Read The Damn Book

There was a litany of things that needed to be done before our wedding– everything from seating arrangements to floral arrangements. We poured over menu options with the caterer and we tasted cake. We met with DJs and photographers, and then we met with Pastor Wally.

Funny and laid-back, we both liked Pastor Wally despite that we weren’t regulars at his church. When we met with him to discuss our upcoming nuptials though, we were too young and too unmarried to absorb much of his advice. Still, Pastor Wally gave us our first wedding gift that night. It was a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

We left the church that evening holding hands, our future before us. Upon returning home, I was thrilled to learn that the book contained his and her quizzes, so we quickly set to work figuring out what our love languages were, and then we set the book down. With our wedding only weeks away, we had more pressing matters to attend to.

Years later, we were reminded of The Five Love Languages yet again. This time, it was our counselor who mentioned it as we sat in therapy together. My husband and I marched back home, found the book, blew the dust off it, and took our quizzes again. Surprisingly, our answers hadn’t really changed all that much, but this time, after tallying our scores, I read the damn book.

I’ve picked up plenty of self-help books over the years. I’ve read tons of parenting books, everything from How to Speak So Your Kids Will Listen to The White-Trash Mom Handbook. I’ve tackled books that told me You Are a Badass and books that encouraged me to begin my own Happiness Project. Yet for all my reading, I hadn’t had another book on marriage in my hands until recently when, whilst scrolling through Facebook, something caught my eye.

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100 Ways to Love Your Husband and 100 Ways to Love Your Wife are two companion texts for couples written by a husband and wife team. Believing that the books would be some type of 100-day challenge, I clicked on the link and read through the comments.

While reviewers praised the books, it appeared they were also faith-based, and I wasn’t sure exactly how faith-based they would be. Several weeks later though, when I came across the online advertisement again, I decided that there was only one way to find out. I ordered the books, and once I had, I was excited for us to both begin reading them.

Unfortunately, my book did not start off on the right foot.

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“Always choose love.” Ummm, okay. Given that there are more words in this blog post than in the entire book, I wasn’t holding out hope that I’d be provided suggestions on how to do that. But then there was that biblical reference. Maybe I was supposed to read I Corinthians 13 for the answer. Where was my bible? Wait…Do I even own a bible? I could probably just Google it. I’d try that later, for now, I kept reading. Surely the book would improve.

Sadly, it did not.

By number 6, I was told to pray for him. I tried to imagine what that might sound like.

Dear God. Please watch over my husband as he does the laundry. Help him see the lights, and separate them from the darks. Amen.

Number 20 told me that I should care about my appearance and “freshen up a bit” before my man came home. The first thing I do when I get home is take off my bra and put on my pajamas, but apparently, the key to a successful marriage is to “pretty-up a bit.”

Annoyed, I put the book down.

Later that night, I picked up my husband’s book to see what kind of hogwash they were selling him. Skimming through its pages, it seemed better than mine, and I was a little miffed at this. Because it was written with a woman in mind, perhaps it just made more sense to me.

Run her a hot bath. Buy her expensive chocolate. Kiss her often.

Unlike praying or brushing my hair, these were things that he could do for me that I would notice. Maybe all was not lost.

In the end, I forced myself to read the damn book—all of it, which to be honest, didn’t take that long seeing as how it is primarily composed of one-liners. At times, I felt like I was getting antiquated advice from June Cleaver, but then I would wonder if that wasn’t sometimes what a marriage did, in fact, need. To write a love letter rather than sending a text. To walk and hold hands rather than to Netflix and chill. To cook dinner together, and afterwards, to wash the dishes alongside one another.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suggest you buy these books. Truthfully, I was disappointed in them, but strangely enough, my marriage benefitted from reading them. I noticed that my husband was being more attentive, more affectionate. I was trying to do a better job of listening when he talked and stopping what I was doing to give him a kiss and a smile when he came home…even if I hadn’t just applied fresh lipstick.

Despite what the books said, by reading them, we took time to think about our relationship and to remind ourselves that marriages require work. We started putting in a little more effort, and without consciously realizing it, we started speaking each other’s love languages once again.

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In Their Own Words

I get a ton of emails at work, many of which get deleted without ever having been opened, but when I received an invitation from Goodreads asking teachers to “Join the Conversation,” something told me I should read on.

Goodreads and Netflix had partnered up to promote the adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir First They Killed My Father, a soon-to-be released Netflix Original directed by Angelina Jolie. They were asking teachers to share the trailer for the film with their students, to open up a dialogue with them, and to submit an essay that captured their student’s thoughts.

Since my classes would be reading To Kill a Mockingbird in the weeks to come, and since genocide is intolerance at its worst, I figured we could use this opportunity as another lens through which to look at discrimination.

The Khmer Rouge took control of the Cambodian government in 1975. I was born in 1978, roughly around the time this genocide came to an end. Only 40 years ago, the mass murder of two million Cambodian people took place while the rest of the world did nothing to stop it. In the twentieth century alone, we have experienced several more genocides: Rwanda, Bosnia, Dafur. Yet in classrooms across America, children are largely ignorant to these suffering. They have all been taught about The Holocaust, but when some of them realized that the more recent genocides took place around the time they were born, they were shocked.

As I shared with my classes some background information and then the trailer for First They Killed My Father, a boy questioned, “Why is this the first time I am hearing about this?”

Yet if we only rewind a few weeks, images of hate flood our screens: the angry faces of Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, the Alt-Right. Their expressions are illuminated by the same tiki torches that shine on my children on warm summer nights as they roast marshmallows for s’mores, their innocent laughter filling the evening sky.

While the riots in Charlottesville have certainly been mentioned in my classroom, there hasn’t been a direct discussion about them. Perhaps it is easier to talk about The Scottsboro Boys as it relates to a work of fiction than it is to look in our own back yards.

So what did my students think after first learning that there was a genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s, and then after watching the atrocities of it viewed through the dark, attentive eyes of a 5-year-old? What follows are their own words, collectively woven to express why it is important to learn from stories of hardship like that of Loung Ung’s.


Nowadays, we are more likely to pay attention to our own first-world problems. This, in turn, leaves third-world countries to basically do whatever they want. That’s why we learn about the Holocaust and not about more recent acts of mass murder. The same goes for mass terror. We’ll never forget 9/11, but we’ll easily forget the war on terrorism happening in Syria.

The Holocaust was one of the most horrendous genocides. When Holocaust survivors saw the white supremacist groups in Virginia carrying the Nazi flag, they were horrified. A dark-skinned reporter who was sent to interview the Ku Klux Klan was threatened to be burned alive on a cross.

Everyone has scars.

Stories like Loung Ung’s allow people to experience their pain, it forces people to remember. Forgetting the victims is probably the worst thing we can do, because if you forget, it’s like their struggles, and even their lives, never existed. At the same time, stories like Luong Ung’s allow us to appreciate our own lives more fully.

Humanity is losing its empathy towards people because society doesn’t want to read a book. These stories are what teach us to be empathetic. The main thing pushing us to read and learn about the history of our country and the world are our teachers.

Learning about genocide educates us on humanity—and it proves what some people are willing to do out of fear and blind hatred. But just because we learn about the past does not mean that we will prevent it from happening again. People have the power to be cruel, and some will—unfortunately—take that opportunity.

We need to realize that our world today isn’t perfect, it isn’t always a nice, beautiful place. Today, people are still vying for power. Today, people are still unkind. Today, our country is still fighting the same battles we fought in the past.

If it is true that history repeats itself, then we must be prepared for when it does by looking at how we could have prevented previous tragedies.

It is always possible for some dictator to reign over the innocent. If enough people with the same beliefs got together today, and they had the proper resources, they could control anyone; we can’t let awful, horrific ideas pollute the minds of others. With biological and chemical warfare, another genocide could occur tomorrow. Mass murder could come at the click of a button.

There will always be evil people in the world who believe that the only way to remedy a situation is to completely start over. Genocides happens for many reasons, and none of them are good. None of the people who start them are good either. And the villains who lead these events don’t disappear as history moves on.

We should have learned to not let a horrific person rule, but it is 2017 and we are letting history slowly repeat itself. If power is in the wrong person’s hands, then the most unimaginable things can happen; unjust and corrupt government leads to destruction. All it takes is a careless leader and hatred for the human race.

Racism, political beliefs, and religion all divide us. We need to accept people for who they are and not make judgements. The world demands that we learn from past mistakes so we don’t fall further into a hole of corruption, greed, and abused power. As a country, we need to stand up for unjust acts.

The most important lessons to learn are how to treat people, how to stay courageous, how to stand together and protect others against torture and discrimination.

When we learn about the past, we are forced to think about what kind of future we want to have. We can learn to become better people and to bring different countries together peacefully.

Everyone is making history right now.


Whether discussing the Luong Ung’s of yesterday or The Dreamers of tomorrow, the words of my students emphasize the importance of having courage in the face of adversity. With kindness and empathy, there is hope for a better tomorrow.

 

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Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

In Oklahoma, a third-grade teacher by the name of Teresa Danks stood at a highway intersection panhandling for money to buy school supplies for her class.

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Not long before I heard about Danks, my friend and I had joked about doing the same thing. We envisioned our colleagues uniting–holding signs and strumming guitars–as we found a creative way to raise money for things like paper, printer ink, and toner for the copy machine.

While Oklahoma ranks 49th out of 50 states in terms of teacher pay, Nevada is 49th out of 50 in both education and per-pupil spending, so I understand the frustration that drove Danks to wave that sign at passing motorists.

Here in Northern Nevada, the economy is on the rise, although our schools face a 13-million-dollar budget shortfall. Despite whisperings of teacher layoffs, early retirement incentives, and increased class sizes, the district is still looking for ways to make ends meet.

In the week before the school year began, custodians wheeled additional desks and chairs into my room to accommodate the bodies that would soon sit there. In my classes of honors freshmen, there are 38 eager adolescents. There are 38 students raising their hands. There are 38 kids who have questions they’d like answered. Thirty-eight of them are trying to share their writing or present to the class, and there simply isn’t enough time.

The day I looked at my rosters and saw 38, tears of frustration pooled in my eyes. For me to lose composure at my workplace is rare, but in that moment, behind my back, I felt the ropes tighten around my wrists.

Yet this is just one of the struggles I’ll face this year. Like every year though, I will do my best.

I will sit for hours on a weekend grading essays. I will meet with students before school and at lunch to give them the one-on-one attention they cannot get during class. I will answer their questions via email and text throughout the evening as I cook dinner for my family and make sure my own children get their homework done. I will find innovative ways to arrange my desks so that we can get up and move around without tripping over backpacks and books.

I will give my all till I am completely depleted.

I will vent to colleagues and I will vent to my husband. I will sit in meetings where the mission of “every name and face to graduation” is spouted, and then I will walk back into a room filled with 38 names and 38 faces and I will try to develop relationships and build rapport with all 38. Every day, each time the bell rings, I will do that again for another 38, and another, and another.

The contradictions in education are exasperating. We want students to achieve, but we limit available resources. Despite endless research supporting the correlation between smaller class size and student success, we continue to pour pupils into desks. We are expected to be twenty-first century teachers, yet it is suggested we reach into our own pockets to buy bulbs for projectors or audio equipment that might enable our students to listen to a TedTalk or take part in a Skype session with a guest speaker.

Come May, my wrists will be rubbed raw.

Here is where I could talk about teacher burnout. I could share with you the statistics on how eight percent of teachers walk away from the profession every year, and how hundreds of thousands more aren’t even pursuing it to begin with. Even though I know why they are leaving, and even though I don’t blame them when they do, even though I see how other career paths would be more desirable, I have never regretted my decision to spend my days in a classroom.

Much like Danks though, I have been driven to a place I never thought I would go. I am panhandling for my classroom. Rather than on the side of the road, I have taken to the internet, to DonorsChoose.org.

donorsThrough DonorsChoose, I am asking for contributions towards books for my students. My project, if met, would allow me to place high-interest texts of both fiction and non-fiction into the hands of all 38 students in both of my honors classes. Books that deal with issues like the cultural and social impact of technology on the adolescent psyche, mental health, racism, the immigrant experience, and the achievement gap. Books that they can relate to that will help them to build empathy for others and to make sense of their world.

Because, let’s face it: often our world doesn’t make sense. When I look at education in this country, it most certainly doesn’t make sense. But at the end of the day, I can complain about it, or I can work towards a solution.

DonorsChoose is my attempt at a solution. It won’t change the number of students in my classroom nor will it affect the district’s budget, but what it will do is allow me to wiggle my wrists ever so little, to help this teacher to burn on rather than burn out.

To contribute to my project, visit DonorsChoose.org

 

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Love, Learn, and Eat Crow

We both agreed. We were not going to be those parents who had our kids enrolled in so many activities that we spent our evenings driving from one place to the next, eating take-out in the car, unable to sit down together for family dinner and with little time to spare for getting the homework done.

No siree.

Well folks, for family dinner tonight, we’re eating crow, and my husband and I are both having a plate-full.

This last week of summer break, my daughter finished her first season of golf and began her first season of soccer. Practices were stacked back-to-back. Simultaneously, she is working towards her black belt in karate, and shortly after school resumes, Girls on the Run will begin. This Fall, she’ll likely be at a game or practice of some sort six days of the week.

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We have no one to blame but ourselves. We are the ones who completed online registrations and took her to buy cleats. We are the ones who dropped her off at the golf course and we are the ones who remind her to practice her Heian Shodan and her Pal Gue 2. It is I who will be her running buddy for her 5k in November and her father who will cheer her on as she crosses the finish line.

The little girl who only ever wanted to come home from school and play with her baby sister is growing. Her interests are expanding, and we are eating crow.

One evening, on a trip to Target, my daughter mentioned that she’d like to give soccer a try. She found a pink ball in the sporting aisle and carried it all around the store, so I bought it for her. In the following weeks, she’d kick it around the back yard with my husband and take it to the park. I watched her long, tanned legs dribble the ball and her ponytail swing as she ran after it. She was already signed up for her running program and already involved in karate, but she wanted this experience too. After much discussion and deliberation, we signed her up.

Perhaps it was the what-if that made me agree to a three-sport season. What if this is what she gets really passionate about? What if she goes on to play soccer in high school? What if it earns her a college scholarship? What if I said no?    

So I said Yes. I said Yes despite all the times I hollered from the hilltops that I would never.

One of the many things I have learned as a parent is that anything is possible, so it’s probably best if we stopped speaking in absolutes.

It’s like that State Farm commercial where this couple gets engaged after the man swears to his buddy that he’s never getting married. Then, as they are flying on an airplane with a screaming child behind them, they both agree that they are never having kids. The scene cuts to the woman giving birth, after which the now family of three sits around their dinner table in their swanky apartment insisting that they’ll never move to the suburbs…which they do, along with purchasing a mini-van and having yet another baby, both things they said a firm “no” to in the previous scenes.

Women everywhere are guilty of claiming that they are never going to be that mom, whatever that mom is for them: the mom who is 100% organic or the chicken-nugget-mac-and-cheese-hot-dog-mom. The mom who vaccinates or the one who doesn’t. The mom who hasn’t made it to a single back-to-school night or the president of the PTO.

We’ve all shook our heads and tsk-tsk-tsked at that which becomes our own reflection in the mirror.

Even if I never proclaimed it out loud, I probably thought that I was never going to feed my children Goldfish crackers for breakfast, but that went down on more than one occassion.

We definitely weren’t going to let our children sleep in our bed, and so when we bought new furniture, we stuck with a queen-sized mattress.

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In hindsight, we should have gotten that king.

I was never going to make my children a separate meal from what we were eating for dinner, but after one taste of my Cajun crab chowder, I was back in the kitchen slapping together two grilled cheese sandwiches.

Likewise, I thought there would never come a day when we would be putting golf clubs in the trunk while taking shin guards out, yet here we are, and really, it’s okay.

As moms, we have all reneged on parenting choices we once said we would never do.

There’s no one-size-fits-all. What you thought might work failed. Situations and priorities change. People change. Maybe, as in the case of “I’m Not a ‘Crunchy’ Mom Anymore,” life threw something into your well-oiled machine, and as a result, you realize: This is who I am now. You accept it, or you forgive yourself, but either way, you let that shit go because, quite frankly, in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you used cloth diapers on only one of your children, so long as you loved and you learned.

 

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Beach Etiquette 101

“Why do they need all that space?” my mother asked.

We had just arrived at the lake and while it was only 9:00 in the morning, it was already packed. To the left of us were four pop-up shade structures and two beach umbrellas all belonging to one group, which at the time only consisted of half a dozen people. When my husband and I were first living together, we rented a cottage about the same size as the real estate they were taking up.

I knew from experience that within the hour there would be many more joining them. In hindsight, I wish we had picked another place to lay our blanket down, even if that meant lugging our cooler and dragging the Wonder Wheeler filled to the brim with buckets, shovels, inflatables, and beach chairs a mile through the sand.

Come they did. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and mothers. Fathers, children, cousins, and friends. Babies in diapers and sulky teenagers. Elderly women who never left the shade and rowdy kids who tackled each other in the water. All of which was fine. After all, when at the beach, I expect that a small child will waddle across my blanket trailing sand in his wake. I expect that a couple of boys with water shooters will accidentally spray me. When you are at the shore, you are going to get wet.

What wasn’t fine was the way our new neighbors seeped out from their rather large expanse and began invading our small plot of sand. They seemed to think that as they swelled, we would shrink, but they’d clearly never met my mother.

They encroached, yet my mother refused to budge. It was the principle. To accommodate them meant that we would begin crowding our other neighbors, and my mom didn’t think that was right. She dug her heels in the sand, but at one point, I turned around and saw that she’d been surrounded.

There was an empty baby stroller on one side of her, a camping chair set up behind her, a blanket on which more people sat to the other side of her, and a couple of teenagers were hammering in yet another umbrella at her back while a chubby baby tried opening our cooler. My mother was barely visible in the sea of people who literally set up camp around her.

That day, we left the lake hours earlier than I normally would have. It was not my sanctuary. A place I normally go to relax, I departed irritated and annoyed; the cooler I had begun packing at 7:00 in the morning was still half-full.

When company visits, the trip to Lake Tahoe is usually the gem we offer them. Regardless what they think of Reno, they will suck in their breath and break out their cameras at the sight of those turquoise waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

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Unfortunately, the one day I had to share this with my mom was marred by beachgoers lacking etiquette.

Proper seashore decorum is not difficult to master. All you need to do is consider a few things:

Music: Not everyone has the same tastes, so if you bring music to the beach, think about volume. For the people around you, your music, like gentle waves, should become a subtle part of the background. It should not feel akin to standing outside a nightclub. Likewise, if you are next to a family with youngsters, please refrain from sharing your love of gangster rap, even if you have small children of your own. While your parenting decision may be early exposure to expletives, my parenting decision is Kidz Bop, so kindly save 2Pac for the ride home in your car.

When Your Child Won’t Stop Crying: Children cry. Sometimes they cry a lot. However, if your child will not stop crying, then may I suggest you try something besides ignoring them. I know you think that what they need most is a nap, but the truth is that there are other people at the beach who also like to nap, and your child’s blood-curdling screams are preventing that from happening.

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Maybe you need to take your child for a walk, or let them play in the sand for a little while longer. Maybe they’d like to splash in the water. You are not at home, your schedule has been disturbed, and it’s likely they won’t doze off till they are back in their car seat. For the sanity of all of us, the beach is not the right place to practice sleep-training your child.

Personal Space: At the very least, there should be twelve inches between my blanket’s edge and yours. This boundary makes it clear to your toddler which items belong to you and which are mine, that way I don’t come back from a quick swim to find your little darling sticking his finger through my kid’s PB&J or dumping out my purse while you talk on your phone.

And About Kids: They are going to splash and scream and run past blankets kicking up dirt. Children are oblivious to the world around them, but adults are not. If your offspring are acting like ass-hats, it is your job to discipline them. When your boy lobs a fistful of wet sand at my gut, remind him that isn’t cool.

A Note About Activities: If you are going to play in the water, try to find an area away from where people are swimming. When your volleyball smacks down on my daughter’s head as she snorkels, or you tackle me trying to catch a football, I might get a little upset.

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To the man who brought his drone to the beach and flew it above my blanket: I don’t know what you are doing with your footage of pasty moms in bikinis, but you and your drone need to go.

When Your Activity is Getting Drunk: Want to stand in the water guzzling cheap beer and talking about last night’s party that you’re still drunk from? Although your conversation does remind me of all the reasons I’m glad I am no longer in my twenties, try to remember that water carries voices, especially ones too plastered to realize they are yelling in the first place. Since you chose to come to a family friendly beach, your sordid tales are best kept to a whisper.

Additionally, if you have been sucking back Bloody Marys all day, it’s probably better if you didn’t initiate conversation with your neighbors in the sand. When you see my children with their summer tans and ask me, “What are they mixed with?” it is time to switch to water.

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Beach etiquette is fairly simple. A good rule of thumb is to try to not disturb your fellow-beachgoers, mentally or physically. If you think what you are doing will, then find a stretch of sand slightly more remote. After all, everyone comes to the beach for the same reason. In the end, we’d all like to return home a little more relaxed.

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The Universe is Speaking

I am 39 and The Universe is speaking to me. Or maybe, I am 39 and I have finally started to listen. Either way, there are signs all around me as of late; I am paying attention to them and they are leading me places I otherwise may not have travelled.

At 39, I have found my authenticity. I make time for myself in ways I never would before. I am learning to say no to others and learning to say yes to me.

Last winter I took a class in meditation simply because I wanted to. The email that informed me of the course came from the city’s recreation department, but The Universe hit send. Establishing a meditation practice has not been easy, but it’s been beyond valuable. Summer mornings, I roll out an old yoga mat and sit on my deck; I close my eyes, pop in my earbuds, and listen to guided meditations that remind me to breathe. I tell my children not to disturb me unless the house is on fire and for the most part, they don’t. I hear the chirping of birds in my back yard as I inhale and exhale to the voice of someone I’ll likely never meet.

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The more I meditate, the less I want to drink, and the less I drink, the healthier I feel. I can tolerate more and am better equipped at dealing with stress, which ironically is why I drank in the first place. I stopped coming home at the end of a long work day and pouring a glass of wine; I poured, instead, a cup of tea. For this unexpected gift, I have The Universe to thank.

When a friend of mine spoke of her newfound love for reflexology, I thought, I’d like to try that, so I did. Though the reflexologist kept telling me how healthy I was, I learned that it wasn’t reflexology that I needed–I needed to hear other things she had to say. The Universe had sent me there to receive those messages.

We talked about homeopathy and our casual banter led to her mentioning Arnica, a remedy used for healing. For my father, being scheduled for double knee replacements only a few weeks later, this message from The Universe was perfectly timed. I immediately bought and shipped him the small blue vial along with the instructions for him to begin taking it three days prior to his procedure. In the coming weeks, I felt more at ease about his going under the knife knowing that The Universe was looking out for him in ways I personally could not.

The reflexologist and I also spoke about our love of TedTalks. One of her favorites was by Brené Brown. Currently, she was reading one of her books on vulnerability but she mentioned another called The Gifts of Imperfection which sounded vaguely familiar.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I was searching for something that I pulled out that very book from my nightstand. A gift from my friend who, much like my mom, sends me links to articles and buys me books that she thinks I will benefit from; it had sat within arm’s reach of my bed untouched for several years. I blew off the dust and began reading. The Universe had spoken. (My friend would probably have you note that she had also spoken about three years prior, but I wasn’t listening then…nor was she “The Universe.”)

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It was within the pages of this book that I learned about shame. At 39, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t fully understand what shame was or how it operated. Oh I struggled with guilt, but shame was not something I would have admitted to. I was prone to claiming no shame to my game…but there was, and now that The Universe pointed it out to me, it was abundant.

When I finished the book, I checked out Brené Brown on Ted where she said that, “for women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat.”

For so many years I have been a self-proclaimed perfectionist, but do I really want to be the woman who runs the vacuum before the babysitter arrives? Those gourmet sandwiches that I packed for the beach were delicious, but each time my friend suggested we menu plan for an outing, I felt my anxiety rise. All I needed was a PB&J and a juicy plum from the cooler but there was this pressure I felt to say yes, to do more, to be better.

Brown says, “Shame for women is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we are supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”

When I became a mother, my instinct was to put the needs of my children before my own, but I clearly forgot I had needs altogether. As women, we nurture and we please to the extent of our own detriment.

In a Dear Sugar podcast, The Power of No, the Sugars suggest only saying yes to those things that feel good, that light a spark within you. People shouldn’t feel shame or apologize for having their own needs. Later, when they interview Oprah Winfrey, she shares her own journey with learning to say no.

“I used to be spread so thin, there was no room in my life for me. There was No Room in My Life for Me.”

As a wife and a mother and a teacher, I felt like Oprah. It has only been in the past few years that I have started to make time for me—time at the gym, time to write, or simply extra time by allowing myself to serve chicken nuggets for dinner. Thanks to The Universe, I’m making room with shameless abandon because I want to raise children without shame and guilt, and I cannot do so without first modeling what that looks like.

I’m still practicing the art of no. As it turns out, the easiest person to deny is yourself. Yet as I learned with meditation, there are twenty-four hours in each day; you are worth ten-minutes.

In the preface of her book, Brené Brown writes, “People may call what happens in midlife ‘a crisis,’ but it’s not. It’s an unraveling… a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.” While I cringe to think that I have hit the mid-point of my life, I am certainly unraveling. After being wound tight for so very long, there is freedom in that.

She then adds, “The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”

I am 39 and The Universe is speaking to me. It hasn’t suggested I grow out my hair or buy a Harley, yet the other day, after I told my friend about my upcoming Reiki appointment, she jokingly questioned: Who are you? Rhetorical or not, I responded: This. This is who I am. And I felt confident in that answer in ways I never had before.

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Pro Kadima and My Marriage

On Friday, my husband and I celebrated eleven years of marriage. Thursday night we went out to dinner and spent the night at a local resort casino. While romantic, it was nothing like last year when we went to Maui for the big ten. If you don’t remember, I wrote about that trip here.

Eleven years is an accomplishment, but it doesn’t feel like one of the milestone anniversaries. Even so, as I pause to reflect on our marriage, I realize that most of what’s important can be found in a simple game played on the shore.

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When my husband and I go to the beach, there are a few things you can count on. The first is Doritos. There’s something about Doritos and the beach that just go together. The day my husband proposed to me we were at The Secret Beach in Southampton. That’s not really the name of the beach, but it was the moniker my friends and I used for it. This stretch of sand was harder to find than most and therefore less crowded. It was one of my favorite spots on Long Island which made it the perfect place for him to have gotten down on one knee. The problem was that I wouldn’t stop reaching my hand into that bright red bag…and he was attempting to slip a ring on my finger. I guess his nerves got the better of him when he finally snapped, “Would you put the chips down for a minute? I’m trying to do something here!”

The engagement ring was so beautiful I am certain no one noticed that my fingers were stained orange with nacho cheese powder.

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Champagne toast after I said yes.

The second thing you can count on are sand castles. My husband could be a professional sand artist. The kids and I love this about him, but truth be told, he was building sand castles long before we had children. We spent our honeymoon in St. Martin and even then, his sculptures were on display. Nowadays, he will enlist the kids in helping him, but eventually they’ll get bored and go play in the water while my husband sweats it out and finishes his creation.

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Mike’s “Ancient Ruins” in Maui.

The final guarantee is Pro Kadima, or paddle ball.

I could take or leave most games involving a round object, but bring me to the beach and put a wooden racket in my hand and I am in it to win it. My husband will play anything and so if we are in our swimsuits, we are playing Pro Kadima. We stand in the water, no matter how cold it is, and volley that ball for hours.

Paddle ball is more than just a sport played for amusement; for me, it is a metaphor for my marriage: We are in this game together for the long haul.

I never knew that there was more than one way to play paddle ball, but apparently, there are some who adhere to the same rules used in tennis. There is a net, some form of boundary lines are drawn in the sand, and the two players are opponents. We’ve never played that way.

For my husband and I, we are teammates, competing together to keep the ball in play. We both must give it our all if we want to be successful even if that means diving for the ball and face-planting in the sand. This level of commitment does not go unnoticed. We congratulate each other while we offer a hand to pull them up to their feet.

Sometimes our volleys get so intense that I feel like we are ready for the Olympic team should they ever have one. There is a dedication to our play as I mentally count our number of passes….61, 62, 63, 64, 65

When the going gets good, I eventually begin to laugh which inevitably hinders my ability to play well, but it wouldn’t feel like my marriage if there was no laughter.

This is usually when I start to imagine the other beachgoers watching us in awe, but I can’t look to see if we are, in fact, the center of attention; I’ve got to keep my eye on that ball. It’s too bad that no one applauds for us. In our marriage, we need to keep our focus on one another and what we are doing. Those times when we don’t, when we get distracted and look away, that’s when we drop the ball.

Not every volley is a good volley. Sometimes one of us serves and it comes up a little short; the other person doesn’t even reach for it. Sometimes we can’t even get to double-digits. Sometimes one of us wants to keep playing and the other person wants to lie on their towel and take a nap. Sometimes there is bickering, and sometimes there is blame. You could have gotten that. What kind of serve was that?

When we realize that we aren’t playing our best, we frequently decide to switch sides. This simple change in position is often all we need to see things from a new perspective. And then, we set a small goal. OK, we are going to play till we get to at least 20. With renewed energy and concentration, we change our mindset. Often, we are surprised to see how easy it is to surpass that score.

Throughout my marriage, there are distinct moments when I look at my husband and think: I love this man so much.

The day he asked me to marry him—Dorito breath and all– I felt it. It coursed through my veins after the birth of our first child. I feel it when I watch the curve of his back as he works to craft towers out of sand. I feel it when he wraps his arms around me and stares in my eyes for just a moment before offering me a kiss. And always, I am reminded when we are knee-deep in translucent waters, the sun shining down on us as we send a one-inch sphere back and forth between us in the bluest of skies.

Eleven years. One number in the volley of our marriage.

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And they lived happily ever after…

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Summertime Rules

Listen up, Kids–

We all know that summertime rules, but there are also some new and improved rules for summer–rules like sometimes the only thing that really needs to be washed before bed are our feet. My advice to you is to roll with it. Before you know it, we’ll be back at Target stocking up on Ticonderoga number two pencils and jumbo glue sticks.

Having a mom who is also a teacher means that you are way more likely to get a yes out of me in the summertime when requesting frozen yogurt for dinner or asking to sleep outside on the trampoline. You can pretty much guarantee that if it means less work for me, I’m in. After all, I’m off for the summer, and sometimes I can get a little carried away with that.

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{courtesy of Imgur}

So in case you were wondering, these are our Summertime Rules:

  1. Bedtimes are Flexible

Some nights you might be in bed by 8 pm, questioning why you must sleep when the sun is still up; some nights we won’t walk in the door till after 9 or 10. As a result, many mornings, I’ll get to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee when the air is still cool and the sun is just peeking over the back fence.

  1. For the Time Being, French Fries are Considered a Vegetable

As a mom who tries to make sure that you consume a fruit or vegetable with every meal, from the months of June through August, the French-Fried potato is perfectly acceptable for fulfilling that requirement. Bonus points are awarded for choosing ketchup over ranch.

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  1. If it Weren’t for Beach Towels and Bathing Suits, the Washing Machine Might Never Run

I’m not one of those moms who does laundry round the clock so that it is always under control; I’m more of the weekend warrior. During the school year, my washing machine starts on Fridays at 4:00 and runs till Sunday night when the both of us are officially off-duty. You had better hope you got enough clean underwear for the week otherwise you’ll be turning those suckers inside-out.

Come summer, you may find the washer running mid-week, but only because we need towels for the beach. Be thankful for the warm weather as you will get considerably more use out of that birthday suit.

  1. And Speaking of Cleaning…

I might run a Lysol wipe over the bathroom counter. I might clean the toilets from time to time, but not before there is a visible mildew ring. Yes, I’ll drag out the vacuum, but the primary purpose is to suck up a spider that is crawling along the ceiling. Speaking of which, have you seen the impressive cobwebs in the kitchen? Is anyone going to take care of that? 

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During the summer months, I find myself asking deep philosophical questions like: If one is not home to see the dirt, does it exist?

  1. Naps are In

The day after a sleepover, in the car on the way home from the lake, or on the couch mid-afternoon for no other reason than your eyes needed a break from that book you can’t put down, naps are a thing. These naps can happen at any time of the day or night and it’s not going to interfere with anyone’s schedule, because there is no schedule.

It doesn’t matter if you are going into the fourth grade or your fourth decade, naps are for everyone.

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  1. Most Meals will be Eaten Out of Doors and Out of Coolers

Summer is a picnicker’s paradise…except for the fact that like cleaning, I’ve also stopped making any regular trips to the grocery store, and when I do go, it’s for a box of Bomb Pops and a bag of Doritos. This brings a fun element of surprise to every meal. You may find yourself eating a slice of cheese sandwiched between two different types of bread.

You thought your school lunches got pathetic at the end of the year? Just wait till you see what constitutes as dinner come August when we’re at Music in the Park.

  1. Books, Books, and More Books

Summer is for devouring all the books I wanted to read during the school year, but couldn’t. The Amazon Prime account will be used to its full potential as will my library card. Pretty much everything we do is covertly planned around creating time for my own selfish reading. Yes, we are going to the water park again because throughout the day, I can get through a good five chapters in between frolicking in the wave pool.

Likewise, if you tell me you are bored, you know what my suggestion will be.

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  1. Running Around = My New Workout Program

I know I started the summer with good gym intentions. I know I said I was going to attend yoga class three to four times a week, get in a couple long runs, and lift weights in-between. Those first couple of weeks, I did go to the gym practically every day, but now that it’s July, I’ve decided that running from one activity to another is my exercise.

At the very least, I can say that I’ve mastered my corpse pose.

  1. I’m So (Not) Fancy

On the rare occasion that I shower, blow-dry my hair, apply make-up, and put on anything other than a swimsuit, cut-off jean shorts, or yoga pants, my youngest will invariably ask me why I am so fancy.

Note taken, Kid.

  1. We’ve Got Time to Kill 

The other day, we dropped off my oldest at golf, and then my youngest and I went to Starbucks where we ordered and then sat at a table. I found a penny on the floor and we used it to play games that we made up on the spot, like seeing how long we could balance it on our noses while calling out tricks for the other person to do. Now take a sip of your drink. Can you wink with the penny balanced on your nose? Now wink with the other eye.

We giggled and we got some strange looks, but it was all made possible due to that glorious thing called time, which for once, was on our side.

Every day in the summer is another opportunity to wake up and ask, “What shall we do today?” And that, my friends, is the beauty of summer.

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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 topple 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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