I am not quite sure why I am struggling to write here. I think, in reflection, part of the issue is that I am spreading out too thin. It feels like I have gotten myself down to a single cell unit spread over a wide span of life. Talking with David the other day, I noted that I often feel so overwhelmed with trying to remember all the things for the different parts and needs of our life. I have post-it notes, and lists, and to-dos on so many different platforms right now and remembering where those are is a job! Trying to be efficient, inspiring and supportive in the classroom for 8 hours a day, then cooking a nutritious meal for dinner, playing with intention and focus with the kiddos, connecting deeply beyond a “How was your day?” “Good, you?” “Good,” with David, and then somehow also fitting in time to teach/expose H + O to how to ride bicycles, swim, know their colors and letters, and have robust experiences and grade papers and give feedback and design lesson plans for school, and try to build my pottery studio is often invigorating and defeating simultaneously. I try to remind myself that all of this is like the breathing process. You take a deep breath in and find wonder in how expansive you can get your capacity but then you breathe it out and contraction is an inevitable part of the process too. I am not sure where in that “in and out,” I am currently. Half of my head says “contraction” there is not enough hours in the day or sleep and rest being carved out, the other half is fighting against the contraction and hoping to suck in more and more air but is somehow gasping still. It is not like I can change very much though. I want to be all the things, but I think I need to revisit some of my structures and processes too or maybe it is more my mindset and just giving myself a mental break from time to time, like taking a bath or not listening to podcasts every drive in to work so there is a little space of nothingness in a full day.
WHOA! I am never been so MIA from my blog. First, I want to apologize. The truth is that I was having a major writer's block, I have been feeling super overwhelmed, and have leaned into the 365 photo project as a way to keep me connected without having to commit to writing anything more than a sentence or two. The is for sure a hard season, for me and for many. The short days just send out strong hibernation vibes and the courses I taught this winter term were very demanding. Crushed under grading was the truth of it. This dynamic though was double edged. The students in my classes were curious, investment, high-achieving, and excited to learn which pushed me to raise the bar over and over again for them. I know, I know isn't this a teacher's literal dream? And, yes it was and is. But at the same time this meant more time crafting lesson plans, designing projects, and leaning into hard grading and feedback sessions. I stopped eating in the cafeteria in order to sneak in more time for grading and arrived to school an hour before classes and graded way past my bedtime. It was exhilarating but a bit disconnecting and definitely exhausting.
Most of these winter months felt hard to balance all the plates that were spinning around me. This impossible task of: being a wife, parent, daughter, friend, potter, and teacher had me thinking often of that story of the philosophy professor that has been shared throughout social media for years now:
One day a philosophy professor brought a large glass jar and some beautiful river rocks to class with him.
"Raise your hands when the jar is full," he instructed his students, and he began putting the big rocks into the jar.
Soon the lid would no longer fit, and all the students raised their hands to indicate the jar was full. The professor then pulled out a bag of smaller black and white pebbles and poured them into the jar. As the pebbles rolled down, they filled in the little gaps between the big river rocks.
The students smiled and raised their hands. This time the jar was completely full. Then the professor produced a bag of sand and began pouring it into the jar. When the sand had filled the tiny gaps between the rocks and pebbles he triumphantly placed the lid on the jar and asked his class if the jar was now full. They all clapped and agreed, “Yes, it is full!” At that point, the professor opened the lid and slowly poured two cups of coffee into the jar. The coffee completely filled the tiniest gaps between the rocks, the pebbles, and the grains of sand.
"Now, life is very much like this jar," he said.
The river rocks represent the most important things in life, such as your ethics, your family, your loved ones, your health. Even if you lost everything else, your life would still be full with these most important things in it.
The pebbles are the things in our lives that are pretty
important - but our happiness shouldn’t depend on them. Things like our job, house, car, etc.
Finally the sand represents everything else - the countless small, busy things in our lives. If we fill up our jar with sand first, then we won’t have any room for the river rocks or pebbles.
If we fill our lives with just the small stuff or the busy stuff, we won’t have any room or time for the things that mean the most of us.”
After a brief moment of silence one of the students asked,
"Professor, what does the coffee represent?"
"Ah, I’m glad you asked, replied the professor. "It means that no matter how full your life is, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend"
I am glad this season in which my coffee pot was overfilling feels like it is coming to an end. The afternoons are sneaking in some more daylight and I feel like a switch is flipping from winter survival mode into a more calm, create, breathe, and explore mode.
Owen's summer has been full of major shifts. My sister-in-law came to visit on the last day of the school year marking the official beginning of our time home together as a family. A time when I get to pretend I stay home with my littles 24/7. And this summer included a long list of transitions. First, on the docket was potty training. As a second born, the idea of pottery training Owen was far less intimidating than the first rodeo with Henry. The main hurdle with training Henry wasn't the training part at all. It was the mental space I had to get over when you do anything new with a little one. Getting into a routine that works, that feels relatively easy, and that lets you get out and about isn't super simple to achieve and life always throws some curveball at you to undo your baby steps of progress, so the idea of intentionally disrupting the "calm" was the hardest part for me. Once I got out of my own way, and we started the three day long process, it became apparent that this wasn't as hard as it originally seemed. So doing it a second time with Owen was easier to get started. And the little guy was definitely ready. Having a model in his big brother, he simply followed Henry's pace and he is always so eager to be like his brother that he waited in line behind H in the bathroom and we are officially out of diapers in this house. And just like that one of the biggest defining attributes of babyhood is extinct for us.
But if we are "advanced" in one area then we are "babyish" in another. We landed on a red-eye from California at the beginning of August and took away Owen's baby crib rail determined to transition our big kid into a toddler bed. The first night went well. Exhausted from his travels, Owen only attempted an escape once before resting his head for the night. David and I patted each other on the back for shedding one more baby-layer in our dedicated summer to big kid transitions. Then.....reality hit. For the next week, Owen ramped up his efforts to intimidate us. David left for Florida with Henry and I was alone doing a 2+ hour bedtime drama. Owen would scream, kick, tantrum, and leave his bed at least 1,000,000 a night. When he finally gave up the ghost, he slept so poorly waking up multiple times at night crying out for me and was "up for the day" at 5AM. When you go from solid, good sleeping to crappy sleeping you start to wonder maybe, just maybe, you made a mistake. Everyone you talk to about these big kid transitions tells you to stay the course, be firm, and hold on to the change. And I totally subscribe to this ideology. But every night Owen's refusal lasted longer and his commitment to waking up and having disturbed sleep grew. So while Owen might be pottery trained, he is back in a crib. Immediately after putting his crib rail back, he delightfully said, "my cribby." At bedtime, he snuggled in with his stuffies and went immediately to sleep and stayed in his bed until 6:30AM and he even napped again for 2 hours. He clearly feels secure and comfortable in his crib and has no desire to escape his cozy baby bed....yet. So do I feel like we made the right decision? In reality yes. We will just try again at some other time when he and we feel ready again.
But to end on a high note of transitional success, we tossed out all of our baby sippy cups. This was definitely a reactive step on my part. None of the boys were really even using them but after feeling like we "failed" on our second major transition of eradicating cribs, I cleaned out the entire kitchen cabinet of baby plastic cups, spoons, utensils, etc. Immediately, it gave us more kitchen space to think about what the boys could use now as big kids, and felt like another chapter ended: no more soaking plastic cups, sippies, and plates. Every night since Henry was born there was some plastic kitchen equipment that needed special tending and now that was not a part of our routine and it felt both liberating and sad. We almost don't have babies anymore. And that leaves us with a lot of feels. I both want them to continue to be funny, spunky, creative, and playful "big kids" but I also want them to stay just like this and cuddle in their footie pajamas forever. Why can't we ever just have our cake and eat it too?
On December 18, we eat sausage and rice casserole. David's birthday request is a standard meal from childhood. A dish full of family folklore and a recurring request across all birthdays on David's side. It is a simple and direct meal with few ingredients and even less prep. It is delicious and not a grain of rice is left after mealtime. Clearly, it is a birthday request meal I can easily stand behind. Then David said, "I think this might be my new favorite meal for my birthday!" What could this meal be? What dish could possibly unseat the casserole that has stolen hearts and minds for the past 36 years? Hold your breath.....it's shepard's pie! I know what you are thinking: Really? Yes, really!
- 2 lb ground beef or lamb
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 8 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 1/3 cups beef broth
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 tsp rosemary
- 3 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup frozen peas
Preheat an oven to 325°F. Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Browned the beed. Transfer to a plate. In the same pot over medium heat, melt 4 Tbs of the butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic, cover and cook, stirring, until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Stir in the broth and wine. Add the rosemary. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pot bottom. Return the beef to the pot, cover, place in the oven and cook until about 1 1/2 hours. About 30 minutes before the dish is ready, oil a baking dish. In a saucepan, combine the potatoes with salted water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain well. Cut 3 Tbs. of the butter into pieces and add to the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes while adding enough cream to create a smooth texture. Season the meat mixture with salt and pepper, stir in the peas and pour into the prepared baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cut the remaining 1 Tbs. butter into bits and use to dot the top. Bake until the top is lightly tinged with brown, about 20 minutes. Enjoy!
It's really hard to believe that this year will commence seven years as a classroom teacher! That very first day of year one continues to remain a vivid memory as I stood before my class inwardly shaking and outwardly scared. A lot changes in seven years in a classroom. In many ways, I am more confident than ever to start and in others I still feel fresh, new, and inexperienced. Perhaps that is why this profession is so exciting. No year, no class, no single day is ever the same. I might be teaching United States history again, but each time it's better, each time it's different, and each time the context around the course shifts and provides an excellent landscape to tap for real world applications. The impending primaries and elections are ripe for teaching American history. To say I am excited is an understatement. Cracking open my neat, new notebook to jot down project ideas, field trips, and lessons is the most satisfying first act of the school year. After a long summer break, I do feel rested, I feel more creative, and I feel ready to meet the new kiddos, their questions, their challenges, their curiosity, and their passions. And just when I am ready to race my car over to the school, hop out and charge up the hill to that first day of classes, I think of my little boy who I will have to drop off at daycare and I cry. I weep. My throat closes in saddness. Mommies, does this ever get easier? I feel so much guilt and grief for leaving Henry and pain for missing him and the first day hasn't even started yet!
Pumping though not so much. I am ready to be liberated from this torturous device. Yes, I am thankful. I am thankful that these modern tools exist to help working moms maintain their nursing supply. I am thankful that I was able to nurse Henry through my goal of one year and I must give this darn Medela "Pump and Go in Style" a pat on the back for being a team player. But we have seven weeks left and then I am hanging this bag up or perhaps smashing it in the driveway! Seven more weeks of feeling isolated, alone, and inconvenient. Since September, I have missed out on making connections with my colleagues because I am connected to the Mother's Room. Instead of lunch in the cafeteria, I have lunched too often in this room on the floor between frantic meetings and extra help sessions. I have had to use bathrooms, classrooms, bus stops, and first aid offices at museums and amusement parks in order to balance this awkward work-life dilemma. Too many coworkers became privy to this existence as they questioned why I spent so much time in the nurse's office and if there was a medical issue I was facing this year. Too many coworkers asked why they never saw me anymore. It was a hard year.
A whirlwind of a year on so many levels, I am left trying to compartmentalize this turbulent and jubilant time. But, the one thing that remains constant is my excitement for June 5 and the big, fat sayonara I will bid to you, Medela...until baby #2.
I left home this morning at 6:30AM and will sadly not return until 9:30PM. This extra long day of work loomed before me and has created an intense amount of stress for me: How would Henry do without me for all of this time? Will he have enough to eat at home? Will he have an effective sleep routine? Will my parents, who are home today, be all right? Will they have enough to eat? Will they need a break from caring for the baby? Will they be able to take care of the dogs? Will the dogs be all right? Will the dogs go bananas without us for all those hours? These are just a tiny fraction of the questions, hesitations, and concerns I have about today's incredibly long day away from home. Every year we prepare and stay at school for Back to School Night. Every other year, this has been one of my favorite evenings. I stay after school and have dinner with friends and then get to meet the parents of my students in a casual setting as they mill about the building. Tonight though is different. Now with Henry home I am a bundle of nerves and feeling very fragile about this long stay away. When I take a moment to really think about him home without me all day I feel like crying and when I come home the little man will be asleep. It hurts my heart to know I will have missed his whole day. But, alas it is the nature of the beast that is today.
Since I couldn't physically be there with the little man and my parents today, I decided I could at least cook them a nutritious, belly-warming meal. Through dinner, I would be able to "be there for them." And, in this case what is more comforting than a warm plate of pot pie? I hope that in lieu of my presence this meal will keep them "sustained" and will give me a small bit of peace of mind heading into my long night on campus. And really, it is just one night, right?
Monday night I felt very prepared for school. Henry had been sleeping for 4-5 hour stretches, I had packed up my bags to make the morning departure go smoothly, and David and I even spent a few minutes just the two of us to connect and reflect before the hustle and bustle of the school year commenced. Then the week went like this: Tuesday 1AM, 2AM, 3AM, 4AM, 5AM: Henry decides to boycott sleep and/or he was worried I would not wake up for my alarm and wanted to make sure I was up and ready to go. Nothing says, "Let's get this party started" like of sleepless night, right?
Tuesday 6:30AM-7:40AM: The usual 25 minute commute is endless as everyone in the 20 mile stretch to school decides to hit the road early for the first day of school.
Tuesday 8AM-12PM: A blur of classes, students, faculty, lessons, meetings, emails, and trying to speak coherently after spending the summer mostly in the company of 4 people or less. Oh, yea....and I have to pump for baby Henry A LOT. So also I spent time running in and out of the Nurse's Office and then trying to relax enough when in there in order to accomplish this task. And, of course I wore a dress on the first day in order to look "fabulous" which meant pumping was an interesting procedure. Note to self: No more dresses.
Tuesday 12-2PM: Try to call my mother for an update, as this is the first day I am totally away from home, but her phone keeps going to voice mail. Usher in PANIC, SWEAT, and calling her number over and over again. Is everyone alive?
Tuesday 3PM: See that our friend and neighbor has been able to knock on the door and confirm that everyone is indeed alive and fine and my mom plugs her phone in. Whew!
Tuesday 3:30PM-4:30PM: slow go through traffic all the way home.
Tuesday 4:30-9:00PM: Soak up as much of my family time as possible. Seeing Henry at the end of the day is the BEST! I cannot get enough of that little man's smell, smile, cuddles. Also, I shed a few tears because I am so happy to see him and so happy the day went so well at home for him. And really I am just an emotional person these days anyway.
Wednesday 12AM, 2AM, 4AM: Henry is no longer worried about me missing my alarm and extends his sleep from every hour to every two hours. It is amazing how "highly functioning" one can be with so few hours of sleep. I guess it is all about lowering one's standards for "functioning."
Wednesday 6:30AM-7:20AM: Tons of traffic yet again. I am looking forward to when everyone collectively starts to sleep in or snoozes their alarms and I can perhaps squeak by ahead of the traffic cluster.
Wednesday 8AM-2:15PM: Another whirlwind of classes, students, emails, pumping, and trying to do all of this without breaking a sweat in the crushing heat that has enveloped Boston. Somehow all of this is done today with less of the "teacher crust" of yesterday. While I am definitely not in my groove, teaching is starting to feel comfortable again. It is like breaking in a pair of jeans after they have stiffened up from the dryer.
Wednesday 2:30PM-3:30PM: Take a walk down memory lane with the senior class. As they prepare to apply for college, we teachers share stories from our college years. It was pretty great hearing my co-workers' stories and having the opportunity to share my own. Go BC!
Wednesday 3:30PM-3:50PM: Drive fairly smoothly to Natick and decide to pull into the Starbucks drive-thru for a treat. This was my guiltiest cup of coffee ever! I wanted to head home to Henry but I also wanted an afternoon pick me up so I could feel alive and present during my time with Henry. I justified the pit stop by noting this Starbucks was a drive thru.
Wednesday 4:10PM: Arrive home and snuggle Henry. Immediately realize I left all of my pumping gear and all of Henry's milk back at school! Panic sets in and I realize that despite my cool exterior, my mind is complete mush. And the consequence is: Henry will starve tomorrow.
Wednesday 5:00PM-7:30PM: Pack everyone up in the car and drive all the way back to school to retrieve the much needed items. As an "I am so sorry for ruining everyone's night," I treat David and my mom to dinner in the area to break up the long commute in the car. Finally arrive back home and feel like crashing but it is time to get in that quality time with Henry so I postpone fatigue until later.
Thursday 1AM, 4AM: Ah Henry is heading back towards his more reasonable sleep schedule just in time for the end of the school week. Fingers crossed
Thursday 6:30AM-7:10AM: Even the commute this morning is being more cooperative!
Thursday 8AM-12:30PM: Being in school feels more "normal." Starting to feel more confident in the classroom and more capable around pumping. Work-Life balance is coming more into focus...for now, I think.
Thursday 12:30PM: Head over the Keurig machine in the faculty room because yesterday's drama revealed I need a shot of caffeine before I head home and see that someone has left a "pumpkin spice" capsule in the machine. Deliriously excited, I open the cabinet to retrieve one of these special k-cups only to see that this flavor is non-existent. Some sneaky, smarty pants brought it in for themselves and now I am incredibly jealous. Left to drink the usual k-cup, I return to my classroom to await the last class of the day.
Thursday 3:00PM: A moment of peace and calm after checking for the 100th time that I have everything I will need when I leave campus. I do not think my nerves could handle another mishap like yesterday. Finally settle into some lesson planning in an attempt to "get ahead" of the weekend pile up.
Thursday 3:30-4:10PM: An uneventful drive home and the first night where alongside snuggling up with our little man and giving him our undivided attention we are also trying to prep dinner (remarkable that this is the first time this week we have to do that!). Thankfully it is taco night. Not that this isn't work, but taco night is usually an easy kitchen night! Definitely thanking "past Melissa" for her smart meal planning for this first week back to teaching.
Thursday 5PM-9PM: Family time to the max!
Friday 1:30AM: Oh my goodness, the little man sleeps for 5 hours without interruptions and now I am sleep drunk from all the extra Zs.
Friday 5:00AM: My alarm and not the little man wakes me up. Have we finally fallen into some semblance of "normal"? I don't want to jinx us but this would be a very very VERY nice routine. Let's replicate this again okay, Henry?
Friday 8:00AM-2:15PM: Despite some scheduling mishaps on my part (Need to remember to double check the uploaded homework assignments) the day goes fairly smoothly. It is topped off by a visit from David and Henry to the ice cream social before Henry's 2 month check-up.
Friday 4:00PM: Henry had his 2 month check-up and vaccines. We all took guesses for his weight and height but we missed the mark. That's right we all underestimated our little man's monthly growth. Henry is not 13.11lbs and 24.75in! He also did not like his vaccines. His cries were heart-breaking
Friday 5:00PM: Lots and Lots of snuggles all around.
And so it goes, the successful conclusion of our first week. It is amazing how a 4 day work week could feel like it was actually 8 full days of work and running around. Yet, we all survived and it can only get better from here, right?