An Odd Place To Be Inspired

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I was walking around the mall, shopping for a hat, when a woman caught my attention. Like big time. In a way that inspired this blog post.

Let me pause for a moment: going to the mall feels semi 1995ish, but it’s the middle of August and I wanted a climate controlled place to stroll with my newly potty trained toddler while sharing a cup of Auntie Ann’s pretzel nuggets with my right-hand-man-husband, Tyler.  Also on the drive to the mall, I mentioned to Tyler that “our mall” is the highest grossing mall in southern PA. So, I guess the mall isn’t as out of date as I thought.

Okay, now that you have context for my mall-stroll, let’s take it back to the inspirational bit.

There she was sitting on a leather bench shifting the weight of her Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM bag while three boys, under the age of four, swarmed around her. Side note: that bag was totally full.  A double stroller sat nearby, but clearly she’d let go of the ever so great child restraint system to live a bit dangerously. She was full-on momming-it, but with some sense of self-preservation.

Maybe it was her full Neverfull bag or her designer skinny jeans with holes in all the right places.  It might have been the hip, but not too hipster, trucker hat she was wearing over her dirty blond hair (I actually mean dirty in the way it means, and not as way to describe a shade of blonde.) Hats have a new meaning when you have small children.

It could have been all of those things, but what totally caught my attention was her shirt. It read, “In memory of when I cared.”

My mind went into a slow-mo scene, akin to the staple slow-mo scene in every Wes Anderson film. I slowly strolled passed her as she slowly looked up from the flurry of human activity around her. We low-waved to each other, motivated by motherhood camaraderie. Like a biker’s nod. 

In real-time she didn’t see me, but I definitely saw her.  Her image and her momness saturated my thoughts as I shopped for my hat.

Before I became a mom I cared about different things.

I never used to care about my mornings. Now my mornings are my anchor to the day. It’s quite and there’s just me and a good book.  Usually a book that fills my mind with hope and wisdom about things that where and things that will be. And, coffee. Always coffee.

I used to care about how people perceived me. Not so much of a focus anymore. Caring about self-approval is higher on my priority list than how other’s vibe with me.  Not caring about perception also makes me a better listener and observer of life than when I was “all about me”, which in general is just something everyone has to go through and sometimes gets stuck in. However, letting go of managing other’s expectations is just so freakin freeing.

There was a time when I cared about my work performance and making sure whatever I was producing was just a bit better than what the client wanted. I don’t care about producing stuff for others. In actuality, that seems to make stuff I work on more fun to work on (imagine that) and better received by clients and an audience. Mainly, though, I have the freedom to create and be creative in the framework of my sweet family. I pour more emotion and intent into this than I ever did to my work performance. (I realize that sharing this fact out loud might infringe upon future client work, but just being honest might also be something to be appreciated.)

I used to love the smell of Jo Malone Orange Blossom on my skin. I still adore Jo Malone, but after running out of the scent, like 3 years ago, I never replaced it. That’s because I currently really care about what I’m putting onto and into my body. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with perfumes. There is just more of a focus, personally for me, to spend money on different things. What I cared about then isn’t what I care about now. Also, smelling amazing while full on momming-it just seems excessive.

I’ll be thinking all day about the memory of the things I used to care about, but not in a lamenting way.  More so in a way that celebrates growth and forward movement in life. I’m glad to have the memory of things I used to care about.  In that gap between then and now there’s been a lot of change, and with change comes growth. Plus, the courage to rock a hat over dirty hair while your littles do their thing on a lazy August Sunday afternoon in the climate controlled mall.

Before I go, let me know in the comments: what memories do you have that show your cares have changed?

 

 

 

Beyond the Hustle

I’m at a point in my journey as a mom where time has taken on new meaning. Specifically speaking, I don’t like to be constrained by a time commitment. It really stresses me out. Now more than ever before. I respect that people assign times to begin and end things like play dates and nap times, and for the most part I can make it on time to nap time. However, getting out of the house on-time for anything else is a major hustle.

For context, at the time I’m writing this, I’m six months pregnant and raising a strong-willed very curious and super observant toddler. He’s two. I could have just wrote “he’s two” and you’d understand, but I figured I’d share a bit more than his point in time. These two truths seem to be a perfect mix of getting nowhere on time or in the time my rational adult brain thinks we should arrive or depart.

This morning I hit a tipping point and fell into freedom from the unnecessary hustle we moms so often find ourselves in. I intended to run errands, but when I looked at the weather forcast and it was too perfectly classic of a summer day to waste pushing our bodies around stores.  So in an instant I said to my two-year old, “We are going to the splash park!” We both cheered. Then came the moment of total freedom, when I casually began preparing a picnic lunch and getting us ready to get out the door, without freaking about a time crunch. We’d get there when we get there and we actually got there when I secretly wanted to get there!

My heart rate stayed totally consistent while my little person begged to read a book on the couch.  Throughout his protest to not wear pants, and then a second protest to not wear water sandals.  I remained calm during his slow and distracted walk to use the potty. Before, during and after he begged me to play a quick game of pretend baseball. Then, I even gave myself some grace as I heard my stomach grumble for food just before I was about to load everything into the car. It’s okay, I thought to myself, no one is expecting me and I’m not letting anyone down by pausing to feed myself and my developing fetus. Eat mama, eat! So, I did.

By the time I opened the car door I felt a little tense. Mainly because I was aware of how I was judging myself to be more timely and prompt. That’s when I noticed my heart rate rising and my patience dwindling. That’s also the exact time my little person insisted on putting himself into the car seat. I wanted to say no, but slowed down and realized this is a kid who is growing and needs to gain independence where he safely and rightfully can. Like, climbing into his car seat. Even if it is totally not the way I would have put him in or climbed in if I was his age, and even though it took him nearly four minutes to do something I’d do for him in one minute.

In those four minutes I paused and had this thought: early motherhood cannot be rushed. Tiny people’s lives are developing within the hustle.  As we buzz throughout our day like queen bees managing time and tasks, our littles get swept up in the purposeful crazy, when all they want to do is learn and grow.  And, isn’t the point of early mothering to foster learning and growing? That’s what I had day dreamed up before becoming a mom, but it’s so easy to forget.

Maybe this is what living in the moment feels like? I don’t know because basically my entire life I’ve thought about the future and how to be most prepared for putting my best foot forward. Now, however, I’m going to proudly “slack off” and kill the hustle. I’m about 90 days out from welcoming a second person into our family, which also means my little boy is also about 90 days out from not being an only child. We have big beautiful adjustments in our future. So for now, I’m going to chillax and enjoy the thrill of doing what we want when we want. Early motherhood changes so fast. I’m going to attempt to slow it down and live in the freedom that being my own boss allows.

Let’s raise a wine glass and cheers to letting go of the hustle so often found among the hood of awesome mamas. Sip it slowly. It’s your time. I’ll join you, after my baby’s born and while I’m learning an entirely new level of time management as a mom of two under three. Hahahaha…no, really, it’s going to be ah-mazing!

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.