My Son, This is What it Means to be Southern

My son,

You asked me today what it means to be ‘southern’.

It’s good that you asked. You are being raised in the South, and you will be shaped by its meaning. Now you are very young and were given a simple answer, but as you grow this meaning will grow with you.

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Being southern means being tied to the land – overgrown and luscious, maddening in density. Our land is fragrant, and always resisting cultivation. The slopping fields, deep woods, and coursing rivers bear the names of British monarchs, founding fathers, and peoples long ago stripped of the land they alone had loved. We utter all these names and thus give them power to shape us.

Being southern means enduring our summers. The heat and humidity make us a little wild. This wildness permeates our language, our posturing, our emotions, our very ideas of life, and meaning. We often straddle a desire to be both gracious and raw in authenticity.

We’ve created literature, music and cuisine celebrated the world over. We’re a land of celebrated authors and musicians, as well as countless women and men who had to leave their work nameless.

We recognize that “y’all” is the single most satisfying phrase to utter.

We crave porch sitting and tea sipping.

We showcase in no quiet or subtle ways the very marrow of human nature. We as a people have loved intensively and hated in tragic proportions. Our language is spoken with meandering poetry, and with arresting derogatoriness. We are renowned for our hospitality and made infamous by our segregation. There always seems to be a war brewing. It will be your generation’s job to finally bring peace.

Southerners claim the most paradoxical of heritages. A heritage that birthed modern ideals of liberty and freedom while simultaneously enslaving many of its members. Some people liberated while still oppressing. Some people lived in chains, but never stopped dreaming of freedom. We have tended things that should have been left behind and neglected many thing that only propelled us toward justice.

We southerners are not a melting pot, but a boiling stew, in which the influences of countless civilizations are colliding and marinating with one another. You must remember those who still yearn to taste true freedom.

My son, you must one day come to terms with the paradox of your heritage. You will be proud, but you will also feel anguish. You may love, but only after knowing that loving something doesn’t make it perfect. You can speak of your experiences, but you must also listen and learn from voices of those who have not shared your experiences.

For you, being southern will mean carrying on traditions that bring beauty to the world and embracing changes that make our culture worthy of the land which nourishes us.

 

 

A Humble Father’s Day for Humble Men

A Humble Father’s Day

If I could give my husband the world this Father’s Day, I would.

As it stands, the only thing he has requested is a homemade enchilada dinner. He’ll say the meal is “delicious” with a big grin, but I’ll know it’s mediocre at best. Trust me!

The father of my children has embraced parenting with tremendous love, dedication and very little fanfare. He sacrifices and never asks for recognition. He willingly takes on the supportive role in our family and gives all he has so that we can find sanctuary in the center of his world. My husband is the one cheering loudest from the sidelines as my children and I run our lifelong races. He hands us water when we are parched and encourages us when we are weary. When we cross our finish lines, he celebrates with abandonment and does not mention how close we came to faltering without him by our side.

Although I obviously believe my husband to be the most extraordinary man in the world, his quiet and humble service to family is the hallmark of many incredible fathers who walk in our midst.

These are the fathers who ceaselessly give without waiting for praise. Come Father’s Day they will accept their tacky ties and oversized mugs and find nothing missing in the celebration.

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Fatherhood’s Quiet Gift of Self

Fatherhood’s quiet gift of self often begins in the first weeks of his child’s existence, as he holds his pregnant wife’s hair back during the throes of morning sickness, and carries her to bed each night after she passes out on the sofa. It occurs in the midst of whispered encouragement to his mate when she doubts, and in his affirmation of her strength when she senses vulnerability. It’s found in his ability to give unwavering reassurance to the one in travail, even when all he wants to do is take away her pain.

But this kind of loving humility is also found when the wait for a child is long or the ending is met with loss.  It’s found when a man affirms to his partner that the wait has no bearing on their union or in his search to find a child not of his blood, but of his heart.

The journey may begin in different ways, but a humble father’s gift of self never ceases from the moment he holds his child in his arms.

It’s found as a father nestles his newborn upon his chest, savoring a meager paternity leave. He soaks up those precious few days with his squishy baby, knowing that the more he gives, the more his heart will ache upon his return to work. It’s there when he passes on career opportunities to gain time with his family or when he decides it’s best he stay at home with his children even though he’ll be met with stares and cutting remarks from others.

A father of this caliber forgoes vacations because he’s welcomed babies into his life. His humility means laboring long hours and coming home with his sleeves rolled up ready to work some more. His sacrifice is found when he has a gym membership card in his pocket, but rushes straight home from work because he cannot wait to see his family. It’s found in wanting the last bite of his dinner, but giving it to the ravenous wildebeests around his table. It means willingly stepping into a minefield of Legos late at night because his toddler needs one more glass of water.

He has forgotten what it’s like to sleep in on the weekends because his kids proclaim he makes the world’s best pancake breakfasts. He realizes that being passed on the highway by a sexy sport car comes with the territory while safely maneuverings a mini-van. He doesn’t even mind being teased for his wheels, realizing that his manhood isn’t in question while driving a carload of his progeny.  

A humble father can be found up extra-early each morning praying for his children and up late at night figuring out ways to make the world a more just place for them.

This quiet giver copes with unrelenting stress and pressures from a hundred different directions. He has precious little space in society to discuss them. Although he is sometimes misunderstood by friends and family who can forget how hard it is to be a good father, he trusts things will turn out well in the end.

This father has the courage to redefine what strength means and models it for his children. He holds them in his arms while owning his responsibility in shaping their sense of security and self-worth.

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He embraces fatherhood in a world that continually inundates men with reasons not to be fathers. A world that tells him to glorify sex, but not procreation, pursue wealth, but not generosity, seek power, but not service, accumulate self-fulfillment, but not opportunities for self-sacrifice.

He hears the million reasons why he shouldn’t give of himself in fatherhood, but realizes his capacity for love makes him worthy of the task.

And so this father does not look for praise, because he finds fulfillment in the children he loves. He gives and serves the whole year through and celebrates his life-giving fatherhood over a plate of enchiladas.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible fathers in our midst!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Kids About Dreams, Jobs and Dignity

 “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Adults love to ask this question of children and relish the answers we’re given.

We love to hear the originality and confidence children possess when saying they’re going to be an astronaut or doctor. Out of love for them, but also pride in the way it reflects upon us, we actively nurture our kids’ highest aspirations.  We want to believe our children can achieve anything. The bigger the goal, the more incredible the feat, the more our hearts yearn for its fulfillment.

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Encouraging our children to dream is one of parenting’s most beautiful endeavors.

But there’s another component to consider when talking with children about their career ambitions, and it warrants just as much cultivation as dream-building. This component may not be as romantic, but it’s intrinsic to many of the disparities facing our society and thus deserves to be equally emphasized.

We simply need to do a better job of teaching kids that all work, done with dignity, has value. All work, not just the coveted positions, is necessary to the world we live in. All people, no matter their occupations, are deserving of respect and appreciation.

The Messages We Give Our Children

When I was in high school, steeped in honors coursework, I was asked by a teacher during class to share what “I wanted to be.”

I told him I wanted to be a school bus driver.

His response was not a favorable one. I was lectured in front of my peers on how each one of us is called to “dream big” and use every ounce of our talent to pursue these  dreams. Otherwise, we were wasting our potential.

I wanted to be a school bus driver because I enjoyed driving. I liked the idea of taking children to and from school safely. I loved country roads and the idea of having a route in a rural county appealed. I was also from a low-income household and somewhat uncomfortable with the culture and assumptions that surround an “honors” education.

The teacher’s perspective seemed especially nonsensical to me later that afternoon as I stepped off the bus and said goodbye to the woman who had once again ensured I’d made it safely home from school.

Alas, I went off to college and never became a school bus driver.

Americans love a strong work ethic, but we also have a blatant hierarchy of “worthy” and “unworthy” jobs which consumes much of our discussion surrounding employment. This has caused a tragic cycle of injustice and heartache over what makes a person a worthy contributor to society.

There’s currently a great deal of frustration surrounding the disparity of work, the ability to make a living and the giving and receiving of respect. I’m not an economist or a sociologist, but the lack of dignity given to huge segments of our workforce seems central to our woes. How can we make changes and ensure our children grow up with genuine appreciation and respect for all those who make our society function?

Lessons in Work and Dignity

Millennials in particular are criticized for not wanting to take jobs considered menial or unglamorous. I have not found this to be the case. But even if were true, the irony that Millennials are faulted for having the very attitude perpetuated by so much of society cannot be lost.

Most of us heard at some point in our education that we’d be condemned to “flipping burgers for a living” if we didn’t apply ourselves – having a job flipping burgers being portrayed as a negative thing.

With the economic difficulties, I think we are at a crossroads. There’s a great deal of learning to be done, but we can use our experiences to be more intentional about fueling dreams and teaching our children the dignity of all work.

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As parents we can be intentional about stepping outside our niches and ensuring we have friendships and meaningful relationships with people from a diversity of occupational backgrounds. Exposing our children to this diversity will open their minds to new possibilities and drive home the point that no job is above or beneath them.

We can ensure that the quality of our interactions with others is not dependent on their job statuses. There are few things as painful to experience as a human treated as less important because of the type of service they are providing to society. Our kids need to see that their parents acknowledge the personhood of all. The person cleaning the doctor’s office is just as worthy of respect as the doctor doing the examination. The person serving our food is just as deserving of a sincere “hello” as the CEO dining at that establishment.

We need to debunk the myth of the “lazy poor.” It’s served as a convenient excuse to justify disparities in our society, but we all know deep down that the families working the hardest are often the ones getting paid the least. There is nothing “lazy” about a person holding down multiple part time jobs to put food on the table, or someone who is rolling up their sleeves and doing the job most are unwilling to perform. If a service is necessary for our society to function, but the person performing that service is not receiving a living wage, how can we teach our children that this is a just or sustainable situation?  

Fundamental to all of this is our openness to our children’s dreams, even if they diverge from our own. Perhaps we imagine our kids as Nobel Prize winning scientists. But they may not want to follow the course we have laid out for them. If we give children unconditional love and support, they will grow up reflecting these same virtues to all those who labor alongside them.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams for my children. But the only one I’m really comfortable sharing with my children at this time is a hope that they will live their lives and do their work in a way that treats fairly of all those whose paths they cross.

Between you and me though, the kid who becomes a school bus driver may end up being my favorite.

How do you emphasize to your kiddos the respect due to all who work in our society?

 

 

A Woman for All Seasons

Join me in welcoming guest writer, Allison Aylward to the blog! A PhD candidate and new mom, Allison explores the birth pangs of early motherhood and her growing confidence to navigate the changes it brings.

I am a new mom, currently juggling the needs of my one year old son, my husband, and my PhD. My husband and I welcomed our son during the second year of my PhD; my Annual Progress Review was actually scheduled the day before my due date. Sweating out a progress review by panel (literally) at nine months pregnant was one of those life experiences I’ll never forget or not mine for laughs.

Prior to getting pregnant, or even as we woke up each morning, wondering if that would be the day I’d go into labour, I had not considered how I’d feel about my career path as a new mom. I had not considered the fact that I’d be pulled towards, and be completely satisfied with, a much more slowed down pace and direction for my professional life. As I approach the final stages of this PhD, my priorities are with my young son and my husband, and making sure my family’s needs are met. My desires for the trappings of an academic career have faded into the background, almost like a dream. Thanks to the wisdom of a kind friend, I now realize I’m simply moving into a different season in my life, and there will be other seasons in the future for new opportunities.

I struggled with accepting this while at the same time relishing the rebelliousness of this realization. Part of this discovery was a natural result of the PhD process. As an aspiring academic, I see academia for what it is – warts and all. Inside the ivory tower, all is not dusty old tomes, tweed jackets, and erudite conversations with leading scholars (though there is a bit of that!). It’s full of people who work incredibly hard, pushed beyond reasonable professional expectations, to deliver for the university and their students. It’s full of people who are expected to maintain a grueling research output schedule, while still handling a full teaching and administrative load that only increases each year. Academics work in uncertain conditions, knowing that their jobs could be ended without much notice.

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Allison finds parallels in the landscapes surrounding her home and her own life journey

As PhD candidates, we see all of this. And, in its own way, it’s useful. We are confronted with this reality and have to ask ourselves – do we want this for ourselves? Knowing what we know about the realities of academia in the 21st century, do we want to joint this relentless cycle of publishing, admin, grant writing, and if we are lucky, the odd bit of truly satisfying teaching and mentoring?

This process of professional planning was only compounded when I found out I was pregnant. We live in a society that tells women we can truly have it all, if we just ‘lean in.’ But, what society also tells us, is that if we don’t succeed in every single way at work, if we don’t embody the ultimate in domestic goddess, and if we don’t kill ourselves for our children’s well-being, then we’ve failed. Well, the truth is that no one can do this alone.

As a Type A person, recovering over-achiever in school, and having grown up in a very competitive area, I struggle with this dilemma. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this post-partum period. I actually can function on zero sleep and I have learned to make peace with clutter and laundry that was done and folded weeks ago, but never put away. A grimy bathroom doesn’t give me nightmares anymore. In a previous job, on one annual review, I was told I was a ‘pillar of patience’ when helping my colleagues learn to use a new filing system. I was amused, thinking if they only knew how short my fuse really was. Now, I own that title. I can handle a willful, angry, baby that is wrecked but doesn’t want to sleep and takes an hour to settle. I can get up again and again in the night, with a smile and a cuddle, because my son needs me. I accept that everything will take longer than it used to, and that’s ok. That’s just where my life is right now.

And it is in this current season of life, learning so much about myself, that I realised I don’t want to remain in the ivory tower. I don’t even know if I want an academic career. My priorities have shifted, my interests diverted. I know I want to continue working after the PhD is finished, but it’s not on the original path I had thought. And that is ok. Maybe later on in my life, but for now I am satisfied where I am. And in accepting this desire, I feel free. Free of the relentless pressure that society places on women, particularly mothers. Free to say that I am in the season of my life where my family takes priority. Perhaps later, in a different season, I will return to a more career focused outlook.

I want my son to see all of this. To see a mother that is confident in her choices in life; who can keep evolving and developing as she grows in years and experience. I hope that this inspires him to realise his own life will be made of seasons, and to weather their passing with confidence, just as is mother is weathering her own.

Many people experience liberation in letting go of the pressure to “have it all”. Have you experienced seasons in your life? How can children learn from these experiences?

Allison bio

Allison is a PhD candidate in the UK, researching the Colombian peace process. Her work focuses on confidence building and negotiations in the context of ongoing violence. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, swimming, yoga, and writing. Brand new journals, full pots of coffee, and soul music make her happy. All opinions and thoughts expressed on this page are her own and not affiliated with any organisation.

Things A Photo Cannot Capture

I caught a glimpse of my baby girl as she stood by her favorite spot in our home – a wicker bench near a window which overlooks a ridge of trees. The sun was setting below the tree line on what had been a beautiful early spring day. There was something about the way the dusk light cast a gentle glow around my daughter’s profile that made my heart ache. I reached for my phone in hopes of taking a photo of the moment. After snapping a few shots, my eyes left my daughter to review the pictures.

Dang it, I thought, something is missing. So I adjusted the brightness on my camera settings and took a few more. Still not it, I thought and continued on. Finally, with slight disappointment, I realized the moment wasn’t going to be “captured.” The phone was put down.

My eyes once more looked for the ethereal glow of fresh baby skin only to see that she had scampered away from her spot on to the next attraction.

My heart sank. The moment – so fleeting and beautiful – had been once more interrupted by my desire to capture it with a photo.

How many times in my life has this happened? When would I learn?

I love taking photos. I love surrounding my home with images of the memories my heart holds dear. In laughing with friends, it’s frequently remarked that our photos are our best anti-depressants. When I’m feeling down or had a rough day, a scroll through pictures of my kids usually sets me aboard the happy train.

Our world of parenting is inundated with the availability and convenience of taking pictures. And although it may be met with cynicism at times, I know that we are taking and sharing photos out of love for our children.  We’re proud and in awe of these tiny humans who make us see the world anew every day, and it’s a good thing that we are able to document so much of this time.

But when I’m really honest with myself, my main reason for taking pictures is something a bit more melancholic. I take pictures because I cannot stand the heartbreaking reality that I can never have this moment again with my babies. Our children will always be our babies, but they will only ever be as they are now for the briefest of moments before growth and change carries them forward.

How incredible, bittersweet and at times painful is this?

No picture will ever truly “capture” everything that makes up the moments that matter. And let’s face it, amidst the good, the bad and the ugly, every moment matters. There are not enough Shutterfly products, Instagram filters and photography sessions in this world to change the fact that all we have is this present time.

When I look back at those photos I took of my daughter, I now know that even with a few pictures on my phone, I’ll never see the same light cast a glow on my baby’s cheeks. I’ll never hear the same sweet exhales from her button nose, never feel her soft wisps of hair just as she was on the evening.

On that evening I should have let the phone alone and had the courage to take it all in, realizing that this was it – this was all there was and all I would need as her mother.

If I can just have the courage to embrace this reality more often – the tenderness and the heartache – how much more authentic and powerful would this journey in motherhood be?

Perhaps I can show my daughter that pictures have a time and a place, but life is not meant to be captured, but experienced.

Perhaps I can help her realize long before I did that in both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life, our best bet is to allow our senses, not a device, to take it all in.

Whether it be a morning walk or a walk down the aisle, a trip to Europe or a trip to the grocery store with her baby, she should take it all in with her senses and trust that it will be enough just to live in that moment.

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It’s so tempting to constantly snap pictures of our children. How do you find a balance between living in the moment and ensuring you have keepsakes for the future?

Embracing The Positivity of Boy Power

 After millennia of grossly preferring sons to daughters, our society seems increasingly ready to commit to the narrative of raising bold, confident and independent girls.  We are passionate about equality and the possibility of an entire sex having the opportunities which have so long been denied. Where can the future take us if we encourage and pride ourselves on having daughters? What injustices can we right as we overturn a culture that has left girls and women vulnerable and disenfranchised for so long?

Girl Power vs. Boy Power

The girl revolution is exhilarating. It’s positive. I am as strong an advocate as any individual can be.

But as human nature so often ensures, one collective action often triggers an unintended and unfortunate reaction. As much as it may make us uncomfortable to contemplate, I believe we may be setting our sons up for disappointment.

From TED talks to the New York Times, from parenting articles and conversations with our play groups­­– we’re left with the gray area of our boys. Whereas “girl power” often evokes feelings of empowerment and positivity, “boy power” is often reserved for describing negative and destructive forces.

Continue reading

A Mother and Teacher’s Perspective on Supporting Our Schools

Join me in welcoming guest blogger, Molly Doss to Things I Teach My Children! As a public school teacher and mother of two kiddos, Molly offers her perspective on the debate surrounding public education in the United States.
 
As a mother and a teacher I am scared of where our country’s education system is heading.
 
In truth, I’m terrified.
 
I went to public schools, teach at public schools, and have all intentions, should things not go to hell in a DeVos handbasket, on sending my two children to public schools as well. However, with President Trump’s new policy being discussed, the changes to our system would mean public funding will be pulled from our public schools and given as a sort of “scholarship” for families to send their children to charter, magnet, and private schools, depleting our already neglected public schools further.
 
Regardless of your stance, you must realize that our public schools, whether you plan on backing the national school choice policy or not, are in danger. And let’s be brutally honest—in the wake of standardized tests and curriculum that does not take into account shifts in our society or the evolving job market that will be available to our children after they graduate, the last thing our educational system needs is another detrimental hit.
 
So, having insight on both sides—as a mother and a teacher—here is what I suggest we do to help our public school teachers.
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Everything Starts at Home
First- everything starts at home. Parents need to be involved. Not only with academics, but also in communicating with the teachers and having a firm handle on discipline and behavior of their children at home. I believe some parents see teachers as miracle workers or babysitters, and often a teacher is left to correct and redirect behavioral issues that not only interfere with the specific student’s education but that of the class as well. Before a child begins school, he or she should already have a foundation for behavior expectations that has been set by parents. This foundation should then be built on as the child ages, with the help of parents and teachers alike. There also needs to be a steady stream of communication between a parent and the teacher, especially when that student is struggling academically, emotionally, behaviorally, or otherwise.
 
The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Teaching
Second- teach your children how much energy and emotion their teachers put into their jobs. I have had my son come home from preschool and complain about how mean his teacher is. As a momma bear, I immediately go to blame her. As a teacher, though, I think about how much time this teacher has put into lesson planning; assessing my child’s and twenty other children’s work; cleaning up after crafts, activities, or worse, accidents; juggling twenty wildly different personalities while differentiating her methods to ensure she reaches each child; struggling to find three minutes to use the bathroom for herself; contacting the director and parents for any number of reasons; writing incident reports; observing and making notations of each child’s growth and progress in hitting milestones while planning parent meetings to discuss progress; preparing special gifts for the parents on the children’s behalf; sticking to a structured schedule despite any and every wrench thrown into her plans; and, most importantly, I think about how at the end of her day, she goes home and worries about her students.
 
She thinks about things she could have done better, things she can’t fix and with a broken heart accepts that, she stays up figuring out how she can make her day better, her students happier, herself more efficient, while also trying to maintain a healthy family dynamic of her own.
 
Students and children should be made aware of how much blood, sweat, and tears truly goes into teaching. I have felt, on numerous occasions that teaching is a thankless job. Teachers do not teach simply because it is a means of income. We do it because it is in our hearts. Everything we have goes into this profession because we are highly aware that we are responsible for helping shape the children who are our future. That is not a job that is taken lightly, nor is it a job that is checked at the door when the teacher leaves the school building. We carry that with us, everywhere we go, at all hours of the day.
 
Teachers Are Human Too 
Third- everyone must remember that teachers are human, too. We have bad days. We have cracks that show like everybody else. There is a lot of pressure for a teacher to be continuously and enthusiastically happy, bubbly, punctual, understanding, tolerant, structured, and accommodating. Do not get me wrong—teachers should be these things, and then some. But it’s also important to realize that your History teacher may have just stopped crying on his lunch break because his father is in the hospital or that by 8th period your English teacher might be snappy because she has been battling migraines or didn’t sleep because her baby was sick all night. Sometimes I feel there is no exceptions for teachers to be less than perfect. But we are not, try as we might to appear so.
 
Get Involved!
And lastly – support our public schools. Get involved. Volunteer at your local high school, buy goodies from the neighborhood kid who is doing a fundraiser, save your box tops and give them to a friend who has a child in public schools to bring in. Do you have any spare school supplies, clothing, canned foods, or even extra money? Public schools need these things. We need support from our communities. We need eager students to fill our chairs—students that yearn to learn so they can change our future. I have taught students in the public school system that I know will change this world. Help them. Help the teachers. Help our schools.
 
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The last thing our educational system needs is for money to be taken away to support
political agendas. Regardless of where things are headed, though, we will still have public schools, teachers who put their all into them, and students who are excited to be there. Our educational system is an integral part of our society and we need, for the good of our country and our future, to help support that and the teachers that help make it what it is.
 
Molly ProfileMolly sheds a humorous light on the joys that melt your heart, the dirty mishaps, and the many tears and laughs that motherhood brings on her blog, Tales from the Crib. You can also follow her on Facebook.

How I Wasted My Education When I Became A Mother

I was that young woman who graduated college and had my first baby a year later.

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This meant I spent four years working my way through university, keeping down jobs, interning for no pay, and pushing every limit I had to graduate summa cum laude…

Only to become a stay-at-home mom.

Among all the marks against an educated woman, the choice to seemingly do nothing with one’s education ranks pretty high. In those early years of motherhood, I’d frequently be asked if getting a college degree was worth it, since I was “just” staying at home with kids. Did I really need to attend a university to be a stay-at-home mom?

These inquiries were framed as harmless curiosity. But I knew better. And like so many other women, it was all too easy to feel diminished and insecure. However much I wanted to defend my choice, when I was honest with myself, I didn’t know how to answer.

Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the intention of my education. And although I never believed it, motherhood was often presented as a hindrance, even a barrier to advancement in many of my courses. Could all the resources, time and money that went into a college education really be justified when my days consisted of diaper changes and the alphabet song? Or was it actually a waste?

As time passed, however, and more of my friends became mothers, it became obvious that this scrutiny wasn’t exclusive to women who stayed at home with their kids. This same test of worthiness and adequacy was being pitted against every woman who had a child. I’d listen to the frustrations and tears of working moms and stay-at-home moms and hear the same insecurities.

You see, when it comes to women and education, our society loves to put us under a microscope and carry out an inquisition.

Will this woman, by virtue of her ability to be a mother, be productive, profitable, ground-breaking, reliable and ambitious enough to merit her education? Will she put it to good enough use?

Or will it go to waste? Will she just pop out babies?

Our society worries a woman will sacrifice too much for the sake of her children. She may prioritize care-taking over time dedicated to her profession. Her thoughts may be too wrapped up in a teething baby to make the same contributions as man.

And regardless of a women’s childcare choice or commitment to her profession, she spends an insane amount of energy fighting against these insinuations of inadequacy.

As these sweeping pressures became obvious, I realized I was in fact wasting my education.

I was wasting my education by allowing this destructive nonsense to have any hold on me whatsoever. Because it’s this constant testing against women that is the waste. Not our choice to be mothers.

So here’s how women everywhere can ensure that we are putting to good use the education we receive.

We need to redefine exactly what society sees as “waste”. Because caring for children, or any human for that matter, is certainly not waste.

We need to confront false ideas that women only be mothers and pressures that women cannot be mothers if they seek real success. Advocating equality in the office, lab and legislature is half the battle. The other half is elevating the value of care-taking to the same level as salaried pursuits. Young children need educated caretakers, and unless we value that care, we’ll go on committing the same injustices that have been perpetuated upon humans for millennia.

And ultimately, we need to acknowledge that raising children is a task worthy of a woman’s – or man’s education. Not only will our education enhance our ability to nurture and teach children, our experiences as parents furthers our knowledge of the world.

A short while ago, I was contacted by alumni relations of my alma mater. They wanted to know what I was doing five years after graduating.  When I was a new mom, I would have shrank from that question. But in light of my education, I stated without hesitation that I was a stay-at-home mom.

So what are your thoughts? How do you put your education to use as a parent?

Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

Our culture loves a success story. It’s this love of achievement that pushes us to perform well, collect accomplishments, and have results that indicate our efforts have been worthwhile. This pressure to excel doesn’t wait until we’ve reached mature adulthood, but rather begins when we’re kids.  

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Although we’re now grown, it’s not too hard to remember being immersed in our youthful scuffle to achieve acceptance in our academic, social and extra-curricular pursuits. Now that we have little humans of our own to nurture, it can be daunting to discern how best to encourage their success. There seems to be an almost constant call to raise talented, over-achieving success stories. And children at the earliest age can be so critical of their own abilities, quickly feeling frustrated if they’re not preforming as well as they think they should.

But as the framework around parenting continues to center around helping our kids “get ahead” in life, we need to take a step back and consider what exactly is being perpetuated here?

When we hear that children of this age feel more stress than the children of the Great Depression (the Great Depression, my friends), and that more minors are now taking their lives than previous generations, it becomes clear that we desperately need to change some things. We need to let them know that the pressures they feel do not define them.

I am fully prepared to rebel against our culture’s obsession with success and am doing so for the sake of my children’s well-being.

One of the ways I’m battling this is by…playing piano. Let me clarify, by playing the piano badly.

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I have attempted to “play” the piano for over half my life and continue to be terrible at it. You’ve never played piano? It’s still possible you’re better at it than me. I took up piano as a young girl around the same time I fell in love with classical music.  Within a year or two it became obvious that there was no greatness in store for me. Even mediocrity would be a dream unrealized. The years have passed, the playing has continued, but the result remains absolutely dreadful. I was and remain just plain bad at it. There is nothing tangible to “show” for all the time.

Except that I still really love to sit down and play.

The thing is, I believe I’ve loved playing all these years partly because of how poorly I perform at this. As the limits of my musical ability settled in, playing became a glorious relief and a reminder that there was more to life than striving for success.

Playing this instrument would not be a part of any success story, but rather, a love story for simply living. There was nothing that could be derived from this time at the bench and fake-ivory keys, except the joy of living in the moment. There’d be no one to impress. There’d be nothing else to gain. It would heighten an appreciation for those who did possess talent, but would never include my membership in their rank.

As a mother, playing piano has continued to be a tremendous reminder that life is more than being good at things. It is meant for experiencing and relishing the moment at hand. It’s amazing how necessary that reminder is on a day-to-day basis.

My children are growing up hearing some mighty poor performances. Right now they happily kaplunk alongside me, with only a minimal differentiation between adult and child. One day they’ll realize that their mommy ain’t that great.

But hopefully they’ll also learn that sometimes it’s okay to be bad at things. It’s okay to seek out time and activities without thought of productivity or achievement. Amidst the pressures to succeed, we are all entitled to love things intensely and not lose heart if greatness isn’t a part of the story.

And if my children can learn these things, it will help them live more authentically, humbly and joyfully.

Children should be encouraged from time to time to rebel against this notion that they must be a success. Not everything is about achieving excellence or exceptionalism. Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.

So what’s something you love to do that you’re no good at? Are your children getting in on the fun of this as well?

Mommy Has a Squishy Tummy

A few weeks ago while I was reading with my kids, my five-year-old son scooted close to me and told me I had a very squishy tummy.

I stopped reading.

Okay, I frantically thought, I’m a modern woman. Obviously my tummy is squishy and I should be okay with this. There’s a life-lesson for my son I need to be teaching here. One that conveys healthy body image. Or something. I know I should say something.

But the life-lessons weren’t coming to me. All the articles and talks with friends. All those words of wisdom and desire to raise boys who didn’t objectify women. They went out the window. I felt I needed to say something to him, but all the possible words felt insincere.

What I did feel was my stomach tighten, as if a deep inhale could reduce the squish. And then I kept reading.

Following this squishy tummy episode, I realized it had been a while since I had taken stock of, and perhaps confronted, some realities about my own body image.

I’m at a point in life where pondering my physical appearance ranks about #457 on the list of things to think about. For instance, “can I wear this pair of jeans a fifth day in a row?” and “there’s no milk or bread in the house, can I still go one more day without a grocery run?” rank higher than pondering physical appearance on my list. Most days pass without more than a glance in the mirror.

But this moment with my son confirmed the presence of long-lasting  insecurities. I had tucked away these insecurities when I became a mother. Filed them away somewhere to be sorted out at a later date. It wasn’t that I had been liberated from these negative thoughts, I just put them on hold. And when I unintentionally stumble upon #457, the outcome is rarely positive. It’s one that still evokes feelings of inadequacy, criticism and self-depreciation.   

Perhaps you can relate.

So how am I to teach my children about healthy body image when I still struggle?

The answer was sitting right beside me. I wasn’t going to teach my children. My children were going to teach me.

My son had tried to teach me something that day while we were reading. And I missed it. The negative connotation I have with “squish” had resonated so strongly with me that the manner in which it was uttered by my boy was utterly lost.

So let me retell this story, completely this time. Let me put aside any insecurities and knee-jerk reactions. Let me share this as my son intended it.

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A few weeks ago, I was reading with my kids. My three kids, five-years and younger. The children I have born and given so much of my body and soul to care for. As a page turned of a much-loved story, my oldest son nestled close to me, and with a contented sigh, as if almost unconsciously done, said I had a very squishy tummy.

That moment was not a criticism or tease. That moment for him meant comfort and security. It meant contentment and rest. It meant mother and home. As he felt his little body enveloped by the body that had loved him into existence, he felt happy. He liked the way he could so comfortably nestle into his mommy and he spoke that feeling into existence.

Children do not need lessons from adults on healthy body image. There was nothing he needed to learn from me.  Adults need to learn from their children.

Ask children about our bodies and what will we learn?

Children will tell us that bodies are for play, and love and exploration.

They will tell us skin is sticky and soft, occasionally boo-booed and in need of a kiss.

Fingers and toes are for feeling cool mud and warm sand.

Legs are to carry us to where we wish to go.

Arms are for reaching, even if what we desire seems beyond our grasp.

Faces are to be used in reckless expression.

And tummies are for food and belly laughs. They are often best squishy, especially when belonging to their mommies.

Having kids can teach us so much about our bodies. What have you learned about your body after having children?