Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reshaping a Life: Reflections on Less Yes

Saying yes less has helped me slowly reshape my life.

Over the course of my Lenten season, I worked strategically to identify and set priorities in my life.

I have a tendency to quickly jump at change, whether it be quitting all of the things at once or adding all of the things to my to-do list.

In the wake of the shattering loss of my mom, I had to guard myself. I knew, all to well, that I would want to leap at change and make myself feel better with the rush of something new.

When I set out this year to nourish myself, I knew that change would come, and I finally feel ready.

The past several years have offered a growing career, becoming a mom (twice), facing my mom's illness, and simply living my day-to-day life, and I've lost sight of too much. I've hidden myself in commitments.

Commitments look good from the outside. I'm bringing in extra money! I'm getting published! I'm a leader on my campus! All of the exclamation points!

I could write 20 blog posts (#becauseoverachiever) about what happens to me when I over-commit, but the purpose of my Lenten promise was to look at what happens to me when I don't.

Who am I without an overwhelming, fast-paced (self-induced) schedule?

As good as it eventually feels, letting go terrifies me.

I took it slowly, and opportunities to say no began to present themselves.

When I thought about how I felt when others rejected my photography skills (both directly and indirectly), I recognized that it needed to go.

With a photography business carefully and prayerfully set aside, other priorities started to float to the surface.

Should I continue to force my direct sales business, or should I back off and let it grow as the hobby I originally intended? I emailed my upline and let her know about some changes she might see in my commission statements, and I immediately felt better.

As invitations, volunteer opportunities, and sales videos poured into my inbox, I refrained from an immediate yes or no.  I have intentionally let go of immediate responses.

There's a rush that comes from commitment. My schedule looks full and warm and happy.

But there's a dangerous low that follows the high.

In December, we participated in a wellness conversation at work. They warned us about "burn out." I related to Every. Single. Symptom.

The holidays and packed travel preceded back-to-school and family tragedy.  February passed in a blur of tears and sickness.

And then Lent began, with its promising gift of renewal.

Finally, I could take a moment to step back and reflect on this time in my life.

I'm trying to piece it all together into something that makes sense for me, and it doesn't always go smoothly.

I'm the least perfect person I know, and I've probably offended people as I settle into a new kind of life. I have new priorities. Why won't you let me be part of all of the things that are now my priorities as of this week? I definitely didn't need to shout my demands at people. I have made mistakes.  I find there's a bluntness that comes with grief. Couple that with an active desire to change the patterns of my life, and, well, emotional responses happened. I'm paying a price. And I'm also working on it.

While Lent has ended, my promise will continue.  I will keep steadily pulling at the pieces and rebuilding.

We have a crazy new season starting soon. My son will move from preschool to kindergarten. He will enter a new phase of childhood, and we will take a new step as parents.

Change is still coming, and I hope that I can face it with grace.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Slow Season: Facing Change As It Comes

Years ago, like in high school, I watched a TV movie with my mom. We watched a lot of those. Anyway, in this one, a woman suffered an unfathomable loss.  During the days, weeks, and months after her loss, people get telling her get over it.  Even then, when the most I'd lost was my great-grandparents - family I loved but was not surprised to lose, even then, I knew getting over it would never be that simple.

Fast forward many years, and I find myself in those very shoes.

Not getting over it.

I don't cry.  That doesn't surprise me.

I do, though, let the pain hit me throughout the day.  I watch my daughter devour cottage cheese and want to tell my mom, since that just screams of her personality.  And BMX? Did I mention BMX? My son loves it, and it's easy for him. Nothing has been easy.  I want to call my mom and tell her that something finally fits for my boy.

But I can't tell her.

It's a season of change.  Those come along anyway, no matter what we do, but loss cannot help but speed along a new season.

I get into trouble when my seasons change.

I have a bad habit of starting and stopping.  My mom used to tell me that I was terrible with beginnings and endings, that I needed more middle.  She wasn't wrong.

Knowing this about myself, and also with the full awareness that this is an unnatural season, not something simply flowing from moment to moment, I am cautious.

Two months after my mom's death, I have only quit one thing and not taken on anything new. I've let my son wrap-up his time with gymnastics - he has found something else that sparks his heart, and I need to respect that.  Still, nearly two years of weekly lessons and the random assortment of Mommy & Me classes before that meant something, and the end of that signals a new season for my boy.

But I can feel it.  I can feel more change coming in my life. 

In the past (almost) five years of motherhood. I've tried to squeeze myself into some boxes that don't fit. My mom told me that I tend to jump in, feet first, considering the consequences only when I'm in over my head.  She wasn't wrong.

I am trying to hear her voice and take some slower steps.

With time, with caution, with reflection, I can keep breaking out of those boxes and finding something that fits better.

When I sit with myself, with God, things start to make a bit more sense.

This morning, settling into my classroom for the day, I realized, I'm not going to look for the next new thing, for this change that's coming. I'm going to wait for it. I'm going to let change show itself to me.

And I felt so relieved.

I don't have a timeline.

I don't have to go in search of change.

Change will find me.

And before I know it, I'll be back in the middle. And that's where I thrive.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Never the Best: On Living for the Joy of It

"It must be hard hearing you're not the best."

Someone I respect told me this a few years ago in a moment of his own weakness.  He had an excuse for saying "No" to me, but he knew that the excuse was invalid; so, he told me this instead. The real reason came out much later, but in that moment, the words stung.


I'm not the best. Never have been.

Being the best at something would have required a lot more than I had or was willing to give, at various points in my life.  My parents didn't have the resources or the time for me to be the best at a sport. Nor did I have coaches who saw some underdog potential in me that they felt compelled to cultivate.  Other students were better at school than me and were willing to sleep less to make sure that stayed true for them.

Cleaning out my parents' house, I've found my piles of certificates. They show that I had great grades, that I made it into honors programs and clubs, that I earned scholarships.  I also found essays scored with a careless A or A- and a couple of condescending comments about how I could probably change up my tone every now and again.  Yep. Not the best.


I tried to be the best, or so I thought. I wanted it (perhaps not enough). In that quest for the best, which looking back, I had zero chance of completing, I lost a lot. Or I should say, I missed a lot.

I missed parties or adventures with friends to stay home and write was was, apparently, basically the same essay 140 times. I avoided classes I would potentially not ace, because I didn't see the value in education for the sake of education.

I do now. I see it.


Even when I know it's true, it's still hard to not be the best. It's hard when someone signs up for a photo session, either through casual talk or through actual, written down, yes, I'll work with you, and then, before solidifying a date, posts photos exclaiming how awesome this photographer is and how I'll only ever work with her. And it's not me.  

It's challenging when people I trust go around talking about how incredible someone's photography is and how grateful they are to have such an awesome photographer around to take all their photos and how lucky they are to have found them. And it's not me.  Oh. Gotcha.

It's hard hearing I'm not the one chosen.

I love photography.

But I also know my limits. I know that I have some serious gaps in my maturity.

I'm not really great at handling these rejections with grace.

Beyond the rejections, for whatever those unspoken reasons from people I know and love might be, I also know I'm not at the same level the photographers I admire.

Aside from the occasional missed dinner or trip to the grocery store, I haven't sacrificed in the ways that a lot of professional photographers have, and I know I never will.

I want to grow as an artist without also worrying about growing a business.

I want to enjoy the light of a perfect spring evening without worrying if I'm going to place my clients the right way to avoid the shadow on their faces. I want to learn how the pros I admire get those perfect edits without feeling like some weird little competitor.

I want to nourish myself as an artist. End of story.

I'm incredibly grateful that my mom bought me Bittersweet. I keep coming back to the idea of seasons.  Trying to turn my photography into a business was a season. In that season, I felt foggy and like I had something to prove about my identity beyond motherhood. That season has ended.  

An hour or so after I posted my announcement, feeling lighter than I have in months, I took my kids to a local park. I buckled my daughter in the Tula, and she looked at me, smiled, and hugged me around the neck.   My son rode his bike and practiced going down hills, insisting that I watch him as he demonstrated his skills.

For what time I have with them while they're little, and for what time I have while they think I'm the best, well, I want to focus on that and not let my thoughts and my energy dwell on anything else.

I feel a new season starting, and I welcome its arrival.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Strong Women

My beautiful, brilliant, spunky daughter had a fever and other various symptoms yesterday.

I stayed home with her.

I held my whimpering daughter, trying to comfort her and get her through this illness.

We aren't a television watching household, not much anyway, but the television comforted her yesterday. We watched a bit of Chicken Little, because she saw the chicken on Netflix and wanted to watch. We watched Home because of the colorful graphics.

Then we happened upon My Little Pony.

I played with My Little Ponies, Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, all of them. But I watched Voltron, Thunder Cats, and He-man & She-ra.

Before yesterday, I didn't know.

The first scenes of the first season of the new My Little Pony show "Twilight Sparkle" running around researching, learning, discovering. Then, she gets a directive from her mentor and teacher, "Princess Celesteia," to go to Ponyville and organize a party, oh, and stop studying so much and work on getting some friends.


Sure, the rest of the episode and the couple that followed show "Twilight Sparkle" meeting a few supportive friends, all who have special qualities that make them good ponies.  Good, right?

But good enough? Enough to push our daughters to greatness?

I (harshly) posted about the show in a group.  The answers? Oh, give it a chance. It gets much better.

Give it a chance?

My little bitty daughter can't pick through the subtleties of a cartoon. I will find something else, something that is more obvious in its support of intelligence and inquiry.

I don't want my daughter to have to read through all of the mane tossing and giggling to figure out that what they are really talking about is that everypony has their strengths, and we can all work together, despite our differences.

Kids take these cartoons at face values. She will process very pretty little ponies stomping their hooves, tossing their manes, giggling, and going on about their business.

What's wrong with that?


When my son watches what are clearly "boy" shows, does he see characters telling each other to stop studying? No, he says Dino Dan exploring, through study and scientific experiment, what dinosaurs can do.  He grabs his friends, including girls, to go experiment with him. No one stops him, least of all a teacher, to suggest he go play some baseball and have some fun, instead.  Instead, the teachers and parents make learning fun - they let Dan explore his passion and interest through art, experiment, and more.

On Octonauts, the characters help each other, those around them, and there's nary a hair flip.  Dashi and Tweak (name aside...) are key parts of the team, with Dashi documenting and researching new sea creatures and Tweak engineering the ship and developing new techniques.  They make study and academics something normal and expected rather than something to do less of.

It's clear that I'm not a "girly girl." I do love pink, and I have a huge collection of colored pens and patterned leggings.  But I have never once used flirtation to get my way - I wouldn't even know where to begin. That's neither my strength nor my style.

And I'd rather it not be my daughter's style either.

As a teacher, I've watched countless girls bat their eyes, smile, and expect to get their way, either with teachers or other students. And it makes me cringe.

Women should be able to get what they want, what they need, on their own merits.

Women should not have to hide their intelligence behind beauty.

Sure, women can follow fashion, fix their hair, and be the most brilliant people on earth.

It's when they do all of these things and still say, "I don't know..." and shrug cutely, when we all know they have the answer, that we have a problem.

My mother taught me better than that.

I have dealt with my fair share of, "Oh, just smile and laugh it it off."

In one instance of sexual harassment at work was told, by three female supervisors, to, and I quote,"Giggle and look away." Have my male peers been given the same directive?


I want more and expect more for and from my daughter than giggles and flirtation to hide her intelligent mind.

I love that, so far, the girls my son admires most are fierce, intelligent, and vibrant.  He gets it. He is drawn to strength.

I believe that strength resides in owning our intelligence, in proving that femininity and womanhood need not be defined by simpering flirtation.  Yes, there is strength in love, in kindness.  But when women set aside their intelligence in favor of appearance, they reveal only weakness.

I want to cultivate strength in my daughter, my son, and my students.

Be smart.

Be brave.

Be kind.

And let us see all of it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Say Yes Less

Much to the surprise of some of my students when it came up in discussion today (OH MY GOD, IT'S ASH WEDNESDAY??? I ATE A PORK CHOP!!), Lent has, indeed, begun.

I love Lent.

I love it for the religious and spiritual meanings.

I also love it for the practical point that it offers another chance to start again. Man, I love my opportunities to start fresh.

While I feel like I am doing fairly well with my New Year's resolution to nourish myself, I know that I can deepen my understanding of what this means.

This year, I have decided to focus on saying yes...less.

First, I had to to take a moment to reflect on why I agree to so much, take on so many responsibilities, volunteer for tasks I will later regret.

I realized that my reasons fall into one of two major categories.

Call Me at Midnight

I say yes because I want to be the person people depend on. Maybe it's an only child thing. Maybe it's changing schools and moving around and swapping out best friends over the years.  But I want to be the person you call.  I want to be so useful that I'm the first name people think of when I they need help.  I want to be included, part of an extended family...I want to be the one you call at midnight.

Give Me a Voice

I say yes because it gives me a voice. If I do all of those little things. If I turn around a project before you know it. If I put together subcommittees. If I agree to sub a day in the front office. Then I get some capital. I have shown that I care, and that care grants me a place at the table.  Now I can use my voice, my knowledge, my understanding to gradually make change, to grow an organization.

Let Me Matter

In both scenarios, I want to be seen.  I'm sure there are deeper emotional issues at play here, deeper than I care to explore right this second. But I can easily see that I eagerly say yes far too often and with far too much speed.

I Will Nourish

Each year, I sit and pray about, reflect on my concentration for Lent. I let go of "giving up" something tangible long ago.  I needed to feel the season more.  My first idea was that I need to say no more.  Then I realized it's not about the active response. It's about something quieter.

Once I came to the conclusion to "Say yes less," I realized that the first reason I say yes, that need to be needed.

I have to let that one go.  Not just for Lent. But for good.

The reason?

I have two tiny humans who need me more than they need anyone else on Earth.  They do, in fact, call me at midnight with their crazy requests.  I am the first person on their mind when they need something. And when I keep pushing myself out there as someone's go-to-girl, I take myself away from them.  And I can't do that anymore.

I will do what nourishes me, what nourishes my family, not what feeds some deep-seeded emotional deficit.

In this Lenten season, I will nourish the now, rather than a broken past. And after all, isn't that what Easter teaches us?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mourning in Slow Motion

One month.

A big part of me wants to stop writing right there.

My heart hurts.

Since she died (ugh), some crazy things have happened. Words I wrote got shared more than I could have imagined possible.  I took some fantastic photos. I met incredible people. I read great books. I played in the snow with some very happy children who (more than slightly) resembled marshmallows.

And I can't tell her about any of it outside of a prayer.

Today, alone I have wanted to talk to my mom approximately 142 times, probably more.



When my daughter refused to put on her pants this morning and ran around the house naked for a bit.

When my son told me that he had a great day because he got no timeouts.

When the dog possibly stole the cheese, and we found a clue, and I thought, "But you're telling me there's a chance." We had a bazillion inside jokes, and I clearly heard her voice and saw the gestures that go with that particular one.

When I wanted to say, "I love you."

All of it. All of the little things. Because that's who we were.

Each time, I got punched in the gut.


I miss her with my whole body.

I miss her voice. I miss her laugh. God, how I miss her laugh.  I miss her hugs. I miss the way she held my hand. I miss her. 

I thought I missed her while she was busy dying. But I had no idea.



"We are going to Mimi and Boppy's house, but now it's just Boppy's house. Because Mimi died." I (insert expletive here) hate that my son has to say words like that.

When my son crawls into my bed at some point in the night (I refuse to look at the clock), I wrap my arms around him. I kiss his head. I hold him tight.

I pour all the love I felt from my mama into my own children.

They tell me it's the first year that's the hardest.

I can count the milestones already.

My daughter says, "Bottle," now, instead of "Bawwwwwl."  She loves to say, "No no no no no." She pushes her hair out of her eyes and rules the room.

My son will finish preschool this year. I started worrying a few months ago about if my mom would make it to the graduation.  Now, I know.  

Now, I know.

And we keep on moving. We keep on loving. We keep on getting punched in the gut. Because that's how it feels to be human.

I'm still a raw, open wound.  I can (mostly) hold it together in my "regular" life (because what else do you do? I have a life that needs living, kids that need loving, students that need teaching, air that needs breathing).

But when I sit down to write, well, gut punch.

One month.

And counting.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Gratitude: Let Them Help You

Let people help you.

Make sure you ask for help.

Let me know if there's anything I can do.

In the minutes, hours, and days since my mother's death, I've had these words rolling around in my mind.

We're okay.

People are doing too much.

My husband feels ready to move back into our normal flow, into making our own dinners.  I'm not quite there yet, and so, I am grateful for the meal train that keeps moving, for the texts, messages, posts, cards, that keep coming my way.

My mom drilled into me that thank you cards make society function.

As of the day of her death, as far as I'd gotten with thank you cards for CHRISTMAS was...to buy the cards.

I had decided to give myself grace this year, to not write them. My life has begun, again, to overwhelm me, and I have to let some things go, bit by bit, if I'm to survive this with any bit of my sanity intact.

Part of me wonders if my mom is shaking her head at me, because thank you cards matter. The rest of me knows that she understands. 

Do what you have to.

Don't let the little stuff get to you.

And other choice language.

I need grace right now, and I have to give it to myself, too.

While I might find the process of writing post-funeral thank you cards cathartic, I have decided to write out my gratitude here, instead.

You wanted to help. Thank you for that.

You made me let you help. Thank you for that.

You helped in 1,000 different ways.

You texted me.

You called me.

You messaged me.

You posted on Facebook or Instagram.

You shared stories, condolences, good wishes, connections to your own life.

You reached out once, twice, thirty times to make sure that I am managing through this all okay.

You understand my relationship with my mom and know that the feelings of loss will come in waves.

You sent flowers, well-thought out and important flowers.

You shopped to help fund her memorial scholarship fund.

You prepared our home.

You flew across the country to remember her and support us.

You came to her viewing.

You snuck in the back of the funeral with your baby.

You cared for my children and entertained them while I dealt with the sorrow, the pain, the organizing.

You held my hand.

You walked beside me.

You made us food.

In each gesture, no matter the size, you loved me.

I will always remember your kindness and support.

Thank you.