Creating Safe Spaces

I had the honor of sharing these thoughts about transitioning from full-time work to part-time work to truly staying at home over at the MOPS blog a couple weeks ago.

creating-safe-spaces-1002x539When I quit my teaching job right before having our first daughter, my principal told me he fully supported my choice to stay home. But he didn’t think it would last long. I thought that was an interesting thing to say. I was committed to raising our kids and being completely content focusing on them full time, at least through the beginning of elementary school.

Just five weeks into being a new mom, a position at a new museum opened up and I decided to apply. This seemed like such an incredible opportunity: A job that combined my undergraduate degree in art history – a notoriously difficult field to find work in, my master’s degree in teaching, a brand new program committed to best practices and the flexibility of part time.

Partway through the interview, all of my postpartum feelings surfaced and I found myself faltering, wondering why on earth I had squeezed into a dress that had fit just last year, left my baby with my dad and driven across town for a job I didn’t want. I think my future boss felt the emotional shift, too. As kindly and HR-correctly as she could, she wondered if this was a good fit for me at this time? It seemed as though I needed to focus on being a mom for now.

I went home and focused on those whirlwind first six months with Bea. We settled into a good routine. I started going to MOPS, we made friends and even ventured on a play date or two. In January, I got an email from the museum: Would I be interested in applying for the role of Gallery Teacher? They would love it if I’d consider putting in my application.

This time, during the interview, I felt confident and ready for a new adventure.

My old principal was right – I didn’t stay home long, not really. Work at the museum definitely had its challenges but overall, the hours weren’t too demanding and the work was exactly what I loved: Teaching in front of priceless paintings, guiding kids in new ways of looking and thinking, and then going home without the grading and stresses of classroom teaching.

When I got pregnant with our second daughter, we were in a really good rhythm. On paper, life looked pretty amazing. I was balancing it all! I was play dating and teaching and figuring out self-care!

Until … I started feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job at anything. I was resenting my time commitment at the museum; I was too tired to be as engaging of a mom as the girls needed.

My ever-supportive husband gave the most unhelpful advice: Do what makes you happiest; what makes you the best mom. I’m behind you! What I really wanted was for him to just make a tough decision for me. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do.

I talked with my boss and told her I loved the job and I loved working for her, but it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. After that last conversation, I felt a sense of relief. With Bea starting kindergarten next year, we’ll have a lot of changes as a family. It’ll be the only year Elle and I have, just the two of us, before she starts preschool. I want to be mindful and intentional about this coming year.

My last day was bittersweet as I said goodbye to colleagues I had worked with for over three years. My boss told me that I had a job there anytime. I left knowing I had given my best and yet, there was a sense of peace and closure.

I recently wrote my purpose statement with a life coach: “I claim creativity and curate safe spaces for discovery.” After we crafted this statement, I was talking with her about my decision to quit my job. She laughed and said, “It sounds like you’re already creating safe spaces for yourself.”

I guess that’s my takeaway so far on this journey of motherhood. I am creating a safe space. Sometimes this is in the form of working in a field that invigorates me and excites my passions. Sometimes it means letting our playroom get messy and seeing this physical space as a place for the girls to create. Sometimes it means carving out time to write and pursue other unpaid passions.

What I do know is that I’m learning to hold these moments as sacred. I don’t take lightly that I had the opportunity to work at a world-renowned institution – a job many would dream of. I equally don’t take lightly the privilege and opportunity to stay at home during these precious, formative years.

One concern I had when I decided to quit was what I would say at a social gathering. Stay-at-home mom doesn’t keep the conversation moving nearly as well as gallery teacher. I worried about this new loss of identity. I was talking with an older friend the other day about these feelings and she reminded me that my identity, no matter what I’m doing, is in Christ.

And that’s so true. Regardless of working or staying home or some hybrid of the two, I’m remembering to place my identity in him, above all.

How has your identity changed over the years? What are ways you are creating safe spaces for yourself? 

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/creating-safe-spaces/.

Remembering My Kids are Different

I’m over at the Kindred Mom blog today, writing about our family’s culture. It’s still a work in progress and I’m learning that what works today may not work in a month. But, this is where we’re at right now. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll go over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

annie_postA couple years ago, this same daughter and I were in the midst of the classic “threenager” drama. I remember sitting on our upstairs landing one day after yet another power struggle—in tears—wondering why on earth I had been chosen to be the mother of this strong, opinionated, passionate girl. I felt incompetent; like such a failure.

Suddenly, a book flashed through my mind. When we were first married, a friend lent us The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I knew he had written one about children and that evening I picked up a copy. As I read about how our children respond to love and discipline, I saw how I could improve our family culture.

After reading the descriptors, it was clear that my daughter is a classic “physical touch” kid. When she’s frustrated or upset, she stamps her feet and throws toys. When she feels unsafe or tired, she snuggles in and needs to be held. When she’s content and wants to talk about her day, she does it sitting in my lap. When she snuggles, every single part of her body has to touch my body.

This is not at all how I’m programed. My love language is “quality time,” in which I don’t need the close proximity that my daughter loves. With this insight, I set about to rewrite our interactions. I looked for small, natural ways to incorporate her need for physical touch before she became desperate.

Of course, nothing is magical and we still experience our share of misunderstandings and power struggles, but when I can start our day with a snuggle and a book rather than rushing around, it sets the tone for a better morning. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom!

Do you have any parenting books that have shifted your perspective? Any tricks that have stood the test of time?

Summers Are for Saying Yes

I had the honor of sharing these summer adventure ideas over at the MOPS blog this week.

During the school year, we are a schedule-driven family. Preschool three days a week; MOPS one morning a week; one day free for play dates or pajama days, whichever we need most. Most of the time we need to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. and home no later than noon to start to wind down for naps and quiet rest.

summers-are-for-saying-yes-1002x539I love the idea of being a “yes mom.” Someone who recognizes the beauty of the present moment. Someone who isn’t so tied to a schedule that those precious detours are savored. But, my firstborn, Type A personality just doesn’t make that a natural habit.

Summertime is different. For the entire month of June, we have nothing planned. Just a few penciled-in activities, a few loose play dates. Nothing is set in stone; nothing must be done.

I decided that this would be the perfect time to practice being a “yes mom.” Bike riding and Popsicles after breakfast? “Yes!” Backyard camping midweek? “Yes!” Pajamas and forts and movies? “Yes!” There are so many possibilities and I want my kids to feel like they have a say in what we do during these days.

Of course, at nearly 5 and 2 years old, my kids need some sort of routine. Without a loose rhythm to our days, freedom quickly turns to chaos and magical moments turn into hot tempers. We’re still not in a place to spend all day at an activity. My toddler still naps for a few hours and my preschooler needs quiet time, even if she doesn’t think she does.

Here are some morning activities that are totally outside our normal routines, off the track from our usual memberships, but still easily done before lunchtime.

Take public transportation to an ice cream shop.
My girls are still in the stage when all big trucks and public transportation can stop an activity. Buses and trains are just so cool! Denver has a great light rail system and a newly renovated downtown central station with coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. A favorite summertime activity is to drive to a station that isn’t too far from downtown and catch the train to Union Station. We walk from the light rail into the beautiful station, arriving just in time for the ice cream shop to open. What tops a train ride? Ice cream before lunch!

We eat our cones, maybe play in the water fountains, and then head back to the train. Because kids ride free, this can all be done for the cost of one adult ticket and ice cream cones. Not a bad way to have a fun morning adventure.

Find a trail for a wandering day.
After reading, Best Friends for Frances, a story about Frances the badger by Russel and Lillian Hoban, my preschooler longed to go on a “wandering day.” A day without grownups, where she could wander all by herself. Even though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood, the idea of letting my 4-year-old just head out the front door on her own is way outside my own level of comfort.

One of the best parts of our neighborhood is the state park that’s just 10 minutes away, right in the middle of the city. With miles and miles of trails, we can easily find a wandering spot. We’ll pack plenty of snacks and my daughter can run ahead without fear, while our toddler and I follow at a slower pace. We’ve found a few trails that are less than two miles, which is the perfect distance for this phase of life. I can carry our youngest and know that our oldest is able to complete the loop without help. Finding an outdoor park to let my kids roam free is a way I can instill a love of the outdoors without waiting for the weekend.

Host a front yard Popsicle party.
Our neighborhood is filled with kids and grandkids on their bikes. One of my summer staples is buying a huge box of cheap Popsicles. Even though I find this a stretch to count as an “adventure,” my girls live for Popsicle parties with their friends. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap time at the heat of the day, the kids come out and gather for bike riding, Frisbees, scooters and skinned knees. The moment an injury occurs, the popsicles come out and everyone is magically healed. Originally, I tried buying the fancy organic fruit-only pops but I soon realized that the kids just want iced sugar. And since it’s summertime, why not?

I’m learning that, to be a “yes mom,” I need to keep my expectations attainable. I can do bigger things like the light rail but I can also easily keep popsicles on hand for the next three months. I’m learning that, to create a sense of adventure, it’s all about attitude and looking for those small opportunities to take us out of our normal routines.

What are some ways you’re saying yes to everyday summer adventures?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/summers-are-for-saying-yes/.

Yes to Lazy Summer Days

This weekend I had my semi-regular meltdown about the state of our playroom. I pulled out a garbage can and started throwing in all of the broken goody-bag toys, the loose papers, the pens without caps, and the stepped-on plastic Easter eggs. I threatened taking away all presents for every birthday and Christmas forevermore since we clearly don’t need any more junk in our home!!!

IMG_4633It was at this point Frank decided to pack up the girls and head to Lowe’s to buy a couple replacement basil plants after our unexpected snowstorm. Once they were gone, I turned on my mid-30’s white-mom Pandora station and started really cleaning. Without the girls, tackling the playroom doesn’t take all that long and I soon had the toys put away and under control.

I even stopped cleaning with enough time to begin my new book and eat lunch all by myself in the quiet. When my family returned and Elle was down for her nap, Frank went outside to clean up the garden while Bea and I tackled the puzzle box. We put together all the puzzles and threw away the ones with missing pieces.

Time sitting together on the floor, project in front of us, chatting together. Bea’s love language may be physical touch (and at least one foot was touching me knee the entire time) but mine is quality time and this filled my “love tank” with my little girl.

This is the last week of school. Preschool graduation is on Thursday and then Bea can officially call herself a kindergartener, something she has been longing to do since January. Our June is pretty quiet. Maybe some camping trips. Frank’s parents may come for a visit. The pool opens. But really, I’m trying to keep our time open.

I know that summer days can be especially long and that we won’t want a loose schedule for too long. I also know that we’ll get into a rhythm because we always do. But for now, I’m looking forward to not rushing, to not nagging to get out the door, and to remembering that while the days are long (sooooo long sometimes!) the years are flying by and I want to savor these summertime moments.

I’ve seen families create summer fun lists – things to check off before school starts. These sorts of lists stress me out. I lose sight of the fun and only think of the list. Maybe when the girls are older and need more things to fill the time, this will make sense. For now, I want to just say yes as much as possible. Yes to swimming and movies. Yes to backyard camping. Yes to taking the light rail to get ice cream downtown. Yes to bike riding and parks. All of those things or none of them, we’ll see.

I have fond memories of unstructured summer months. July holds a couple of formal activities but overall, I want to establish those bored lazy days with the girls now. I know that there will be long days when I long for school to begin. But now I’m looking optimistically ahead, hoping that my quality time tank will be full before Bea starts a new journey to full time school.

What are your fondest memories of summer? Do you like structure or open schedules? And, how do you keep the playroom clutter under control?!

The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?

Parenting Without Immediate Results

The other day I felt like the Best Mom. I put aside my to-do list and focused completely on Bea. During quiet rest (which is just as much for me as for her) we read books, played an imaginative game, drank hot cocoa with her tea set, and wrote a book. It was a sweet three hours, just the two of us.

IMG_1708When Elle woke up from her nap, a switch flipped. I had assumed that all this quality time would carry over to the rest of the evening but something happened and suddenly Bea became a wild thing.

My first thought was, Well that was a waste of time! I could have just worked on my to do list and gotten the same results.

Of course, parenting isn’t a results-based practice. We can do all the “right things” and still not get the immediate results we’re hoping for. Sometimes this extremely long-term vision is tiring. I want to know right now that my kids will turn out ok; that my attempts at patience and empathy will pay off.

The immediate results that I am seeing are that I always have a little bit more. Even when I think I don’t have an ounce of patience or energy left, somehow I do. No one has ever died of playing one more game of tea party or reading one more book.

I’m reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl. In it, he talks about the need to look to the future, that without a future hope our present becomes meaningless. I’m taking those words and putting them to this journey. That even on the longest days, my hope is that these endless tea parties will make way for future friendships.

What is something you’re doing now with the future in mind? How does that long-term vision impact the way you view certain tasks now?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “mom.”

You Don’t Have to Give Up Your Friends to Join a Moms’ Group

I recently read an article titled something like, Why You Shouldn’t Join a Moms’ Group. It was all about why new moms should just keep the friends they already have without making new friends. That old friends are way better and that it’s important to have friends without kids.

bag-gypsofilia-seeds-1716655_960_720On one level, I do agree with this author. When I had Bea, my friendships didn’t simply end. My friends without kids came over and showered my new baby with toys and clothes and food. They held her and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. But then they went back to work and I stayed home with this new human, watching The Wonder Years on Netflix and wondering how I would fill our days.

When she was about six weeks old, I ventured to our neighborhood library for Book Babies and my life changed. I was invited to a Mothers of Preschoolers group at a nearby church and started going. Now, in addition to my pre-kid friends (who mostly have kids of their own now) I also have this group of women who have held my hands on this journey of motherhood.

My moms’ group stood by me during those fresh newborn days, though sleep training and milestones. Though toddlerhood and adding a sibling and potty training. My moms’ group talked about all those mothering things, yes. But we also talked about how we advocate as moms, how we remember social justice as we engage with our preschoolers. My new mom friends went with me to a conference on Race and Reconciliation and pushed my thinking of how to was the  engage with those radical ideas.

My moms’ group filled a void in my days that my friends without kids simply couldn’t. They held my babies and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. I still get together with my friends without kids. I cannot imagine life without them. They push and shape my thinking. They love my kids with time and energy my mom friends just don’t have.

What made me sad about the article was that the author made it sound like an either/or choice. I understand that polarization sells, but you don’t have to give up your friends without kids in order to join a moms group – if that is a requirement, I’d encourage you to look into a new moms’ group. But that’s certainly not the norm.

Mother’s Day is this weekend and I know it can be a time of heartache for many women. The road to motherhood can be filled with trauma and tragedy and unmet expectations. It can be a stark reminder of a life wished for but not fulfilled. It can remind us of broken relationships with our own moms.

I still love celebrating Mother’s Day. I love remembering my own journey as a mother and I love taking time to remember those who have helped me on this journey. From my own mom and grandmothers to aunts and friends to whom was the friend-without-kids for so long. From my friends in my moms group to my friends without kids now.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you to my friends without kids who so graciously show up to my messy home and engage with my girls. Who offer perspectives and experiences that I often envy because of your freedom. Thank you to my friends who are ahead of me on this journey. Who offer hope and wisdom and a sense of humor to these little years. Thank you to my moms group friends who are right here with me in the trenches. Who commiserate and reminisce and laugh at our sweet and insane days. Thank you to my friends who started out as single girlfriends and who have grown into motherhood with me. For the patience and flexibility of the changing nature of our relationship.

Mothers Day is as complex a holiday as motherhood itself. I am thankful for the women in my life who have held me up through these first years of my own mothering journey.

How do you support the moms in your life? Did you ever join a moms group when you were a new mom?