To You, Strong Mama.

To you, strong mama, who knows love.

You know what it’s like to wake up three times a night and still rise for the day with the sun.

To you, strong mama, who knows compassion.

You know what it’s like to carry and nurture a small life while facing poop, puke, endless dirty laundry and dishes.

To you, strong mama, who believes deeply in the future for your children – you are a visionary.

You see past the daily stuff, and can rise above a toddler’s melt down in the cereal aisle, to see a developing independence that will drive your Little toward great future goals.

You can look into the eyes of your frustrated kid and see passion and determination- things that will make the world a better place.

You can see past your needs and confidently walk into social situations without a shower in the past three days.

You, mama, have a tenacious love. You are deeply valued at home and in society. You are beautiful, brilliant and you are the perfect person for your important role in life- now and later on. For always.

 

Photo credit by Pixabay

Now, Then and Later: A mom’s view on having it all.

 

Women in the 21st century have an ocean of choices.  It took a lot of strong women before us, and those still forging new trails today, which created such a magnitude of glorious choices. Now women can have it all. But I’m over here asking myself what does having it all look like?  Do I have to have it all at one time or can I spread it out over the seasons of my life?

Lots of women are riding the “we can have it all train”.

As a stay at home mom by choice, I often struggle with how to have it all. I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years, which is exactly how long I’ve been a mom. I opted out of my career in communications and chose a super simple lifestyle of momming. It’s really only simple when I’m sleeping. My decision to have a gap in my professional experience is statistically derailing my future career growth, and is definitely impacting/rewinding my financial advancement. Thinking about the future of what might be for me in the world of creative meetings and getting paid to produce content is bleak. So I’ve made the choice to quite thinking about all that jazz.

It’s exhausting and distracting and a little (a lot) terrifying. I’m currently praying the job market shifts big time for embracing the talent and sheer tenacity of the educated mother who chose to leave her job to raise her children. After all, we are living in the 21st century and women have equal rights…in my dreams…and some-what in the real world too.

I believe in the brilliance and creative problem solving of leaders.

Business owners, CEOs, Human Resource Directors and CFOs around America can work to close the gap between telling women they can have it all and women actually having it all. This would mean equal pay for men and women. Plus equal pay for women with kids and women without kids. All based on a person’s actual qualifications. This would mean offering more flex schedules or even proposing parents are given the ability to work hours that align with their kids’ school schedule. We have a long way to go, but we will get there.

However, for this season of my life I want to raise my kid, and then in another season of life I’d like to go back into my career or a career. Therefore, I’m deciding to focus on now.

My-kind-of-all for now…

Now is when my son is learning his ABC’s because we’ve been signing them together. Now is when I get to hear his tiny voice, in the other room, imagining a cardboard box is a car. Now is when he wakes up in the morning clapping while dancing around his crib signing Frosty the Snow Man during the month of April. Now is when he sits on my lap during story time at the library. Now is the time when he looks at me and says, “Hi Mommy!” as I type this as he plays with water and play dough on the kitchen floor. Now is when my husband and I try to mask his vegetables in a home cooked meal for family dinners. Now is the time I get to take daily walks with my son and our dog whenever I want. Now is the time I know he fell in love with hiking because we have the time to go hiking.  Now is the time I can stop whatever ridiculous house chore I’m doing and join him under a fort made of blankets in the living room. Now is the time I can build trust with him that will grow over the years. Now is when I want to remember his firsts and his lasts and his tries and his fails.

Eventually all these nows will be thens, and I’m soaking it all in.

These are the reasons I’m going to stop letting the perceived threat of my successful or unsuccessful future steal these moments now.  However, in the gaps between the awesome moments and the mundane stuff of life I let my mind wonder…

Since I was a teenager, I remember feeling deep gratitude for the brave and tenacious women who changed the landscape for women in America. I value and appreciate the ability for women to get an education, wear pants or a skirt to their dream job that goes beyond nursing, teaching or secretarial work. Women can decide when to start a family and choose to take time off to raise their kid(s) or go back to work right away.  As this person with these beliefs, I struggle with choosing to stay at home. I think maybe, somehow, I’m letting down my past victors and present mama-professionals. Maybe on the days when nothing is going on and I just changed a third poopy diaper between cleaning bathrooms and shifting laundry I look to the future and miss the past. That’s when, and only when, I feel stuck in the present.

I choose not to sit in that gap between then and what might be any longer.

It’s stealing my joy. Plus, it’s taking away another belief that I hold deeply: God will always make a way and He will always provide. When it’s time for me to go back into the professional world, there will be something there. And maybe, hopefully, for the progress of all women there will be something for all 10.4 million stay at home moms who were able to choose to stay at home.  A choice provided to her by the brilliant and brave and intelligent women that came before her, and in my opinion would want every single one of those women hired or, for those who kept on working, promoted.

My now is filled with it’s own version of personnel issues, creative problem solving, budget management and reallocation. Work through being sick, exhausted and hungry, show up and love your heart out regardless of the situation…type of now. Now makes me a stronger woman and a better mother. That might look weird on a resume, but I’m not really writing a resume I’m writing a life story.  Now…

*For more on the population and research of SAHM check out this article from Pew Research Center.

Photo credit: Pixabay 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top 10 Essentials For Raising A Baby: A list for the new parent.

I had my first, and so far only, baby when I was in my mid-thirties. It was a perfect surprise for us, but we both knew we were totally ready to be parents.  At the time, we had been together for 11 years. You’d think that was plenty of time to ease into the role of “parent”, but we were wrong.

There is no amount of time that adequately prepares you for taking care of a tiny little infant human. You just need to show up and do it. Looking back, we both reflect on the first three months of our son’s life as a blur. We were always tired, always hungry, and always asking ourselves if we were doing it right. I’d change that last part.

There is no “do it right” route. There is, of course, safe ways to keep your tiny human alive and healthy, which could be considered doing it right.  We did that. We just don’t totally remember it all. Then, right around the fourth month of his little life, things changed. We changed.

We began to understand our baby’s likes and dislikes. We began to understand our own likes and dislikes as his parents. We were still sleep deprived and still always hungry, but we were less concerned about doing it right and more focused on loving and living together as a messy growing family of three (plus our dog and cat so that would make five of us in our home). I think what happened during the fourth month is the intense love and awe that we felt, from the moment we heard our baby cry, started to win over the fear of being perfect parents. That made a huge difference.

Recently, when I friend asked me what a few essentials are for helping new parents with their first year, I crawled back to those first three months of my little boy’s life (and maybe I began wanting another baby, but we won’t talk about that now) and really thought about the essentials. Since every parent is different, because every baby is different, the essentials will be different. Right? Right. And, let’s define essentials as: making life with an infant easier and safer.

I jumped on Facebook and conducted non-scientific qualitative research. I asked parents to share the top four items they couldn’t live without in the first year of their baby’s life. There were so many on-point recommendations, and so much mention of legal stimulants (for the parents). I have narrowed in on the most mentioned helpful essentials and dropped them into a list for you or your friend, or your friend’s friend.

The Top 10 Essentials For Raising A Baby: A list for the new parent.

  1. Diapers and Wipes (Pampers was a hit, night diapers and cloth were major too)

  2. Baby Carrier (car seat, wearable carrier, stroller)

  3. Crib (Pack n Play, Fisher Price Rock n Play)

  4. Community (friends, family, trusted babysitter)

  5. Legal Stimulants (coffee, wine, beer, bourbon)

  6. Swaddle blankets (muslin wraps, Zipadee, sleep sack)

  7. Monitor (video or just audio, but more so video)

  8. Sound machine

  9. Pacifier

  10. Patience

Parenting is a blast. You’ll learn so much about life and your limits. You’ll learn how to love while also getting pooped on, literally. If you’re doing this parenting thing solo or with your partner, remember one thing: you’re not supposed to be perfect, you’re supposed to unconditionally love your Little. And, that begins with liking you. Plus, stocking up on the essentials helps. Cheers, to you, Parents!

Silencing the Schemas

A few months ago I was in a parking lot, with my baby on my hip, and a woman said to me, “Eff you and your baby too!”  We all know she literally said, “Fuck you and your baby too!” But I’ve been trying to swear less when writing, hence the usage of eff you.

Why We Were Told To Eff-Off

I was driving away from the ATM with cash to pay for a week’s worth of groceries, and as I drove away from the bank I saw her standing on the sidewalk, waiting. It was the second time I had seen her that day. (Since I despise overusing subject pronouns, let’s just call her Trudy.)

Trudy had one suitcase and a few over-stuffed totes. It was kind of cold outside, but she was definitely dressed like it was exceptionally cold. Trudy’s hat was pulled down over her ears and it stopped just above her chunky eyeglasses.  She seemed to be extremely preoccupied with the bags surrounding her, and more even more so with the contents of said bags.

I must have confirmed, in my mind, since I saw Trudy twice in one day, she and I were meant to cross paths. Then I went a step farther and thought Trudy needed help.  And this is where the story starts.

At the moment I concluded she needed help, I talked to God about it. “God, do you want me to give this person money?” Then immediately I heard, “Yes, give her $10.” Done and done. I parked my car with my sweaty palms and my heart racing, because this kind of move isn’t my style. Which, let me add here, is also why I thought God definitely wanted me to do this thing. God likes us to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of other’s wellbeing. (Sometimes, maybe, perhaps?) I’m going to follow God and give her money. As we walked up to Trudy, she was so focused on her bags we surprised her.

Tried and Failed, Perhaps?

“HellohowareyouIwouldliketogiveyoutendollarsGodsaidyouneededtendollars.” It all ran out of my mouth like a horrible made-up word, which was supposed to be a sentence. Better than a sentence, I was thinking it’d be a two-way conversation. However, that’d require me to actually be aware. To pause long enough to listen.

Oddly, Trudy heard what I said and even understood what I said. “I don’t believe in God and I don’t want money,” she responded.

I stood there. I was close enough, for the first time that day, to see Trudy’s glasses were wrapped with tape to hold her frames together as the tape sat unevenly on the bridge of her nose. She was layered with a rainbow of clothing in an array of fabrics. I began making up a story in my head about Trudy’s condition. I stood there still imposing my thoughts into her unknown needs.

“Okay, you can just have this $10,” as I reached out my hand confidently holding her money.

This gesture sparked Trudy to said the clearest thing she could at the time, “I don’t believe in God.  Go away! Eff you and your baby too!”

I obviously wasn’t getting the message. But, I did then. So did everyone else because a few people stopped to gawk. I walked back to my car, but not before I said in a kind-of-quiet voice, “God loves you.”

As I walked I asked God to bless her with peace.  Then I told God I was sorry. It took me a few hours to figure out why I was sorry, but I eventually landed on it. I was sorry I didn’t take the time to ask Trudy anything about her place in time. I mean, I could have started by introducing myself and asking Trudy what her name is. Then you and I could have dropped this pseudonym a few paragraphs ago.

I was also sorry I didn’t take the time to see Trudy. I mean, I saw her twice that day, but I saw her the way I wanted to see her.  Then I went a step farther and actually brought God into the picture. Looking back, I was sorry I didn’t listen while taking a moment to understand.

The Unexpected Outcome

I was replaying this entire scene to my husband, Tyler, later that day, when he asked me something brilliant. After I got to the part about “God told me to give her $10” Tyler asked if that was really God or me? I paused and said I believe it was all God. He challenged me on that, because the outcome was clearly not what one would think if God told me to do something. Or was it?

The unexpected outcome turns out to be a lady cursing at me and my kid while proclaiming she doesn’t know God. Okay. Fine by me. Then, I told her God loves her, and walked away while I asked God to bless her. No big issues there.

The bigger unexpected outcome was Tyler and I standing in our kitchen having a rich conversation about the common place of schemas that block us from actually getting to know people. How often do we show up to a seasoned relationship, or a new meeting, and enter into a conversation thinking we know how to respond or how to engage with that person? What if we approached people with more grace and with a quieter spirit? Even bigger: what if we didn’t have to be right and weren’t afraid of being wrong?

What it came down to was a realization that in all relationships: with old friends, with family, with new friends or co-workers and acquaintances and especially with God, we need to create space to listen. We need to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Dr. Stephen Covey said that, and in the moment—with Trudy, I clearly forgot about his genius words.

Honestly a miss on my part even after all the reading and gleaning I’ve done by great minds like Malcolm Gladwell, Wes Anderson, Dr. Stephen Covey, Carol Dweck, Krista Tippet, David Sedaris, and the story of God’s relationship with people, to name a few. What’s the point of gleaning knowledge and insights if I don’t act on both? It takes trying and failing to make me realize how to do things with more character integrity.

I don’t know what happened to Trudy after I got back into my car and drove home. She could have walked or taken the bus or maybe a friend picked her up; went back to her house, unpacked her groceries, and sat down with a cup of tea while being pissed off that she was mistaken for being someone she wasn’t.

People deserve the space to share, in their own time and place, who they are or aren’t. Next time, I’ll be ready to listen. Next time, I’ll silence the schemas.

| Photo: I took this accidentally as my iPhone was pointed toward the ground while walking through a market in Kolkata, India.|

Allowing Inadequacy

By: Teresa B. Duffy

I drove by a house with about 73 of these signs stuck in the front yard. I turned around and stopped, because I needed one of those signs in my yard, which is odd because I have never placed a sign on or in my yard.

Hold on, there was that one time I told the company who replaced our gutters that I’d display their sign in my yard. Up went the sign.

Other than that, my neighbors have no clue the political slant we take, where I donate time or money, or the messages signs tell you about the people who own the yard where the sign sits. They do know who replaced my gutters.

I donated $10 for this sign, which went to support an organization teaching refugees. I had an enriching conversation about the condition of our nation with the family hosting this small sign party and walked away feeling hopeful, until I got home.

Reality Sunk In

Driving through my neighborhood, I began to realize how many neighbors I’ve never actually talked with or invited over.  Of the hundreds of homes in our suburban hood, I know five people. And it’s the level of “knowing” that results in waiving or chatting at the end of driveways. One person has actually joined me in a run around our neighborhood while we pushed our kids in jogging strollers. None of these neighbors have ever come over for coffee or lunch or dinner. We’ve never barbecued together or shared beers around our fire pit.

That’s all okay, I thought. I’ll still display the sign, and maybe it will start a conversation. Super passive, right? Ick. I carried the sign into my house.

I stood in the entryway and looked out onto my front lawn, then leaned the sign up against the wall. I jumped onto Facebook and read the “About” section of the group Welcome Your Neighbors, which is the group that began this hopeful signage. Here’s exactly what I read:

We choose to reach out to our neighbors and neighborhoods, welcome those who come from different backgrounds and places, and practice hospitality through the open doors of our communities.

I Don’t Live This

I love this. I don’t live this. And, here’s where it gets really hypocritical, the neighbors across the street from me are from Nepal. I know this because my other neighbor told me. I live in a city with refugees from 30 different countries, and my neighbors are first-generation-in-America neighbors. What am I doing!? I’m not doing anything, which I guess I thought was fine because we’re all doing great just living as neighbors who don’t really know anything about each other. That’s easy. That’s comfortable, but it’s not what this sign says, and I still can’t shake the thought that, I need to put it in my front yard.

This Sign Is A Sign

I needed that sign in my life to spark a conversation between my husband and I about how we want to be more intentional. About how we really want to practice hospitality. Practicing hospitality takes energy and planning and the ability to be okay with being rejected. In our case, it also takes being okay with language gaps and messing up social norms.

I love what Krista Tippet, the host of On Being, recently said during her interview with Eula Biss. Tippet and Biss where talking about the topic of whiteness in America. They were talking about how to live redemptively and reparatively, while acknowledging it is a messy journey, but a necessary journey. This is what I love; Tippet said, “We need also to allow ourselves to have inadequate conversations and not think that we have to begin by getting it right, or perfect, or complete.”

Yes! This. This is the start knowing our neighbors. Allowing ourselves to be inadequate, while praying there’s grace extended outwards for such social fumbles. If we can move past the thought that we need to be perfect before we begin being relational, we might get somewhere—together.

The sign is still in my entryway. I’ll let you know when it makes it into my yard, because that will be a sign that we’ve made it into the messiness of being neighbors. While allowing for inadequacy.

 

 

 

Human Awareness and Unpaid Kindness

By: Teresa B. Duffy

A note about today, as the inauguration of our 45th President is underway….I just witnessed the very thing that will keep America great over the next four years: human awareness and unpaid kindness.

While grocery shopping I passed another shopper who was twice my age. He has undoubtedly experienced more turmoil and celebrations than me or the other people he slowly strolled behind. He wore dignity like an expensive suit, but was kept warm by an old jacket and wore a weathered cap that said Vietnam Vet. He said to a store clerk that he lost his cane. And, it was evident he was trying to continue his outing without that support. Because of human awareness and unpaid kindness, he got his cane back. It was a struggle for him to put all his groceries into the cart, but he did so in his own time. He would have walked out without his extra clothe shopping bags, but human awareness jumped in and followed him out the door shouting “Sir, are these your bags?” And they were, and he was glad someone found something he didn’t know he was missing. He smiled and thanked the random shopper. Then, as he loaded his few bags into his car, in the rain, he turned to return his cart but got stuck in the middle of the slight incline in the parking lot. Then, because of human awareness and unpaid kindness another offer of simple help enable him to get out of the rain quicker while someone took two carts back to the store. He seemed upset that there was no quarter coming back to him, from his returned cart, so the person gave him a quarter from her pocket. He looked up and said, “Wow, that was more than I expected. You took my cart and gave me a free quarter.” So, let us be kind in our neighborhoods’ in our grocery stores and in our parks and in our school parking lots and in our town meetings and above all, around our dinner tables. Let us be more aware of who is in our path, while never expecting anything in return but offering dignity and seeing that all people are worth human awareness and unpaid keep kindness. This country is great because of the people in it. 

| photo credit 3dman_eu via Pixabay |

Jesus & Cursing

By: Teresa B. Duffy

Here’s what we teach about Jesus and cursing in our home: Jesus’ greatest love is for us. He wants so badly for everyone to be deeply in love with Him. The reciprocity within this is infinite. Once we surrender to loving God, then we get to love others the same way God love us. Stop: can you just image what our world would be like if we actually believed in such a pure and progressive love? We’d actually all get along, and that would be fucking amazing!

Which is my point about Jesus and cursing. In our home we don’t let words play a degrading role. Fuck, shit or asshole will never be connected to the value of a person, place or thing. Sometimes, when emphasis is required, we’ll use them as giant exclamation points. As a mom to a toddler I don’t use said verbal exclamation points around him because words should be spoken with knowledge of their meaning. I’m not about to explain to my child what the word fuck means. And for now, shit is replaced with poop (often).

I like language, but I value behavior more. The ability we have to communicate verbally, non-verbally and through different medias or mediums is seriously the shit. It’s because of language that I love Jesus. It’s because of written words that I get to experience God’s unconditional love. And it’s because of other people’s behavior; who love God with all their heart, mind and soul that I am able to experience God’s goodness in such a messed up world. It’s within this gap where behavior ranks higher than words.

I feel like if we just let go of some hangups people have around words and perceptions, and place more value on behavior we’d be a bit more progressive in our time here on earth. I find myself asking: is this word more or less important than how I treat my husband, my child, my sister, mother, father and my neighbor?  The answer makes a big difference for someone or something.

Everyday I’m asking God to help me fall more into a relationship with Him. It’s life-giving and gives me deep purpose. Also, getting to know God enables me to stay excited about this messy life. Mainly because His story is drenched with totally awkward situations that seem to workout in the end, which is weird because more than half of the people God chose as game-changers were the definition of imperfect and under qualified by “normal” standards. It makes me wonder if and when they said fuck this shit as they were trying to do big things for the glory of God?

Anyway, we are all here trying to figure out our mess while trying to be loved and give love. At the core of it all, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself,” that’s what it says in a book titled Luke in a chapter numbered 10 in a verse numbered 27 in a book called the Bible. I’m always asking God to help me love him more, so I can be more true to the second part. If I drop the F-bomb along the way in exclamation or acknowledgment toward the rawness of life, that’s okay.

| photo credit blickpixel via Pixabay |