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This is not a Mommy blog

9 Apr

Baby at 4 months old

Note: I wrote most of this post in November and kept meaning to perfect it, but never did. But here it is, perspective may be fresh off maternity leave, but most of it still applies. Fitting in real reading and writing that is non-work related is still on my to-do list. 

Let’s get this out of the way: I reproduced. I created progeny. I am technically a mother.

That identity feels pretty foreign to me, however. It’s more like I have a full-time job caring for an infant, a job I sometimes outsource during the day to two nice ladies who love babies.

I love this baby. I am probably addicted to this baby. I can be found staring at this baby when he is sleeping instead of sleeping myself. If I am not his mother, I am a creepy baby stalker (or an oxytocin addict looking for her next fix, one of the two).

Despite this, when I get tricked into reading “Mommy posts” that Facebook and Pinterest suggest to me after thoroughly spying on my Google searches, I do not identify with most of the writers. It feels awkward to write about motherhood without swimming in cliches or trying to sound above the entire process.

When a friend suggested I start blogging about motherhood, I thought it would be too much like that story at the beginning of recipe blogs–no one cares about the origins of your eggplant or how apricots make you feel in summer; we are all scrolling down for the recipe. I imagined that unless I was offering practical tips–like how to make flying with a baby easier (lists I did read before our Christmas flight), I didn’t think anyone would want to read it. Having a child is such a common experience after all, and I didn’t feel like I fit these common types of Mommy bloggers:

Crafty, organic, picture-perfect, precious Mommy. These blogs feature gorgeous photography of not only the home-grown foods she will feed her children, but also the children preciously posed in the garden with hand-sewn clothing. Posts use phrases like “grateful she chose me”and “so honored to love him.”

Perfectionist, organized, master of scheduling Mommy. Focus is on how to do everything better because they are definitely doing it better than you and here’s how!

Sarcastic, cool, I’m not taking any of this seriously Mommy. Posts contain profanity, constant jokes, and frequent mentions of hip culture references so you know they haven’t let motherhood downgrade their fashion sense or taste in TV. They have time to parent and watch Orange is the New Black. F**k yeah!

Angry, complaining, no one has ever been this tired Mommy. The writing is aimed outward, never inward–posts focus on the worst parts of parenting and the people who make it harder. These blogs read like advertisements for never having kids or associating with anyone who does.

* * * *

The following topics dominate the discussion in those recommended posts I mentioned above; they unite and divide mothers, yet I don’t have a firm stance on any topic. I say mothers specifically because the expectations are so high for them and the criticism so strong for perceived failures. Fathers enjoy the benefit of low expectations (which are insulting to them, by the way).

A father takes a nap with his baby and it’s precious: he’s #1 Dad! Meanwhile, a mom co-sleeps with her baby and gets a lecture on SIDS.

  1. Infertility 

It took us close to four years to have a baby, so this is a subject with which I am quite familiar. The road was long and emotionally fraught at times, but worth the outcome. Whenever I read that sentiment about the baby choosing the parents, it doesn’t register because in our case, in all the ways we could choose to have this baby, we CHOSE. I imagine that goes double for adoptive parents. The exception of course is when parents adopt a child they already know; in that case the child chose them and the parents chose the child, and I will now stop trying to explain all potential choosing scenarios. We chose, the end. I learned during our journey just how many people I knew were struggling with the same issues. This support helped to see us through and while I don’t have dramatic feelings about our process, Aaron and I are both open to talking about it with others if they ask. When people find out it took a while for you to get pregnant, they sometimes get tragic eyes. It’s sweet of them, but it always makes me uncomfortable. I never felt like we were dealing with something unconquerable, even if we were never able to conceive.

What I learned: You’ll never know how you’ll feel on the issue until faced with this situation. We had to listen to our gut and ignore the rest.

2. C-Sections

Whoa, does this one get people going. One in three babies born in the U.S. is born via Cesarean section and we know they are not all medically necessary. This leads people to doubt reasons why anyone would need to have a C-section, and calls to challenge the medical establishment ensue. So when I found myself with recommendations from both my doctor and a specialist to have a C-section because it was medically necessary, I was crushed at first. Once I accepted it and saw the risks in my situation were too great, I actually felt fortunate to know in advance. A scheduled procedure seemed much less stressful than a last minute surgery plan after a long labor.

Yes, the recovery was challenging while caring for a infant, much more so in retrospect than I realized at the time. During those early weeks, you are head down, plowing through like a bulldozer.

What I learned: I wrote this part four months ago, what C-section?

3. Breastfeeding

Again, four months ago I had much more to say on this topic. Long story short: given our road, this was the one thing I had hoped would be “natural.” It was very it takes a village at first, and I learned quickly why people would not choose this path, but fortunately, we made it to the other side, and I am still going, pumping twice a day in a dark closet in the back of my classroom. There is a light, don’t worry, but it’s less awkward to get walked in on this way.

What I learned: I am willing to pump in a dark, mostly empty movie theater at 10 am to see Star Wars with my husband.

4. Sleeping

When I started this post in November, I had planned a symbolic ending on how parenting is like infant sleep with the image of me taking it one night at a time by holding my baby’s hand until he fell asleep.

How precious. How patient. How only-four-months-in.

Four months later I am not allowed to talk about this topic anymore. Let’s just say I joined a Facebook group about sleep and I recently lol-ed at a parenting podcast that had a segment on naps. My sleep obsession has yielded some results, yes, but at what price?

What I learned: The sleep book was only the beginning.


From hospital room to stateroom

3 May

My 2013 was pretty great until August when it sunk into fear and loathing in hospitals. As a result of the clarity that emerges from losing control of situations, I began 2014 with a renewed focus on how lucky my unlucky August actually was. Even worse than last year, it’s halfway through 2014 before I’m publishing this reflection. I am nothing if not inconsistent. Here are three things that happened right when the current school year started:


It was mid-August. Our bedroom was draped in blankets and sheets to buffer the echo of our terrazzo floors. Aaron was talking to the producer of the Judge John Hodgman podcast prepping for us to go live. About an hour prior, I had talked to my mom about my dad going in for hip replacement surgery. They were expecting him to wake up four hours later. She would call me then. Only an hour and a half later, my phone lit up with the words “Mom.” I stepped out of the pre-taping sound check to take the call.

My dad had stopped breathing and they’d sewn him up mid-surgery and rushed him to ICU. My mom was alone at the hospital, the promise of routine surgery now broken along with Dad’s hip. I was 1000 miles away about to tape a podcast about an egg chair. Mom told me she’d call me when the doctors came back to report his progress. I could sit there and imagine the worst or continue with the taping. I walked outside and took several deep breaths and said my first honest prayer in a long time. Fifteen minutes later I was explaining to John Hodgman why I didn’t think a 70’s era pod chair belonged in our living room.

Sixteen hours later I was on a plane to visit my dad in ICU.

Twenty-four hours later I listened to the podcast with my dad in his hospital room. He thought it could use some editing.

One week later, my dad was recovering at home after a successful second surgery.

Five months later,  that pod chair was in our third bedroom. IMG_2100


At the end of August, one week into my new classes, Aaron woke me up with severe abdominal pain. Within minutes, I was driving half-asleep to the nearest hospital. After an educational middle-of-the-night ER experience that our nurse friend later described as working in the back of a restaurant (completely accurate comparison), a doctor told Aaron he had appendicitis and would be sent to surgery as soon as possible.

At this point we could definitely rule out Aaron’s previous fear that this was just SEVERE GAS.

Early the next morning and a couple of narcotic doses later, Aaron was asleep and I was operating on one hour’s sleep. They moved us to a holding room prior to surgery. I notified our families of the situation and became so tired that I finally crawled into Aaron’s hospital bed with him and took a nap like two cats in a hammock.

Surgery to remove Aaron’s vestigial appendix proceeded normally and we hoped to be home by the next day.

Instead we logged close to a week in the hospital because of the internist’s poor management of Aaron’s type I diabetes post-surgery that led him into Ketoacidosis (DKA).

Without going into the details of the poor care Aaron initially received after surgery, I choose to focus on the excellent care he received when the hospital moved him to more capable nurses and doctors in the IMCU. The surgeon was amazing–in fact, it was her phone call to me in the middle of Aaron’s DKA that got action taken to move him. She had the direct and gruff manner of a surgeon, and was not popular with the nursing staff, but that’s exactly what we needed right then. Someone to take us seriously and cut through the red tape.

I finally resorted to rolling my eyes at the doctor who caused Aaron’s decline, yet continued to defend his actions and treat Aaron as some kind of anomaly. It was a strong reminder of the importance of admitting when you are wrong. That’s been difficult for me to do in the past, and this doctor was young.

Hey doc, the one thing that could have made us feel better about your wisdom being consumed by confidence (to borrow from Julius Caesar) was for you to apologize. At least for what happened to Aaron. I know you see admitting mistakes as permission for us to sue you, but honestly the more you insisted you were right, the more we wanted to punish you.

Aaron’s doctor didn’t listen to him when he expressed his concerns over how his diabetes was being treated. Aaron lives with the disease every day; he understands it better than a doctor.

In an interview with Marc Maron, comic actor and former doctor Ken Jeong (best known for The Hangover and Community) said the most important thing he learned about practicing medicine was to listen carefully to his patients. That internist hadn’t learned that yet. He was still in the “I must project that I am right at all times” phase of not knowing what he was doing.

Our surgeon was the first to tell us when she didn’t know why something was happening. She was blunt with the staff, but she never feigned knowing. She took action to find out instead. That is a trait I admire. (Mostly because younger me did not possess such a trait.)

I realize that should make me feel sympathy for the internist, but NO. *Rolls eyes just thinking about it.*

That week in the hospital feels like a distant place, a pin on the map during a long road trip. Only this pin shredded most of the paper and stabbed us first.



Two weeks after Aaron was discharged from the hospital, we hopped a cruise ship at the Port of Miami and headed for the Bahamas for a long weekend. We booked this getaway long before hospital August, so at the beginning it felt like another thing to endure.

This looked exactly like the cruise we took two years ago. Same port. Same boat. Same destination. Only this time there was a significant faction of cruisers who all listen to the same podcasts. Enjoy the same music. Laugh at the same comedians. It was the Atlantic Ocean Music & Comedy Festival, and they’re doing it again in July if you’re into nautical irony.

The rest of the boat featured typical cruisers. You saw an extended family reunion, a lady wearing a mesh dress, a man forever shirtless, etc.

It was fairly easy to pick out the nerd cruisers with their graphic tees and Warby Parker glasses. Aaron and I looked more like native cruisers with our “we live in the tropics” maxi dresses and guayaberras, so I think we proved a challenge to diagnose.

On our first cruise, we only lasted one night in the main dining room. Our assigned tablemates were a pair of 21-year-olds on their honeymoon and a regular-cruising French Canadian couple in their 60’s who could only talk about motorcycles or nothing at all. Awkward was served with every course.

We fled to the Windjammer the next three nights to gorge ourselves at the buffet instead.

On the nerd cruise, table conversation flowed as freely as the cultural references. We all knew what we had in common before the bread came. And we all had the same reaction to formal night when the entire wait staff stopped service to sing and dance.

“Nobody wants this.”

Instead of choosing between the juggling comedian and salsa lessons, this time we got a private show of comedians and musicians we would pay to see separately, all on one bill. Three nights of talented and hilarious performers who happened to also be nice, generous people.

I still couldn’t deal with swimming in the Caribbean next to people I used to watch on TV. I turned around and Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac was a few feet from my face. *Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…*

But we did meet John Hodgman the first night and because of his brief involvement in our life at the start of this triology, it was a welcome weirdness. Though he plays a snooty, eccentric billionaire on TV, in person he’s incredibly genuine, despite what this photo implies.


And this is where I leave you. John Hodgman was with me in the middle of a horrifying moment (though he doesn’t know it), and was on the other side of a second one.

All on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean.

We lived life through a porthole window last fall and it’s just the right amount sometimes. It taught me not to worry about the entire ocean and chart the course at hand.

It also taught me to use nautical cliches.

There are always side effects.


Big picture unclear? Focus on interactions.

1 Jan

When your career goals have become amorphous, clear pathways seem elusive. While my attempts to “pray the gray away” have been unsuccessful, I hope that ignoring it completely will make everything better. Instead of fixing what’s muddy, I will focus on my day-to-day interactions that mean something.

1. Your presence means more than you think.

I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, this past weekend for my grandfather-in-law’s funeral. I thought I was going for my husband, but when my mother-in-law hugged me with the same force my own mother would hug me in those circumstances, I knew I was really there for the whole family. While there I also learned that my sister-in-law (while living in Hawaii) made six trips in one year to the mainland–all the way east to Virginia. And for a couple of years with a small child. That shows her family is important to her. She showed up all the time, even when it meant three flights across the continental US. Even when everyone would have understood why she didn’t.

Does this mean we should make that 14-hour drive to Virginia more than we already do? Crap, it probably does.

Be there for the people who are important to you: it may be inconvenient, but you’ll never regret it. 

2. Traditions hold us together, even when we don’t understand them. 

Several years ago my friends had their wedding reception at a Masonic Temple behind their house. During the event, we all made jokes about this “secret society” and its mysterious traditions, but while in Pueblo I got new insight into the individuals that form this “cult.” My husband’s grandfather was not only a World War II veteran, but ascended to the 32nd level of the Masons as a Shriner. Until he got too sick to do so, he had coffee every Friday morning at the local lodge. Those same coffee buddies were pall bearers at the internment, and performed funeral rites over his coffin.

Earlier I had asked my husband casually and ignorantly, “why are they wearing aprons?”  My husband responded, “I don’t think we’re allowed to know.” We chuckled a bit.

Twenty minutes later I was watching the “worshipful master” drape that same apron over the coffin with such reverence that it moved me. He then handed a single rose to my mother-in-law and her twin sister, expressing his grief over their fallen brother. He looked them both in the eyes and I could see this was more than a ritual. A man easily in his 90’s grasped those roses the entire service, shaking every so slightly. He kept looking for his time to hand over the roses. He didn’t want to miss a beat. His patient and humble service reminded me of my own grandfather.

The brotherhood of the Masons, however mysterious, was a second family to my husband’s Papa. Sure, “worshipful master” as a title still creeps me out, but “worshipful master” the man meant it when he said, “please let us know if there’s ever anything we can do for you.”

Don’t be surprised to find inspiration in unsuspecting places. 

Note: After reading about the Masons, I am more confused than ever (I think that’s intentional), but I did learn that the apron symbolizes “honorable labor.” Take from that what you will.

3. You own your attitude. 

My biggest fear in staying in public education is that I will let the avalanche of bureaucracy and bad decisions affect my teaching. This is new territory for me: I’m usually hope’s annoying cheerleader. It just goes to show you that enough “trickle down” can bruise anyone’s face. But that’s no excuse for me to play the victim: I have to keep fighting my way out of it.

My school has over 3, 000 students; my county is the sixth largest in the country; my state is the fourth largest in the United States. No wonder I’ve struggled to adjust: it’s much more difficult to have human-to-human conversations in a system that large. It’s all policy spoken at us by robots masquerading as humans. And the “humans” are usually talking to us through video clips or emails written in red Comic Sans.

I can’t let that insanity change me in the end. “The only thing they can’t change is my attitude.” My husband’s friend (also in education) reminded me of that over the holidays, and it has stayed with me.

It’s small moments that remind me I’m not a total failure this year. One of my students has started withdrawing from class more than usual, and meeting me with attitude when I ask her to do the smallest thing like open her book. It would be easy to group her in with the faction of my class who is on academic strike, but something made me hold her after class to find out what was going on. Even though she didn’t reveal much, she almost smiled at the idea that I’d noticed. She even asked me what she could do to undo her falling grades. The next period, her friend (who saw me keep her after class) told me this girl had been having family problems. So maybe it helped both of them to see that I noticed and cared to ask. It was a good reminder for me that each child is different, and while I can’t save them all, if I focus on personal interactions, at the very least my students might emerge feeling less jaded with the system than before. And maybe I will too.

Your attitude can save your life. 

Three lessons from Mom

8 May

My mom as a newlywed

One of the biggest parts of my transition from Virginia to Florida is being so far from my close friends and family. While the isolation has brought much clarity, I miss regularly seeing people who’ve known me half or all of my life.

Today we celebrate our mothers. I won’t see mine on this day (a 15 hour drive on a Sunday is not happening). Instead I’m sharing a few lessons courtesy of my mom.

1. You can teach an old dog new tricks

For as long as I can remember, my mom has been anti-technology. In the early days of the VCR, she would always yell from downstairs for help to get a movie started. We would clamor down the stairs to find her helplessly punching a remote, ready to throw it into the trash can. Since her young children and gadget-loving husband were always happy to assist her, she never got comfortable operating technology by herself.

That is until her world of work started embracing more and more technology. Anxiety over PowerPoint training? I still remember the heavy sighs. She saw young people enter her field with black belts in technology. She knew how long it would take her to learn it. She was starting from level 1; they were entering the field at level 10. Many people in her position would have folded and considered early retirement, but not my mom. After leaving a long career as a sales manager, she became the first paid president of the Chamber of Commerce in my small hometown. She once held this position as a volunteer, and was the first woman in the history of the town to do so. When you don’t have a staff to operate the technology for you, you have to learn it yourself.

Mom attended seminar after seminar and even became the webmistress (as my dad calls her) for the Chamber’s site. Because of her research, she knew she needed a Facebook page. She now successfully maintains three Facebook pages (one personal, two professional), and she already has more virtual friends than I do. She now understands more about technology than my dad does.

Lesson: It’s never too late and you’re never too old.

2. When things get too tense, do something ridiculous.

Once on a church trip to Merida, Mexico, after a long trip to the local market which was lined with flies-on-raw-meat in 95 degree, 100 percent humidity weather, everyone was sweating profusely, irritable, mildly sick, and miserable.

My mom jumped into a pool with her clothes on.

After getting over the shock of what she’d done, everyone else (many years her junior) followed her into the pool. Smiles and camaraderie followed. My mom has never been afraid to risk embarrassment to break tension.

In all households, sometimes there are arguments. When my sister and I found ourselves locked in verbal combat with my mom, she would grow tired of it. Instead of escalating the tension further, she would end it quickly with near farce. She once flipped the bird and “beat” us with a flip flop. We immediately dissolved into laughter: fight over.

Lesson: Never take yourself too seriously. It makes for a sad life. Just look at Donald Trump.

3. Accept it, you’re going to turn into your mother

My mom and I bumped heads quite a bit when I was growing up. No surprise, we’re both stubborn and don’t love to admit when we’re wrong.

When I came home complaining about something or someone who’d clearly wronged me, my mom always took the other person’s side. I swore I’d never do that. Major FAIL on that mission: I have turned into the master other-side-taker, irritating everyone around me, just as my mom irritated me.

None of us is perfect, and if we judged ourselves by our worst qualities, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. My mom always judged me by my best qualities, else she’d have disowned me long ago.

Lesson: Nurture the best in people and they’ll rise above their worst.

What lessons can we learn from your mom?

Live your insecurities. Then get over them.

17 Aug

Gave the blog a makeover: like it? Tell me. Hate it? Also tell me, but then follow it with “you’re pretty.”

It’s four days until the big day and I just finished a slideshow of our childhood pictures. Such a trip down memory lane got me reflecting in a way that’s good for all of us to do (briefly) Who were you? Who are you now? Who are you glad not to be anymore?

This was when I was the only child. Life was full of possibilities. I lived in the back of an orange Datsun (go with me, here). This was also when my mom wore giant glasses and clothes to match our car. I didn’t know who I was yet, but I look confident (and like I might want cake).

Then I became the big sister and I had lessons to teach: “Take my hand, little Kate, let me show you what it’s like to walk in my red shoes. Since red doesn’t match anything, you can wear it with everything!” 17 months of life experience pre-sister gave me all kinds of wisdom that I couldn’t stop sharing with her (she loved this). 

That’s us years later feeding dolphins at Sea World, my only other trip to Florida until 2010. My sister is happy, carefree. At age 8, I’d already started obsessing over my ears sticking out. Note shaggy hair to ensure coverage of ears.

I had braces for two and a half years, yet this is one of the few pictures I could find where you can actually see them because I refused to smile in most pictures. Before braces, I didn’t smile to cover up my buck teeth. Here the wind is betraying my carefully crafted hair-over-ears placement as well. Ear + teeth insecurity was very serious.

Hello, paisley! 10th grade school picture: braces still on. I look at this picture and want to scream, “Smile, you joyless looking bore!” I smile excessively now for pictures (and sometimes with crazy eyebrows). Overcompensating.

Since the slideshow was childhood focused, I don’t have scans of me from college. Secretly, I’m glad of this (I was 20 lbs  heavier), but the visual would be helpful. The 90’s was the grunge era (read baggy clothes and flannel). This look made people at size 2 look large, so on 6 ft’ of me at size 14, it was unfortunate. Grunge was anti-feminine fashion: at one point I was wearing an oversized, black, zip-up hoodie, baggy jeans, and steel toed boots. I looked like a chubby-faced thug. Luckily I was charming.

My point is not that once I started smiling, wearing my hair in a ponytail, and stopped eating entire boxes of cereal as snacks that my life got better. It’s that I stopped fixating on all the stuff that was wrong with me/my life and started focusing on being happy. At that point everything started falling into place.

Leo Tolstoy (who is surprisingly not intense 100% of the time) said “if you want to be happy, be.” So simple, Leo (as most good advice is). Don’t stay in situations and ways of thinking that make you miserable. So obvious, yet it took me years  to get it.

This self help guy also said, “Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy.” Being happy is a risk, and as a friend said to me “it’s easier not to.” It hurts in the beginning to shake up your routine and your thinking, but once I did I never looked back. At least not more than twice.

Like Conan,  I  hate cynics. It’s so much easier to criticize others than to change your own life. Or to compare your life to others saying “at least I’m not like that.” I speak to you not only as president of the former cynics, but also a member.

Thank goodness I finally GOT OVER IT.

This will be my last post ’til I’m wed, so until then, be happy!

Shredding my memories

7 Aug

I have lived in my house for going on six years. This is (other than my childhood home) the longest I have lived inside any structure. As a kid we moved once when I was 8. From one house in a small town to another house in the same small town. I mostly remember going through stacks of World magazines with my sister in her new room while we waited for the movers (who were my Dad’s poker buddies) to bring in our clothes. Starting in college, moving became part of my life. It went something like this:

Fall 1994: Mom and Dad drive an overly packed Suburban (thanks, neighbors for the lend!) to college. I see Dad tear up through the rear view mirror as we near the campus. (I didn’t see that again until he and I pulled away from his childhood home when we left my grandfather there after my grandmother’s funeral six months later). I’ve officially moved out and even Dad’s choked up. This was going to be different.

Spring 1995: Move out of dorm, sadly leave all my new friends, move back home. Anti-climatic, but no less irritating. Moving = hell.

Rinse and repeat through Spring 1997. This was the year of epic moving. I moved out of my dorm end of exam week  (for one week) then moved into another Summer Leadership dorm. Moved out of said dorm and back home (for one week) and then into my senior year dorm Fall 1997. 4 times moving, one summer. And in case you haven’t done it in awhile, moving sucks. All the boxes and sweating and yelling at your family; it’s enough to make anyone disown you.

Spring-Fall 1998: Graduation! Yay! I’m a real adult! Moving out is triumphant! I’ll miss my friends, but….woohoo! More like boohoo. Enter mild depression for three months, lose 20 lbs. Move again. (Turns out being a real adult blew, and after brief excitement over buying a bed and a dresser, I had to work at the Olive Garden. Neverending pasta bowls still give me nightmares).  Live there for three months and decide to be a teacher, move again to take a job back near hometown working with children under the age of 7 (with plans to return to Richmond).

Summer 1999: Re-enter Richmond with a trailer of my stuff, this time for grad school: I’m going to teach high school English, people! Party time. Real adult was better this time; I was back in school with a plan.

Summer 2000: Move again (two blocks away). One of my two roommates (both with the same name, different spelling) moves out to move in with her boyfriend. The two of us left behind can no longer afford our rent, so we move into a Uhaul and down the street.

Spring 2001: Holding pattern of school is over, need job. Grad school graduation party thrown by parents ends with sadness. Jobless, directionless, but not homeless–have an apartment on my own & sign a lease…but before moving into said apartment, accept job teaching 1 hour away. Move into new apt. in Richmond for 2 months, then move again into house on the Rappahnnock River (well, an apartment inside a giant house). Third summer as real adult = another two moves.

Summer 2002: Wait, no Uhaul truck? Sure, I hate it here, but no moving? Totally worth it.

Summer 2003: Whoa, I lived in one place for two years. SO MUCH CRAP I NEVER THREW AWAY! Without the yearly purge, I was floundering. A trip to Goodwill solved (most) of my mini-hoarding issues. I had 4 closets in that place (storing and forgetting = cake). I moved back to Richmond to take a new an exciting teaching job at a brand new high school! (And I would advise the yearbook, oh shit).

Summer 2004: After a fantastic year of living in the Fan again, I had to um, move again. This time for good reason: I bought my first house! So exciting and yet another moving debacle, but OMG, I’m a homeowner. Debt and responsibility ensue. Game nights, dinner parties, and I ended an 8-yr relationship while living in that house. Real adult x 10.

Summer 2010: It’s six years later and I’m trying desperately to get every little thing out of this house. I have tremendous friends and parents helping me go through an excess of memories. The photos of who I was, the 401K statements of what I could be, and the [insert where my friend tells me to shred all my memories and make new ones]. When you have a townhouse full of memories, you need to buy a shredder. So I did (with Target gift cards). I’ve spent the last week shredding (and unjamming said shredder), but at some point when you’re moving to Florida to start a new life with the love of your life, you don’t want to carry all these burdens with you.

Memories are embedded in my brain; I don’t need physical tokens to feel them, be them. Every step I take is on the heel of a past experience. I once thought that experiencing a fire would help me to separate myself from my possessions. Not that I wished for my house to catch on fire but I did think of the positives of such a tragedy. Then of course I met people who lost everything in a fire and I’m marrying someone who lost most everything to Hurricane Katrina. I am grateful I was not them. But the idea is still the same: as much as I love momentos and pour over them for hours when I find them, memory is deeper.  So I shredded and trashed far more than I thought I might. And it felt good. And then I was strangely emotional about an TV show on hoarding–while I don’t understand the depths of real-life hoarders, I understand the need to hold onto papers, to evidence of your previous life. It feels like you’re disappearing.

Thing is, you’re constantly reappearing in better form. Young Kara held onto everything. Young-at-heart Kara lets go in the physical sense and embraces the adventures lying ahead. Life will keep getting better the more you can release the past into the wind. I like to think of it as a warm breeze that comforts us when we need it, and cools us off when things are too hot. Like in Florida. Thank God above for the breeze or the humidity in SoFlo would knock me over. And ultimately, that’s me. Easy. Breezy.

Memories shredded, but I kept most of the pictures. Sometimes the breeze needs a visual.

Captain Dad.

20 Jun

As he is every year, my dad is at Smith Mountain Lake for Father’s Day. It’s his favorite place to be, and in 62 days he will walk me down the aisle facing that very water and mountain that have been the backdrop of my childhood.  I’ve been lucky enough to see my mom the last two Mother’s Days, but since Father’s Day is usually trumped by high school graduations (and I teach the children), I rarely get to see my dad on his day. With all the changes happening so quickly in my life this summer (and some of them a bit scary), I am reminded of what is probably the most important lesson I learned from my dad:

Just because you don’t think you can, doesn’t mean you can’t.

When faced with things foreign to me, I either fake my way through until it makes sense, or hide in the corner. Do or do not: there is no try (thanks, Yoda). But there are some things you cannot fake. For example, driving a boat. Dad first taught me how to drive a car, but I never feared that–couldn’t get me behind the wheel fast enough. Dad, however, feared my lead foot during that first lesson in the high school parking lot. He also forgave me later when he discovered I was “practicing” without him. It was the dent in the cabinet in the garage that gave it away after an unfortunate forward/reverse mix-up. I misjudged how noticeable this incident was. Nothing like waking up to a good yelling at 7 a.m. on a Saturday (and Dad doesn’t yell).

But driving a boat was worlds different: there are no brakes. Make an error driving and you can slam on the brakes. Need to park on a windy day? No problem in a car. To make a boat stop, you have to carefully negotiate the wind and wake. Miscalculations lead to ramming your boat into the dock (or worse, other boats).  It was easy to steer a pontoon boat while Dad was still in the seat with me, but commandeering a speedboat by myself turned out to be a different beast. The subtleties of planing and weight shifting when people were on  board were difficult for me to grasp, though not impossible. But I started wanting to give up once we got to docking. “I can’t do this, Dad,” I used to exclaim in frustration. He then told me that when he first got the boat he didn’t know anything about docking, so he taught himself by coming up after work and practicing for hours at a time until he mastered it. “All it takes is enough seat time,” he said.

Whenever I get intimidated by tasks, I remember Dad’s words. Right now, I’m intimidated by selling or renting my house, and not having steady income at the end of August. By Tuesday, I hope to close my 7-year teaching chapter at Hanover (which will add more boxes), but this also leaves me time to focus on the beast that is my house. Just need a little more seat time. (Thanks, Dad)

Refocusing the lens

7 Jun

Like 56,000 other people, and thanks to the advice of my friend Allison, I subscribe to Penelope Trunk’s blog, Brazen Careerist. She gives great advice on careers and life (by sharing heavily about her own). While reading her heartily linked and meticulously organized blog makes me feel a little like I’m at the bottom of the Grand Canyon looking up, I am always inspired by her voice and insight on life. Today, I finally found the 9/11 post I had heard so much about; you should read it too. Maybe it’s that I’m also reading Elie Weisel’s Night with my students or that I saw Precious this weekend (leaving my heart a little tender), but Penelope’s way of describing that day made me tear up. After describing her survival, Trunk writes: “So, look, it’s true that I know what it’s like to be on one’s death bed. That saying that you never say, ‘I wish I worked harder.’ It’s absurd. You don’t have any thoughts like that at all. You just have your family in your heart. You see there is not a lot of room for stuff there. Your family takes up everything in those last seconds.”

Family has been on my mind lately; planning a wedding does that to you. My mom, sister, and niece drove down yesterday to get their dresses for the wedding, and saving the details on why for later, I’m honored to be a part of them.

This weekend I also read (per my friend Catherine’s great suggestion) “8 Reasons Rich People Hate Their Lives,” by Sonia Simone. Don’t let the title scare you away. The thing I took most from it was that life is about growth: it’s not about what you’re good at, but what you continue to get better at.  As a teacher I see this tendency in my students to gravitate towards things they are ‘a natural’ at, and get defeated so quickly when it feels too challenging or unfamiliar. My goal is always for them to accomplish what they think is impossible; certainly I can have the same goal for myself.  All of this gets me a little more ready to get back to my to-do to-be list.

My next post will be funny, I promise. Poignant is nice, but I think it’s run its course for now. I’m already making fun of myself for mentioning both 9/11 and the Holocaust in one post. To keep things in perspective, while I was doing all this reflecting and wedding business over the weekend, my fiance was discovering baby termites and rescuing a bee hive from inside a guy’s house he learned about on Craig’s List. These are now ‘our bees,’ he says. He loves to throw around those first person plural pronouns. It’s pretty cute, though he used the same technique to sell me on ‘our egg chair,’ and ‘our Rhodes piano.’