A Mom Has A Dream

Parents: Let us not wallow in despair.

While it is true that we have not slept past 7 AM for many, many years, and while it is also true that we have been continually anointed with the bodily fluids of our children, while our voices have gone hoarse from repeating the same simple instructions every day only to have them fall on deaf ears, and while the laundry mounts to dangerous heights, I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow…for the next eighteen years–give or take– I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in every parent’s dream.

I have a dream that one day, my home, a modest three-bedroom containing two young children, a couple of dogs and a cat, will remain neat and tidy for at least twenty-four hours. A dream where my words, like stones in a river, will sink into my kid’s heads and they will act upon them. Parents and children will live together in unity knowing that there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

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I have a dream that one day, I will walk into the bathroom and find all the toothbrushes standing at attention. Globs of toothpaste will not sit like fat slugs on the bathroom counter nor will the remnants of that which was spit from their mouths encrust the sink. No longer will I twist the caps back on to multiple tubes of toothpaste since one child insists on only fruity flavors while the other demands mint. One day, my children’s sensitive palates will unite in harmony.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, in the dining room, my children will sit down together at the table and eat their food. We will not barter for how many more bites one must take. All servings–whether poultry or fish, spinach or rice–will be treated as equals. No speck of parsley nor dice of tomato will be pushed aside. And during this time, expelling gasses will cease, water shall not be spilled, and they will lean over their plates so that food does not tumble to their laps and onto the floor with every bargained bite. There will be peace at suppertime.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that my children will not find a new pair of shoes to wear each time they leave the house, but will put the same pair on that they took off earlier and left by the back door, the couch, or under the kitchen table.

I have a dream that one day, last night’s pajamas will make their way to the hamper. Dirty socks will not hide in the shoe bin nor under the bed but will instead be carried to the laundry room and deposited next to their kin with dignity. Clothes, when neatly folded and left in a pile on the child’s bed to be put away will not tumble to the floor, but will be carefully laid in the appropriate drawers—drawers which shall be pushed in!

This is my hope, and this is the faith that I go back to their bedrooms with.

With this faith, we will transform ballads of nagging into melodies of praise.

I have a dream that one day, children will look upon their mothers, and their lips will not be dripping with the words of “clean up this mess.” One day, right there at home, little girls and little boys will be able to join hands as sisters and brothers and set the table or feed the dogs without arguing over who did it last night.

And when this happens, when the children have finally learned to hang up their wet towels after the shower, and to put their toys away, when they are able to flush the toilet every time they have used it so that the dog stops lapping up their pee, when they not only clear their plate from the table but also stack the dishwasher, their moms and their dads will be able to join hands together and sing:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

 

 

 

A More Mindful Summer

Not too long ago, I came across a post by Simple As That. It was titled, Eighteen Summers: That’s All We Get and it was about savoring each moment we have with our children. The author of the blog, Rebecca, reminisces about her chubby-legged baby and quickly fast-forwards to that same child’s future high school graduation, pondering whether her tears on that day will be from joy or regret. She then goes on to offer five promises for making the most of each summer because, as she mentions, time is slipping by.

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I was still thinking about that post a few weeks later when I took my children to the water park. Watching as they played in the wave pool, my youngest was gleefully being buffeted by the waves; each time she got pushed back, she smiled so wide that I could see the gap from her two missing teeth. Last summer, she could only venture in the water with a life vest, usually holding onto my hand painfully tight, and this year, she was body surfing all on her own as I watched from the edge, only my toes getting lapped by the water.

Future milestones flashed before my eyes: driving a car, falling in love, learning to fly. I look forward to each one, just as I look forward to each summer I get to spend with my children, for each summer there are new experiences that the previous summer lacked.

Next summer, I anticipate that my youngest will be tall enough to finally ride the bigger slides at the water park. I can’t wait to see the excitement in her eyes and hear her squeal the whole way down.

Time marches on, my children get older, and I’m ok with that.

According to thousands of mothers everywhere, children are growing up at alarming rates. In a month’s time, babies have learned to feed themselves, they have started to walk, they have even (gasp!) gotten bigger. Every day I see posts on social media where moms are begging for time to slow down.

When it comes to my own kids, I’ve never mourned the passage of time. When I observe my children having a new experience, it feels like a gift. Each time they learn something, I am there to witness it. Their growth means they are healthy and thriving, and that’s not something I wish to impede. On the contrary, I want to be the one who pushes them towards their independence. After all, isn’t that my job as their parent?

Gone are the days of leaky swim diapers and timing activities around a nap schedule. This summer, I can bring a book to the water park and do a little reading. I no longer have to hover over my children and stand at the end of every slide waiting to catch them. Their growing up means a little more freedom for them and a little more down time for me. I’m able to relax, and being more relaxed, I enjoy our outings even more. I can pay attention to the details, the ones that imprint these memories forever so that whenever a certain song plays on the radio, or the sun casts a precise shade of pink in the sky, I am towed back.

We will never be able to slow down time, but we can change our perception of it. By paying more attention to the moments so many moms are wishing to hold onto, time will feel like it’s moving slower. It turns out that remembering to post that six-month milestone photo might be one of the things making it seem like it’s all going by too fast. When we are busy multi-tasking, when we are operating on auto-pilot, when we fail to pay attention, that’s when we blink and another year is gone. Ironically, since routine is one of the things that makes time feel like it is moving more quickly, keeping your tyke a tyke would theoretically make the problem worse.

If you really want time to slow down, simply practice mindfulness.

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{via Pinterest}

This summer, I plan to take the time to watch them play, to observe how the sun has lightened their hair, to examine the newest freckles on my daughter’s nose. I want to really listen to their stories and take note of the things that make them laugh. My own mother will spend a week with us this July and not only will she get another slice of summer with me, but she will also get to experience it with her grandchildren: days at the lake spent catching crawdads, watching fireworks at night, roasting marshmallows in the backyard, taking an afternoon nap on the hammock in the shade. I’m sure that she will re-live some memories from when I was my children’s ages and she was mine. Yet if I asked her if she’d like to go back in time and press pause, I’m certain she would say no.

Slow or fast, there is no guarantee how much time we will get, but I’m going to be mindful for each summer I share with my kids. And when they are grown, I hope I have the opportunity to do it all again with their children.

Life is about moving forward. To stand still means missing out on all that lies ahead.

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I am a good ____________.

When my oldest was two-and-a-half, my husband and I went through a difficult time in our marriage and sought counseling to help us through it. Growing up, I had seen a therapist at times when I needed some extra guidance in life, but this was my first plunge into couples therapy.

It was an interesting experience. I found comfort in some of the things the counselor said and did, but other methods I regarded as silly. My husband and I would give each other sidelong glances during the session and then laugh about it on the ride home. There was a purple velvet cushion she used for some symbolic and healing purposes that I have long since forgotten; the conch shell of therapy, we quickly dismissed it. But when my husband broke down and cried over the miscarriage we’d had, I felt our relationship strengthen. It was a loss I never realized he felt so deeply, and having that moment to mourn together helped us to move forward.

While I expected couples therapy to be mostly us talking about our present relationship, what I later realized was that our counseling sessions were very much about us as individuals—our pasts, our childhoods, our upbringings—and how these individual identities were shaping our marriage. We weren’t just dealing with immediate issues, we were dealing with those pieces of ourselves that had contributed to those issues. As it turned out, we both had similar feelings of inadequacy, and we both were beating ourselves up for the problems in our marriage.

Sometimes our counselor would give us homework to complete between sessions, and one time, she encouraged us each to write a list of the things we were good at. I probably poo-pooed the idea at first, but I can’t not do a homework assignment, so I set to work.

I’m a good cook.

I’m a good writer.

I’m a good homemaker.

I’m a good friend.

I’m a good mother.

I’m a good teacher.

I’m a good wife.

I’m a good dreamer.

I added some attributes: loyalty, humor, intelligence, organization, but the list proved challenging to write. I wasn’t used to thinking about the things I am good at, and maybe that was the whole point of the exercise: to find comfort in giving myself praise. Shoot, I’m not even comfortable accepting praise. When my husband tells me I look beautiful, I never just say thanks. I negate his compliment or I roll my eyes. Simply put: I don’t believe it.

Fortunately, with help and because of our commitment to each other, our marriage was repaired, and while we haven’t returned to counseling since, we both kept our lists. From time to time, I’ll come across his or mine, a reminder of how important it is to remember the good in us.

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Photo courtesy of Mary Latham, a former student of mine who is currently on her cross-country More Good Road Trip. You can learn more about her journey at www.moregood.today

As we finish off the school year, I asked my students to write reflection letters where they provide feedback on my class. As I skimmed through them and took notes, I started feeling the overwhelming need for a total revamp of my curriculum and instruction.

Confiding in my co-worker about some of the more critical letters and all the changes I was pondering, she pointed at the one face-up on my desk. “You need to read these letters, and not worry so much about the other ones.”

On the top of the pile was a letter that thanked me for all I had done. The student said how much they loved my class, how much they had learned, and how much they’d miss me.

The point is, we need to spend more time concentrating on the job well done rather than the room for improvement. Instead of torturing myself about that one night when dinner went straight from pan to trashcan and I had to order a pizza, I should recall all those other meals that got devoured, the ones where my husband told me it was restaurant-worthy, because deep down I know, I am a good cook. Instead of harboring guilt from those times when I’ve been bitchy to my husband for no good reason, I should remember the times when I surprise him with a Groupon for a round of golf or hire the babysitter and plan a date night to try a new brewery in town, because the truth is, I am a good wife.

A good mother. A good friend. Good enough.

Am I perfect? Hell No. But I think I’ll try to spend less time obsessing over my imperfections and more time identifying the good.

Whether we are traveling across the country in search of the good in others, or simply searching within ourselves, there is more good everywhere– sometimes all we need is a reminder.

Maybe it’s time you wrote a list of your own. Let me get you started: I am a good _________________.

 

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You can follow Mary Latham on Facebook, Instagram, or at http://www.moregood.today

Mystery Blogger Award

As a relatively new blogger, most of the comments about my posts come from Facebook, which means that the majority of people commenting are those I know personally. I appreciate all the feedback I receive on my writing, but when people I don’t know reach out to me, it’s different. A stranger took the time to comment on what I put out in the blogosphere; they felt compelled to respond. It’s like when your mom tells you that she likes your new hairstyle, it’s cool and all, but when some random person stops you in Target to say, “Great haircut!” then you really start to believe that, Dang, my hair looks fly.

This is why, when I saw a new comment on OMG! It’s My Blogiversary!, I got a little tingle. But then, when I read that Sam from The Caffeine Gal had nominated me for the Mystery Blogger Award, by Okoto Enigma, I was even more intrigued and excited. What was this so-called Mystery Blogger Award? (My first thought: Blogger spam?)

Turns out, The Mystery Blogger Award is a nice way for bloggers to recognize and share other blogs, which sounds good to me. Who doesn’t like spreading the love?

There are some rules I’m obliged to post:

Mystery Blogger Award Rules

  • Put the award logo/image on your blog
  • List the rules
  • Thank whoever nominated you and post a link to their blog
  • Mention the creator of the blog and provide a link to their blog also
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  • You have to nominate 10-20 people
  • Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  • Ask your nominees 5 questions of your choice; with one strange or funny question
  • Share a link to your best post(s)

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Let’s start answering those questions that Sam asked.

What is your favorite post so far? Why?

I think my favorite post was Co-Parenting for the Married Couple. It was certainly the most popular post in terms of it’s views, but that’s not why it’s my favorite. I worked on it for months. I kept revising, and as it was about my marriage, it was deeply personal.

My husband reads all my posts before I publish them and prior to posting Co-Parenting for the Married Couple, we had been bickering more than usual and generally getting on each other’s nerves– as will happen when you live with someone for like, 13 years. I know that he appreciated reading that post; it said more than I would have in that moment and it helped us to realize the big picture again instead of focusing on those dirty socks that are always on the floor.

If you had a pseudonym, what would it be?

It’s not really a pseudonym, but I would want to be published under my maiden name, even though it is French and hard for people to pronounce. The writing me existed before the married me did. Plus, my dad and his brother only had daughters, so I’d like to think that being published under my maiden name would be like him having had a son.

What keeps you motivated in keeping your blog up and going?

I love writing. I love that I have created this space where my writing is housed and that I am writing with more frequency than ever before. Other people are reading my work and being inspired, which thrills me. I’m self-driven so for the most part, I don’t need any other motivation, but I am thankful for the support of my family and friends…that always helps me to keep going too.

Do your friends and family know about your blog?

Of course! My daughters and husband make regular appearances in my posts, so they’d better. Without my children, I wouldn’t have ReadingWhileEating at all. Which begs the question: When they’re teenagers, are they still going to allow me to write about them?

If you could insert one of your favorite characters from literature into a movie/tv series, who would it be and where would you put him/her? 

Sam probably didn’t know that she was asking this question of an English teacher. I had to think about my favorite shows and all-time favorite books to get a pairing that might work. What I came up with was to take Pilate Dead from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and put her in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

In addition to answering Sam’s questions, I’m supposed to tell you 3 things about myself, so here goes…

ONE:

When I had my first child, I had recurring nightmares about her falling off a Ferris Wheel. Sometimes I would be sitting alongside her, forced to watch from the top as she fell out of my arms. Sometimes I would be standing at the bottom, desperately hoping that I could catch her. She was an infant at the time, a newborn. Why was she even on a Ferris Wheel? It made no sense, yet that didn’t stop it from feeling very real.

Like most dreams of falling, before any impact I was jolted awake, my pulse racing and short of breath. Perhaps they were nothing more than the result of sleep deprivation and the worry that comes with being a new mom; she was so fragile, her survival dependent upon me.

TWO:

Since having children, I no longer can jump on trampolines: I pee myself. My children like to announce this Fun Fact in very public settings or whenever there’s company over for dinner.

When I was young, single, and waitressing on Long Island, occasionally the restaurant staff would go out to the club after our shift ended. One of my favorite co-workers was older than me, already married with a few kids of her own. I remember being on the dance floor when House of Pain’s Jump Around came on. When she jumped up, jumped up and got down, she confided in me that she had pissed herself. Even though she was wearing a skirt and didn’t seem to mind, I was mortified for her. Why? I asked her. “Kids!” She yelled over the DJ while continuing to bounce up and down, albeit with less gusto than before. Every time my children beg me to jump on the trampoline, I think of her.

THREE:

I consider myself a feminist. I am all about girl-power. I fully support Sydney Ireland becoming a Boy Scout and I can’t wait for the day when we have a female president.

Growing up, I always rode a boys’ bike- the frame with the horizontal cross-bar rather than the one that slopes downward so that a woman can wear a skirt and still ride comfortablyEarly in our marriage, my husband bought me a new bike for my birthday: a girls’ bike. Even though it was purple, just like my previous bike, I was disappointed in it, and, at first, he didn’t really understand why. My singing of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” didn’t really help matters.

As a feminist, I was destined to have daughters. Just as my mother raised me to be a strong, independent woman, I plan on doing the same for my girls. The other day my oldest started saying, “Just because we’re girls, doesn’t mean we can’t play football,” and “just because we’re girls, doesn’t mean we can’t act like boys.” Damn straight, Sister. Damn straight.

I look forward to the day I get to help her pick out her first 10-speed.

I am nominating the following bloggers, in no particular order, for the Mystery Blogger Award: 

I’d like my nominees to answer these questions:

  1. What is the most challenging part of blogging for you?
  2. What are you most proud of?
  3. What is the last, best thing (book, blog, article, poem) you read?
  4. What does your ideal day look like?
  5. If you could take a ride in the DeLorean, where would you visit and why?

And now, for my favorite posts:

Thank you, Sam, for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award. This was unexpected, resulting in a post that otherwise would have gone unwritten.

My Reasons for Watching 13 Reasons Why

One of the things I love about my job as a high school teacher is that it keeps me young. Most of the time, I find out about the latest trends before my own children do. I learn the newest slang, and my students think it’s funny when I’m able to work it into my own speech during class. Dealing with teenagers on a regular basis reminds me what it was like; it helps me to remember, including those parts that I’d rather forget.

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Teaching English, my students confide in me through their writing. These windows, in particular, let me see some of their darkest moments. It didn’t surprise me then that when 13 Reasons Why premiered on Netflix, my students were abuzz. There was a resurgence in kids that wanted to read the popular novel by Jay Asher. As a representation of what they experience in high school, it resonated with them.

My students are participating in book clubs right now and I have six groups reading 13 Reasons Why. Others have chosen it as one of their independent selections for the semester. I’m stoked for anything that gets kids reading, but some of the students who have picked it up have had to put it down, unable to stomach the sadness. All the attention the title has received piqued my interest, if for no other reason than to form my own opinion, so in addition to buying a copy of the book, my husband and I recently cued it from our Netflix list.

If you haven’t heard, the show has been criticized for glorifying and romanticizing suicide. I’ve read pieces that talk about how the producers did the exact opposite of what one should do when dealing with this subject matter, warning anyone who might be suicidal or prone to suicidal thoughts not to watch. In contrast, I’ve read other works that praise the piece. Not to mention the press that surrounded this group of high school students who started an anti-suicide campaign: 13 Reasons Why Not.

I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a show I could binge-watch. Each episode was heavier than the next, and several of them required additional warnings for their explicit content. However, in the end, I was glad that I viewed all thirteen episodes, not just as a teacher, but as a parent. While my children are only five and nine, startling enough, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-24.

Did you see that? TEN.

I often write about the difficulties of parenting, yet I know raising an adolescent will be the most trying of all. This is only the boot camp for the eventual war of the teenage years. And as parents, we sometimes forget what it was like to be young, which only intensifies the conflict. Even if I find it easy to empathize with what my students go through, I might find it more challenging when it comes to my own children, when my love for them and the storm of emotions I feel clouds my understanding.

After the final episode, Netflix included “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons.” In it, the cast talks about how teenage brains don’t function the way that adult brains do. I’ve done enough lessons with my students on this very topic, usually in conjunction with our study of Romeo and Juliet, another suicide story. We watch some TedTalks about the adolescent brain and listen to podcasts from NPR before deciding whether Romeo and Juliet would have made different decisions if they each had a fully developed pre-frontal cortex.

Suicide is a subject that is a part of most teenager’s reality whether they have thought about it themselves, or known someone else who has. Just as Shakespeare didn’t shy away from it, neither does Jay Asher, which is why many students of mine find both works so intriguing.

The creators of the Netflix series hoped that the show would spark conversations between parents, and in my home, it did just that. I confessed to my husband that this scared the shit out of me long before we viewed the episode where Hannah’s mother finds her in the bathtub. (I had to shield my eyes from the graphic nature of the actual suicide.) My husband and I shared stories about the people we knew—friends and friends of friends– who’d taken their own lives. We discussed their reasons, and the impact it had on others. As a teacher, sadly, I add to the list alumni from schools where I’ve taught who didn’t choose life.

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In one episode of the show, Clay imagines telling Hannah how he feels about her. Her response: Why didn’t you say this to me when I was alive?

In “Beyond the Reasons,” the producers advise parents not to ignore what they went through as teenagers, to be honest with their children, and to talk to them without judgement. They implore people to tell others, “You matter to me; I’m glad you’re in my world.” These small steps, they say, can make a big difference.

As a teacher, I appreciated 13 Reasons Why. Not only did it remind me about many of the issues my students face, but it also reminded me there are consequences for our actions, even when, as in the case with Mr. Porter, the action is inaction.

As a parent, it reminded me that what I say to my daughters can make a difference, things like, “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to not be perfect.” Most of all though, it reminded me to take every opportunity to tell my children what they mean to me, to tell them that they matter. They’re not only in my world, but they are my world, and I love them no matter what.

 

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This One’s For My Mom

Well, I did it. I ran that 10K that I promised I would back when I posted Return To The Gym, and as with any accomplishment, it felt pretty darn good. It was even better that my sister ran it with me. We chose Moms On The Run for our 10K debut, a local charity event that supports women in our community battling breast cancer. While we are fortunate to say that breast cancer hasn’t personally touched our lives, cancer has. And being women, there isn’t a day where I don’t realize the possibility which exists.

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Held annually on Mother’s Day, a few years ago we participated in the 5K. My husband pushed our youngest in the stroller while I pushed my oldest to keep running every time she wanted to quit. My sister was there then, too; in addition to running her 5K, she took a Walk of Shame to retrieve my oldest when I lost her in the chaos of the finish line. We were all frantically searching when she heard the call from the MC asking for Peyton’s mom to please come to the grandstand.

We didn’t lose any kids this year (#MomGoals) and we were both proud of our race results. But more than that, even though our own mother was almost three-thousand miles away, it felt as though she was with us as we ran. So while we couldn’t take her out for brunch for Mother’s Day or all go get pedicures, it was a great way to pay tribute to the most incredible woman we know.

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Growing up, our mother was a runner. My sister and I were not. There’s a classic story of how when my sister was in high school, she and her friend decided to go running with my mom. They were found literally writhing in the driveway…at the start of the run. That’s right. They ran to the end of the driveway and collapsed.

By the time my sister and I were both out of college, we began joining our mom at various 5K events. She would pay our entry fees so we felt obligated to attend. It was only slightly embarrassing to have our mom, who was then in her 50s, beating us by a landslide. She’d usually place in the top 3 for her age group, and while I managed to place once for mine, it just so happened for that race, I was the ONLY one in my age group.

It was the worst race of my life. A hell-like cross-country run in the middle of summer. Every step, my feet sank into the soft Long Island sand. The sun beat down on me, sweat stung my eyes, and my sides cramped as though I was being impaled by the very bamboo that lined the endless trail I was trapped on. To stop running only meant to succumb to swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos. It was 5K, Survivor-Style and I desperately wanted to be voted off. When I finally emerged at the finish line, I sat in a patch of shade, red-faced and out-of-breath. When they called my name to retrieve my medal, it was a true WTF moment. Oddly enough, it still felt good to have won something.

At Moms On The Run, we were approached by a camera woman from a local news station who asked us some questions: Were we running as a family? Were we running in honor of anyone? Did we want to say a few words on camera? We graciously declined the interview; however, as I was running, I replayed some of those questions in my head.

I was running for someone. In fact, I was running for a lot of people.

For starters, I was running for me. Every time I was keeping pace with another runner and they stopped to walk, or they surpassed me, I told myself that this wasn’t about how I compared to anyone else. This was my challenge. This was my race. As my own biggest critic, I could let the critic win—the one who tells me that I can’t, or I could listen to that other voice, the one that affirms all that I am capable of and motivates me to do more.

I was running for my girls. I was running to show them that when you set a goal, you don’t give up. I was running to teach them how important it is to be healthy, at every age.

I was running to support other women whose lives and whose families had been affected by cancer, knowing that if ever I was there, I would need the support of my community as well.

And I was running for my mom. A woman who taught me how important it is to care for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. A woman who tells me that she is proud of me, but may not realize how proud it makes me to have her as my mother.

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A candid shot of my mother (which knowing her, she’ll hate) after having placed at a 5K.

When I was young, my mom would attend aerobics classes at night. She’d arrive home after my sister and I were already in bed, but she would come to tuck us in. She’d give a little piece of her chewing gum to our dog who would attempt to chomp on it in such a way that it would leave us in fits of laughter, falling asleep with smiles on our faces.

I remember her lifting weights, coining herself “The Ironian” (pronounced: eye-ron-ian)—a woman made of iron. To this day, “The Ironian” remains my Superhero.

She’d take us on long bike rides, over the Ponquogue Bridge, to the ocean and back. A drawbridge with a 55-foot clearance, I wished I owned a 10-speed like my sister. I pedaled my fourth-grade legs on my banana-seat bike knowing that once we reached the top, we would have an adrenaline-pumping thrill on the way down, but would have to work to do it all over again on the return.

Everything my mom did was hard work, but she never viewed it that way. Her running wasn’t working to stay in shape; it was a way to eliminate stress, something that mothers (single mothers especially) have plenty of. Exercising was about growing stronger, to be there for us as the best version of herself, because quite frankly, she was our everything.

Being a mom involves sacrifice. Ironically, the most selfless thing you can do for your children is to care of yourself—for them. This is what my mom taught me, even if it took me 39 years and this 10K for me to realize it.

As I crossed that finish line, I could almost hear her voice in my ear, encouraging me and cheering me on. For a woman who likes to tease me about the paybacks of motherhood, this was my opportunity to pay it forward…to my mom, for all she’s shown me, and to my girls, so that maybe one day, they’ll run races of their own.

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OMG! It’s My Blogiversary!

Each year, I do something different on the first day of school as an Icebreaker, and since my students are meeting me for the first time too, I always begin by introducing myself in the same manner that I have planned for them.

August of 2015, I asked my students to complete a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  I began by sharing with them the last five books I had read, four things I had done that summer (complete with pictures), three of my goals, two states I wanted to visit, and a favorite quote. My students could come up with any categories they wanted for their 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 so long as they met the objective of having their peers (and me) get to know them better.

My three goals were that I wanted to learn more about the practice of meditation, save money for an upcoming vacation to Hawaii, and start a blog. Before the school year was over, I was well on my way.

May 11, 2016, I posted my very first blog on ReadingWhileEating.com. Thirty-five posts later and here we are.

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When I started the blog, I told myself that I would give it a year and then evaluate where I was with it. Was I enjoying it? Did I want to continue? Or would it be something that I simply crossed off the bucket list? As I celebrate my first blogiversary, I can honestly say that it has been an amazing ride, and happily, one that is not over yet.

In the bio for my blog, I ask readers to “join me in discovering whether or not there’s room for more on the plate.” This year, I have learned that there is. People sometimes comment, “you’re so lucky you can do that…I just don’t have the time.” But we make time for the things that are important to us, and this blog has become just that.

The other night, as my husband and I were getting ready to go to sleep, he turned towards me in the dark and told me that he admires the way I create goals and really go for them. I’ve been training for a 10K, so I assumed that was what he was referring to, but it really could be any number of things—or maybe all of them. I am determined, and when I set my sights on something, I don’t like to fail. If I do, it had better be after giving it my all.

That’s not to say that my blog is wildly successful. I don’t have the thousands of followers that some other blogs have, but that’s okay. Maybe one day I will. As I continue this journey, hopefully I will grow my readership. Although what’s more important: I know that I will continue to grow.

If you are here, then you may already be one of my readers. This is where I get to say, “Thank You.” Thank you for taking the time to read what I have put out there. Thank you for the support you have given me. And thank you for the positivity that you have sent my way.

As my blog enters a new year, I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on ReadingWhileEating. Maybe you’ll even find the time to share it with a friend or two.

Now… Let’s go celebrate!

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I Used to Have Patience…And Then I Had Kids

Tell anyone who is not a teacher that you are, and they assume patience is one of your virtues. They’re not entirely wrong either. Maintaining composure in my classroom is easy, even when I’m asked the same questions a half dozen times in a row: How many paragraphs does this have to be? When is this due? Do we have to finish this for homework? Even if I have repeated myself ad nauseam, even if the answer is also posted on the whiteboard directly behind me (It is), and even if the reason I am being asked to echo myself again and again is due to the asker having been playing with a fidget spinner or checking their Snapchat, I never lose my cool.

I’d love to pretend I possess the same tolerance with my own children; unfortunately, my patience dwindles considerably when I change hats. Some days, it’s gone before 7:00 A.M.

Case in Point: One morning my youngest was brushing her hair when I asked if she’d like me to style it. She nodded. I proceeded to pull the top half up in a ponytail before securing the rest of the hair into a low bun. Minutes later, she’s sobbing.

“I wanted a bun!”

“You have a bun. Look, there’s a bun.”

“But I didn’t want that bun. I wanted a different bun!”

“Did you ask me for a bun?”

“No, but I wanted a bun!”

“YOU HAVE A BUN!”

Mornings can be tough though, so I try to forgive my children for their meltdowns, and I hope they forgive me mine. If patience has a kryptonite, it is fatigue. Some days, they are more tired than others. Some days, I’m more tired. But even on the most frustrating of mornings, I’m able to brush those feelings off when I step inside my classroom, leaving me to ponder why I can handle everyone’s children but my own.

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Her granola bar broke when she opened it.

Unflappable in the face of my students’ questions, my endurance is tested by the inane inquiries my little one tosses my direction.

“Mom, what does TNT stand for?”

“What?”

“TNT…What does TNT stand for?”

“Dynamite.”

“What’s that?”

“Explosives…like firecrackers.”

“So they are crackers that are hot?”

“No.”

“Mom? When are we going to buy popsicles?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mom?”

“What?”

“I think I want to be a bird so when people walk by I can poop on their heads. But not your head because you’ve already been pooped on. Right Mom?…Mom?…MOM?!?”

“WHAT!?!”

“When are we going to see the fireworks again?”

“I don’t know. Probably the fourth of July.”

“When is that?”

“THE FOURTH OF JULY.”

“Yeah, but what day is that?”

These are the moments when I know that I will be pouring myself a glass a wine with dinner to go with the glass of wine I poured myself before dinner.

Sometimes my inability to be a more patient parent leaves me feeling less-than. I convince myself that other moms are holding hands with their children, singing Kumbaya, and answering all their questions with a smile. But then I’m sitting at gymnastics when another mom snaps at her son after his fourth or fifth “mom” and I am reassured. She sounded just like me.

Like me, she just wanted these forty-five minutes to scroll through social media, to zone out, or to read a book without the constant pestering. Thank you, Real Mom of Gymnastics. We should be friends.

When parenting—especially parenting young children—patience can melt faster than a soft-serve ice cream cone at the beach. It’s perfectly normal to feel like there isn’t enough oxygen in this ecosystem for all the deep breaths you’ll need and it’s not wrong to want to give yourself a time out.

I once received text messages from a mom-friend who was hiding in her closet from her children and not because they were playing an awesome round of Hide-and-Go-Seek. I had to remind her that she wasn’t a terrible mother; she was wise to go in there (and wiser still to have brought an adult beverage with her). After all, what mom hasn’t gone to the bathroom and locked the door under the guise of needing to poo if only to get a five-minute reprieve? Sometimes the overstimulation of being poked and prodded and needed and questioned is too much. Nerves get exposed and every whine or cry feels like a root canal minus the Novocaine. If hiding in the closet means you regain your composure without losing it on your kids, more power to you.

After a long week, even Family Game Night requires me to tap into my depleted patience reserves. A few hands of Uno feels more like Chinese Water Torture. This one needs to get a snack, then that one needs something to drink, the dog scratches at the door to go out, then there is an attempt by a five-year-old at shuffling the deck. The dog scratches to come back in. The cup of water gets spilled. The nine-year-old is tap-tap-tapping her cards on the table, and I’m looking at my phone every five minutes to see if it is time for bed yet and cursing every Draw Four card that gets played.

Sometimes I think I could hang onto my sanity if only everyone would kindly just shut up. My youngest has been talking since she was born. You couldn’t quiet her unless there was a nipple in her mouth and we used that binky way longer than we should have. Still, I don’t enjoy feeling like the Grinch looking down on my little Who-Ville complaining about “the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” I get why he freaked out though.

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Dr. Ray Gaurendi, author of the book Back to the Family, says “Patience is an ideal to strive for. It is not a day-to-day reality.”

It’s certainly not my reality most days, but then there are those other days, the ones where I don’t just tolerate the clamor, I enjoy it; where the silly line of questions amazes me; where instead of hiding, I want to immerse myself in the chaos of these crazy kids, my crazy kids.

Let’s face it, if you are around your children enough to be irritated by them, you’re doing a good job. And if you lose your shit from time to time, remember to cut yourself a little slack, too. We can’t be Stepford Moms all the time. If patience is the ideal, I’ll keep on striving.

 

Like Mother, Like Daughter

There are a million reasons why parenting is exhausting. From infants who need to eat every two hours to waiting up past midnight for your teenager to come home safely from that party. There are middle of the night vomit sessions and days where all you seem to do is discipline. Breakfasts. Lunches. Dinners. Load after load of laundry. Scheduling dentist appointments. Back-to-school shopping. Recitals, games, and birthday parties.

The most exhausting of all though is that you are always, always being watched. I’m not talking about when you’re sitting on the toilet, although there are often eyes on you then, too. Rather, your behavior and the words you speak, the way you live your life– our children are learning from us every…single…day.

I have parenting moments that I am not proud of. My children have witnessed me send a quick text while driving. They have seen me lose my temper and they have experienced my bad moods firsthand. Curses fall from my lips like candy from a piñata. But have they noticed those moments when I look in the mirror and frown? Have they ever heard me question my husband about whether a certain pair of pants makes my ass look fat?

Raising daughters, living in a society hyper-focused on appearances, I worry: What have they learned about body image from me, from the media, and from others? As they grow, as their bodies change, as they deal with the influx of hormones and all that results, how will they perceive themselves? Will they be able to stand firm in their belief that they are beautiful?

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In the eighth grade, I would come home from school every day and make myself a bowl of ice cream. Seated on the kitchen counter, I would indulge while my sister’s boyfriend would tell me that I was going to get fat. By the ninth grade, when my family took a trip to visit my grandparents, I had acquired my first freshmen fifteen. Stepping out of the car in the hot Florida sun, my grandmother was waiting to embrace us.

Oooh, Chubby Checker,” she teased.

Growing up, I had aunts who would constantly ask me if I thought they were fat. They weren’t. In my eyes, they all resembled movie stars, yet nothing I said could convince them of this. No sooner would they finish bemoaning their size and shape, I would be handed a bag of hand-me-down clothes.

I learned early on that to be a woman was to be body-conscious, and a body could always be improved. My high school was filled with girls who were dieting, or taking pills, or starving themselves, or binging and purging. This behavior was not only commonplace, it was considered normal.

Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media. (DoSomething.org)

There are days when I love my body and all that it is capable of. I have given birth to two healthy babies. I exercise regularly and feel stronger now than ever before. I am conscientious about what I eat, while at the same time, allowing myself the pleasure of enjoying the occasional craving. Nothing makes me happier than picking up my daughter from preschool on a warm, sunny day and surprising her with a trip to 7-11 for a couple of Slurpees and a bag of Doritos.

This is a judgmental society though. One where to be fat, or to be skinny, results in criticism and attack.

You look good. Did you lose weight?

Somebody needs to give that girl a cheeseburger. 

She has such a pretty face. It’s too bad she’s so heavy.

Real men prefer women with a little meat on their bones.

I will admit it: I’ve placed my body on the continuum of those that surround me at the beach or the water park. I’ve eyed up other women at the gym and worked a little harder as a result. Ultimately though, it is not about comparison. It is not about skinny or fat or skinny-fat. It is about self-esteem. It is about self-acceptance. It is about self-love. It is about self-worth. And now that I am the mother of two girls, it is more important than ever to lead by example.

Dr. Christiane Northrup writes, “Each of us takes in at the cellular level how our mother feels about being female, what she believes about her body, how she takes care of her health, and what she believes is possible in life. Her beliefs and behaviors set the tone for how well we learn to care for ourselves as adults. We then pass this information either consciously or unconsciously on to the next generation.”

I had wanted to do a cleanse for some time, so when my mother bought a book that included recipes for a 10-day green smoothie detox, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t looking to lose weight; I just wanted to kick-start some healthier habits. I measured myself before and after, but more so to validate if the cleanse worked rather than simply trusting how I felt.

My daughter, looking at the book on the counter and watching me drink sludge-colored smoothies day after day, asked me if I was on a diet.

“No. I’m just trying to be healthier.”

It was important to me that she not think that what I was doing was about weight.

On day three of my cleanse, I took my daughters to the park. It was a sunny day, so we packed a picnic: turkey sandwiches, barbecue potato chips, and green grapes for them; baby-poop-like smoothie for me. Still in my exercise clothes from my morning visit to the gym, I sported a tank top that read: I Hate Running.

“Mom, do you hate running?”

“Pretty much.”

“So do I.”

“But you know what? Even though I hate it, I do it anyway.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s good for you. And even though I hate running, I love being healthy.”

Would conversations like these be enough?

Later that week, I came across a zippered bag containing leftover Halloween make-up that had found its way under my daughter’s dresser along with the dust bunnies and run-away socks. Despite that it was discovered in her sister’s bedroom, my youngest daughter desperately wanted it.

“You can have it,” my eldest told her.

Since nary a day goes by that my youngest doesn’t try to wear, at the very least, some lip gloss, this was hard for the little diva to fathom.

“You don’t like make-up?”

“I like it, I just don’t need it. I like the way I look just the way I am.”

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Even as I acknowledge that she may not always feel this way about herself, I pray that she will. While I cannot control the culture in which we live, I can control the messages that I impart on my children. As their mentor and role model, it is my duty to ensure that it’s a positive one.

As their mother, it’s my duty to love myself just a little bit more.

This is Nine

For my daughter’s ninth birthday, she asked for three things:

  1. To be allowed to ride in the front seat of the car
  2. To walk to and from school by herself each day
  3. A laptop

To celebrate turning nine, she invited some friends over for a slumber party. It was at this party, during the Spin the (Nail Polish) Bottle game, where I learned that there are girls and boys in the third grade who mutually “like” one another.

As she and her friends talked, I frantically tried to assist with the nail painting even though none of them wanted my help. With each revelation of who liked who, my eyes grew. I tried to send messages with them to my husband who was reclining on the couch pretending that there weren’t 60 fingers grabbing six different fluorescent polishes on our living room rug. Had he been able to interpret what my eyeballs were screaming, it would have sounded something like this: Boys! Already?!? Did you know about this?!? And then, as another glob of nail polish dropped onto the thin plastic table-cloth I had put down as a shield, Shit!

Instead, he sent back his own message that read: What? I Don’t Know What You are Saying. Why Don’t You Speak Words Like a Normal Person? He did, however, come join me on the floor in my mission to, at the very least, teach the girls how to wipe the excess polish off the wand before applying it. Only when the talk of boys stopped and the farting and giggling began was I mollified.

This is nine.

As the mother of a nine-year-old, I have developed a new super-power: I embarrass my daughter in public. When I dropped her off for Art Camp and learned that their day would start with creative movement, she was mortified when I demonstrated a few of my own moves. She physically tried to restrain my arms as she pleaded for me to stop and then literally pushed me towards the exit.

Sometimes, it takes much less: At a restaurant one morning, I signaled to our server to wait a second as I finished chewing my food before requesting some apple juice for my daughter.

“That was so embarrassing, Mom.”

“What was?”

“The waitress was staring at us.”

“She was waiting to see what we needed.”

“It was embarrassing.”

Or rather, I was embarrassing.

Along with my new super-power, she has acquired a talent of her own: The Eye Roll. This eye roll goes into full effect several times a day. At the dinner table, in the back seat of the car (the one I painfully still make her sit in), and whenever my husband and I say anything remotely funny…which is pretty much all the time. Occasionally, she will substitute the eye roll for a one-sided upper lip snarl that could rival Billy Idol. At nine, she emphasizes every last word she utters. I did not-tah. Leave me alone-na. Sometimes resorting to dramatic sighs and guttural noises to express her general displeasure with members of her family.

The one wordless communication my husband and I have mastered is the look we give each other when visions of this Tween-To-Be appear before us. For now, it is accompanied by a smirk as if to convince ourselves that this is all very funny. Ha Ha! Look at how she is acting. Oh boy! We’re in for it soon. But soon isn’t now, so we foolishly laugh. Only deep inside, I cringe.

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Each time she tells us that she’s basically a teenager, we remind her not to grow up too fast. But more and more, I notice that she doesn’t always want to play with her little sister, that My Little Pony has been replaced with Girl Meets World, and that when she wakes up in the morning, she stays in her room and goes on her tablet rather than coming to snuggle with me.

Despite that she refuses to hold my hand as we walk through a parking lot and her bedroom door is closed more than it is open, there are still times when she lies across my legs and asks me to rub and scratch her back, there are still moments when she nestles under my arm as we watch TV, and still occasions when she looks at me and randomly tells me that she loves me before planting a kiss on my lips, an act that, for now, still requires that she stand on tip-toes.

These days, time is fleeting. I feel it more poignantly than I ever did when she was a baby. The little girl juxtaposed with the pre-teen. Moments where she is goofy and carefree are shadowed by ones where I am reminding her to not be so sassy. There’s a moodiness about her that makes me ask her what’s wrong on a regular basis. Her answer is always “nothing.”

This is nine. It’s the way she forges her own path as we walk, but also stops to pick a dandelion for her sister. It’s the way she begs for her independence yet still asks me to tuck her in at night and sing her “Oh My Darling.” As she dances in the living room, I see some of the same spastic moves she performed with as a toddler, yet there’s a gentler swaying in her hips and her legs are lithe and lean. Next year in school, she’ll experience the joys of Sex Ed. Her innocence having slipped through my fingers like grains of sand.

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This is nine. It’s the start of middle childhood and the end of baby teeth. The last year before she hits double-digits. A straddle year…with one foot rooted in her yesteryear and one that’s all-too quickly growing towards tomorrow. And it’s only just begun. With all the door slamming, the sibling bickering, and the “Stay Out” signs posted on her bedroom door, I hope that we’ll survive…after all, we’ve still got her adolescence to look forward to.

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