I walk toward the doors of my son's classroom after a long day in my own, my shoulders tight and my soul yearning for an afternoon coffee. This is the brightest spot of any given day--that moment after walking through the doors of my son's classroom when I spot him, he spots me, and he comes running, arms wide open and joy all over his face. My tired and tense is replaced with a sudden burst of pure joy that floods my body as his 4 year-old arms wrap around my neck. We exchange hugs and kisses and I take in every detail he wants to tell me about his day as we gather his things and walk together toward the car.
The end of the workday, for most people, is a welcome relief but, for me, the ride home from school is my least favorite part of the day--not because I'm unhappy to head home and be with my family, but because this is the time of day when I'm least mentally and physically settled. I feel a little like a soda bottle that's been shaken up and sat down, struggling to transition from swirling to settling. There just seems to be so much noise--both literally and figuratively. The noise of the radio, the sounds of traffic that surround me, my son's stories now stretching into twenty-minute monologues that I'm trying my best to actively listen to.
But the loudest, most distracting noise is that going through my head: the attempt to try and process all that I've taken in that day at school while simultaneously trying to let it go, to try and remember what didn't get done so those items can carry over onto tomorrow's to-do list, and the flood of to-do's that are yet to come when I step into the door of my own home. The reality is that home is not where I rest after an already full and tiring day--it's where the second half of my day begins: weekday evenings of a relaxing dinner and 8 o'clock sitcom were at some point replaced as just prep for the next day. To muster up the energy, I pull into Starbucks before tackling the grocery store.
I try to avoid early evening trips to the store by doing my shopping over the weekend--a nearly $200 bill for the week ahead seems like it should be enough, yet it's Thursday and somehow we've blown through most of it and there's nothing for dinner. Plus, it's my son's turn to bring snack for his class and my students have that project that I need marshmallows for. The caffeine boost helps me get through the aisles more quickly. The bill at the register is shocking as always and I do a quick mental scramble to make sure there's enough in the account on this day before payday. The cashier asks if I'd like to donate to help our local schools get the supplies they need. I think "girrrl, please" but politely tell her no thanks, not today, I've already donated toward the cause. As I push the cart through the parking lot, I laugh and joke with my boy and tell both him and myself "we're almost home".
I approach the door to my own home with as many grocery bags as I can carry in my left hand and a teacher cart wheeling behind me in my right, pleading with my four year-old to stop chasing lizards and pick up the grocery bag he dropped so we can get into the house. My shoulders feel tighter now as I balance bags on my leg and fumble with the key. When I walk in it feels like a mixture of relief and dread. I'm happy to be home, yet there's mess as far as the eye can see. Like my attempt at proactive weekend grocery shopping, my weekend cleaning now seems like a futile effort. I can't say it's all my son or husband's doing, I left out my own dinner plate from last night and the contents of my make up bag are strewn across the bathroom sink, not to mention our dog has knocked his food all over the floor. It's nobody's fault really, we're all busy and doing the best we can but somehow it just gets out of control so quickly.
My husband walks in the door and there's a second burst of parent/child joy. "Heyyy, boy!" my husband calls out as my son runs full speed into his arms. He probably feels dirty and tired after his own long day but looks like construction-clad perfection to me in his Carhartt jeans and work boots. He hugs and kisses me and we trade trite how was your day's, and fines. Both of us know the other is genuinely interested but that neither of us has the time or mental energy at the moment to hear genuine answers. Perhaps in a quiet restaurant with a bottle of wine, but not right now. We'll get there later.
As my son and husband commence some sort of weird wrestling/growling session I don't quite understand, I pop in my headphones to escape yet more noise. I pour my one glass of wine for the night and turn on my guilty pleasure podcast as I run through my mental to-do list of what needs to get done in the next two hours. As I pour the wine, I tell myself I should be popping in my headphones to go for a run instead before the sun goes down, but my tired body rejects that idea. Plus, that wouldn't leave enough time for everything else. I spend the next hour and a half in a whirlwind of packing lunches, picking up messes, switching over a load of laundry, and giving baths as my husband showers and helps with dinner. My son pleads with me a few times to play dinosaurs with him. "I want to buddy, I do...just give me ten more minutes."
Eventually the noise settles down and so do we, the three of us crammed into our bed to read a few books before my son goes off to his own. I let him lay with us because I feel guilty about having worked all day and most of the evening rather than connecting with him. My husband opens his laptop and I try my best to feign interest and keep my eyes open as I read Ten Thousand Facts About Reptiles yet again, but I'll read it over and over because I know someday soon he'll be able to just read it himself. On fact twenty-eight, my son nudges me and says "moooom...keep going!" because I doze off slightly. It's not even 8:30. I tell him that's enough for tonight and toss the books aside. We say our prayers and my son requests his nightly bedtime back tickle. As I tickle his tiny, soft back, I take in his precious face and relish in the quiet.
I now feel settled and satisfied, but it's tinged with a little guilt.
I wish I'd made more time for me. I could stay up and take a hot bath or watch my favorite show but my eyes are too heavy.
I wish I'd said more than five sentences to my husband and I wish they'd been something fun, not a reminder that he has a dentist appointment tomorrow.
I wish I'd gotten just one of the papers from my Bag of Good Intentions graded.
My wish list is interrupted by the sound of my phone going off--the familiar ding of a work e-mail coming through. It's now a little past 8:50. I take a glance and notice it's a message from a parent. I sigh and silently wish I taught in 1989 when I would receive a handwritten note at 8:50 in the morning instead.
Against my better judgment, I open the e-mail because the curiosity wins out over my desire to set boundaries. The message is in response to an activity I've arranged for the class to participate in next week. It reads "thank you for doing this for our kids. You are an awesome role model and teacher...you're like a second parent to him. Our son is lucky to have you."
I take a breath and put the phone back down on the nightstand. I needed that tonight. Because, while I'm exhausted, this reminds me that my efforts aren't in vain--that my time and energy that day meant something to someone. I kiss my husband and my son one more time. My husband's "I love you, baby" is sincere and, with my son's arms wrapped around my neck, I am again reminded that the tired and the hustle for my family is also worthwhile--that it's contributing toward something that matters.
Look, I probably won't die rich or well-known by many or having been able to say I traveled the world. I probably won't look back and see a very glamorous life. But I do believe in the things I'm working so hard for. I do believe I'll be able to think back on the hundreds of students I connected with, my marriage, and my relationship with my son and feel I've lived a life worth living--a life that meant something in the grand scheme of things. And that's what keeps me going.
That and the lattes, of course.
She was my 4th grade teacher and one of my all-time favorites--a bubbly, brunette, thirty-something woman with dimples that made learning fun and always wore the cutest high heels that perfectly matched her dress. She handed out Star Student certificates every Friday, signed in perfect cursive, to students who showed good behavior and boy, did I aim to please. That was my main goal at 9 years old really--to gain friends and the teacher's favor by laying low and being good at all costs. I was conscientious, polite, and on-task ALWAYS—a model student.
Until one day, when I made an uncharacteristically bad choice: when I thought no one was looking, I took a Sharpie to the head cheerleader’s jacket.
A little while later Mrs. S. called me out into the hallway. My stomach was fluttery and I felt a lump forming in my throat--she knew. When we were outside, just the two of us, she said “Krissy, I couldn't believe it when another student told me, but is it true that you were the one who damaged Ashley's jacket?” I silently shook my head yes as tears of shame filled my eyes. My teacher knelt down and her voice lowered. “I guess you’ve probably been frustrated with her for some time now, huh? Calling you names and joking to the other girls as you pass by?”
She knew?! I couldn’t believe it; I had no idea anyone knew. I thought I'd been successful in going unnoticed. I nodded as the tears started rolling down my face.
“Krissy, what you did today was very wrong and you will need to apologize—you should’ve used your words with Ashley. But next time, don’t wait until you’re this frustrated to speak up for yourself. Because what you did today, that’s not who you want to be.”
She was right. That was the thing about Mrs. S.—while I tried my best to be hidden, to blend in at all costs, she tried her best to allow me to be seen for who I really was.
One morning a few weeks later Mrs. S. came in smiling, saying she had some exciting news to share: she was expecting a baby in the summer and we would be having a substitute when the time came closer. I was so happy for her. But no more than a few weeks later, I walked into class to find the principal at the front of the room, saying she had something important to tell us.
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Shaw has learned she is no longer expecting a baby. A substitute will be filling in for her for a while until she can return.”
Not quite understanding how it all worked, one of the students raised her hand and asked what we were all thinking: “why will we have a substitute just because she’s not having a baby anymore?” The principal paused and then answered,
“well...because she’s just too sad to be here”.
Her words were like a brick in my stomach. Too sad to be here? I had heard of people too sick to go to school….but too sad? I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anyone that sad before in my whole life. My heart ached picturing our bubbly, smiling teacher so distraught.
Later that day a group of us plotted in a small huddle on the playground to problem-solve Mrs. S's sadness. One girl said she knew where she lived and suggested that maybe we could all visit her at home and bring her things to make her happy, like chocolate or coffee. Another insisted that we go to her and remind her that school is where she is happy and refuse to leave until she comes back with us—a kidnapping essentially. We brainstormed all the ways we could think of to fix her sadness and bring her back to us.
Eventually the day came when I walked in to class and found Mrs. S. behind the teacher’s desk once again. Finally, she’s back! I thought. But I quickly noticed something was different. Rather than jumping up to greet each of us as we came in, she nodded half-smile hellos from behind her desk and then looked back down at her work. Her bright high-heels were replaced with black flats and her eyes seemed to always look tired. When I would ask her a question she would sometimes snap at me for reasons I couldn’t figure out. Our teacher was back, but she was different somehow. I wondered if maybe we should’ve gone to her house to cheer her up after all.
Almost 30 years later I found myself standing in the same shoes Mrs. S. had stood in all those years before, unlocking my own classroom door after being out for a week, wondering how I’d face the students who’d learned I was no longer expecting.
I thought about Mrs. S. and how badly I'd wanted to fix her sadness,
how desperately I’d wanted her to just be her old self again,
how I was too young to understand that the change in her had nothing to do with us.
I remembered how I’d analyzed her demeanor, her clothes, her tone of voice in an effort to see just how worried we should be about her. I’d better put on a smile, I thought.
But then I remembered something else Mrs. S. had taught me all those years ago during our talk out in the hallway: how I don’t have to be “good” or “perfect” all the time, just honest about how I feel…before it all builds up and comes out in ways that aren’t me; ways I don’t want to be. And I wanted my girls to hear that from me, too.
My usually talkative class was somber and silent as they arrived that morning and slowly walked to their seats and settled in. I could feel them studying my face just as I had studied Mrs. Shaw’s, trying to measure my sadness.
I asked them to come gather with me down on the rug and said “I know you all have heard that my family’s received some sad news.” I felt the lump rise in my throat and took a breath. “The truth is, I AM sad. I might be sad about this for a little while or a long while, I don’t know. But I also want you to know my sadness has nothing to do with you. In fact, being here with you all, and teaching….this is where I want to be because teaching you all makes me happy. So, even though I may feel sad, I’m choosing to be here.”
Their bodies relaxed and their faces softened. A few of them mumbled that they were glad to have me back, too.
Twenty or thirty years from now it would be fun to be remembered as the lively teacher with the cute shoes and snazzy certificates in perfect cursive--the way I remembered Mrs. S. for all those years.
But the reality is that every one of the girls sitting in my classroom will one day face their own great sadness, whatever it is, and I hope in those moments they remember me less for my shoes and more for those “hallway conversations”. Because, in my own moment of sorrow, that's when I remembered the things Mrs. S. taught me that really mattered.
How she pushed for me to be seen when all I wanted to do was hide in the background.
The way she encouraged me to be real about how I was feeling rather than stuff it down.
And her guidance to take the high road rather than lowering myself when I feel beaten down.
I think of Mrs. Shaw often and wonder if she ever started wearing her cute shoes again...if she ever went back to that old bubbly self I once loved. I hope at least a part of that spark came back, not just for her students but for herself. Because, while it's good in the sad times to let ourselves fully feel what we feel, it's also important to eventually let yourself allow the joy in again—to put your smile and your cute shoes back on, to get your zest for life back.
I can remember in my own shock of grief thinking “I’ll never smile or laugh again” simply out of respect for the love I’d lost. But I eventually learned that allowing in happiness doesn't take away from the gravity of the loss or dishonor the one you're grieving for in any way. You don’t leave them behind when you move forward, you carry them with you.
That’s what’s so amazing about the strength of a woman—she can carry her smile, her obligations, her losses, all of it along with her everyday, everywhere she goes.
Even in cute high heels.
Addiction, in one form or another, has played a role throughout my life. Not because I've struggled with it so much myself, but because many of the people around me over the years have and, in turn, it's affected my life in a multitude of ways. Alcohol, drugs, food, spending...these addictions have all impacted my life in some way, whether it be through relationships with friends, family members, or romantic partners.
I've done enough self-reflection and Al-Anon meetings to understand that, in most cases, it was my codependent nature--my tendency to feel empathy for others, to want to help them--that attracted these people into my life. Just as an addict is never "cured" but forever in recovery, a person like me, whose tendency is codependency, has to take it one day at a time and be very conscious of how we interact with the people who continually impact our lives with their demons.
I might've bowed out of actively participating in the addiction game awhile ago but, as those of you who've been in my shoes know, you can leave the game (no longer enable, keep your distance, love from afar) but sometimes still never fully get out. For instance, a mother may no longer enable her addicted child, but she's never able to fully step away from that relationship. Instead, you carry on with life as best you can and witness the heartbreaking game go on from the sidelines.
Here's the interesting thing about being the one watching from the sidelines though--
there's a lot of talk about the pain the addict feels
there's a lot of talk about the enmeshment the co-dependent feels
but there's not a lot of talk about how the loved ones living life from a distance on the sidelines feel.
So I write this today for you, because I know it's not an easy place to live. Life lived on the sidelines of addiction puts you in a precarious situation: you keep your distance enough to protect yourself, yet you never feel totally free as long as someone you care about is struggling. Life as a recovering codependent means always staying aware of not getting sucked back into the game. It’s a daily commitment to somehow learn how to love from afar without detaching completely. We live life somewhere in an undefined middle.
For the addict willing to admit they’re powerless, willing to get help—let me say I have immense respect and compassion for you. But as I live longer and grow wiser, watching the game from the sidelines for years—in some cases even decades—my patience and sympathy for the addict living in denial lessens. I can understand on an intellectual level the real reason why they won’t take the first step: fear. But my heart feels less compassionate—it feels like it’s coated with a build-up of frustration and weariness, hardened for reasons I can’t even name.
Maybe it’s for the massive amount of time and energy over the years spent in vain...
maybe it’s from watching wake-up call after wake-up call go ignored...
maybe it’s for the terribly insulting game they play where they look person after person in the eye time and again and exclaim “problem?! What problem?” as if we can’t see what’s going on in our own lives with 20/20 vision. As if we can’t trust our own wisdom.
Maybe it’s for all those years that it was us, not them, doing the work--attending the meetings, going to counseling, reading the books--while they continued to sit smugly on their throne of denial, looking down, watching the destruction around them. Watching those they love in pain, pleading with them to get help, scrambling to clean up the messes they’ve made...all the while attempting to convince those around them that things are not what they seem--all so they can remain in the comfort of their denial, their hiding place from pain.
I know it's got to be hard as hell to make the decision to give up that seat, but it's also hard as hell on everyone around them living in the wake of their destruction.
The nice thing about moving from the field to the sidelines is that you begin to find your inner strength, your truth, your voice. And I’m sure the truth I’m sharing here isn’t going to sit well with everyone reading, especially those who, deep down, recognize themselves in the addict-in-denial I’m describing. If that’s the case for you, I’d tell you that my intention in writing this is not to insult you, it’s to give a voice to those on the sidelines. But if I did indeed insult you, the question is—at the risk of sounding harsh—should I care? Where has the regard ever been for how we feel, for how your addiction has affected our lives? This isn’t about shaming you, it’s about shining light on the unfiltered truth of how we feel—those of us who have been impacted by your choices. Because, if we’re not honest about those feelings, that doesn’t mean they’re not there, they’re just hidden in the dark. And, as we know, addiction thrives in the dark.
It needs light—truth—in order to be exposed and healed.
It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to admit you have a problem, but it also takes bravery to make the decision to move from the field to the sidelines and do the work involved to stay there—to witness our loved ones slowly self-destruct, yet not have the luxury of a hiding place to run to from the pain of it all. The addict in denial gets something we on the sidelines don't: they get to numb the pain of life while the loved ones around them are left to feel the effects of their destruction unanesthetized. When life gets stressful for us--when the bills pile up, when a loved one dies, when s**t gets REAL--we do the most grueling work of all: dealing with it, feeling it. Not tapping out. That takes courage.
And yet, with all this being said—all these complicated emotions felt—we remain on the sidelines. We remain there because we're not done with YOU, we're just done with your disease. Yes, we may be resentful or bitter, but we’re also strong and faithful. We may no longer be willing to participate in your game, and we may carry on with our lives, but we are forever on the sidelines, checking over now and then to see if you’ll meet us halfway. Praying we’ll get the call that the game is over because you’ve called time on it, not because you’ve been defeated.
I was just reading yet another article painting Millenials in a negative light (seems to be the thing right now) and I wondered to myself "what generation am I considered a member of anyway?" At 38, I seem a little too old to be a Millenial, but a little too young to be a member of Generation X. I looked it up and, sure enough, my birth year of 1980 lands right on the cusp. As one site puts it, 38 years of age is the "oldest possible Millenial", like I'm some kind of rare relic still roaming the Earth, yet also young enough to be considered at least snowflake-light. In other words, the best of both worlds.
Regardless of the title (and I'm sure like those that came before), I love my generation. We got to grow up in a more innocent, simpler time when parents held the reigns but not too tight. We had access to the emerging technology of the early 80's but not enough to become obsessed with it. When I look back, it feels like a time when there was a nice balance between too much and not enough.
When I think about a time of not enough, I think of a generation of years past when there wasn't enough in a very literal sense, but, also in terms of affection in parenting--this belief that withholding love and affection from children somehow "toughened them up" to face a tough world. But when I think of my son's and my students' generation, it sometimes feels like too much. Too much stimulation. Too many options. Too much hovering over. Too much anxiety. Kids today (ugh listen to me..."kids today") have a cornucopia of choices at every turn and I'm not sure that's always a positive thing.
Want to watch TV? Here are 5,000 channels to choose from.
Want something fun to do after school? Here’s a different extracurricular to do each day of the week. Why choose one? Take them all on!
Options are great, but with too many options comes a degree of anxiety. You've probably experienced option anxiety if you've ever tried choosing one thing from the Cheesecake Factory novel (ahem...menu). Or if you've ever tried to find a movie to watch but you spend the two hours you have available flipping through choices, trying to make a decision...then second-guessing your choice until you fall asleep from the exhaustion of it all (I suppose that's the "chill" part of the "Netflix & Chill" experience).
So why aren't a multitude of options always a good thing? Because there's comfort in a little bit of restriction, some boundaries. Some degree of limitation feels safe and wards off the dreaded FOMO. And guys...we're ADULTS. It's no wonder so many children today feel anxious.
Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, we didn’t have tons of options for things to do around town, but I didn't know any different and I'm not sure any different would've been any better. My best memories were the simple, little things like playing school, walking with my sister to the convenience store a block away to buy Slush Puppies and Fireballs, or playing Spotlight and catching fireflies on summer evenings. These might seem boring or mundane to kids today, but there was a little magic in the mundane then.
I think because none of those things involved instant gratification or a ton of other options, so I wasn't distracted thinking about my next, possibly better, alternative.
Besides the instant gratification factor is the multitude of commitments & activities kids take on and the result that comes from dipping a toe into many pools rather than diving deep into one. The one extracurricular activity I had regularly, my dance lessons, were a commitment and everything that came with it—the costumes, the ballet slippers—they were like GOLD...they meant something. Most likely because I saw my mom take the cash from babysitting and selling Avon and put it in a little envelope that was then handed to my dance teacher. I wonder what message I'm sending about the connection between hard work and money and "things" when all my son sees is me swiping a card.
I know many kids today, including my own, still do the simpler things and appreciate them, but I can see how even small doses of option overwhelm and cyber stimulation show themselves in subtle ways. I notice it in the expectation to have a response or request fulfilled instantly, the shortening attention span, the general pace of talking, moving, and just b e i n g. And it's not just showing up in the kids, it's in the adults they are watching, too.
I see it in my son and I see it in myself.
When I was growing up, long before the days of Google, if I wanted answers my mom would have me seek out the solution myself. When I came to her asking if the "Legend of the Shooting Star" was true because I wanted a free bag of candy, she had me write a letter to Tootsie Roll Industries. When I told her how Paula Abdul's album was changing my ten year-old life, she said "ooh...you should tell her!" When I couldn't wait for the next Baby-Sitters Club book to drop and kept asking her when it was coming out, she said "I don't know, ask the author!" Tootsie Roll wrote me back, Paula Abdul did not, and Ann M. Martin sent me both the release date AND a BSC t-shirt (omg!)
When my mother had me write the letters myself to get the answers or write to these people I admired, the unspoken messages were powerful, whether she realized it or not:
You are capable.
You are important and your voice matters.
When someone's art touches you, tell them, even if they seem untouchable or larger than life.
Don't get me wrong, I think there are things that are really great about growing up in today's world and, believe me, when I was a kid I would've wished for everything my son and my students have today: the phones, the laptops, access to any activity or shiny, sparkly thing under the sun. Every year for Christmas and my birthday, I'd beg for a Nintendo and, every year, my parents would say "no". I'm sure it would've been easier to give in to my relentless nagging but I'm so glad they stood their ground. Because, if they'd given in, I wonder...
~if I'd had video games to turn to when I was bored (or, in today's terms, a phone), would I have explored my curiosity? It was out of boredom that I’d grab a piece of chalk, line up my stuffed animal students, and use the back of my bedroom door as a chalkboard. That was my clue that I wanted to be a teacher. It was out of boredom that I created stories...that's how I knew I loved to make sense of the world by writing about it.
~if I'd had Google to get my answers from, would I have learned the virtues that came from finding them out for myself? If I could've simply looked up the release date of the Baby Sitters Club book instead of writing to the author, would I have learned patience and delayed gratification by waiting for a response each day? Would that T-shirt have meant so much coming from a store as it did coming from her?
~if I’d had a multitude of extracurriculars to choose from, would I have poured my heart & soul into that one thing, dance? Would I have learned about commitment and the concept of working for the "extras" in life?
Maybe it wasn’t so much a generational thing but a parenting thing. Thank God I had parents whose goal wasn’t just to keep me busy, but to keep me curious. Who valued using imagination over "things" and helped me find the magic in the mundane. Who weren’t afraid of letting me be bored every once in a while.
Because it's in
that we are able to hear the clues our soul whispers about who we want to be.
I wonder, will our children be able to hear their whispers in all the noise? In all the distraction?
I believe they will. Because we did.
The generation before us worried that we wouldn't hear the whispers over the computers and Nintendos, but we still did. The generation before them worried they wouldn't hear the whispers over the new loud rock music and new television sets, but they did. The shiny, loud, distracting things have changed, but what doesn't change are those three things that always remain: faith, hope, and love.
Every generation's love for the way they grew up.
Every generation's faith that there IS a whisper, a call, meant only for them.
And every generation's hope that the one that comes next will find a way to drown out the noise enough to hear that call.
A few years back I was going through a box of old photos and came across some pictures of my college sweetheart. They weren't photos of us--they were photos of him as a young boy with his mom. We were together for a good while in my early 20's, so I guess at some point a few of his things had gotten mixed up with mine. Looking at them fifteen years later, having a young son of my own now, I saw them differently than I would’ve back then—I saw them through the eyes of a mother. I recognized the look his mom was giving him in the picture of them on an amusement park ride together, his toddler hair blowing in the wind and his mouth gaped open with joy. That look on his mom's face is one I'm all too familiar with now--it's the look of a kind of happiness that doesn't come from your own joy but of witnessing your child's: the deepest kind of happiness.
I knew as I looked at these pictures of precious moments that they were not mine to keep--that these somehow needed to get back to her. I tried looking her up every which way I knew how with no luck. So, though I felt a little uncomfortable doing so, I thought I would try private messaging him to see what he'd like me to do with the photos. I sent a short but cordial message inquiring about the pictures but did not hear back. That is until yesterday, four years after I sent the message.
He seemed most concerned not with the pictures, but with letting me know that he had somehow missed the message and wouldn't have intentionally not responded, thanking me for reaching out. He congratulated me on my beautiful family and shared that he had a few kids of his own now. Like my message, it was short but sweet, as it should be. There was an unspoken understanding that we're both exactly where we should be and that connecting to say a quick hello and "hope all is well" doesn't have to have any ulterior motives behind it. And it got me to thinking about how strange it is that it should ever be otherwise.
In our female friendships, we spend time and make precious memories together and it's expected that these times will not only be cherished, but that we'll be loyal to them forever. Yet, in romantic partnerships, it's very different. In fact, it’s often considered disrespectful to the new partner to keep any contact with a former one or, in some cases, to acknowledge this person ever existed— even if you spent many years of your life together. Don't get me wrong, I get it on a respect level and, believe me, I'm not yearning for my husband to be in contact with his former flames. But it is interesting how we can go from loving someone we spent years of our lives with to pretending they never existed. It’s as if we prove the strength of our current relationship by diminishing any that came before.
Despite the strong connection I have with my husband and a happy marriage, I don't believe for a second that those who came before me never cross his mind. My husband and I didn't meet until we were 29 and 34, so accepting that he not only had loves before me but actually made some really great memories with them doesn't diminish our own love in any way, it's just our reality. He'd never admit it for fear of hurting my feelings, but I wouldn't doubt for a minute that a song's come on that made him think of her...or a certain smell...or an old movie we put on that used to be their favorite. And that one or all of those memories might feel special to him still.
And you know what? Even though it’s tough to think about, I'm okay with it. Shutting those memories out or downplaying them doesn't elevate the strength of our bond. Loving my husband means loving who he is today, and that was undoubtedly shaped by the love, heartache, and lessons learned from women who came before me. There’s a line in one of my favorite songs that says “I don't care if I'm your first love, but I'd love to be your last." I think that’s pretty fitting for us.
Yes, the relationship I have with my husband far outshines any I had before him by a long shot. But to downplay the three loves I had before my husband as “the frogs before my prince” is to greatly diminish them and the influence they had on who I am now. They were a part of my training ground for the marriage I have today—they helped me to refine the qualities I was looking for in a partner and to refine myself. At times, they were a mirror showing me things about myself I wasn't able or willing to see. That’s helped me bring a better self to my marriage, and for that, I'm very thankful.
It’s tempting to want to wrap up all our past failed relationships in a neat little box with a pretty bow and label them as the “Mr. Wrongs” that brought us to our “Mr. Right”, but in reality human relationships just aren’t that simple to reduce down to all good or all bad—whether it’s a relationship that didn’t work out or one we’re still committed to working out daily, love is a complex, beautiful mixture of both the sour and and the sweet.
My high school sweetheart taught me to value sensitivity and creativity. He is the sweet memory of the first flowers I ever received from a boy and handwritten letters in the mailbox over summers because he was grounded but "still wanted to make it work." He was first car rides with friends at 16 and late-night concerts and other kinds of innocence. But his sensitivity also made him feel life a little too much and that took some of my innocence, and eventually his life.
My college sweetheart was long distance and off-and-on as we muddled through our early twenties, trying to figure out what future life would look like and the unspoken wondering if the other would be in it. He was good laughs and loyalty and integrity but we were a little too much like sister and brother. There was no dramatic ending--he simply looked me in the eye and gently said the hard thing that had needed to be said for some time: “Don't move here. I love you and you love me but I don't think we're in love." He was right. It felt like sadness and respect and relief all rolled together.
My last love before my husband taught me that I'd taken the loyalty in the previous two for granted--and that it should be highly valued. He was talks and laughs on the front porch over drinks until the sun came up. He grabbed my hand and took me out of my comfort zone again and again. He was passion and adventure and mind games and heartbreak. He opened my eyes and toughened me up.
And my current love? Our love is too rich and layered and complex to simply call my "happy ending". We are works in progress that have an appreciation for each other that comes from past loves that didn't work. He is secure enough in himself and in us that he's okay with me writing a piece like this, allowing me to be me. We are the deep, rich kind of love born from the bittersweet and complicated...
the kisses nearly a decade later that are just as passionate as the first one
the fights I wasn't sure we'd come back from
the glances exchanged when our son does something that makes our hearts burst and I know we're both thinking "how'd we get so lucky?"
the strength with which we locked eyes and held hands when I wasn't sure I'd make it through his birth, and the way he showed up with the same level of strength when the doctor couldn’t find our second son’s heartbeat anymore
still wanting to do this thing after seeing the worst parts of each other in all their glory...
we may not be each other’s first bittersweet and complicated, but I’d love for this to be our last.
For my teacher friends here in South Florida...can you believe it's our LAST week of summer break?!
This can be a time of mixed emotions, especially for those who are also mommas--we're excited for a new school year, to meet the new kiddos and see the smiles of the familiar ones. But working a job that requires so much time and energy, it can also be hard to part with having that extra time and space to catch up on the other areas of our life, make memories with our kids, and finish a cup of coffee in the morning ;) Because of that mix of feelings, it's easy to put off preparing to return (mentally, emotionally, and literally) and then be left scrambling, making the return feel overwhelming rather than enjoyable. And that just leaves us entering the new year on the wrong foot.
If you've been teaching long enough, you'll probably agree that a great school year doesn't happen by accident--it happens intentionally. With that in mind, I created a video to hopefully ease the transition and give you some tools to start the school year off on the right foot. Nothing fancy or formal--just sharing, from my experience, some tools & practices that have helped me (and will hopefully help you) to create your best year yet.
It's about 40 minutes long so here are some points you may want to skip to to find specific content:
2:30~What to do if you're feeling resistance about returning
14:00~How creating a visual of your vision/philosophy can serve as your anchor when the seas get rough (they will!)
16:00~Help with creating a peaceful, yet structured, classroom environment
22:30~A non-negotiable that will make your year so much easier
31:30~What authentic power looks like in the classroom & how to get more respect from your students this year
37:30~Where to find more information about the T.E.A.C.H. framework
If you've found this helpful at all, please share with a teacher-friend. Wishing you all a peaceful transition and your best school year yet!
My twenty-year reunion is coming up next weekend.
Once the shock of that number has passed, what starts to set in is the realization that the dress rehearsal phase of life is over--it's showtime. It's been showtime.
At the ten year reunion, you may have been finishing up grad school, still switching jobs trying to find the right fit, thinking of (or actively) starting a family...still somewhat in the planning stages of adult life. Most of everything still seemed up ahead. It seemed there was so much time still to correct mistakes, make U-turns, to begin "someday" to start being more financially responsible or accomplish your dreams.
But at the twenty-year mark, you're approaching 40 and realizing that someday is now. While it's of course never too late to correct mistakes, make U-turns, or start pursuing your dreams, the difference between 38 and 28 is that life has sobered you up in a sense--you've gone from fantastical and fickle in your thinking to more realistic and responsible. You've come to realize from your life experiences, from your losses, that "someday" is today.
Yet, despite life sobering us up--despite being another decade older--somehow life is better and I find myself looking forward to this twenty-year reunion more than I did the ten-year.
I may have more lines on my face and ten (or a few more) pounds on me than the last time we met, but I have a more open heart and a better head on my shoulders. I've matured into a woman since then.
Rather than trying to compete with you, comparing stories of all we've accomplished, I'm just happy to see you--that you're still here. We've had some losses in our class since then.
I probably had more options then in a sense, but there's an unsettledness that comes with that sometimes...like a restaurant with too big a menu, there's a fear of making the "wrong” choices. I've settled into my life since then.
I'll probably try on less outfits this time and be able to carry on a conversation with you a little better, looking you in the eye whether there’s a drink in my hand or not. I've learned to love & accept myself since then.
I don’t sweat the small stuff as much and have come to know what true, unconditional love feels like--and understand that it's all that truly matters. I've become a mother since then.
The youth of my twenties was nice, but I wouldn't go back if you paid me. A skinnier waist, no dark spots, more freedom--that's 28. But not knowing if I'd have the courage to see the fruition of my dreams, caring far too much about the opinions of others, a more shallow appreciation for the gift of life itself--that's also 28. At least that was my 28...
But knowing who I am and what I'll tolerate...
Appreciating the simplicity of quiet moments...
Loving my husband fully for the human he is—the good & the bad—rather than believing he should be some sort of Prince Charming...
Raising my son and loving him on his good days and bad...
The fact that I’m actually writing this rather than just dreaming about it...
Being thankful I still get to call up my mom and dad...
Loving this beautiful yet bittersweet life and still having enough time left to keep dreaming...
This is 38.
I've been watching on Facebook as a few of my friends approach their due dates. I remember the anticipation when I experienced it nearly five years ago. Last minute touches to the nursery, stocking up on any possible supply you could EVER need, 3rd trimester belly pics with hubs. I can remember the nervous anticipation of excitement mixed with fear of the unknown: you do everything you can to be "ready", yet you don't really know how to be "ready" for something you've never experienced.
I learned after going through it myself that there's no way to really prepare someone for what it's like either--words just aren't a substitute for experience in a situation that's so profoundly life-changing. So after I first gave birth I decided from my "why didn't anyone tell me??!!" perspective that I was going to be the one to inform every living soon-to-be first time mom on the planet exactly what they were in for, until I finally realized two things:
1--I was scaring people and/or killing their expectant vibes and
2--there are no words that can really prepare anyone anyway.
So I decided to stop being the childbirth vigilante.
The simple truth is that, prior to this miraculous experience, you just have no reference point for the magnitude of the overwhelming pain/exhaustion you will feel OR the magnitude of the overwhelming LOVE you will feel. The laboring process is perhaps the greatest feat you will ever perform that has the potential to also yield the greatest miracle.
I've found in my own life that good things are often birthed from struggle:
The harder we exercise--the more we exhaust ourselves--the more positive results our body produces.
After getting our heart broken, we meet our greatest love.
Through overcoming addiction, we find peace in a higher power.
Whatever the struggle, I believe that often the greater the miracle, the greater the pain required to birth it. And a miracle of this magnitude--bringing forth a new life into the world--is certainly no exception.
So, soon-to-be first time momma, it will NOT be easy. You may even legitimately believe that you and/or the baby aren't going to make it through. And, although very rare, the reality we don't like to talk about is that, for some mommas, she or baby does not. Such is the bittersweet nature of life--miracles, tragedies, and lots of things in between exist. So, even though I'm no longer attempting to prepare others for the experience, I DO still share my one word of advice:
Do your homework, create your birth plan, know your birthing rights and the kind of experience you'd like to have for both you and your baby--having a vision is important. But once you’ve done that
I do not mean that you should give up on everything you envisioned, what I mean is to let go of the illusion that YOU are ultimately in control. It took a power greater than you to co-create this miracle and it will take a power greater than you to help birth it. When it comes to the pain & the process, we can choose to collaborate or fight...surrender or control.
You may, like one of my friends, have your heart absolutely set on a natural birth and then find out that the baby's heart rate is dropping and opt for an emergency C-section. You may, like another friend of mine, have a successful water birth at home until the home stretch and then be told you need to be transported because the labor is not progressing, putting you in a setting you didn't plan for. And, it's also entirely possible and likely that everything will work out just as you've hoped and planned.
The point is, we have to be open to whatever could go down: that doing what's best for your baby may change at the drop of a hat and it may mean letting go of the way you thought it would go. It may mean making super fast decisions in the heat of the moment that you NEVER thought you would make in order to do what's best for this baby. This is what I mean by surrender: letting go of how you thought things would be in order to do what's needed, if need be.
And to those who are lucky enough to have the entire experience go exactly according to plan...I STILL say surrender, because there will be opportunity after opportunity even after the baby's birthed to choose when to fight and know when to let go. And the other miracle in all this is: you will know. That is the great gift of a mother's instinct. You may second-guess yourself, but you will always know deep in your gut what to do. We were born for this.
So, soon-to-be first time momma, my wish for you is that you'll be able to surrender to the magic of it all, whether the way it goes down is in your plans or not. I'm excited for you because you are about to embark on an experience that is so profound, it will change you forever. I'm excited not just for your baby's birth but for your own rebirth. Your strength and your faith will be tested and you will come out the other side knowing for the first time what true unconditional love feels like in a way you've never experienced before. And, as unbelievable as it is, that love will just get stronger over time.
Nearly five years later, I still study his little face as he sleeps--looking at every perfect eyelash, listening to his breath, taking in the perfection of it all and feeling SO humbled by the power of life...so humbled to have not only been part of bringing forth such a miracle but to also witness its continued unfolding.
These are the reasons I'm excited for you, soon-to-be first time momma...because you will get to experience the struggle AND the joy--ALL part of the magnitude of the miracle.
Confession: Summer break has not quite turned out to be what I envisioned so far. (Let me guess, you too?)
Don't get me wrong, there have been so many amazing moments that I'm thankful for, but my visions of happily playing at the park and splashing around in the pool with my 4 year-old have ended up looking more like a duel scene from a western at times. The strong will in this child is only met by my own, and although I know his smarts and determination will serve him someday, it makes for some loooong days now, with nearly constant struggles over the tiniest of requests. I'm not sure anything in my life has been such a test in patience--choosing to react in the way I want to model for my son, rather than in the way my ego would like to out of frustration.
Each day is a mix of the highest of highs...
"Mommy, how'd you get so beautiful?"
"Mom, I love you more than the world."
Hugs, kisses, cuddles.
And the lowest of lows...
Meltdowns before we’ve even had breakfast.
Alligator-wrestling-style attempts at napping that are unsuccessful.
"Mommy, you're not making me happy today."
I have a Master's in Educational Psychology and years of experience successfully working with students using Conscious Discipline and other strategies of positive reinforcement, yet, with my own child, I feel as if I don't know a damn thing sometimes. And that’s where the shame kicks in: Krissy, you know what to do...you know what works...how can you be more successful with another's child than your own? What kind of mom....
And so it goes.
The answer of course is that it's a whole different ballgame when the strong emotions of love for your own child are involved--they can trigger you like no other. Some days I'm on my game & we have a beautiful, peaceful day. Others, the stresses and distractions of life mount up, I'm not on my game, and we have "one of those days". Yesterday was one of them. I was frustrated, he was frustrated, and we were going round and round. The day felt like a sweater three sizes too small that I was constantly trying to wriggle out of. He was in resistance, I was in resistance, and I finally realized it was time to have a come-to-Jesus moment with myself if I wanted this summer to turn around. I also knew that moment needed to happen in the stillness, not in the chaos. I called in reinforcements--sleepover at Mimi's tonight (thank God for grandmas).
Once the house was quiet, I sat down and got still. The words of a friend of mine who had just had a baby immediately echoed in my head "I feel like I was just born to be a mom". The tears of guilt started to flow and the first thought that came out of the mounted frustration was "Maybe you do girl, but not me--I'm just not cut out for this."
I can recognize on this quiet next morning after a good night of sleep that I was feeling that mostly out of frustration. Just as I can recognize that my boy's not "bad" when he's frustrated, I can also recognize that I wasn't a "bad" mom for having these thoughts, I just needed a break. The truth is--sometimes I feel like I'm nailing motherhood & sometimes I feel like I'm failing motherhood. But I also think there's some TRUTH deep within that frustrated thought I had: the one where I thought to myself "Maybe I wasn’t born to be a mom".
The truth is, I think I was born—I think we’re all born—not to play a certain role but to live our purpose and, while I don't believe my sole purpose in this life is to be a mom, I do believe it's a huge part of it. I believe we are put here for two reasons: to try and make the world a little better in some way and to try and make ourselves a little better, too. To use our gifts to add good to the world and use the hard times to hopefully improve ourselves somehow.
I believe God made me a mom for a reason and gave me this particular boy--with all his big heart and strong will--for a purpose, too. I feel (hope) that I'm using my gifts through writing, teaching, helping students every day, and through my interactions with others (including my son). But I believe God is also working to improve my imperfections, my shortcomings, through my relationships with others, too--and of course the one I have with him is no exception. In addition to the reverse being true, he might just be my greatest teacher.
I've never been a patient person, it's been a struggle my whole life. What better teacher than my son?
It's my nature to give up on difficult things quickly--perseverance has always been a struggle for me. What better teacher than my son?
Asserting myself and standing in my power have never come easily--what better teacher than my son?
In other words, through my frustrations & difficulties maybe God is trying to develop the characteristics in me that need the most cultivating.
So, no, I don't necessarily believe I was born to be a mom--I believe being a mom is an enormous gift that I was allowed (and so very thankful for) that is part of a bigger purpose. If I believe I was born only for the purpose of being a mom, and not for a larger purpose, then I fail to see the lessons that are trying to emerge from the struggles--and start believing that I'm "bad" or "failing at life" when my mothering isn't going so well (which is inevitable). If I believe I was born only for the purpose of being a mom, and not for a larger purpose, then who am I when he grows up and moves out? Who am I if something, God forbid, were to happen to him? I've got to anchor myself to a larger purpose, otherwise I'm a boat adrift, being pulled to wherever the tide takes me.
Now when it comes to the second part of that frustrated thought...the part where I thought to myself "I'm just not cut out for this"? That part I can't agree with in the stillness of this next morning. Maybe I wasn't "born to be a mom", but I AM SO cut out for this. I will take on these struggles over and over for the privilege of raising this boy and growing into the woman that God would have me be. It might just be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but I bet it will also be the greatest reward. And, if God feels I'm cut out for this, then I believe I am, too.
With social media, It seems that we're living in a time when great deeds--and not so great deeds--get noticed. EVERYTHING gets noticed. When a person or group is treated unfairly it's called to the world's attention and it seems the whole online world is "on it" (at least until the next thing...). And when someone goes out of his or her way to do something above and beyond, or even heroic, they get ten minutes of Twitter fame. I'm not arguing whether this is good or bad--I think it can go both ways. I'm simply making the observation that little goes unnoticed these days.
Except for you, my love.
You--my husband, my son's father--do so much good that goes unnoticed by the world every single day. But it doesn't go unnoticed by me. You are our family's unsung hero.
I see the way you work six eleven-hour days a week and then come home to take on your second job as husband & daddy. When you walk in the door, we greet you with smiles and hugs and "how was your day? " and then promptly put you to work again in some way.
"Daddy, can you fix my monster truck? "
"Babe, can you keep an eye on him so I can go for a run? "
"Daddy, let's race in the backyard! "
"Babe, can you get dressed, we have that thing tonight? "
And, even though you're tired to the point of being weary, you go get the screwdriver or put on your running shoes every time because you put your family before yourself. I know deep down all you want to do is put your feet up and zone out on the couch after being on the go all day--and you eventually do some days--but never until we have what we need first.
Never have I wondered when you'll make it home because you stopped by the bar to grab a drink on the way home (you're way too excited to see our son's face light up when you pull in the driveway).
Never have I seen you turn your head at another woman (I know you've noticed, but I haven't noticed you notice, and that's what counts).
Never have I seen you choose anything or anybody over me or our son.
You are the fixer of all things--both literally and figuratively. You seem to always have the tool or the answer. You make life feel secure and safe for the two of us. In my single days, I used to think the same taste in music and what a person does for a living were important to consider when looking for a life partner, but I've learned after nearly ten years and a child together that what matters most about a man is who he is when the going gets tough--in crisis, in grief. It's in these times that you step up rather than fold.
And, here's the really crazy part--of all those good things you do, you've not done a single one for the glory. When you teach our son to pick me a flower, you don't post about it on Facebook--shoot, you don't even have any social media accounts. I'm not saying it's a bad thing if you do, I'm just saying that what I love most about you is how you do good behind the scenes...how you live quietly for God, for your wife, and for your son. In a world of sung heroes, you are our unsung hero.