Thankful Momma, Thankful Toddler

One of my besties recently bought me a daily journal inspired by an author, podcaster, and overall kickass lady we both like, Rachel Hollis. Its purpose: to inspire us to become equally kickass by achieving our dreams through visualization and affirmations. Sounds powerful, right? It’s also pretty damn difficult. However, while the transformation to totally kickass is still a work in progress, the other part of the journal was more an immediate success.

Before writing your goals, journal asks users to write down five things for which they are thankful each and every day. I felt I was grateful for so much in my life, but I really liked the idea of focusing on it more purposefully for a few minutes each morning. A couple weeks in I am finding I am not bored with the repetition, but rather using it to stretch my thinking about all I have to be thankful for—this time of year and always.

I could sit in bed each morning and repeat the same five things: family, friends, a good job, a nice place to live, and coffee, of course. Writing these five things over and over would certainly be a good way to start my day because I can’t say enough how much these mean to me and how grateful I am that my family and friends have made possible my greatest joy, becoming a mother. However, I’ve tried instead to write my list differently each morning to go deeper into what it means to be grateful.

A couple days I chose to just write three things, but added specific details that stood out to me as special about each on that morning. Other days I tried to pick less obvious things that I appreciate, like the afternoon light this time of year, the smell of leaves as we run through them kicking them into the air, or the way Ian sings Disney Junior theme songs to his toys at 4:30am, which might be the one thing that keeps me from screaming at him to go back to sleep. And on some days my grateful list is more of a find-good-in-the-hard-parts list, a needed reminder that while I may be feeling stressed or sleep deprived, my life is truly good and full, I am unbelievably lucky, and people are better than the news would have me believe. It’s those days, the not so easy days, that I truly appreciate the push to complete my thankful list.

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Little man, at two and a half, is far too young to read or appreciate momma’s self-help and empowerment books, but he’s at the perfect age to soak things up like a sponge and mimic any and all behaviors. So while my morning musings are sometimes personal and usually done alone (when he stays asleep or at least plays quietly until 5am), I decided to start a family tradition this November to introduce him to the idea of gratitude. Since he’s a toddler, and I had a burning desire to try out my at-home laminator, it came in the form of a thankful turkey.

Each night before bed, we ‘do our feathers’ by writing down one thing we are thankful for from the day. At his age, he still needs lots of prompting. The best way to elicit a genuine response has been to ask “What made you happy today?” or “What was the best part of today?” His answers have ranged from pretty silly, “Momma’s water bottle,” the one he’s not supposed to drink from; to genuine, “the restaurant,” after a dinner out with my parents where he got to have chocolate milk and sit at a booth; to melt your heart, “having pizza with Papa here,” with Papa said in a way that made it obvious he was the real prize.

I always share my answer, too, so he hears what I am grateful for that day, and we’ve even gotten his grandparents involved on nights they are over for dinner. Each feather is then labeled with the person’s name and the date, so I can save a few gems to laugh at in years to come!

By the time we reach Thanksgiving, my journal will be a regular routine, our paper turkey will be pretty plump, and we’ll both have probably memorized (and be tired of) the three books I’ve been reading him about being thankful. Most importantly, I will have planted the seed of gratitude so we will both recognize just how much we have to be thankful for—most especially each other.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Affiliate Links:

The books we’ve been reading – 

For anyone else crazy enough to want their own at-home laminator, this simple Amazon one works fine!

And for anyone who likes the idea, but isn’t into cutting out dozens of paper feathers, lol!

Motherhood Murdered My Creative Mojo

While most mothers, myself included, love our children and cherish our role as parents, many will also tell anyone who’ll listen how merciless motherhood can be. Some mothers will TMI you to death about the various body parts that will never return to their original size, shape, or functionality. Plenty will admit that nearly three years after giving birth, the hormonal and emotional changes still leave them bawling like a newborn with colic at the mere mention of a Hallmark movie. Nearly all can espouse to the damage years of sleep deprivation can do to one’s memory, patience, and sanity.

Me? I’m here mourning the loss of my creative mojo.

Prior to getting pregnant I wrote. I wrote. A. Lot. Four novels and a novella in about six years, in addition to nearly weekly blogs. I would come home from work, run (or slowly plod) the same four miles of sidewalk every day, surrendering my thoughts to my characters and the fictional world in which they lived, then crash on my couch for marathon writing sessions that could last until two in the morning. Writing didn’t pay the bills, but it was more than a hobby or something I did. Writing was who I was.

Just after announcing on my blog that I had become pregnant, I was honored to be accepted into a writing conference for authors of children’s and young adult novels. I sat down with a real New York agent to conference about my newest book, and while she gave me feedback on my novel, what she was really interested in was my blog and my real-life situation of becoming a single mother by choice. I was encouraged by her excitement and interest. I thought maybe this was my ticket to breaking into the world of paid authorship. So after a few more rejection letters regarding my novel, I decided to focus my writing efforts on blogging about my experiences.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up the blogging with some regularity. It wasn’t too hard. Blogs are usually short, and the time it took to write and post them was about as long as I wanted to spend on anything other than nesting and napping.

When my son arrived, even the blogging trickled down to nearly non-existent. If I wrote, it was heartfelt and impassioned, because I didn’t have the time or energy to write anything I didn’t feel needed to be shared with the world. But I didn’t write much. And I never wrote fiction, not just because I didn’t have time, I also never had ideas. It was as if the daily tasks of motherhood had sapped my ability to create.

I thought it would pass, this muddling of my creative mojo. I figured it was just a form of mommy brain, which turns out is more than a catchy excuse for forgetting your pump parts on the counter half a dozen times, and is actually scientifically proven changes to a woman’s brain during and after pregnancy. There’s no such proof that motherhood specifically kills creativity, but I suppose it makes sense that if certain parts of my brain changed and expanded, others had to make room.

About a year and a half into this single motherhood gig, I actually had a spark of creativity. A new idea for a novel began to burn in my writing soul, and for a few days, maybe even a week, I was convinced I could nourish it into a full-blown return of my creative self. I couldn’t. I don’t remember what suffocated that spark to keep it from becoming a flame. Perhaps one of us got sick, or my son had a few nights of interrupted sleep, or laundry piled up to the point I considered wearing underwear my post-pregnancy body had no business wearing. In other words, motherhood happened. And motherhood always trumps creative mojo.

But should it? Always? At what point does an artist or writer’s sense of self, their creative soul, need to not be ignored for fear of losing it altogether? If there is a point of no return, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of it. If I wait until my son is older, my job is easier, my finances are more secure, my brain and body have recovered from these early years (or at least settled into a new normal), I’m not sure I’ll still have the writing skills or publishing knowledge I have now.

Most importantly, I worry my creativity will be so diminished there will be no hope in reviving it. I love being a mother, but I’m not ready to allow motherhood to murder my creative mojo.

To keep my creativity alive, I know I need to prioritize. I need to let go of my need for a clean, picked up house. Despite the mental escape of mindlessly skimming through social media at night, I also need to put away my phone and pick up my pen and notebook. More than any of these, though, I need to find a way to mentally reset, to learn to daydream again, to allow my mind to wander—and not to all the worries, tasks, and responsibilities of parenthood. That’s not easy anymore. What used to come naturally, will now take work. But I’m willing to put in that work.

So I will continue to read articles about my craft and to inspire myself by reading novels written by fiction writers who made motherhood, even single motherhood, and writing mesh. (J.K. Rowling, you are, as always, my hero.) I will keep plugging at the draft of my newest novel, even if the pages I write after an exhausting day of teaching and parenting are mostly crap. I will retrain my brain to let go, to wander, to create again.

Because while the pulse of my creativity is weak, it remains—a soft, steady reminder of that part of my soul whose voice will not be silenced—even if it is covered in snot and sleep deprived.

 

Photo credit: © Viktoriia Hnatiuk | Dreamstime.com

Learning to Trust My Mom Gut

Last weekend my family was having a party for my grandmother’s 95th birthday, obviously a very special occasion, one I truly wanted to attend and wanted my son to attend. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to start at noon, the time my son is usually drifting off to sleep for his nap. It was also being held in one of my grandmother’s favorite places, Purgatory Chasm. For those of you outside central Massachusetts, think picturesque wooded picnic area surrounded by potentially deadly (and therefore seriously toddler-tempting) rocks and rock chasms.

So was it an ideal event for us to go to? No. In fact my first mom gut reaction was HELL NO.

But then other influences started creeping in. Out of state relatives whom I would have loved catching up with were attending. My niece and nephew were coming, and my son adores his older cousin. There would be chocolate cake (hey, that lure is real). And probably most importantly, the loss of my other grandmother this spring weighed on my heart, and the ‘what if this is the last birthday?’ thought popped up and wouldn’t easily be swatted away.

So I squashed my mom gut instinct that told me a tired toddler overstimulated with family and food and tempted with his favorite activity, rock climbing, would be a disastrous combination. And we went anyways.

Do I need to tell how this ended? Do I need to describe the epic meltdown that ensued shortly after his usual nap time when I had to tell him no he couldn’t climb the chasm that our picnic table was placed directly in front of? Do I need to explain why I ended up holding him for his entire three hour nap on the couch when we got home and he still couldn’t settle? It wasn’t pretty. But it also wasn’t his fault. This wasn’t a case of a two year old being a brat when he didn’t get his way. (We’ve had those meltdowns too, so I’m well versed in what they look like.)

This was my fault. I know what my son needs (sleep, regular mealtimes, minimal stimulation near nap), and I ignored it because I had a case of family fomo. I’d like to tell you it was the first time I’d ignored my mom gut, but the truth is I’ve already done it too many times to recall. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. Even when it does, it’s a pretty crappy parenting technique to play Russian roulette with my kid’s emotions.

Little man isn’t the easy-going, adjust-to-any-environment kid. He never has been and maybe never will be. I thought I’d accepted that before now, but the truth is I’m always looking for signs he’s ‘grown out of it’ or is getting better in crowds or stimulating situations. Sometimes it’s because as a single mom I really want, maybe even need, to get out and attend these events. Other times I’ve felt guilty missing out on important family gatherings. Either way it’s often led me to do something my mom gut told me was not a good idea with my fingers crossed and breath held.

I hope after this last incident that I’m finally done with ignoring my mom gut. I can’t shelter my son from every possible difficult situation, but while he’s still little, he needs an advocate to look out for what’s best for him. He needs me to trust my mom gut.

Learning to Walk Again

 

Maybe it’s a New England thing (it’s freakin’ cold here in winter). Maybe it’s a short girl thing (little legs just trying to keep up). Or maybe it’s a busy woman thing (endless to-do lists on the mind). But I like to walk fast (as fast as someone just over 5 feet can walk). I like to walk with purpose—to get somewhere, for exercise, because I’m late for class and I’m the teacher, darn it. The only time I slow my stride is for clothes shopping, and that really is more deal stalking than walking, so I don’t count it.

This summer, though, I had to relearn how to walk. Not the physical action of placing one foot in front of the other. That, thankfully, was not my problem. The reason I had to learn to walk again was because of who was at my side: my two year old son. It wasn’t that he was even shorter than I am. He keeps ups just fine when he wants to; he has super cat speed after all. Nope, the reason for my reeducation was that Little Man’s purposes for walking were so far removed from my own.

Toddlers don’t walk in straight lines. Their pace slows or quickens erratically. Sometimes they don’t walk at all—they crawl, roll, hop, or gallop.

When you have a destination in mind, and god forbid a timeline to stick to, this can be frustrating, even infuriating. But one of the beauties of being a teacher-mom in summer is that there was time spend with my little guy when there was no set destination and no deadline.

So we wandered a lot this summer. I allowed myself, sometimes forced myself to just let him lead. Walking his way, we squashed a lot of mushrooms, crawled through bushes momma barely fit through, stopped to chase bunnies, pick up worms, or splash in puddles. It was slow. It was often messy. It was  almost always without purpose or direction.

And it was wonderful.

I think one of the greatest gifts children offer us is the chance to see the world anew. Little man doesn’t walk straight toward his destination because every little thing along the way is equally exciting. Bees enchant him. Sticks cry out to be picked up (lately with his mouth like a Puppy Dog Pal). Puddles are absolutely irresistible. After days on end of trailing by his side, I realized his walking does have purpose—it’s to explore and examine and learn about his world, a world that as an adult I had begun to take for granted. Not anymore.

Yes, I will still power-walk to the nearest heated building come the dead of January. And I will still speed-walk to class after staying too late at lunch chatting with coworkers. But when I’m with my son, and hopefully even when I’m not, I will make the most of his gift to me. I will try to walk as he walks—seeing, hearing, experiencing the world more fully, more intensely, and with the awe it deserves.

Mother’s Day as a Single Mom

When you’re a single mom, Mother’s Day looks a little different.

There isn’t any sleeping in. When little man wakes up at 4:10, then again at 5:25, there isn’t anyone else to push out of bed to go get him.

But then when you pick him up and give him a good morning hug and he tells you, “So happy!” you’re pretty damn glad it was you who went in to get him, and you could care less what time it is.

Breakfast in bed is out, too. So you have some fun and make yourself a gourmet version of the frozen Spiderman waffles your toddler son likes. And, hey, they’re not so bad.

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Despite the cold and damp, it’s you who takes your kid to toddler soccer, which is basically equivalent to herding baby cheetahs who’d rather run away and pick dandelions on the muddy field than actually touch the ball with his feet. But when your future florist gets freaked out by another little dino roaring at him (something he was doing to you all through that spiderific breakfast), it’s you who gets the hugs and the request to “go home now.

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And since it’s Mother’s Day and you’re cold and wet and just not into pushing a two-year-old to play team sports quite yet, you go with the flow. And go in search of smiles—his and yours.

His comes easy. Find a swing and wag your tongue back at him as he wags his at you.

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Yours might cost a bit more but it is worth every penny and every calorie—even if it wasn’t eaten in bed at a decent hour.

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The rest of the day is about the same as any other Sunday. Busy. Exhausting. Too short to even dent the to-do list.

But it is also overflowing with gratitude and laughter and love.

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Mother’s Day as a single mom, as any mom, is more than being pampered or having time to take an uninterrupted shower (though those are nice perks if you can get ’em). It’s about being appreciated, and the best part of being a single parent is getting all the hugs, “thank you, mom”s, “ugga mugga”s, and sloppy wet kisses. I am loved by the little person I love more than anything else. That’s all this mom really needs.

Well, that and the donuts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Egg Dying With a Toddler

Alternate Title: Why Parents Shouldn’t Rush Holiday Traditions

Baby’s first everything is exciting, so of course I went nuts with Little Man’s first Easter last year. I had an Easter basket made with his name on it, bought the books and knick knacks for it months in advance, and planned his outfit from head-to-toe. But while I might have gone nuts, I wasn’t totally insane. I understood that an 11-month-old wouldn’t be able to partake in the Easter traditions I fondly remembered: dying eggs with mom, hunting for hidden eggs with my brother, and raiding the candy when no one was looking with my dad.

This year, though, Little Man is almost two. He’s grown from a baby to a little boy. A little boy who loves eggs, stickers, painting…and smearing anything messy all over himself and the cat. So dying eggs was definitely happening, definitely would be the start of a favored new holiday tradition, and definitely was a wise parenting decision.

Or definitely not.

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Tiger Lily knew I was nuts.

First, I gave up precious nap time to prep, time I should have used doing laundry so either one of us actually has clothes to wear come Easter. But I thought of the fun we’d have, and knew it was worth the time. At least I was smart enough to do the liquid dye while he was asleep and safely confined in a crib.

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And I dig messes. Let’s do this.

Upon his waking, I shared my genius plan with my still groggy toddler who thought it was brilliant, so brilliant he threw a fit when I told him painting eggs required a clean diaper. But once we got past that, it was great.

Except when control freak Mommy didn’t want him to mix the two colors of paint. Or when destructo toddler decided smashing or throwing the brightly colored “balls” sounded more fun than putting stickers on them. Or when we both realized our hands were permanently green, and we were showing up to Easter brunch as Mini-Hulk and his mom.

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Not of fan of Momma’s artwork. Or my green hands.

So the only egg with stickers is the one I modeled for him. The shaving cream eggs aren’t edible (a common sense thing I should have realized before buying all the supplies)—not to mention they left us both green from our elbows down. And for an hour of prep, he spent about 15 minutes interested in any of it—except eating the broken eggs. He liked the eating!

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Mmm, I should have broken more of these.

So was it wise to attempt the tradition of egg dying at the wonderful age of almost two? Definitely not. Was it fun regardless of the mess and stress? Hell yes.

And we’ll try again next year, but in the meantime, wish us better luck on the egg hunt!

Happy Easter & Passover weekend to all!

To Prospective Teachers After Parkland

While I usually blog about my journey as a single mother, as a teacher I occasionally also write about topics surrounding education. In the wake of last week’s newest school shooting, I felt the need to address new or prospective teachers, especially as I am currently supervising a student teacher in my classroom this semester.

An open letter to to my student teacher and all those considering entering the teaching profession after the Parkland, Florida school shooting:

I was eager to take on a student teacher this spring, eager to share my knowledge and my classroom with someone so full of untapped energy and enthusiasm for the subject I’m passionate about and the profession I have proudly worked in for sixteen years. I was ready and willing to share with you lesson plans, grading tips, assessments, and classroom management strategies. I was even ready to share my flaws and flops in hopes that they would not become your own.

I was not ready for another mass shooting in another school by another troubled young person. No one, despite our drills and training, is ever ready for that.

And in the days just after Parkland, I failed you by not having an honest, open conversation about it. I went on teaching the kids like it hadn’t happened, I went on trying to teach and guide you like it hadn’t happened, because I thought it best to keep a sense of normalcy and safety in our classroom. But it did happen, and it proved that our classrooms are not always the sanctuaries we hope to create. And now that our nation, our profession, and I have had some time to process, I feel the need to say a few things to you and anyone else wanting to be a teacher.

This isn’t normal.

Your day-to-day worries should be, and most often will be, consumed with kids needing your help, parents needing your guidance, counselors needing your input, administrators needing paperwork, and essays needing to be graded. You should and hopefully will lose more sleep over where to sit chatty Charlie or what you can do about Suzy’s home situation, than where to hide a classroom of kids from an armed gunman.

But this is your new reality.

Though it will likely only ever be a fraction of all the things you as a teacher will have to juggle, keeping the kids and yourself safe will be one of your new responsibilities. Hopefully the only real emergency you ever have to deal with is a flare up in the teacher’s room microwave from an over-cooked bag of popcorn. But you will have to train, drill, and prepare for the worst. You will have to assess your new classroom for not only the best place to hang that inspirational poster, but also for escape routes and everyday objects that could be used as weapons against an attacker. You will also have to find the words to explain to mere children why we practice barricading doors or hiding in closets. If you ever find the perfect words, please pass them on; I never have.

For now.

The amazing thing is I doubt this will scare you away from becoming a teacher. If you’ve made it this far in your career path it’s because you already know what I’m about to tell you: It’s worth it. Not because your subject is important. Oh, sure, your love of literature or science may have been what pushed you in the path of education, but it’s not what kept you here. The kids are why you’re here. They are why you’ll work for less pay than you deserve, accept less respect from society than you’ll earn, and worry more than you ever thought possible. The kids, and the chance they provide to change the future, are why the stress, worry, and fear are all worth it—even if it is deplorable that a teacher or child should ever have to be afraid in a school.

While it may seem some days, like the day of the Parkland shooting, that you are about to take on an impossible task and an unbearable responsibility, you are also being given a great gift. You are being given the chance to teach the next generation about respect, empathy, and compassion, so that no child grows up without anyone to turn to and so instead turns to violence. You are being given the opportunity to teach them to question the powers that be, to speak up when they disagree, and to make changes so that their children can spend more time practicing thinking skills and less time practicing survival skills.

So don’t give up on teaching. Don’t give up on the kids. New teachers create new hope for a better world. And a better world is what you, and they, and we all deserve.