Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I'm a Mom, I'm a Mississippian, I Work

When I lived in North Carolina, I spent the better part of 6 years defending Mississippi because of its perception as a place full of bigots, racists, and general backwoods idiots. Often, with tears in my eyes, I would passionately argue that "my" Mississippi wasn't like what is often depicted in Hollywood's portrayals of our state or even in media snippets. Even recently, I have been able to explain away displays of hate speech or ignorance as coming from someone on the fringes, not someone who represents a large portion of the state. But now I wonder if I have been kidding myself.

As I read and subsequently listened to Governor Phil Bryant attribute the decline in the entire American education system to WORKING MOTHERS, I was shaking with anger, hurt, and utter disbelief. If I thought this was just the misguided notions of one man, as disturbing as that may be considering his position, I might be able to look past it with a sad shake of my head.

Sadly, I am afraid there are people, some very close to me, who are reading these same remarks and nodding their heads in full agreement. Many who may be thinking, "good for Gov. Bryant for speaking up against these mothers who can't love, nurture, and care for their children the way a stay-at-home mom can. And ya know what, he's on to something: giving women the right to vote is really the root of all economic, educational, and criminal issues in our country."

I often find myself in situations feeling like a square peg in a round hole (even though I am not "that" strange). I know about belief polarization and confirmation bias, so in writing this I run the risk of alienating those who think a woman should be at home ---although that is not my intent.

I'm not going to delve into what seem to me obvious arguments of major social and economic reasons that have profoundly impacted the education system in our nation. However, I just want to point out- in my own little blog that I always neglect- what I feel is a growing backlash against working mothers, perhaps glaringly so in the conservative South and in the "sanctimommy" blogs popping up unchecked in the blogosphere. I feel there is a general acceptance of mothers who "have to" work, although there is a certain arrogance implicit in that acceptance. A quick Google search reveals countless posts of frugal living advice with undertones of "there's no excuse why you can't be a stay-at-home-mom."

Well, I am a mom who enjoys and chooses to work. I firmly believe that I am a more patient, more attentive, more nurturing mother BECAUSE I work. I have friends who are wonderful stay-at-home moms, and I have often wondered what is "wrong" with me because I am unable to structure days with creative activities, educational moments, patience, and organized play. When I don't work, I suffer bouts of depression. I could speculate on reasons why, but if you're still reading at this point, I'll reward you by not doing so :).

I also enjoy working because:
*I am part of a team.
*I can set, work toward and achieve goals.
*I learn new skills and build on those skills.
*I want to show my daughter that there are options available to her.
*I don't want to just tell my daughter that she can "be anything, do anything." I want her to know that there is work involved, and that opportunities aren't only for men. Why would we push girls to do well in school, attend college, etc., with this line of thinking?

Do not misunderstand me: I have no problem -at all- with stay-at-home parents. It would never occur to me to assign blame or find fault with a family's choice unless it was causing real harm to someone.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Beyond Grateful

I really enjoy reading the "Thankful" posts on Facebook. It's a welcome departure from some of the usual posts. To that end, I've decided to do a few blog posts about that which I am grateful.

This post will be long, so I apologize in advance.

I'll start with a biggie: the thing that has made me cherish and truly grasp what matters in my life. Three years ago this month at four months old, Caroline was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms as a result of brain injury she suffered at birth.

That year, we spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving hospitalized at LeBonheur Children's Hospital watching helplessly as our baby girl had up to 200 "jack-knife" seizures a day. We were shown the extent of her brain damage and given grim expectations for her future. Heart-wrenching shock doesn't begin to describe my state of mind upon hearing possible and probable outcomes including death, uncontrollable seizures, and severe physical and mental disabilities.

I don't remember a lot of those first days but I have some journal entries I wrote that reflect my mindset of sheer determination in a haze of exhaustion mixed with a very faint glimmer of hopefulness.

The slight hope came from an aggressive treatment plan combined with prayers, our own and those of our friends and family. I remember sitting on a bench outside Caroline's hospital room to call friends and ask for prayer. I didn't know exactly what to pray for or ask others to pray for except for her to be seizure-free and have a "normal" life even though medical literature and the doctors were telling us not to expect either of those things. For some time all I could manage to pray beyond frantic begging was to repeat Jeremiah 29:11 over and over and claim it for Caroline.
Caroline in early 2010 after about 4 months on high-dose ACTH shots for Infantile Spasms
Caused rapid weight gain, fluid retention, irritability, sleep disturbances, and more
But! It worked!!

And I am so THANKFUL that The Lord is faithful; that His Word is true and living; and that He is merciful and compassionate. I am THANKFUL for the miracle of Caroline. She is now 3 years old and despite physical delays that keep her from running, jumping, etc., she carries on like your average three-year-old. She attends a regular Montessori School (a Godsend, by the way), has a wonderful imagination, loves to sing and dance, is learning to write, pretends to read, loves playing outside, throws fits when she doesn't get her way, wants to "do it myself..."
Caroline Today (this is her posing "cheese" face)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Just Different

"It's not wrong; it's not right; it's just different."

My wise mother-in-law shared this with me several years ago, and I am pretty sure it was in the context of respecting others' parenting styles. I don't know that I fully grasped the truth of the statement until now.
*Let me disclaim that I am not talking about illegal, immoral, unethical, negligent, etc. parenting decisions. It goes without saying those are "wrong."*

The way a couple or person parents is as varied and unique as the individual or couple and the child(ren) involved. Recently I have had to take a step back from talking to someone who is critical of almost every decision I make as a mom: from significant ones like the school we chose for Caroline to my career choices to insignificant ones like the way we dress her.

I do things differently than this mom did or would choose to do, but my way isn't better or worse and vice versa. The problem arose because she thought it was okay to be openly critical and provide commentary on my/our parenting.

As a result, I began questioning my worth as a mother and was constantly wracked with guilt. It took me a little while, and several talks with Jeffrey, to realize that the guilt and feelings of bad-momness didn't stem from decisions I was making but from my allowing someone else to make me feel this way.

Heavens knows I am not an expert and never will be. In fact, I have downloaded four parenting books in the last week and spent tons of time in Proverbs - and I only have one child! Thank goodness resources abound for desperate mamas of toddlers.

Some of my best advice has come from friends that do not judge or criticize but graciously listen and empathize (looky look! I rhymed and didn't mean to!). The encouragement from friends I admire as moms is priceless. Many times it helps to know others have felt the same frustrations and dealt with the same issues. Plus, there's usually plenty of laughter in the mix when people are sharing stories about their children, and that is never a bad thing.

My greatest sigh of relief and thanks is for God's grace for this imperfect mom.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reflections of a Semi-Reformed Crazy Fan

We're three weeks into college football season, and I don't know about other places, but here in the South it's serious business. There's nothing quite like college rivalries that turn demure Southern belles, never-miss-a-Sunday church members, and starched businessmen into Mean Girls and schoolyard bullies.

Perhaps social media makes it more visible, but check Facebook or Twiiter on a Saturday in the Fall and you'll see insults flying back and forth between "friends" whose allegiances are to opposing schools. Now, I am not judging anyone more harshly than myself because I was a rabid Mississippi State fan. I am still a loyal fan who loves the Bulldogs, but my vitriol toward other schools has cooled considerably (not that it doesn't surface every now and then).

Seriously, in what other context would this over-the-top fan bickering be socially acceptable? Imagine this post on Facebook: "I hate Presbyterians. They are a bunch of rednecks. Baptists are the best- we have the prettiest girls and best weddings!!" Yeah. But this type of statement is just hunky-dory when applied to colleges and their associated fanbases and students.

Lately I've been struck by how similar many of the taunts and putdowns are to those we don't allow our children to say. Here are a few parallels:

"You're ugly"...."We have the prettiest girls. Their girls are pitiful."

"Nobody wants to come to your party. It's boring." ...."They don't know how to tailgate. We do it BEST!"

"You're a snob."....Fans referred to as "wine & cheese" crowd, etc. (UNC)

"She/he's fake. Nobody's her friend.".... "The whole school is a bunch of posers. They are all a joke."

"You're a redneck/hick."....."They are all a bunch of rednecks."

See what I mean? So many times we cross the line of cheering for and loving our own schools and regress to absolute toddlers and bullies. AND WE THINK IT'S OKAY!

As I said earlier, I was one of the worst fans for years! Just ask anyone who knows me well. Two things changed my perspective (don't worry, I'm not gonna get preachy): my little brother's experience with real and virtual "fans" and the experience with Caroline.

I'll end with an example from a few months ago that really made me step back and look at this issue. One day on Facebook following her school's loss in sports someone I have known for years wrote, "I HATE Mississippi State fans. And Maroon is the ugliest color."
Sadly, she wasn't joking.

Since this post is so long I won't get into the wretched way some ADULT fans treat student-athletes. I'll save that for another post. I'm sure you can't wait . :).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Growing Pains

I'm someone who generally likes change. With jobs, for instance, I tend to get bored easily if things become too routine or lose the challenge that held me at the beginning, so I enjoy learning new things and trying new skills (more on this in another post).

If change is what I like, then change is what we've had in our world lately. This past month, Caroline started attending a local Montessori school at the same time I went back to work for our local city school district at the middle school.

Until this point, Caroline had stayed with my mom or me, sitters in our home, a wonderful family from our church who are like a second family to her, and had attended a weekly mother's day out program. Jeffrey and I knew Montessori would be a challenging transition for her, and she did have normal adjustment woes for a few days. She had to adjust to increased expectations for independence and self-help on her part. Plus, she only knew one person in her class and had to get over being one of the "new kids."

Surprisingly to me, I had the hardest time with the transition. The school has a wonderful outside play area that presented a big challenge to Caroline because of her physical delays and deficits from brain trauma sustained at birth and the resulting Infantile Spasms she developed at four months old.
*Infantile Spasms is a seizure
disorder defined with words like
"rare, catastrophic, devastating; I
call it our personal hell. Caroline is
one of the blessed very few- she is a
MIRACLE- who is cognitively on
track, but she has motor skill delays
such as not being able to run or
jump yet that are noticeable
compared to her peers.

My heart clenched in a new, unwelcome kind of pain at the thought that she now realizes she is different from her friends because of these delays. My initial, irrational reaction was to withdraw her immediately, and..... Yeah, that was the problem. There was nowhere I could take my precious little girl that would make it all better or make it all go away. There was no one I could legally yell, scream, hit, and throw things at that would make ME feel better.

Finally, in the midst of it all, it dawned on me that this would be just one of many times I will want to protect Caroline from the world around her, just as I am sure my mom did for me and her mom for her.

And as much as I may think she is too young to learn hard lessons about life not making sense this side of heaven as we live in a fallen world, I pray the Lord is teaching her young heart compassion for others who may be different. I also pray she will grow to recognize and respect the unique and special gifts she and others possess.

Because I know I need those heart reminders daily.

Just Have To Share This

I know, I know I have been absolutely terrible about posting on my blog. I mean, really, ONE WHOLE POST - wow. Thank you to those friends of mine who have been encouraging me to post again after my embarrassing hiatus.

While I may do a lot of things "wrong" as a mom: I allow Caroline to eat sugar and watch TV; I lose my patience after a day of whining and fit-throwing; and sometimes I even pull the "because I said so" card even though I said I would never do such a thing.

But one thing I do "right" is read with Caroline. Really, if you know me, this is not a big sacrifice or praise-worthy activity on my part because I LOVE to read. Thankfully, Caroline loves being read to and will sit for minutes (hey, 20 minutes is a big deal for this 3-year-old!).

Anyway, I was so excited to find out about the website wegivebooks.org, an initiative of the Pearson Foundation and Penguin Books that offers free online children's books to anyone with Internet access. What makes this even better? For every book read online, a book is donated on your behalf to a literacy group whose goal is to get books in the hands of children who don't have them.

While I love reading from a book in my-or her- hands when reading to Caroline, I know we will definitely be adding some of the electronic versions from this site to our routine. If your little ones are like C, she loves the computer and all other electronic devices.
*The site requires Flash, so if reading on an iPad, you will need a Flash-enabled browser app.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Confessions of an Envious Mom

I'm Jennifer, a 34-year-old wife to a great, funny husband and mom of a super-special three-year-old daughter (more on that super-special part later) living deep in the South. I read voraciously and love to talk books.

I also read blogs (and shamelessly pin related Pinterest pins) by moms who "have it all together:" you know, the ones who have figured out the secret to taming the tantrums of a three-year-old while simultaneously directing their other children in producing creative masterpieces that I couldn't even do myself AND cooking a gourmet meal with non-GMO, locally-grown ingredients AND cleaning their entire house in perfectly organized order in under 30 minutes as explained in a previous blog post while taking step-by-step photographs of aforementioned tasks for a future blog post.  
WHEW! My anxiety is through the roof just typing that. Although it could be the lack of punctuation for effect that I just ruined with this sentence.

If it sounds as if I am jealous of these moms, you are correct. However, I have come to terms with my envy and now hope to learn just a little lesson or two from these supermoms. Because, let's face it. I'll probably never stop reading these blogs and wishing I could just "get it together" for once!

I also know that I am not that mom- or wife or person. And this is Not Your Normal Mommy Blog.

Follow along on the adventures, admissions, aspirations of this imperfect Mom.