out in the classroom. But it could be irreversibly detrimental to pigeonhole spirited young men into labels of “defiant” or “hyperactive” while destroying their desire to learn.

I’m not alone on this.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in conjunction with Prager University, put together the following short video about the effects of a “female-centric” academic culture. It’s chilling stuff.

May I let my boys be boys, so that they can grow up to be men…

Happy Weekend!

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Zen and the Art of Painting

I come from a family of people who are, by nature, procrastinators. It always starts so well, usually with some sort of list. We outline the very logical and manageable steps to meet our goal with plenty of time to spare. Then, life. Suddenly, the absolute deadline is upon us and it’s all hands on deck to pull through at the last minute.

c700x420Which is how I found myself painting the baseboards in my guest room Tuesday night. I had to get them done so that the carpet guys could come Wednesday morning. As they installed the new floor coverings, I made the three-hour round trip to pick up my grandmother who was coming to spend Thanksgiving in that room. No minute like the last minute, you know?

Far from my first foray into baseboard painting, I’m a regular seasoned pro at edges and trim. There is something calming about moving a paintbrush along in patient, measured strokes. It isn’t a task that can be rushed, despite the looming pressure of carpet installation. It demands to be taken seriously. This is the kind of work I like to do alone. No distractions, no conversation, just a girl and her paintbrush. In the background, music plays to protect me from delving too far into my thoughts.

In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Raj remarks that there is something lovely about washing the dishes.

“You know, I read that washing dishes can be an excellent form of meditation? The key is that while washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes…it’s about be present in the moment.”

It is at once frightening and grounding to be so present in a simple endeavor. I’m struck with the thought that I rarely do only one thing at a time. Even in the most mundane aspects of my day I’m often mulling over some other, more complicated problem or replaying a conversation to parse for subtext.

We’ve now launched head first into the Christmas season. Soon, the pressure of gifts, holiday parties, and financial strain will be upon us. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the merriment, I pray you will find time to be still and just wash the dishes.

Or paint the baseboards. Just don’t wait until the last minute.

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day 10 – My First Teacher

momMy mom didn’t teach me normal “Mom” things. She didn’t teach me how to cook, or impart secret family recipes for her great grandmother’s chocolate cake. She didn’t teach me how to tell when a vegetable was ready to pick or what kinds of flowers would attract butterflies but repel deer. My mom wasn’t one of those moms. You know the kind. The ones who have cookies ready for you when you get home from school and the one you run to for sympathy when you’ve had a bad day or scraped your knee.

Please don’t get me wrong, my mom isn’t a heartless sociopath or anything, she just isn’t super touchy-feely. You want sympathy and snuggles? Go find Dad.

But my mom taught me how to be a grown up. She taught me Algebra when I was in elementary school and schooled me on amortization charts and depreciation values. She shared with me her love of spreadsheets and taught me how to set up a budget. She taught me how to stand on my own, how to ask for help, how to accept a compliment.

My mom taught me that knowledge is sexy and that you can be pretty and smart. She never once told me to dumb myself down or be anything less than who I am to get the guy. She taught me to trust, but verify, that youth is the time to take crazy chances, and that there is no shame in walking away from situations that are dangerous to you mind, body, or soul.

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My mom taught me about commitment. She showed me that marriage is forever, so you should be careful with whom you start that journey. She taught me about consequences and follow through. “You can do anything you want,” she would tell us, “as long as you accept the consequences of your actions.”

She taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them, and that sometimes, things happen for a reason. My mom taught me that, when you get your heart-broken, it’s okay to spend a whole day in bed crying and watching movies. She taught me to take myself a little less seriously.

2015-05-09_19.14.46My mom taught me about self-control, self-respect, and personal responsibility. She would remind David and me that, “You can’t control how other people act. You can only control your reaction.” She taught me that just because you think something, doesn’t mean you have to say it and that if there is more than one way to interpret someone’s comment, always choose the one that is nicest toward you.

My mom taught me that love means choosing your battles. Hurtful words, once uttered, can never be taken back. She taught me that when you care about people, you do what needs to be done, even if it’s a thankless job. She taught me about selflessness, hard work, and independence.

There’s more. I could go on and on. As I set out on my journey to be a teacher and someday, Lord willing, a mom, I know this: If I end up being half the teacher my mom is, I’ll be twice as good as I ever need to be.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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day 2 – We need a list, and other shenanigans

Tell me what is more satisfying than the kind of exhaustion that comes after a day of accomplishment. I dare you. On a recent Saturday, just before my mom headed out of town on a business trip, we had one such day. In an effort to encourage each other to complete all of the small tasks that get shuffled from list to list, we tackled them together, discovering that indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

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09:17 – Mom says, “We need a list.” I smile in idiot-like glee.
09:18 – Armed with multi-colored pens, a protractor, and graph paper , we develop 3 lists: Out and About, Outside, and Inside. Each list has three items, satisfying my need for parallelism.
09:58 – Mom adds a 10th item. I fear the imbalance may cause a rift in spacetime.
10:04 – After deciding to do the out of the house errands first, we prepare to leave. But first: we’re going to need a picture-hanging kit later in the day, and are unsure if we’ll need to pick one up. A brief search commences.
10:10 – Picture-hanging materials secured.
10:13 – Actual departure time. We congratulate ourselves on our alacrity.
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10:17 – We realize we failed to bring the schematic of our garden, which we’ll need to purchase seeds. We double back.
SUV10:20 – We depart, more humbly.
10:43 – Arrive at the bank. I need to close my checking account and am told to sit in a waiting area and wait for a personal banker. There are two customers ahead of me. Mom (an accountant) wanders off to find things to look at. I
81c+oaASK6L._SY355_contemplate the wisdom of letting a numbers person loose in a bank. She returns with pamphlets on investing and seems pleased with herself.
10:53 – My turn! A nice woman named “Teri” tries to convince me to keep my account. I am resolute!
10:57 – Success!
11:06 – Arrive at the pharmacy. I need to pick up a prescription and change my insurance information. I’m convinced that there will be some kind of interrogation or alien probe. Mom is there for backup.
11:22 – The irony that it takes longer to change insurance than close a bank account strikes me. I feel this is societally indicative.
11:26 – Arrive at the seed store. (Mostly) resist the urge to look at baby chickens. We need 17 varieties. Seeds, not chickens. Unable to reach/see the seeds near the ground, I sit down on the floor while Mom rolls her eyes at me.
11:45 – We decide Rosemary may, in fact, be a tree and head for the register.
11:50 – Coffee stop. Obviously.
12:12 – We congratulate ourselves on a productive outing, and our ability to go door to door in under two hours. Apparently, the humility was short-lived. Heat up Smart Ones for lunch and revel in smug sense of healthy.
12:48 – Wardrobe change, time for outside. Tackle fall leaves from last 10 years. Smugness wears off.
13:07 – Decide a leaf blower is the best way to handle this situation.
13:10 – Fend off attacks from homicidal extension cord.
14:15 – Leaves wrangled and ready for burning, it’s time to plant our garden. This is the first year we’ve planted a eatable garden. I’d like a word with whoever decided that carrot seed should be microscopic.
veggies14:53 – Open burning doesn’t start until after 4, so we head inside. Hang the aforementioned picture in the dining room in manner of experienced handymen. Smugness returns.
15:10 – Finally put away the last of the Christmas decorations. Whatever.
15:31 – Instigate non-list project of toilet paper roll corral. Mom will be relieved when Vacation Bible School is over and I stop collecting supplies. Until then, we’re the world’s weirdest hoarders. Time to work on deck building permit.
15:35 – Clean kitchen.
15:40 – Mom whines about permit. I insist we actually do it.
15:41 – Mild whining.
15:43 – Slightly more vigorous whining.
15:46 – Begin work on permit. Not as bad as she thought.
16:41 – Head outside to take measurements. Stuart decides to put on a show and rolls around in dirt in adorable fashion.
17:04 – Burn leaves. Pile the size of Buick becomes small pile of ash. Smugness is overwrought by exhaustion.
18:30 – Abandon Mom with small amount of remaining leaves to make dinner and treat sunburn. Everyone sleeps well tonight.

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Banner Photo Credit: JD Hancock

We’ve only just begun…

Today would have been my parents’ 39th anniversary.

Mom and Dad WeddingOn an unseasonably warm day in February, 1976, she finally finished hemming her wedding dress before standing with him in front of their family and friends and declaring to love, honor, and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. They exchanged rings, yellow gold for him, antiqued white gold for her, and she forgot to retrieve her bouquet from her Matron of Honor, so my Aunt Marlene had to wrestle two huge sprays back down the aisle (they were enormous, no joke). As a little girl, I flipped through the pages of their wedding album, coveting their happiness.

When my dad died, I felt as if the ground under my feet gave way; nothing seemed real, nothing seemed permanent. I wondered if I’d ever really known my dad, or if he’d just been this stranger with whom I coexisted for a couple of decades.  There are so many questions I have for him, so many things I’ll never really understand.

Here’s something I do know: my parents’ marriage was real. My father was a hurting and broken man, but his love for my mom was absolute.

After his funeral, we took home a box of extra programs, papers, and cards from flower arrangements, along with random notions from the funeral home. At the bottom of the box was a small, black, draw-string bag that contained that same gold band he slipped on in 1976. It called out to me, a beacon of hope in a world that made no sense  — their love was real.

I wear that gold band on the middle finger of my left hand. Every time I see it, I’m reminded that in a world of things that seem unstable, there are absolute truths: the grace of God, the pain of stepping on a Lego, and the love of a young couple in a Methodist church in Fairmont, WV, 39 years ago.

Star Light, Star Bright…

I’m about to get super nerdy on you for a second, but then it’ll get poetic. Bear with me, I beg of you.

According to the most popular theory, solar systems form when a cloud of gas collapses on itself until enough heat and pressure builds up to spark nuclear fusion, which marks the birth of a star. This gas cloud starts out spinning very slightly, but as it contracts, it speeds up to maintain its angular momentum. The smaller it gets, the faster it spins (think an ice skater who pulls her arms in). In fact, it contracts so much that if it tried to hold on to all the momentum, it would eventually spin itself apart.

No man is an islandInstead, it transfers momentum to small globs of material, which eventually form planets.  Literally, the star cannot live without its companions.  Though they are minuscule in comparative size, these tiny bodies keep the star from coming apart at the seams.

It’s kind of beautiful, no?

I’ve found that the same is true of people. My INFJ personality means that I try to be my own, planet-less star, in favor of taking on the momentum of others. Refusing to let people get close to me results in the constant feeling that I’m spinning so fast I might spin apart at any moment. In recent months, with trauma and loss, I’ve finally given over to the inevitability that I am not, in fact, and island.  There is freedom in allowing others to share the burden. It builds new bonds and strengthens old ones, allows those around you to feel helpful and important, and relieves some of the stress of going at it alone.

On a recent weeknight, my friends Debbie and Ed had me over for dinner to fulfill a promise made months ago.  After my dad died, Debbie, a long time nurse, came to me with a proposition.  She knew that as I worked through my grief, there would come a day when I just needed to explode and she offered to be the bomb range when that time came. I found such freedom in discussing both the good and bad in a safe space.

Not everyone is worthy to be your companion, so discernment is key. Your star companions may even surprise you. The payoff for finding them, however, is worth the search.

Happy Tuesday!