Dance Moms

Dance Moms. Just that simple two-word title triggers guttural reactions in most.  It stirs up connotations of a middle-aged woman with frumpy hair and stretchy pants.  A coffee in one hand and an extra-large can of extreme-hold hairspray in the other.  It stirs up connotations of a once-was, or even worse, a never-was dancer way past her prime beaming on stage left, clapping emphatically and slightly maniacally for her daughter. It stirs up images of this shiny, bedazzled daughter of hers in a starch-stiff tutu adorned with silver sequins, hair in a high bun matted concretely to her head with an entire squeeze bottle of gel and bright pink lipstick outlining bright white teeth.

I know what you think. I know what you see.  It makes me laugh, because at times, when I’m not paying attention, I could mistakenly see what you see.  Those Dance Moms!  But fortunately, I’ve realized what Dance Moms really are.

My daughter was five when she announced she was ready to join her friends in their rhinestone leotards accessorized with large, bobbing, sparkling hair bow headpieces on that dance stage.  I shrugged my shoulders.  It wasn’t different than anything else we had tried.  A summer camp of basketball here.  A community T-ball season there.  A high school led soccer class there.  Dance?  Sure.  Let’s do it.  I went into it with no idea.  I imagined it would be a class once a week, and an adorable recital at the end of the year.  What’s the harm in that?

I imagine this is how most Dance Moms are created.  Eager moms and dads in this helicopter-parenting era, ready to encourage their sons and daughters in yet another endeavor.  Was I crazy to consider this?  No.  Ha.  I was just a sucker like the rest.

And so it began as I expected.  We signed up for a recreational dance class.  One class once a week.  A recital on the horizon.  My son joined too.  Why not?  But it wasn’t long before my daughter was invited to join the competition world, and my son, wise beyond his years, sniffed that there was something not for him about this place we had been bringing him every Thursday, and graciously bowed out.

Competition dance? Most definitely!  Why not?  My daughter smiled from ear to ear.  It sounded like a fantastic idea.  Slightly more rigorous classes with a couple competition weekends thrown in here or there?  Yes.  She was on board.  I was on board. This sounded like a great idea.

Ha.  Sucker.

I’m not quite sure where to start without diving right in.  Competition dance is not for the faint of heart.  It is for the diligent, the passionate, the committed. Because there isn’t anything that I have done on behalf of my children in these early years as a parent that has defined commitment as much as dance has.  It is a pure labor of love the things I have found myself doing that I never, in a million lives, would have imagined myself doing.

Putting 186 rhinestones on one dance outfit?  Been there.  Sewing appliqués onto sequined tiny tops?  Done that.  Wrangling my seven-year-old daughter’s long, straight hair into two perfectly tight buns on top of her head at 4 in the morning? Yep.  I’m raising my hand.

But here’s the truth. The real truth.  Underneath all those superfluous, flashy distractions you see on the surface is hard work.  So much hard work.  I’ve never seen girls this age work like this.  These girls that commit after school evenings to dance class then practice at home on their days off.  These girls that show up at 6:30 in the morning on a competition day and do not go home until 11:30 at night, only to get up at 6 am the next day, and do it all over again.

I remember one moment last year—my daughter was 7 years old.  She had literally been at a competition going on hour 14.  And there she was, doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel across the gymnasium practice floor.  Why?  Because she was loving every single minute of it. The early mornings, the late nights, the long days, the dance after dance with costume changes and intricate hair changes, she did it all because she was exactly where she wanted to be.

This past weekend, my daughter, now eight, had a full day of competition, snuck in a six-hour night of sleep, and at 6 am the next day, was up and ready for the next day of competition.  There was no complaint in any of her still-waking-up muscles.  She sat straight as I pulled her hair into a tight high bun.  She proceeded to go on to stretch, practice, and compete, giving it her all.  And every time I witness her in one of these moments, I just know.

This girl.  This girl of mine has grit.  All these dancers have grit.  They have passion. They have so much love for what they are doing. They are determined and strong and have so much bravery to go on that stage with those blinding stage lights and perform.  There is no doubt in my mind, that I am that mom standing on the sidelines, clapping emphatically, and yes, yelling slightly maniacally for my daughter.  For my friends’ daughters.  For my daughters’ friends.  I do this not because I was never a dancer and I am living vicariously through the powerful grace of this gorgeous girl of mine, but because I know what it took for her to get here.  The hours, the commitment, the practice, the right attitude.

I beam and can’t help bubbling over not because I see my life through her, but because I see the life this brings to her. I follow her around with extreme-hold hairspray, because that is the very small part of the competition that I contribute to in this bigger lesson I hope she is learning.  Work hard.  Work so hard.  Don’t forget the details.  Know that effort pays off.  Acknowledge that you are exhausted, but continue to carry yourself with grace and do what needs to get done.  And if your emotions get the best of you, let them come, and then let them go, and then pick yourself up and find your strength again.

This is what it means to be a Dance Mom.  To be the grit behind the grit.  Make no mistake—my daughter and her dance life do not define me, but part of who I am is most certainly Dance Mom. I am the support beam behind a very brave girl that feels empowered to live her passion and most importantly, is learning the importance of work ethic, a good attitude, and where it can get her on that stage and beyond.

To all my Dance Moms. I’ll happily and proudly be called a Dance Mom right alongside you.

And. Make no mistake. I am wearing stretchy pants.

 

 

Bring Your Daughter to Work

It was one of those slippery moments of working mom-hood, when childcare slipped through, back-up childcare slipped through, and I was left at a crossroads.  How do I get myself from point A to point B and what do I do with my four-year-old in need of supervision?  Thankfully, my day of commitments was a day of meetings.  A day of meetings was far more flexible for me than a shift at work seeing patients.  That would have been more of a figure-it-out, you-must-show-up-to-work no-nonsense scenario.  At least with these meetings, I could call-in, though it wasn’t as meaningful to just call-in.  But what other choice did I have?

I sat there, my morning coffee already heading towards its lukewarm destiny.  My four-year-old in her shimmery batman dress and cape, crawling in my lap, the crayon in her hand daring to leave marks on my sierra sand colored couch.  And as I sat there in a silent tantrum, not wanting to miss my department meetings, but feeling as if I had little choice, it dawned on me that there was an alternative.  I could just bring her with me.  I compiled a list of ways to approach this.  I could shoot my boss an email and apologize and let him know I was bringing my daughter.  I could show up with her and apologize and explain how childcare fell through.  Or, I could just show up with my sidekick.

I watched as my four-year-old mimicked my every move.  Sipping her milk and declaring how her coffee was hotter than mine. Drawing a panda version of me, picking my favorite blue color for the panda’s belly.  And at that moment, I decided there was truly no other way to show up than with her at my side.  Unapologetic and with assertion.  Because there was no denying that this is my life: I am a mom and a physician, and I care about both and I will show up for both the best way I can.  And more importantly, this is what I want my four-year-old to see with her little eyes.  I want her to know the unique privilege of being a woman. I want her to see that we can be parents and also contribute to the workforce. It may be a balance to strive for, but we do it the best we can.

The best way I can today means a purple backpack with daffodils stuffed with my iPAD with downloaded Disney movies, pink kid headphones, my daughter’s Leap Pad, a pencil bag of crayons, coloring books, snacks, a rainbow unicorn water bottle, and a stuffed animal.  And my hospital work badge.

So, that’s what I did.  It was a meeting I prioritized and if it meant bringing my daughter, then that is exactly what I would do.  No apologies.  This is how it is.

My little spunky four year-old, sat at my feet, because laying on the ground watching a movie was more fun than sitting at the rectangular shaped tables in stiff conference room chairs.  She watched episodes of Doc McStuffins, part of Sing, she played some preschool app games, she colored, she drew, she ate cereal, she only needed a potty break twice.  And all the time, she knew I was right there part of her world and part of my work world.

It felt like a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.  I chose to bring my daughter to the meeting because the alternative was missing out on important decisions, updates, and discussions.  I brought my daughter to the meeting because daycare is unpredictable.  But mostly I brought my daughter to the meeting because I wanted her to know that this is unapologetically who I am.  A working mom that certainly doesn’t have it all figured out, but is managing the best I know how.  I want my daughter—and all sons and daughters for that matter—to grow up tearing down the judgment and stigma that follows that of a working mom.  We can work, we can raise a family, and we can do it with no less confidence and competence than the next person.

 

Finding Margins

This weekend was like any other.  Kids’ activities, work, home improvement projects, social gatherings to allow ourselves the joy of connecting with other adult human beings.  It was a fluid mix of “I’ll drop off here and meet you there and so-and-so will pick up there.”  All the pieces like well worn, slightly beaten up and bent puzzle pieces. That subtle mix of knowing all the pieces should fit exactly as coordinated with that undercurrent of anxiety that we may get to the end and one piece will have gone missing from the tattered, but structurally sound box of collected pieces.

It seems astounding that every fifteen minutes, ten minutes, five minutes, three minutes counts in this interweaving of a family’s schedules.  There was the moment when I was getting ready for work; my husband was corralling our son and youngest daughter out the door to pick up our other daughter from a birthday party on the way to bring our son to baseball practice.  With thirteen minutes on the clock until the end of the birthday party and twenty-eight minutes until the start of baseball, he pulled out all the ingredients for beef stew to throw into the pressure cooker.  Beef, potatoes, carrots, soup mix.  I looked at him wild-eyed.  “What are you doing??”  “Making dinner” . . . with the kids climbing in the car and thirteen minutes until pick-up.

No. Just no. Go.

So. There are countless moments like that.  The wind tunnel that funnels us mercilessly in forward motion as time lapses quickly and impatiently.

These are not the moments that keep me fueled and running.  No, not these harried punctuated moments of start times and end times.  But instead, all the hidden, quiet in between moments.  The Margins.

It’s peeling myself out of bed twenty minutes before the slumbering haze of morning lifts to make coffee, shaking off the dizziness of sleep and orienting myself towards the day ahead, and maybe even catching a glimpse of the sunrise.  It’s the pain of getting my four-year-old to hockey early on a Saturday morning, only to find myself sitting solo, in silence, with nowhere I’d rather be than on those chilly bleachers, hugging my thermos of caffeine while watching with fireworks of pride as my daughter’s tiny four-year-old body glides across the ice with fierce determination.  It’s the forty-five minutes after lunch and before baseball on Sunday that I chose to sit and read and not scramble and trip over household chores while my two eight-year-olds built Legos.

It’s intentionally clearing space on these tightly organized, highly chaotic days with a myriad of demands.  It’s finding these margins and allowing myself this time to be present.  It was in that brief forty-five minute margin when my eight-year-old son asked me to help him find that one specific blue Lego piece in the sea of Legos.  I was startled by my own reaction.  My usual irritable, impatient, don’t-you-see-I’m-busy self was cast aside, and to my own shock and astonishment, I put down my book and helped him scour all the piles of tiny Legos.  With not even one iota of a mumbling nag of how he needs to keep track of his own things. We searched for a solid handful of minutes.  When we came up empty pile after pile, he finally conceded and said, “That’s okay.  I’ll just use something else.”  He paused pensively, and with sincerity added, “I love you mommy.”

That moment hit me. It confirmed to me that margins matter.  By choosing to create space to allow the impossible finding of a Lego to be my way of seeing my son—that moment mattered as much as, if not more than any other moment.

Margins—the clearing of space and time to allow and acknowledge your presence and the presence of others.  The time to be thankful that when we strip away all the orchestrated to-do’s, must-do’s, should-do’s, scheduled-do’s, that we see each other. That we see ourselves.  That we see our kids.  That we see our friends.  That we see our partners.  That we see those we love.  That we appreciate ourselves not for our busyness, our achievements, our productiveness, but for just being me.  Being you.  Being us.

I’ll keep finding margins because they matter.  They help preserve my stability, my sanity, my fuel for the rest of it all.

Lessons at the Stadium

Last night we took our son to the big football game between our beloved Minnesota Vikings and our most love-to-hate team, the Green Bay Packers. It was a big night for our son. He is a walking Vikings statistic generator obsessed fan. His love of football is around the clock. It starts in the morning with him putting on yet another Vikings jersey, throwing his football in our foyer, continues at school where he brings his football and football gloves to play a game with his friends at recess, and continues after school with more football playing, and ends at night reading statistics and talking about Sunday football, Monday night football, and Thursday night football with my husband.

He was on cloud nine when we stepped into that Vikings stadium last night. His wide-eyed stare, his toothy smile, his body tingling with excitement. I don’t think he stopped showing his left-sided dimple all night long. He loved every second of those over three hours of heated, edge-of-our-seats game play. He screamed loudly with complete elation with each touchdown. He SKOL-chanted in rhythm with his fellow Vikings fans. “This is the best night ever!” he screamed into my ear.

With every stadium game comes the adult jeerers and nasty comments about the rival team. Multiple times, the Vikings fan behind us made cracks about the opposing team’s quarterback, calling him a homosexual or gay. He yelled, “Why don’t you love your family! They will accept you for who you are!” While sometimes humorous, he crossed the line time and time again. He was so crass and loud, that it was unavoidable. My son turned and stared at him multiple times. There was no judgment in his eyes, only curiosity. As he had never heard those words strewn together and thrown aloud with such force. I heard the fan’s girlfriend lean over and quiet him trying to get him to show consideration for all the kids in the stands. “What?? Hey, don’t bring your kids to a Vikings game if you don’t want to hear the truth!” he drunkenly yelled. I did not see a productive conversation moving forward if we confronted him about this. So, I took note of his words so we could talk about it later. At one point, my always inquisitive and thoughtful son leaned over and asked me why the opposing team’s quarterback didn’t love his family. This was all news to him.

After the game on the drive home, as we came down from the high and exhilaration of a Vikings win; I turned to my son and asked him if he knew what it meant to be a homosexual or gay. He said he did not. We talked about kids that have two dads or two moms. We talked about how people can love whomever they would like, but that there are people that don’t agree with that. That though we know that you can love whomever it is you want, others who are close minded and close hearted will loudly make fun and judge people for decisions they don’t agree with. I told him that everyone is entitled to their opinions but there is a way to be kind and there is a way to open your heart to all kinds of people. I explained that that fan behind us was not one of those people that choose an open heart and kindness, and that there were many people just like him. I told him it was our job to support and show love for all kinds of people and stand up for people and their choices when they cannot themselves.

At the end of the day, I am thankful we were there to hear the truth. The truth is that we cannot shield our kids from other people’s close-minded, hateful rants. What we surely can do, is not brush these experiences under the rug. When the homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry is loud around us, we need to be louder. I don’t mean yell back and be obnoxious in the stadium louder. I mean address these truths head on. Talk to them about these hard things and equip them with the right tools to process and react to this ever evolving, dynamic world.

We cannot just think that our kids are innocent and will find their way to the best conclusions. They are listening and learning every step of the way from everyone around them–for better or worse. Make this an active process, not a passive process.

The Vikings won. My son opened his eyes to another face of humankind, and because of it, he grew a little bit more into the man he is becoming.

The Audition

The hoops to being an “on-top-of-it” parent are endless. Remember to pack a lunch every day. Check their homework every night. Help them brush their teeth two times a day. Cook dinner for an entire family. Orchestrate on time after school pick-ups and drop-offs with accompanying sports equipment, water bottles and snacks. Remember to pay the monthly daycare bill. Sheepishly solicit uncles, aunts, grandparents and neighbors to donate to the current fundraiser. Check to make sure they remember their winter hat and gloves on the first cold day of the season. Check to see if they need new boots and coats. It is exhaustingly endless. But somehow we scramble and hustle and keep the barreling train moving forward. Sometimes, the wheels rattle and sometimes they screech and sometimes we wonder if they are falling off, but somehow, we keep things moving forward.

Last week was just like every other stretch of hurling myself over each hurdle of the 100-meter sprint to the end of the next 7-day stretch. It was Sunday night and I was bracing myself for a week of having an out-of-town husband-teammate. I was rallying to keep myself afloat by studying our family Google calendar as if prepping plays for the Saturday morning football game. My eyes flitted onto the upcoming Sunday. “Auditions” it said. My heart took a freefall down the cliff to my stomach. You see, I have a bad habit of burying anxiety-ridden thoughts to be searched for later, and I had done exactly that a few weeks ago.

My seven-year-old daughter had been asking since the start of the school year about auditioning for a “specialty dance” at her dance studio. My seven-year-old daughter—my quiet, thoughtful, unwavering-as-steel little girl wanted to audition for a small group dance. Who was I to deny her of her greatest ambition to date? You go girl, I enthusiastically fist-pumped, in my best she-is-fierce-hear-her-roar impersonation. That is, until I got the instructions for auditions. “Choreograph 6 – 8 8 counts of dance, any style, any music. We can’t wait to see your creativity!” it read. I was horrified.

First of all—for point of reference—you should know something about me. I have no sense of coordination. Here are a few facts about me:

1. I am the person who sprains her ankle walking on flat ground. Routinely.

2. I once fell from standing height while standing still at a wedding because I had put on heels for the first time after spending my entire intern year in residency working, eating, and practically sleeping in sneakers and scrubs.

Do you get what I am saying? To say that I have never been much of a dancer is to let me down gently. I certainly have never learned a piece of choreographed moves to a beat, let alone know the first thing about choreographing a number myself. My anxiety dug a hole in that mud pile in my brain where I hide unwanted terrifying thoughts and snuck this bit of palpitation-inducing information deep into its trenches.

I carried on week by week, just trying to be that scraping-by parent I was so seasoned at being. But now here I was, 7 days from The Audition. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT AN 8 COUNT IS. My panicked brain screamed at me. I frantically searched for a reputable life-line. I asked my daughter, “What is an 8 count?” “A what?” She looked at me blankly. “What is an 8 count in dance? Like, do you count to 8? What is it?” She looked back at me as if I was speaking in Klingon. “An 8 count. Do you know what I am talking about? What is it?” I quickly realized this was leading nowhere fast. I set it aside, and busied myself on the train. We pushed forward with the bedtime routine. Homework, baths, teeth brushing, pajamas, bedtime stories. Two more bedtime stories. And just one more bedtime story. And just one more bedtime story. And by that time, I was ready to put myself to bed. So, the kids went to bed, and I’d love to say I had a productive night of learning about 8 counts, but let’s be honest. I went to bed.

Monday morning. 6 days till game time. WHAT IS AN 8 COUNT??? Brush teeth, put on school clothes, breakfast, check backpacks for weekend homework, library books, get your coats, gloves, hats—don’t forget your coat. Your snacks are still on the counter. Put your snacks in your backpack! Where is your coat? Do you have your gloves? Shoes. Wait, why don’t you ever come downstairs with socks? Get socks!!! You need to go potty? Take your gloves off. Where did you put your gloves? You just had them! Here. Here are a different pair. You want your Frozen gloves? Well, I’m sorry. You just lost them. Seriously, though. You just had them! Never mind. Hurry! We are late! Get in the car!

9 hours later, I have finished a shift in the emergency department. I have emergently sent someone to cardiac catheterization lab for a heart attack. I have put a chest tube into a patient with a collapsed lung. I have diagnosed appendicitis in a patient with abdominal pain. I have put a broken arm in a splint. Guess what.  I still do not know what an 8 count of dance is.

My husband is out of town. My daycare provider is on her honeymoon. My nanny is in Kentucky. My friend, part of my life-line team, and second mom to my kids has picked them up from the bus stop, and is feeding them dinner before taking my daughter to dance. I get off work in time to meet her for dinner, and finally, finally—someone who knows what an 8 count is. She educates me and I feel like she has given me the map to finding something as profound as the fountain of youth. I KNOW WHAT AN 8 COUNT IS. Thank you friend. Thank you for picking up my kids. Thank you for feeding them. Thank you for not laughing at me when I asked you what an 8 count is. Thank you for offering to help your super dance-challenged friend choreograph a piece. Thank you a million times over.

Monday evening comes around. I am armed with my knowledge. I still have no beat and do not know the first thing about dance moves. I watch old clips of dance studio numbers. I get swept up in how good the dancers are and forget to pay attention to what will work for choreographing a dance for my daughter. I have no idea what I am doing. I am in a frenzy. My husband gets home from Philadelphia or Sarasota or wherever his out-of-town trip was this time—I seriously cannot keep track. I thrust my arms in the air and dramatically groan. “I give up! You need to do this! I can’t do this!” before he has a minute to put down his carry-on luggage and take off his shoes. I am passing the buck, because truly, my husband can stand without spraining his ankle and can pick up choreography and help our daughter with her dances in a much more effective way than I have ever been able to. He has officially and involuntarily been promoted to choreographer. He is startled or maybe frightened by this seemingly hasty but unwavering promotion I have bestowed upon him.

I go to bed that night irrationally assured and unequivocally certain that I will awaken in the morning to a choreographed, adorable number that my husband has masterfully slapped together. He is literally good at everything (except completing a full load of laundry from start to finish—blogpost for another day). But this. Oh, this he will excel at. I know. I just know. Because, well, we truly have no other option.

The morning alarm hurls its horrible short sirens through our peaceful slumber. We fall out of bed, time to get ready, time to get the kids ready, more than half-asleep, we are already late, I’m sure. My husband breaks the news. He spent a harrowing 60 minutes last night trying and came to the conclusion that it is in fact impossible to choreograph 6 – 8 8 counts of dance moves to create an audition piece. We can’t. He says. We just can’t.

Okay. Let’s take a minute. If there is one thing that makes me know I CAN is someone telling me I CANNOT. The fire has been lit and I am the woman for the job. I demote him from his title, and re-promote myself. The buck stops here.

So, I do it. I truly can’t even explain how it came to be. I just DID. I choreographed 8 8 counts of dance moves to a beautiful song called “Superman” picked by my strong-as-steel seven-year-old daughter. It is Tuesday, and she has an audition piece. She is beyond thrilled. I see the excitement shiver up from her toes to the sparkle in her eyes. She practices on repeat each day. She is in love with her audition piece.

Fast-forward 6 days and it is Sunday morning. It is the day of her audition. She picks her audition outfit. She performs for her brother, sister, mom and dad. My insides are weeping with pride. She is beautiful. She is brave, she is powerful, she is IT. She walks into her audition with not a nerve in her clean, long lines, and she let’s them know: She is strong-as-steel.

We have yet to know if she will do a specialty dance. That will be announced in the following weeks, but wow. I’m not sure that part of this story truly even matters.

This head-strong, quiet, seven-year-old of mine gave me my greatest challenge to date, and I gave it right back to her. If I didn’t realize it before, I realize it now. This is the building of a strong, fearless girl. I am up for the challenge. We beat down that audition. Regardless of the outcome, deep down, I wholeheartedly know we have already nailed it.

Broken Oven, Glory to You

Also published at:  http://www.scarymommy.com/being-busy-not-badge-honor/

Four weeks ago, in the midst of a baking/cooking frenzy, my oven took its final breath and puttered out. With zucchini bread batter mixed and poured, I stared at it, wild eyed with that blood vessel menacingly popping out of my right temple. With flour highlights in my hair and batter splatters on my shirt and yoga pants, I had a few words with my oven.

The next day, the repair guys were out, and let us know that it was the central circuit board that needed repair. As luck always has it, they no longer made the parts to repair it; however, they said they could certainly send it to the manufacturer for a “small” gob of money to have it repaired. Or, we could spend the large gobs of money to replace the entire oven. Yep, I’d love to send it in to the manufacturer, I replied, as if there was much of a decision to be made. So they removed it, and on their way out the door, explained it would take two weeks and I would be without an oven, oh, and without my stove as well. Huh? What the what??? The nice repair guy grinned sheepishly, “well, there have got to be a lot of great take out options around here, right?” He zipped up his jacket, grabbed the signed paperwork and scrambled to his van, keeping one eye on that crazed vein in my right temple that was slowly starting to declare itself.

No stove or oven for two weeks???? Oh boy. I checked the freezer. Emergency corn dogs and dinosaur nuggets and microwaveable-bagged veggies to save the day. I wish I had some inspirational MacGyver-meets-Martha-Stewart story of how I used chicken wire to make a stove top with flint and kindle or how I made adorable tea party finger foods or how I did the sensible thing and went out and bought a temporary, portable stove-top, but God no. That never happened. The repair guy was right. There has been a lot of take out, and a lot of microwaved, processed foods these last few weeks. And you know what? I liked it. No, no. I didn’t like it, I loved it. I love my microwave. I am one with my microwave. There. I said it.

Since having children, I have felt this great responsibility to feed them healthy, well-balanced meals. Foods that make me feel good about what I am putting in their little, rapidly growing and developing little bodies. They have been hearty-vegetable-eaters, fruit-devouring-monsters, home-cooked-meal-lovers. They have a sweet tooth for home-made healthy baked goods. All this feels so good to be able to provide this for my family, some weeks I am better than others, but in these last two weeks . . . turned three weeks without a stove, I have come to a realization that I was too busy to notice before.

In trying to keep up with my career-family balance, I have constantly felt over-stretched, over-tired, and overwhelmed. I remember leaving a late shift at work, and one of my beloved nurses telling me, as she realized that with my husband out of town, I still had to go home and pack lunches for my kids and had to get up early the next morning to take them to school, “You have to let it go.   Just let it go.” And I looked at her with that same bewildered“HOW DID MY OVEN JUST BREAK” look, but too tired to ask further, just nodded, smiled and kept on walking out the door.

But now. Now I get it. See, the breaking of my beloved, necessary stove and oven has shown me something I’m not quite sure I could have seen myself. That in taking this break from the often insurmountable task of meal preparation and everything that goes into it for my family, I have allowed something to go and it has allowed me to breathe. Those extra hours a day that have fallen into my lap are glorious. They are hours I can spend on something productive or spend on nothing at all but my couch, a cup of coffee and HGTV. They are hours I can call a friend and ask, “How are you?” Those extra hours have lifted a weight, a responsibility, a stress, that gifts me energy and leaves me less tired, less cranky, less irritable. I had no idea that something as simple or as tough as preparing meals was doing this to me. Because, if I think about it, I tell myself, “Come on, how hard is it to make meals?” I don’t have to explain it to you if you are this person in your family. It is hard.

So, now I am thinking what else do I feel this way about? Every task, every responsibility we pile onto our shoulders is just one more “simple” thing, and we say to ourselves, come on, how hard could this be to add this one tiny thing? Well, one thing adds time, time adds energy, energy adds stress, stress leads to irritability . . . ahh, it is all making sense!!! What a simple concept. Where have I been???

I think I’ve been where all of you have been. We have been feeling that we are working mothers and fathers taking care of our family, of our home, of our communities. Sometimes, we lose sight of the value of our own limits and really, our own self. Boundaries blur until there are no boundaries, and we keep on keeping on. We estimate our capabilities, and like the old saying, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, our undertakings underestimate what is needed from us to accomplish every minutiae of every day—and soon we are stretched too thin doing everything, but unable to do anything with the best version of ourselves.

So, let’s give ourselves a break. What we do is enough. What we don’t do is acceptable. Give what you have to the things that matter the most, and when there is not enough of you to go around, be okay with it. There is no glory in “I am so busy!” There is value to doing things with time, with your full attention and ability, choosing wisely what is important to you and having the energy to enjoy rest, relaxation, and time for calm. Let’s chisel away at this society of “busy”, and let the glory be with broken ovens and microwaves once in awhile.

No Matter What Love

We are raising our kids in a difficult time, aren’t we? I have no comparison. I haven’t raised kids in any other era; however, as each headline pops up, the latest terrorist bombing on Quetta Hospital in Pakistan 8 days ago killing 70 and injuring 130; the shooting and killing of a black man in Milwaukee, WI, and the riots and police protests that have ensued, following the innumerable hate crimes against humanity that have already played out. With each attack, my heart aches for those suffering, and my eyes dart towards my three fortunate kids, playing soundly in the living room. I look at each one of them, and I am thankful they are here and that they are healthy. With each injustice I hear about or read about, my responsibility mounts, and I wonder how I will discuss these tragedies, these inequalities with my three children. These three children that play with their hearts filled with love and their lives filled with boundless energy and childhood adventures.

In two weeks, my two eldest will start kindergarten. I’ve been thinking a lot about what tools I want to equip them with as they begin this new endeavor. We’ve been doing a lot of role-playing. Sometimes, I will play the role of being the bully, one of them will play the friend being bullied, and the other will play the role of either the bully or the bullied. We take turns with these roles. Then we talk about what was said, how it made us feel, and what we could have said or how we can all help each other in these difficult encounters. We talk about why we think a bully would say the things that were said, and how we can help the bully so maybe next time he or she will be nicer. We’ve talked about how sometimes people bully others because they are different. Maybe because they don’t understand someone else that is different. For example, we’ve talked about how sometimes, the food we eat, is different than a lot of foods other people eat. We chat about how if someone makes a negative comment about what we are eating, we can respond, “That’s okay, it’s probably just something you haven’t tried, but this is something that I grew up eating and I really like it.” Except, interpreted and translated through their minds, it comes out something like, “It’s okay, this food is something I was born with.” We’re working out the details, but what’s important to me, is that they start to process this information and react to things in ways that convey tolerance, acceptance, and kindness. We are starting with food (because my son is obsessed with food) but I’m hoping to branch out from here.

I recently read an article that the discussion about race should start with your children now. There is not a time you should be waiting for; by not talking about it, we are allowing them to form their own prejudices and allowing that to be okay. I read on about how kids are noticing these differences and making their own assumptions and categorizations. I had never thought about this, and this was alarming to me. But as I thought about it, I thought back to conversations between my son and daughter. How they would talk about kids in their pre-school classes, and one of the things my son would ask my daughter at 4 years-old when trying to figure out who in her class she was talking about, was, “Well, was she wearing pants or a dress or tights today? Did she have a bow in her hair? What color was it? Is she white or brown?” I never thought much of it. It was a descriptor to him like any other descriptor. But if he was noticing this, then yes. Maybe it was time to start talking more openly about race and inequalities.

Max and Sofia. I want you to know that I love you no matter what. I have loved you since the day you were born. There are times when I may be disappointed or mad about your actions, but even at those times, I love you. I would love you if you were tall or short, had long hair or short hair, had white skin or brown skin, had brown eyes or green eyes. I would love you if you wanted to play soccer or football or no sports at all. I would love you if you wanted to dance or do gymnastics or sing or none of the above. I would love you if you loved to read or do math or crafts or science projects. It just wouldn’t matter. I would love you. No matter what. It is mom’s no-matter-what-love promise to you. I think a parent’s love is the best kind of love, because all you have to do is be born, and mom and dad will love you no matter what. It is really that simple.

I think it is at the core of being human that makes someone want to love others and be loved by others. Love is the most powerful of things and is at the core of it all. Let’s extend the love between a mom and her child to the love between other people. Every person is someone’s child. Mommy is A-ma and A-gong’s daughter. Daddy is Grandma and Grandpa’s son. And A-ma and A-gong love mommy not because my hair is black, not because I have brown eyes, not because I like to run and read and write, but they loved me even before they knew all that about me. When I had no hair, and all I did was eat, cry, and sleep. And that has never changed. Grandma and Grandpa love daddy not because his hair is blonde, not because he wears glasses, not because he likes to run and root for the Cubs in baseball, but because they have always loved him.

The best kind of love is this love. The no-matter-what love. Why is mommy telling you so much about this? Because, this is what I want you to look for in every single person you meet at school. I want you to see that every friend in your class is worthy of being loved by someone no-matter-what, just like you. It may be their mom and dad. Or maybe they don’t have a mom, or don’t have a dad. Then maybe their no-matter-what-love comes from their grandma or grandpa. Or maybe from their aunt or uncle. Or their brother or sister. Or maybe they have two moms or two dads and that’s where their no-matter-what-love comes from. Or maybe they have a mom and no dad or a dad and no mom. Every story of your friends’ families will be different. I want you to notice all these differences. And I want you to know that no matter if their skin color is white or brown, hair is black or blonde, eyes are brown or green, no matter if they are tall or short, like math or recess, science or music, they are just like you where it matters. You can be mad or disappointed or happy about their actions, but they are people that deserve no-matter-what love.

Sometimes, you might see other kids that don’t see this about others in your class, or maybe they don’t see this about you. They may bully others or make fun of others because of what they eat, because of what they wear, because of their skin color, because they believe in God or they don’t believe in God. It happens to kids and to grown-ups too! I think that is because they forget that we are all the same in the middle. That we all deserve to have someone love us no-matter-what.

It makes me panic that I cannot be at school with you every day, telling everyone that I love you, and that everything that makes you different is what I love about you, but this is a part of growing up, and this is what everyone else in your class is going through. You are going to learn about everyone’s differences, and I want you to notice them, I want you to think about how they are different from you and how they are like you and know that everyone is worthy of love. If you get nothing else from this year of school, focus on this. Focus on opening your eyes to all the differences and know that everyone is worthy of no-matter-what love.