Dear Lucy

Dear Lucy,

When I put you to bed on the night of November 8th, we talked about the election.  You expressed your hopes for the outcome.  We talked about women’s rights, glass ceilings, and our hopes for the future.  I tucked you in, and when you asked if she would win, I told you she would.

I lied to you.

I didn’t mean to lie to you.  With all of my heart I thought that the outcome would be in her favor.  The polls pointed us to a victory.  Insanely brilliant statisticians who have devoted their entire lives to this predicted a victory.  But there was no victory, at least not in our home.

My tears woke you the next morning.  I didn’t know what to say, so I just sobbed over your sleeping body until you woke up, put your arms around me, and asked me what was wrong.  I told you.  Your sweet face was thoughtful for a few moments, and you hugged me tighter.  You are too young to understand, and so I sobbed harder, crying tears for the future you simply aren’t yet able to comprehend.  As we picked out your clothes for the day, you told me, “I know you’re sad about her not winning mommy, but maybe she’ll win next time.”  I smiled and responded that I hoped so.  I wasn’t about to take your innocent, comforting words and crush them with the harsh reality of truth.

As I write this, the pain is fresh.  I’m having a hard time putting into words all of the emotions I am feeling inside.  I am tired, and I am scared, but very little of what I am feeling is for myself.  I’ve lived in this world long enough to know how it works and how long it takes for things to change.  Most of my hopes for this election were not for myself but you.  My emotional investment is in your future because you are the most important thing in my life.

My darling little girl, I want you to know that this is not the end.  There is a vast community of people in this nation who refuse to let this be the end.  Do not let hate and intolerance win.  Fight, with all of your might, against the injustices of the world.  You will not grow up in a world that defines your worth by the prettiness of your face.  You will not grow up in a world having to smile because a man told you to.  You will not grow up in a world thinking that you are less than anyone else.  You will not grow up in a world thinking anyone is less than you.  Always remember – you might be the center of my world, but you are not the center of the world.

With that in mind, these are my hopes for you:

  • You will grow up giving, receiving, and surrounding yourself with love.
  • You will grow up with kindness in your heart.
  • You will grow up knowing that a person’s worth is defined by their actions, who they are inside, and not by their physical appearance, their gender, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity or nationality, their religion, or their able-bodied status.
  • You will grow up learning how to think critically, weigh facts and evidence, and make informed decisions.
  • You will grow up accepting of all of the beautiful, diverse difference in the world.
  • You will grow up with an open mind and an honest heart.
  • You will grow up knowing how to stand up not only for yourself but also for those around you.
  • You will grow up understanding the privilege that comes with your white skin, your physical ability, and your socio-economic status.
  • You will grow up fighting for those who do not have the same privileges as you.
  • You will grow up knowing how to use your voice to fight for what you believe in.

You will do so many things in your life, little girl, and the results of this election will not define your future.  I will protect you for as long as I possibly can, but while protecting you, I will do my best to give you a solid foundation upon which to thrive.  This is more important to me than ever, and I hope I don’t let you down.

When you are weighed down with doubt and uncertainty, remember this:

I want to be the person who teaches you, comforts you, plots with you, plays with you, and listens to you.  I want you to know that before everything else, before work, and school, and hobbies, I am your mother, and nothing matters more than you.  If you are sad, I want to share your sadness.  If you are happy, I want to share your joy.  When you are angry, confused, or scared, I want to share all of these emotions with you.  Please know that you will never have to shoulder the weight of the world alone.  I will always be here for you.  While I won’t always be able to remove your burdens, I will always be ready to take a share of them, so that you are able to breathe a little easier, stand a little straighter, and keep moving forward in the bright future I know you are going to have.

Love always,

Mommy

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Ode to a Tiny Cactus, Reprise

A sad pallor of brown
Leaves you unfit to be seen
Beloved tiny cactus
You are no longer so green

I knew this was coming
Struck down in your prime
Your days were indeed numbered
Just a matter of time

Left alone on a sill
To bask in the bright sun
I regret I forgot you
Now your life is quite done

Once again I have failed
Little care did I give
Life necessitates water
How long did you live?

My dear, tiny cactus
My heart fills with sorrow
To the trash you are destined
And forgotten tomorrow

To the women who have helped me raise my daughter

Sometimes very special people come into your life unexpectedly.  When those very special people also happen to be the caregivers of your only child is when you know you are truly blessed.

Nearly three years ago to the day, I took my two year old – my crazy, wild, stubborn, sarcastic, would-not-potty-train-for-anything little girl – to preschool for the first time.  I didn’t know any of these people, and I was terrified to let go of her and walk out the door.  I’m pretty sure that I called and/or emailed several times that day, just to make sure she was okay.  Deep down I knew she was okay.  The emails and calls were really for my own well-being.  I got through my fears, and Lucy thrived.

Within a month, Lucy was potty trained.  She started eating foods she had refused before.  She learned to share.  She learned to stand up for herself.  She learned her ABCs and then learned the sounds they make.  She started singing random songs out of nowhere that boggled mine and Cory’s minds and made us laugh hysterically.  She grew smarter.  She grew sassier.  She has always been sweet.

I call it preschool, but it has been so much more than that.  It has been daycare when I’m at work.  It has been fun and games and the best place to play.  It has been life lessons (sometimes learned the hard way).  It has been friendship and love and support and new discoveries.  It has been a new best friend every day.  It has been celebrations.  It has been a dozen or so women (and occasional man) who have helped me raise my daughter.  These individuals have been there for her when I couldn’t be.  They’ve taught her and loved her and have helped make her the beautiful person she is.  They’ve been comforting arms when she is sad or sick.  They’ve kissed her owies and held ice packs to her head (Lucy obviously inherited my grace and poise).  They’ve been my eyes and ears when I am not with her.  They’ve been her protectors.

And for everything they’ve done for Lucy, they’ve done just as much for me.  They’ve assured me that all the weird things my child does is completely normal.  They’ve offered advice to get us through the tougher days.  They laugh with me and cry with me and offer their unending support and friendship.

I know that these women love my daughter almost as much as I do, and words simply do not exist that can adequately describe how important they have been to our lives these past three years.  Even though today we say goodbye, they will always be a part of our lives.  Lucy’s first memories happened while she was with them.  A large part of who she is is because of them.  Julie made her sassy.  Sarah made her silly.  Tami made her smart.  They’ve all helped her become the lovely little person that she is.

So I just want to say thank you to the amazing people at LPA.  Thank you for choosing the profession you did and for loving what you do.  Thank you for taking us in and making us feel at home.  But most importantly, thank you for loving and protecting my baby.  We love you.

I have to end it here, because now I’m crying.

Conversations with my kid: Evolution

Lucy: Mommy, where did the first animal come from?

Me: [Shit, is it okay to Google and drive?] Um, evolution.

Lucy: (blank stare)

Me: Okay, so millions and billions and trillions of years ago, living things were just tiny micro-organisms. And they changed and grew and changed and grew over all those years and now there are animals and people.

Lucy: I have a scratch on my nose.

Today’s science lesson was made possible by the State of Arizona public education system and the support of viewers like you.

Ode to a tiny cactus

A gift from a colleague
So little and green
You are the tiniest cactus
That I’ve ever seen

I’m so very sorry
That to my care you have come
Your days are numbered, wee friend
As I have no green thumb

They say, “It’s a cactus!
Little care you must give”
But oh! Tiny cactus
How long will you live?

I’ve killed bushes and flowers
Some large and some small
Plants that were once hardy
Are now nothing at all

So dear, tiny cactus
I promise you now
A death fast and painless
I do solemnly vow

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UPDATE: October 2016

Ode to a Tiny Cactus, Reprise

Facebook Free July

Last summer I took a Facebook break after an online posting battle with someone, whom I love very much, left me rather ashamed of myself (not ashamed of my opinions and views, but for hashing them out in such a public forum).  The break was a liberating experience, and I posted about it here and here.  I learned a lot about myself from that break, and I decided that I would take another month-long break this summer.  This time the break is less to learn about myself but more to focus on myself.

This break has been a lot easier than last summer.  I didn’t have to “detox.”  I haven’t logged in a single time to check on anything.  I haven’t felt the need to unfriend anyone.  None of that; it’s been a fairly low-key event.  I did have a work friend ask me if I was mad at her when she discovered she couldn’t post anything to my wall – I had to laugh because there is nothing she could do that would anger me.  It’s just a break.  I’ll be back.  How else will I keep in touch with my family and friends spread across the country?  I hate talking on the phone!

I’ve once again missed numerous July birthdays and other important events.  Lesson learned: I need to rely less on Facebook to inform me of important dates.  Hm… maybe this is where a calendar would be useful?  Novel idea.

I am taking a Mindfulness class this summer, and today our instructor sent us a really great article on using social media in a mindful manner.  The article, written by Lori Deschene, is found here:  Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media.  I’ve reposted it below.  Definitely some good tips in it.

10 Mindful Ways to Use Social Media by Lori Deschene

  1. Know your intentions.

Doug Firebaugh of SocialMediaBlogster.com has identified seven psychological needs we may be looking to meet when we log on: acknowledgment, attention, approval, appreciation, acclaim, assurance, and inclusion. Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?

  1. Be your authentic self.

In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.

  1. If you propose to tweet, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Sometimes we post thoughts without considering how they might impact our entire audience. It’s easy to forget how many friends are reading. Two hundred people make a crowd in person, but online that number can seem insignificant. Before you share, ask yourself: is there anyone this might harm?

  1. Offer random tweets of kindness.

Every now and then I ask on Twitter, “Is there anything I can do to help or support you today?” It’s a simple way to use social media to give without expectations of anything in return. By reaching out to help a stranger, you create the possibility of connecting personally with followers you may have otherwise known only peripherally.

  1. Experience now, share later.

It’s common to snap a picture with your phone and upload it to Facebook or email it to a friend. This overlaps the experience of being in a moment and sharing it. It also minimizes intimacy, since your entire audience joins your date or gathering in real time. Just as we aim to reduce our internal monologues to be present, we can do the same with our digital narration.

  1. Be active, not reactive.

You may receive email updates whenever there is activity on one of your social media accounts, or you might have your cell phone set to give you these types of alerts. This forces you to decide many times throughout the day whether you want or need to respond. Another approach is to choose when to join the conversation, and to use your offline time to decide what value you have to offer.

  1. Respond with your full attention.

People often share links without actually reading them, or comment on posts after only scanning them. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.

  1. Use mobile social media sparingly.

In 2009, Pew Research found that 43 percent of cell phone users access the Web on their devices several times a day. It’s what former Microsoft employee Linda Stone refers to as continuous partial attention—when you frequently sign on to be sure you don’t miss out anything. If you choose to limit your cell phone access, you may miss out online, but you won’t miss what’s in front of you.

  1. Practice letting go.

It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go. This way you won’t need to “catch up” on updates that have passed but instead can be part of today’s conversation.

  1. Enjoy social media!

These are merely suggestions to feel present and purposeful when utilizing social media, but they aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Follow your own instincts and have fun with it. If you’re mindful when you’re disconnected from technology, you have all the tools you need to be mindful when you go online.

Lori Deschene is the founder of @TinyBuddha on Twitter and tinybuddha.com, a multi-author blog that features wisdom and stories from people all over the world.  From Tricycle magazine.

A Few Paragraphs? Ha!

I was asked to write a few paragraphs about my first semester grad school experiences for the new cohort coming in next year.  A few paragraphs turned into a lot of paragraphs.  Some of this is just regurgitation of what has previously been posted, but since I’ve been so absent from writing lately I thought I would share.


My name is Caroline.  I work full-time.  I am the mother of a four year-old and the wife of a thirty-seven going on… well, nevermind.  I am a terrible housekeeper and even worse chef.  As of August 2014, I am also a part-time master’s student in HESA.

It’s been approximately sixteen months since I made the decision to go back to school.  In all honesty, the initial motivating factor that led me to apply was that my office would help me pay – secession planning, for the win!  I always wanted to go back to school, but it was easy to make excuses: it wasn’t the right time, I was in a career I disliked, we just got married, we just bought a house, we had a baby… there wasn’t time to consider higher education.  There was barely time to sleep.

The craziness of those years where I actually became a grown-up settled down.  We formed a routine.  I had a new job in a field that I was completely enamored with – higher ed administration.  The big boss and my amazing supervisor had my back.  The stage was set.

I had a less than stellar undergraduate performance and didn’t think I would get into Iowa.  I considered an online program in higher education because I didn’t want to face rejection.  The big boss encouraged me to at least apply to Iowa, so I registered for the GRE, dug in my heels, and attempted to relearn all of the math skills I had conveniently forgotten over the past thirteen years.  I submitted my application, asked for letters of recommendation, took the dreaded GRE… and waited.  It was during the period of waiting that I truly realized how much I wanted to be a part of HESA.  I was emotionally invested.

And, amazingly, I got in.

When I no longer had the application process to focus on, doubt overcame me.  I was nervous and completely terrified of making a fool of myself.  I had no idea how I was going to juggle motherhood, family, full-time work, and part-time school.  Every day I was overwhelmed with hectic mornings, taking my daughter to daycare, getting to work, making dinner, trying to keep my house clean, spending time with my daughter and husband, and trying to throw in a few moments doing the things I enjoy somewhere in between. I wanted to add grad school to the mix?  I had to be nuts.  In the midst of my fears and anxieties, it was the simplest advice that calmed me down – a good friend told me that it would all work itself out.  It just would. And you know what…

It did.

This isn’t to say that it has been a perfect transition.  Nearly every day during the fall semester I felt guilt, stress, and/or anxiety – something or someone in my life was being neglected.  I didn’t have time to play with my daughter, I never saw my best friend, I didn’t have the energy to make dinner, and my house was (and still is) a state of disaster. There were days my focus at work wasn’t up to par, and there were days in class that I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be.  It wasn’t until the end of the semester that I realized how very true my friend’s advice was – it really did work itself out.

My first semester is over.  I am still excited and motivated to embrace this experience and opportunity.  I wish I had a simple formula for figuring out the family/work/school/life balance, but I don’t honestly think there is one.  There are things that certainly help – being organized, getting enough sleep, having an amazing partner and support system, being supported and encouraged by my supervisors and co-workers, and lots and lots (and lots and lots) of coffee.

There is one aspect of being a part-time student that is both good and bad.  The Iowa program is cohort based, but when you are a part-time student (especially a part-time student in the admin/policy track) you miss out on the cohort experience.  This is the bad.  While I have gotten to know my cohort a little bit, I have never and may never have a class with them.  The appeal of a cohort-based program is that you get to form a close knit support network, and I don’t get to experience that.  The good, however, is that I have been incredibly lucky to have the freedom to take classes as I can, which means that I get to take classes with the M2 cohort, the PhD students, and students from other EPLS disciplines.

Last spring my advisor and I made a road map for my course work.  We created a game plan for squeezing in as much as possible so that I am able to finish as quickly as possible.  Seeing the next three years laid out has been a huge stress reliever.  Not only do I know what I need to do and when I need to do it, but (perhaps most importantly) there is an actual end in sight!

With this in mind, I have composed a list of the most important survival skills I learned one semester into graduate school:

  1. Books, notebooks, and binders are heavy, and they only get heavier as the semester progresses. Invest in a nice back pack, even if you think you look stupid.
  1. Sleep is crucial. Reading comprehension will not occur if you can’t keep your eyes open.
  1. Form a support system if you don’t already have one. Partners, family, friends, daycare providers, supervisors, health care providers… everyone has the ability to help you in some way, from listening to you vent to watching your children.
  1. Ask for help. You can’t do everything, and the sooner you realize it the better.  HESA is an amazing community and I have not met a single person who wouldn’t help someone if they needed it.  People aren’t mind readers, though, so actively seek help if you need it.
  1. It is impossible to multi-task when it comes to parenting and reading. Both require your undivided attention, and chances are the dimpled ball of energy that never stops talking is going to win in the battle for your attention.  Take a break and play with your kids.
  1. Take however much time you think you will need to get through your readings and multiply it by 3. Reading is easy.  Comprehension takes time.
  1. Sit down and plan your courses, semester by semester, so that you have a plan. This is already done for most full-time students, but part-time students really need to lay it out.  Not only will it help you stay organized, but it will you help you see that your goal is actually achievable.
  1. Caffeine is your friend.
  1. Have fun amidst the chaos. Hang out with your friends.  Make time for your hobbies or find a new hobby.  Remember that you are an actual living, breathing human being who needs to laugh.
  1. You will be stressed out. You will have days where you have no idea what you are doing.  You will always feel like you could be doing something better.  It’s okay to feel like that.

Parenting is Not “One Size Fits All”

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for awhile now, and for good reason – I don’t have time to write for pleasure.  In the midst of a finance group project, preparing for a class discussion that I have to lead, and various readings that never seem to end, I am taking the time because something is weighing on my mind.

We all have opinions.  Some strong, some weak, some conforming, and others that are just way out there.  As parents, we have even more opinions.  Stronger opinions.  Soap boxes to stand on and lectures to preach.  Because as parents, we recognize that our children are our world.  Everything we do, say, think and feel always has our children at the very heart.  And that’s okay, because they are our children, and they are our world.

We need to recognize, however, that while our children are OUR world, they are not the world to the rest of the world.

I just ran a quick search through Amazon books with the keyword “parenting”, and this is the result:

194,639 results for Books : Parenting

Nearly 200,000 books on parenting.  Those are 200,000 differing opinions on how to parent a child.  Obviously there is no user manual for raising a child and what works for one family doesn’t work for another.  As parents, our first instinct always seems to be a defensive one – attack attack attack any opinion that differs from our own.  Of course, since we know what is best for our child, we somehow translate that into knowing what is best for every child.

And we are so incredibly wrong to do that.

I am choosing to send my daughter to public school when she is 5.  We are lucky and happen to live in an amazing, well educated city with amazing public schools.  We are even luckier to live in one of the best school districts in that city.  I am absolutely 100% confident that Lulu will thrive during her public schooling.

But you know what?  Not everyone is as lucky as we are.  Public schools are grossly underfunded.  Some urban area public schools can be a frightening prospect to face as a parent.  Some children have special needs and don’t or can’t conform to the public school standard.  If Lu had special needs or we lived in an area with a less than stellar school system, I would absolutely consider alternatives.  Private schools and homeschooling are always options.  And even if someone lives in an area with amazing public schools, and they still choose to send their child to private school or homeschool, who am I to judge that decision?  Those parents know what is best for their family, not me.  All I can do is make the best decision for MY child and family.

(To throw a shout out to my SIL – my homeschooled nieces are smarter, funnier, more compassionate, and more well rounded than most adults I know.)

When we become parents, we join this amazing club.  A club of late nights, worries, no sleep, stress, messes, smiles, hugs, joy, happiness, accomplishment, and unconditional love.  Public school vs. homeschool, disposable vs. cloth, SAHM vs. working mom, organic vs. whatever you can afford, breast vs. bottle… these are not one size fits all categories.  I might not agree with the decisions you have decided to make as a parent, but to be quite honest – it’s none of my business.

We are all a part of this amazing, special club where our greatest reward is the love of another human being.  We need to support each other, because we need each other.  We need to listen, understand, learn and sympathize with each other.  Judgement is a nasty thing that only perpetuates nastiness.  Instead of belittling the mom who homeschools, why not ask her why she has chosen to homeschool.  I bet she has a really good reason.  I bet the mom who uses disposable diapers, who feeds her baby formula, or who puts her child in daycare to work full-time has a really good reason too.

Meaningful conversations are scarce these days.  Let’s bring open-minded discussion back.

The Dropoff

Some mornings Lulu loves getting dropped off at daycare.  She runs inside and is perfectly at ease.  Other mornings, not so much.  Sometimes she is shy, sometimes sad, sometimes tired, happy, crazy… I never know what I am going to get with this girl.

She was happy this morning.  She sat down at a table to finish eating her Cheerios.  I hung her sweatshirt up, gave her a kiss, and asked her to be a good girl at school today, to which she replied, in her commanding little voice:

“Mmhm.  And you be a good girl at work today.”  – Lulu, age 3

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