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.
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.
If you're a teacher-mom like me, you know there's no sweeter feeling than the very first morning you open your eyes and realize it's summer break! When it hit me this morning a big smile spread across my face--not because I'll be away from the kiddos I love to teach or the coworkers I love to laugh with, but because summer means...
HAPPY SUMMER TEACHER-MOMS, ENJOY! 😎
Close your eyes and take yourself back to your middle school years for a moment.
No thanks, right?
For almost all of us, middle school was a time of awkwardness and the search for acceptance. It's also a time when a massive shift begins to take place: for the first time peers start to matter as much, if not more, than family. Forming our own identity as individuals and developing a sense of belonging become the basic needs that we're trying desperately to get met.
The awkward years certainly didn't escape me. In sixth grade, my family moved from West Virginia to Florida and, from my eleven year-old point of view, I may as well have been moving to a foreign country--everything about my world suddenly felt different. I figured two things out quickly: that everything that had been cool back home was definitely NOT cool here and that the girls here were way more advanced. A girl in my 6th grade English class talked about smoking and sex--things that weren't even remotely crossing my mind yet. By the end of that first day I'd been made fun of for my accent, clothes, and body. Things were not off to a good start.
There’s two approaches a new girl in my position can take: try desperately to be noticed and accepted by the A-listers or try desperately to just get through each day unnoticed and fly under the radar. I became good at manipulating so that I could do that latter. I made good grades and stayed quiet in my classes so that teachers wouldn't notice me and I found ways to dodge social times before and after school by pretending to be sick. The guidance counselor's desk sat across from the clinic. After awhile I began to dislike the way she traced me with her eyes as I headed there each day.
Finally one morning she struck up a conversation. I don't remember many other teachers' names from back then but her name was Mary Cooper. She asked me if I would help her in the mornings with work and it was during that time that we would have conversations. She didn't grill me with questions about whether I was happy or needed help, we just talked as I worked. I was kind of on to her game but deep down it felt good that someone at school was finally seeing through my act. Over time she helped me develop the skills I needed to find the two things every middle schooler is looking for: acceptance and belonging.
So I look back at those difficult years and I think to myself: Thank God I had Mary Cooper and thank God I didn't have a smartphone.
Because the search for belonging and acceptance can get messy if you have access to pretty much anything and anybody at anytime. A world of information at your fingertips mixed with raging hormones and poor judgment seem like a recipe for disaster. I look at my four year-old and wonder how in the world I'm going to navigate this territory. I didn't have a cell phone until I left for college and it certainly wasn't a smartphone--the world he'll go through puberty in is an entirely different one than I did. Trying to keep up with it & keep control over it feels overwhelming.
When it comes to our kids & technology, there are so many layers of concern: the instant access they have to so much information, the addictive nature of social media and gaming, the “stranger danger” aspect of chatting online, the list of concerns is long. Here's a few reasons why it's especially tricky territory for our tweens & teens:
#1--Hormones & The Adolescent Brain
The ages of 10-15 are a time of dramatic changes in the brain. Hormones are raging so hard that they have a similar impairment on logic as alcohol. Proportionally speaking: if the effect of testosterone in the adult male brain is equal to one cup of beer, adolescent males are walking around with the equivalent of a gallon!* This impairment in judgment often leads to more risky behaviors like skipping class, cheating, or exploring inappropriate content online.
What doesn't help is that the adolescent brain also struggles to make the connection between their choices and the long-term consequences--they often fail to see the "big picture" of things, including how their own behavior affects others. When you ask a twelve year-old boy "don't you realize how your behavior is disrupting the entire class?" and he answers "no"...he's probably telling the truth. We, as adults, have to help them make that connection. The failure to fully understand long-term consequences of risky behavior is especially problematic in the online arena: once something is posted, it's out there--possibly forever.
#2--There's No Escaping It
I can remember during those tough days of almost constant teasing from my peers just counting the hours until I could get home. They would tease me on the bus, walking off the bus, and walking through the neighborhood. But when my feet hit my yard, I could let out a breath of relief. I could relax and get away from it until the next day. At home people loved me, I belonged.
While some teens today can still seek refuge within their own families, they don't have the luxury of fully escaping teasing & bullying just because they’re away from school. Cyberbullying is now the most common form of bullying and the harassment is taking place mostly via text and social media. Had I had a computer or phone back then, even home wouldn't have been a refuge.
#3--The Need for Acceptance + Belonging = Social Media Obsession
The 24/7 nature of the online world makes it difficult for us, as adults, to breakaway. Think about how hard it must be for kids still learning self-control. Add in a yearning for the acceptance and approval of your friends and it can cross over into an unhealthy obsession. Here are some interesting statistics from a survey of teens* in regard to technology use:
With such disturbing statistics, it’s clear that our kids need a place to ask questions and seek guidance, and of course our hope as parents that they will reach out to us for that. But even teens who report feeling close with their parents said they shy away from reaching out to them about these issues. Why? Because they're afraid if their parents know about what they’re seeing or the struggles they’re having around technology, their electronics will be taken away. This leaves parents in a tricky predicament--how do we help if we don't know what's going on?
While these statistics are troublesome, the solution isn’t as easy as cutting out technology use altogether—not only is it nearly impossible to actually enforce, it removes the benefits that technology brings to their lives as well (and it does). Teens who were surveyed about how they feel technology positively impacts their lives reported benefits such as increased confidence, a broader knowledge of what’s going on in the world, & a wider array of friends, from cultures and backgrounds they might not otherwise be exposed to. They also share that the use of text messaging, as opposed to face-to-face conversation, allows them to perfect & accurately express exactly what it is they want to say and prevents the miscommunication of “not getting the words out right”.
According to the girls' empowerment network Smart Girl Society, social media actually has some benefits as well, including increased awareness around social issues and exposure to opinions and beliefs outside those of their immediate family and friends. In other words, social media and other forms of technology open our teens to a wider world--which, of course, can be both good and bad.
Overall, I'm not sure the basics of how we should approach responsible internet & social media use is all that different in the long run than how our parents approached other topics of concern with us...for the most part, maybe the old philosophies still apply:
At the heart of responsible technology use is self-discipline—a great thing to model for our kids. A mentor of mine shared that the word discipline comes from the word disciple, which means the student or follower of a leader. Maybe, when it comes to technology, our role should be “leader by example” more than “enforcer”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments below or on social media (oh the irony 🙄). For more tips and helpful information, check out the links below:
"How To Teach Your Kids To Use Social Media Responsibly" (Huffington Post)
"Are There Positive Effects From Social Media For Teens?" (Smart Girl Society)
"Parenting in the Age of Online Pornography" (NY Times)
"The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers" (NY Times)
*Much of the information from this post came from the knowledgeable speakers at the 2018 Orlando Innovative Schools Summit. Follow them on Twitter for more helpful parenting & teaching tips:
Tracie Berry-McGhee, Therapist/Speaker/Author/Founder of SistaKeeper
Brian Mendler, Speaker/Author/Expert on Working with Disruptive Students
Larry Thompson, Principal/Speaker/Author
Robert Jackson, Speaker/Author/Consultant
Steph Jensen, SEL expert/Speaker/Author