New School Year, New Season

There’s just a few short days left of summer, and Wednesday we’ll be entering a new season: all 3 kids will be in school 5 days a week! Our family’s biggest milestone is Charlotte starting Kindergarten, and although she doesn’t say much about it, I can tell she’s both excited and anxious. Her teacher called a few days ago, and of course I immediately stalked her on Facebook. I showed her profile picture to Charlotte, and she spent a good 30 seconds studying it, a tiny hint of a smile on her face. Today, she made her teacher a card, carefully printing each letter of her name over a drawing of a flower surrounded by tiny hearts.

Yesterday, Charlotte got her hair cut, losing about 3 inches of length. She now sports a cute, happy little bob that frames her face and hopefully won’t look stringy and ratty by the end of the day like had become the norm with her long hair. She insists that she wants to wear only dresses to school, so today I braved the tax free weekend crowds and bought her 5 dresses at the Gymboree outlet. I didn’t take her, because I value my sanity, so I hope the dresses I chose will be acceptable when I show them to her.

Daycare this summer has been a really good experience for Charlotte. She thrives on structure, yet loves the freedom to be creative, and the little country daycare she and Nolan attended, just a block from where I work, was the perfect combination of scheduled days with lots of free, open ended play. I hope that her first year in highly structured public school will be a good experience and she’ll continue to love school as she always has.

Grayson will be a second grader this year, and will meet his third new Life Skills teachers in as many years tomorrow night. I also spoke to her on the phone last week, and she seems kind, calm and mentioned several times how adorable G is in the pictures she’s seen of him. She has 25 years experience teaching special needs kids, and let me know she has a special needs son of her own, so I’m not worried. We have yet to have a bad experience in the 6 years G has been going to school, so I have lots of optimism about this year.

I took Grayson to get his hair cut this afternoon, a job that I am forever assigning to Ryan from now on. I never remember which number blade we ask to buzz his hair with, and today ended up way too short. But, it’s hair, so I just shrugged and moved on. I never understand when people get so worked up about a haircut, especially at work and it’s dogs getting haircut. Hair grows back, people. Relax.

Nolan’s teacher called today; I already knew he’s getting the same teacher Charlotte had in the 3s, but it was still great to officially hear from her. She asked me if there was anything she needed to know about Nolan. Ummm….no? He’s a pretty easy kid, and teachers adore him. I guess I should have remembered to tell her he screams his head off, kicking and thrashing every. single. day. when I drop him off at daycare, but it’s all a scam. I tell him every morning, “Nolan, you’re not going to cry today when we go to class.” He sheepishly grins at me and says, “Yes. Yes, I AM going to cry.” And, he does. #fixitjesus.

But Nolan is potty trained, so I can’t complain about much. My biggest anxiety going into the summer was that he wouldn’t be trained in time for school to start after Labor Day. There was no need to worry, because by the end of the first week of daycare, he had it. The kid has the bladder of a camel- he can easily go 8-9 hours without having to pee, and I have to force him to sit on the potty and go. He still insists on wearing Pull-Ups to bed, although every morning they are bone dry. I’m going to make him start paying for his own if he wants to continue to wear them.

I’m anxious about a lot in my life, but am exceptionally grateful that my children going to school isn’t one of these things. This is my favorite time of year- new beginnings, new teachers, new friendships, new starts. Here’s to a great new school year for everyone!

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What I’m Reading and Listening to This Summer

I mentioned last week that I’m beginning the process of writing a book. I’m currently having an author website built that will house a new blog- I’m hoping it will be live in the next few weeks. My goal is to blog at least once a week and launch a bi-monthly newsletter as well, with recommendations on books, articles, podcasts, and anything else I’m loving. So, soon I’ll probably be asking you to subscribe to the newsletter (I’m learning that email lists are really important if you want to be published). But until I get it going, I’m going to blog those recommendations here.

Books

I’ll admit I do most of my reading via audiobooks these days, because when I have time to myself I’m writing. I can listen to audiobooks while I’m doing other things- shopping, driving, dishes, and laying in bed with my eyes closed. Plus, there’s something about authors reading their own work that makes me so happy- like, how amazing to be able to read aloud the words that took months and years to put together. I’m also loving the Libby app for borrowing audio books from my library- it’s so much more user-friendly than the original OverDrive. I do find non-fiction and memoir much easier to listen to an audio, so those genres are mostly what I’m reading right now.

I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett (Read on Audio)

I’ve been reading Janelle’s blog, Renegade Mothering, for years. Four years ago I attended BlogHer and she was one of the Voices of the Year, and have had a total writer-crush on her since. I listened to the entire 9.5 hour memoir in about 3 days and I alternated between total captivation with her story and intense envy of her writing. I love her raw and irreverent style that’s also almost poetic. I’m thinking of starting a GoFundMe so I can attend one of her writing retreats or classes.

Raise Your Voice by Kathy Khang

I’m on the launch team for this book, so I did receive an advance copy. The book is released this Tuesday. I’ve been following Kathy Khang on social media for a few years. She doesn’t hold back…on anything…and this book is a detailed manual on how to speak up for marginalized people and about social justice issues as a Christian. I loved it, and it reinforced my own desire to write about these topics.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

This is a book I’ll definitely be re-reading. I learned so much about my own white privilege and opened my eyes to issues and experiences black people face that I had never considered before. At times, this book made me really uncomfortable and even defensive, but I definitely grew in empathy and awareness of my place in this country. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book could change the world if enough people read it. I also loved this interview with Austin on The Beautiful Writers Podcast.

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (listened on audio)

This one isn’t a new book (published in 2013) but I finally decided to get into it following many recommendations over the past few years. I don’t read many self-help books, but I love this one for her casual writing style, humor and realistic advice and suggestions. I love her thoughts on intuition and throwing yourself into your dreams.

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey (listened on audio)

This is a book I think I’m going to need to purchase in hard copy, because I found myself wanting to “take notes” as I was listening. This is a really overwhelming topic for me- and this book is full of great research and best practices.

Articles

The Midlife Unraveling by Brene Brown

This article has been everywhere the past few months, but it took my breath away when I first read it because I so closely related to every word.

Motherhood in the Age of Fear (New York Times)

I read this one just today and it really resonated with me. I often feel like mothers my age are so scared of everything- and I can easily fall into that mindset too. What a different world my children are growing up in than I did. And, I admit that I do leave my children in the car occasionally when I run into a store for less than 5 minutes, especially when I have all 3 with me. To me, it’s safer to leave a 2 year old, a 5 year old and a 7 year old in a wheelchair buckled in our van than navigating all of them through a busy parking lot. But, apparently I can be arrested in Texas for making that common sense choice.

God, Trump and the Meaning of Morality (Washington Post)

I can’t stop thinking about this article. It’s just so profoundly sad and infuriating that this is normalized and considered Christianity. #notallevalgelicals of course, but I continue to question what it means to the world that I self-identify as a Christian.

Podcast Episodes

Bias: A Black and White Conversation Between Friends Smartest Person in the Room

This is an 8 part series featuring conversations about race from real-life friends. I loved the vulnerability of these conversations and learned so much. I looked forward to the newest release in this series every week- and now that it’s wrapped up you can binge the whole thing.

Roe v. Wade, Part 1: Who Was Jane Roe? and Roe v. Wade, Part 2: The Culture Wars The Daily (New York Times)

This was a super interesting and well done series on the history of Roe v. Wade. Regardless of your position on abortion, I think it’s really important for all of us to understand how and why it became such a divisive political issue (just relatively recently) in this country.

What are you reading and listening to lately?

Sunday Freewriting

On Sundays, I write.

I wish my younger adult self had known this is what I need to do- this is what gives me life and lights a fire inside me. This is how I prove to the world that no, I’m not the quiet, compliant girl you think I am.

I hate, hate, hate being called quiet. I’ve had that label for at least 30 years, and I just can’t shake it. Being labeled as quiet has been a synonym for many other labels in my life: dorky, stuck up, and bitchy being the main ones. I’m none of these. Ok, I probably was/am kind of dorky, but at this point in life, I’ve accepted and embraced it. I’m really not stuck up or bitchy- I guarantee I probably really like you and want to be your friend. I genuinely like most people.

I couldn’t write this morning – Ryan left for a coaching clinic and I had all 3 kids. I contemplated taking them to church, but quickly threw out that idea. Church is still such a weird issue for me. I don’t really miss it, and yet, I feel pressure to want to go. This morning, Nolan would have thrown a fit if I’d left him in an unfamiliar childcare class, and I would have had to use my limited emotional energy on small talk, which drains me faster than I usually care to admit. It’s awkward, it’s exhausting, and having to “talk” for a non verbal kid in a wheelchair to strangers dials it up a notch. Church leaders: the greeting time in services is torture for many introverts. We dread it. And no, this doesn’t mean we don’t understand the purpose, or want to get to know other people in the church. We just don’t make connections in that way.

So instead of church, I organized my clothes, and cleaned the bathroom. This was indeed the best choice, because I physically felt my constant, low grade anxiety taper down as I finished vacuuming the bedroom and hauled trash bags full of clothes to donate out of the house. There are times I want to just get rid of most everything because of the grip “stuff” has on my emotional self.

I took the kids to an indoor jump place this afternoon. I had considered the pool but the boys can’t swim (and Charlotte isn’t a strong swimmer yet) and it was over 100 degrees today. I wasn’t willing to risk drowning or one or more of us being fried by the sun, so I opted to fork over $18.99 to sit in the A/C for 3 hours while the kids burned off their energy.

PSA for adult strangers: If you are going to stare at my child in his wheelchair, at least smile at him, or me, and seriously, don’t turn around to keep staring at him after you’ve already passed us. Why do I even need to say this?!

The kids are finally asleep- I’ve been listening to them chattering and giggling in their room for an hour, which is equally adorable and annoying. I wonder what time Nolan will come crawl in bed with me- third children break all the rules, and make you eat all your words of “My child will never…”. He told his daddy the other night that he had to come in because “My bed is too crowded.” Ryan thought he meant all the toys and stuffed animals he’d dragged to bed, but no, his sister was in his bed, sound asleep.

I’m probably headed to sleep too- I heard on a podcast the other day that going to bed early is a mom’s version of sleeping in, and it was a total lightbulb moment for me. I do indulge in “sleeping in”, just on the other side of the night. But, I have big writing goals, and I’ve got to discipline myself to write more at night. But I’m just so tired. I need 9 am- 1 pm every day, and I could finish my book in months.

Yes, I’m (in the beginning stages of) writing a book. I took a class this spring/early summer from the literary agent of some of my favorite authors on getting published, and am now full of ideas, goals, dreams, and words. Lots of words. Some days I feel silly and stupid for even dreaming about getting published, but then I remember literally millions of people have already read my words, and I have been blogging faithfully for almost 8 years now.

And I really, really love to write. So maybe going for it isn’t such a stupid idea.

Pro-Lifers, Your Whataboutism is Outrageous When it Comes to Families Separated at the Border

The United States government, in an effort to deter illegal immigration at the border, has separated over 2,000 migrant children from their families in the past 6 weeks. Two. Thousand. Children. 

This is not a partisan issue. It’s not a grey issue. We cannot agree to disagree on this one. This is evil.

And yet, as they do with every social justice and humanitarian issue, pro-lifers shout, but what about the millions of babies aborted every year? 

Let me be clear. If you consider abortion an act of violence but not an infant being ripped from his mother’s arms at the border, you are not pro-life. Your response to the cries of injustice about the systematic torture of children is actually the flawed logic of whataboutism. You are attempting to deflect from the issue, and therefore excuse yourself from responsibility to act on behalf of those children. Again, you are not pro-life.

Some of you could not bring yourself to vote for the most qualified presidential candidate because she believes in a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy. And yet, you are digging in your heels in support of the “pro-life” president, even though he is using children’s lives as bargaining chips in one of his “deals”. It’s gross.

Every one of those children taken from their parents’ arms and currently living in modern day concentration camps was once a fetus. And every one of their mothers did exactly what you claim to value over all else: they chose life for their children.

Of course, life outside the womb is often less convenient to love, value and cherish. But Life IS inconvenient. It’s often messy, costly, and dangerous. Life doesn’t always speak our language, follow our religion, or even obey our laws. Life is sometimes desperate, and desperately needs compassion and empathy.

You can’t have it both ways. Words matter and actions matter. You can’t can’t scream, “It’s a Child, Not a Choice!” and in the same breath, use dehumanizing terms like “Illegals” when referring to fellow human beings. If you are truly pro-life, you don’t get to pick and choose which lives to value.

A mother breastfeeding her infant is giving her life. How is it pro-life to take that baby away from her? Who is feeding that baby tonight, holding her, keeping her warm? Who is comforting that mother, her breasts likely engorged with milk with no baby to feed?

A family fleeing violence and making a treacherous journey to give their children some glimmer of hope of a better situation in America is choosing life. How is it pro-life to shrug and dismiss them saying, how do we even know that they are really a family? 

If you are like the attorney general, and use scripture to justify the atrocities happening at the border, you believe that God has ordained the laws of the land. Then, by this same logic, you really should shut the fuck up about abortion, because the law says abortion is legal. 

You are passionate about the abortion issue- fine. Passion is admirable. But stop with the whataboutism. It’s not helping your cause and it’s actually making you less credible. The fact that women are legally allowed to have abortions in this country doesn’t then mean that our government has the right to tear families apart. If you want to protest an abortion clinic,  you should be just as willing to protest a building or camp holding children as prisoners.

If you believe a fetus has a right to life, but an actual child at the border doesn’t have a right to stay with his family, you are not pro-life, you are pro-birth. There are  over 2,000 children whose mothers chose life for them, only to be separated by a cruel administration that is pro-life in name only. Stop deflecting this real humanitarian crisis, and prove that you do indeed value ALL life.

Separating Families as a Deterrent to Breaking the Law is Inhumane

I tucked my children in their beds last night, with no fear for their safety or their  separation from me. They fell asleep peacefully, warm and confident that their dad and I would both be there when they woke in the morning. Meanwhile, a mere 350 miles from my home, hundreds of children, many of them infants and toddlers, slept in wire enclosures in a border processing facility in McAllen, Texas. Their parents, who love their children as much as I love mine, were gone, unable to hold and comfort them as they fell asleep on concrete floors under foil “space blankets”. I imagine my own children in this situation, how confused and scared they would be, and I want to vomit.

How is this happening in America? How are we letting it continue? 

Any decent human being with a conscience should be outraged and sickened by the treatment of these families by our government. By definition, this is torture. I am especially saddened by the apathy or defense of this policy by Christians. I’ve seen many professed Christ followers justify the separation of infants and toddlers from their parents because those parents are “breaking the law”. The Jesus I follow would not have sided with enforcers of an inhumane law over the physical, mental, and emotional well being of families.

Ironically, most of the families separated at the border are not breaking the law. They are legitimately seeking asylum from horrendous violence in their countries of origin. Imagine the impossible dilemma these families face: staying in their home countries and waiting to be brutally murdered or have their children trafficked into slavery, or fleeing to the United States border with a glimmer of hope for a new, safer life. It’s disheartening to watch those who take summer mission trips to these countries to “love on the people” refuse to offer that love when those same people flee to the United States for protection. It’s frustrating to see those fight diligently against sex trafficking in their comfortable, suburban neighborhoods, yet turn a blind eye to families fleeing this same atrocity in other countries. This is the very definition of cognitive dissonance and privilege.

The horrors of family separation at the border isn’t a new problem, and the atrocities of these practices can’t be blamed completely on the Trump administration. However, there has been a dramatic increase since the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy went into effect last month. This policy uses family separation as a deterrent to undocumented immigrants from trying to cross into the United States. This same administration claims to be Pro-Life and Pro-Family. What a joke. Research is clear: when children suffer trauma in this way, there are both short and long-term physical and mental effects. The trauma even changes the structure of the brain irreparably. Children’s heath and emotional well-being should not be used as a pawn to deter their parents from trying to enter the United States. 

I will challenge those who are firm believers in immigration law enforcement that even those families attempting to cross the border illegally deserve basic human dignity. Separating young children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and devoid of any dignity. And it’s certainly not pro-life.

I am certainly not arguing for open borders. A society cannot function or thrive without laws. The United States needs reasonable immigration laws with reasonable penalties for those who break those laws. But when the law allows and encourages enforcers to treat other human beings like animals, ripping children from their parents as punishment, the law is evil, and must be abolished. 

Jesus never said to blindly accept and follow the law. Remember the adulterous woman that he stopped from being stoned to death in John Chapter 8? According to the law, that woman should have died that day. She broke the law, and the penalty for her crime was stoning. Had Jesus sided with the law, the woman’s broken, bloodied body would have been carried away as deterrent to adultery. Instead, Jesus showed mercy and challenged the Pharisees with, Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

Although I feel desperately heartbroken and mostly hopeless about these atrocities happening so close to my comfortable, privileged life, there are steps all of us can take for change:

  • Speak out. Challenge friends and family who support morally reprehensible policies against families in the name of “obeying the law”. I promise, you won’t die.
  • Call your representatives. Separating children from their parents is not a partisan issue and we can’t just “pick a side”. This is an election year-make it clear to your representatives, regardless of their party affiliation, that failure to act on behalf of these families is complicity and could cost them their jobs.
  • Donate to organizations who are funding legal representation for these children and helping reunite them with their parents, such as Glennon Doyle’s Together Rising. 

A mother seeking asylum from violence or crossing the border illegally loves her children as much as I love mine. My children are no more deserving of safety, security and a warm bed to sleep in than hers. The policy of forcibly separating children from their parents is not making America great, it’s evil. Jesus wouldn’t stand for it, and neither will I.

 

To the Moms Who No Longer Have Toddlers, But Still Remember How Hard it Is: Thank You.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the “Mommy Wars” and how mothering has become a competitive sport. I know this is a real problem, but thankfully, I’ve been immune to most of it. The moms in real life that I choose to share my life with have, for the most part, been kind, supportive and non-judgmental. The one exception to this, however, are certain moms who are years, and sometimes decades, ahead of me in the parenting journey.

I always try to be honest and vulnerable about my parenting experience. It’s no secret that I am finding the thick of the toddler and preschool years to be far more difficult and draining than I ever could have imagined. I grieve this reality every day; I wish it were different. But I do find that by talking about it, and writing about it, makes me feel less alone. However, there have been several instances where an older mom has shamed me for my parenting decisions or the behavior of my children.

Shame hurts. It erodes my confidence, and makes me feel small. It makes an already difficult season seem impossible. But, as Brené Brown says,

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. 

So, to the moms of older kids who do this for me, who respond to my struggles with empathy and understanding, thank you.

Thank you for coming to my defense when I was shamed by another mother online. This could have easily shredded my confidence caused me to spiral into anxiety and self-doubt, but instead, you lifted me up with encouragement and love.

Thank you for your honesty. For admitting that raising older kids and teenagers comes with its own set of (really hard) issues, but also acknowledging that toddlers are really hard too. Takeaway: it’s all hard.

Thank you for refraining from uttering the words, Just you wait or You think it’s hard now

Thank you for reassuring me over and over again that there are aspects of parenting that really do get easier. You have no idea how hard I cling to this truth some days, when all I want to do is get in the car and just drive away.

Thank you for Liking and commenting on pictures of my kids online. They really are adorable, delightful, and hilarious, and I love that you think so too.

Thank you for not throwing my generation of parents under the proverbial bus by telling us we are raising spoiled, entitled kids and pointing out all our failures.

Thank you for not telling me to Enjoy every moment and You’re going to miss this. I CAN’T and I KNOW I WILL. But I’m in the weeds now, and sentiments like these aren’t helpful.

Moms of older kids, I see you. I see you navigating the world of school-age, teenagers and adult children. I see you struggling, but I also see you raising bright, thoughtful, and kind kids. Thank you for braving the uncharted waters of raising kids responsibly in the era of social media; I know I’ll be there soon enough and will be looking to you for advice. But most of all, thank you for your empathy, and for not forgetting that every child is different, no two families are the same, and that every stage of parenting is hard.

 

The Paradox of Motherhood

Is there a more complicated, paradoxical role than being a mother? I can’t imagine any other experience in life that is filled with so much joy, yet at the same time, pain.

The intoxicating joy of holding my first newborn on my chest was simply the flip side of a coin. The other side holds the pain that because of his disabilities, he will never walk, talk, or say, “I love You”.

The pride of watching my daughter explore her creativity through art and pretend play can instantly turn to anger when she stubbornly refuses to comply with my request to clean up her mess.

The delight that my silly, rough and tumble, “all boy” toddler gives me can devolve into exhaustion and a desperate cry to just go to sleep.

I never could have predicted that motherhood would involve the tension of an unbreakable, intertwined bond with my children, yet a yearning to define myself and be defined apart from them. My children are a part of me, but I crave experiences, and work, that are just mine.

Of course, I can’t completely compartmentalize motherhood. My children’s needs, desires, and very existence bleed into every choice I make about how to spend the precious hours of my day. And the cost is high.

The Financial Cost

The financial burden of pursing a dream, or even just adult conversation, is significant. My work is about contributing to the world in ways that don’t involve wiping bottoms, handing out snacks, and breaking up fights. Time away from home to attend conferences or girls’ weekends in another city is crucial for my mental health. But quality childcare is expensive, and I constantly analyze the tangible cost of these endeavors.

The Emotional Cost

The emotional cost of finding myself apart from my role as mother can be excruciating. Am I permanently damaging my kids when I can’t attend all the class parties because I have to work? Do they know I love them unconditionally even when I lose my temper, forget to pack a snack for school, or leave them with their father for a weekend? Sometimes the guilt, both internal and external, overwhelms me.

The Spiritual and Relational Costs

The spiritual and relational costs of my choices have been the most surprising, and painful. Motherhood has directly impacted my faith and what I believe about God, the church, and specific religious teachings. Unfortunately, this has caused division and broken relationships, both in family and friends. There are people in my life who cannot accept my shifting faith and therefore fear for my children’s spiritual development. There is a real paradox in this. The more I change and grow in my own spiritual life, the more confident and free I become. And yet, I mourn the loss of those relationships that were destroyed as a result of that confidence and freedom.

Damn, motherhood is complicated.

This Mother’s Day, I am reminded that I, like most mothers, am doing the best I can. And sometimes my individual best just doesn’t live up to my (or others’) expectations. I am working to balance raising my children with everything they need from me, while still pursuing my individual dreams and goals. I don’t always get the balance right, but I’m trying.

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.