Taking Time to Remember Places

This weekend marked the fifteenth summer my dad has participated in the Denver Chalk Art Festival. What started as a fun experiment – he hadn’t done many chalk murals before this experience – has turned into a marker of summertime for our family.

In the early years, my brother would drive down from Fort Collins and my parents up from Colorado Springs to stay in whatever un-air conditioned apartment I was renting close to downtown. My dad would draw all day in the hot sun while my mom, brother, and I would sit under a shady tree drinking countless Arnold Palmers.

It was at the Chalk Fest that Frank first met my parents, the only person wearing a dress shirt in the middle of a sweltering summer day. As our family grew, a weekend of hanging out turned into a morning visit before naptime. Now, our girls have a longer attention span and Bea even helps grandpa with the background coloring.

Each year has marked a difference in the growth of Denver. Our first summers were spent in the shade at a downtown park. Now, that park has been paved into a parking lot. The crowds have grown, too. Parking is at a premium, even in light rail lots and on these days, you can feel the groan of a small city becoming a big city.

I’ve been thinking about place a lot recently. Maybe it’s because Frank and I just returned from a week in Paris, a city that shaped my college years. Going back was a complex experience. I recognized a place where I had made big changes, transitioning from child to adult but also a city that hasn’t changed all that much in the past five hundred years.

In front of my favorite apartment in Paris

I was reminded of the importance of visiting places that have shaped us, whether for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. There’s something about grounding my feet on the stones that had a part in shaping my theology, my worldview, and (though unknown to me at the time) my parenting.

Going to downtown Denver reminded me of those post-college years, when I returned to a state I had spent most of my childhood. Suddenly, I went from a world explorer to someone who returned home. Now, fifteen years later, it sometimes feels like I had never left at all. People who I have recently met most likely don’t even know I had lived abroad or traveled much before kids. It’s a weird feeling, having profoundly impacting experiences that were so long ago no one knows.

I wonder if, in fifteen or twenty years, we will leave the suburbs for a new adventure? Will I come back to this neighborhood with a sense of nostalgia, looking for a place to ground my new identity? I wonder how my girls will view this house and this space as they reflect on their childhood?

Mostly, I’m thankful for opportunities to go and remember the impact of a physical space on my journey. Whether it’s a trip to Paris or a morning spent downtown, I’m reminded of the importance of place in my story.

Is there a city or place that had a profound impact on your journey? Have you gone back to visit?

Remembering Who Came First

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves today. This month’s theme is “territories” and I originally didn’t expect to have anything to say on this topic. But a trip to the wild landscape of northern Colorado reminded me that this space I call home, where I feel grounded, isn’t really mine to claim. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll click over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-the-privilege-of-finding-home-2I’ve only ever lived in urban areas but the wild west is where I find myself relaxing and exhaling. Born in California and having grown up in Colorado, the landscape of the Western United States is what is ingrained. The cold Pacific Ocean, the red rocks of Utah, the snow-capped Rocky Mountains—these are the natural wonders that shaped my childhood.

While attending college in Paris, I spent four years searching for nature to rejuvenate. I’d take the train to the suburbs, hoping for rest in the sprawling parks designed by landscape architects of the 18th century. While it gave me peace I couldn’t find in Paris, the manicured lawns and evenly spaced trees didn’t give me a wild sense of wonder.

After graduation, I thought I’d find that wildness in the Himalayas of Nepal. I spent three months in Kathmandu, pressed in by people and animals and overwhelming smells. The mountains were there, always in the distance (when the smog cleared). While they were powerful, they weren’t accessible.

So I returned to Colorado, realizing that this is where I could rejuvenate. Now we are raising our girls in the midst of this landscape. We take them to Moab where the sight of the massive red rock formations help me breathe deeply. We drive north to Wyoming where the smell of wild sage fills our car and the canyons and hills remind me of a Western novel, where cowboys and bandits camp and hide.

As our girls grow and we create memories that will make the West part of their identity, my husband and I are thinking of ways to intentionally weave the history of this land into our family’s explorations. This year, as we prepare for a family visit to Yellowstone and the Tetons, our family is reading books about Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation! 

Where do you find your home? How have you learned more about the land where you live?

Creating Safe Spaces

I had the honor of sharing these thoughts about transitioning from full-time work to part-time work to truly staying at home over at the MOPS blog a couple weeks ago.

creating-safe-spaces-1002x539When I quit my teaching job right before having our first daughter, my principal told me he fully supported my choice to stay home. But he didn’t think it would last long. I thought that was an interesting thing to say. I was committed to raising our kids and being completely content focusing on them full time, at least through the beginning of elementary school.

Just five weeks into being a new mom, a position at a new museum opened up and I decided to apply. This seemed like such an incredible opportunity: A job that combined my undergraduate degree in art history – a notoriously difficult field to find work in, my master’s degree in teaching, a brand new program committed to best practices and the flexibility of part time.

Partway through the interview, all of my postpartum feelings surfaced and I found myself faltering, wondering why on earth I had squeezed into a dress that had fit just last year, left my baby with my dad and driven across town for a job I didn’t want. I think my future boss felt the emotional shift, too. As kindly and HR-correctly as she could, she wondered if this was a good fit for me at this time? It seemed as though I needed to focus on being a mom for now.

I went home and focused on those whirlwind first six months with Bea. We settled into a good routine. I started going to MOPS, we made friends and even ventured on a play date or two. In January, I got an email from the museum: Would I be interested in applying for the role of Gallery Teacher? They would love it if I’d consider putting in my application.

This time, during the interview, I felt confident and ready for a new adventure.

My old principal was right – I didn’t stay home long, not really. Work at the museum definitely had its challenges but overall, the hours weren’t too demanding and the work was exactly what I loved: Teaching in front of priceless paintings, guiding kids in new ways of looking and thinking, and then going home without the grading and stresses of classroom teaching.

When I got pregnant with our second daughter, we were in a really good rhythm. On paper, life looked pretty amazing. I was balancing it all! I was play dating and teaching and figuring out self-care!

Until … I started feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job at anything. I was resenting my time commitment at the museum; I was too tired to be as engaging of a mom as the girls needed.

My ever-supportive husband gave the most unhelpful advice: Do what makes you happiest; what makes you the best mom. I’m behind you! What I really wanted was for him to just make a tough decision for me. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do.

I talked with my boss and told her I loved the job and I loved working for her, but it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. After that last conversation, I felt a sense of relief. With Bea starting kindergarten next year, we’ll have a lot of changes as a family. It’ll be the only year Elle and I have, just the two of us, before she starts preschool. I want to be mindful and intentional about this coming year.

My last day was bittersweet as I said goodbye to colleagues I had worked with for over three years. My boss told me that I had a job there anytime. I left knowing I had given my best and yet, there was a sense of peace and closure.

I recently wrote my purpose statement with a life coach: “I claim creativity and curate safe spaces for discovery.” After we crafted this statement, I was talking with her about my decision to quit my job. She laughed and said, “It sounds like you’re already creating safe spaces for yourself.”

I guess that’s my takeaway so far on this journey of motherhood. I am creating a safe space. Sometimes this is in the form of working in a field that invigorates me and excites my passions. Sometimes it means letting our playroom get messy and seeing this physical space as a place for the girls to create. Sometimes it means carving out time to write and pursue other unpaid passions.

What I do know is that I’m learning to hold these moments as sacred. I don’t take lightly that I had the opportunity to work at a world-renowned institution – a job many would dream of. I equally don’t take lightly the privilege and opportunity to stay at home during these precious, formative years.

One concern I had when I decided to quit was what I would say at a social gathering. Stay-at-home mom doesn’t keep the conversation moving nearly as well as gallery teacher. I worried about this new loss of identity. I was talking with an older friend the other day about these feelings and she reminded me that my identity, no matter what I’m doing, is in Christ.

And that’s so true. Regardless of working or staying home or some hybrid of the two, I’m remembering to place my identity in him, above all.

How has your identity changed over the years? What are ways you are creating safe spaces for yourself? 

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/creating-safe-spaces/.

Yes, I Am Able

I’ve never dyed my hair before and, as my 35th birthday approached, I felt the itch to spice things up a bit. I’m embracing my identity more and more and I felt the need to commemorate that with something totally outside of my normal look. Something fun and funky but still maturely thirty. So, we went with purple and green highlights. They are subtle and fun and everything I hoped for in a mid-winter, mid-decade change of pace.

I was talking with a friend about the -5s. Those half-decade birthdays that sometimes seem bigger than entering into the decade itself. Looking back on my other half-decade birthdays I can definitely see the pattern.

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At 15, I first watched Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting and my interests took focus and my life changed as I pursued art history. At 25, after deciding I was destined to be single, I started applying for teaching jobs overseas. And then met Frank… Now, at 35, I feel on the edge of something. Of course, not even a week after this birthday, I can’t predict how it will impact my course but I am excited for what is around the corner.

My word, Capacity, has already shown itself to be a true vision for 2017. I’ve already made choices about how my time is divided, about the commitments I’m able to make, about what our family dynamic looks like in this particular phase. I’m on a journey with some incredible women to write our life’s mission statements. Our meetings have been profound and stirring. I feel that I’m preparing myself for something significant.

Because my birthday is in January, I usually hold off on the typical beginning-of-the-year goals and wait until my birthday to reflect and make that list. This year, my goals are much more vague and simultaneously more ambitious. I feel like the coming year will lay a foundation for bigger things – ones that I can’t even imagine yet.

If the decade between 25 and 35 was about forming my adult identity – one of teacher and wife and mother – then my hopes for the decade between 35 and 45 will be years of refinement. Of knowing who I am and feeling equipped and empowered in that knowledge to make big choices. I want to live these coming years with open hands and with an attitude of yes, I am able.

I am able to stay at home and raise these two feisty, thoughtful, compassionate daughters. I am able to be part of groups and teams and organizations that are changing the world. I am able to give my time and energy to my community in new ways.

I am embracing my ability to use this time wisely. This time of staying home but of more independence. I don’t want to waste these years, not just from a parenting perspective but from a self-care point of view. How can I use this time to really be intentional about my roles, both currently and in the future? How can I use this time to prepare for whatever our next chapter holds?

What birthdays seemed “bigger” to you – the -0’s or -5’s? How are you embracing the decade you’re in?

Holding Onto My Story

A friend and I met the other day to see Jackie. After the credits rolled, we curled up in the reclining chairs and chatted until the theater started filling up again for the next show. This friend is someone I wish I could see more regularly, but when our schedules align and we’re able to connect, I leave feeling full, refreshed, and heard.

img_0578We talked a lot about identity. We’re both in our mid-thirties, both raising young kids, both still grappling with that elusive balance of being strong influences for our kids and holding this season with open hands and remembering that it is fleeting.

One part of our discussion really stuck with me. We wondered how, as moms, we hold on to parts of our story and identity that aren’t as significant anymore. How do we honor that part of our journey while recognizing that it may not play a big part in how we live our daily lives?

When I first moved to Denver after living in Paris and spending months in Kathmandu, I struggled a lot with how to describe moving back home. I was home, yes, but I had done so much more! Years passed and I struggled even more – college didn’t matter as much; people don’t really care which school I attended, and yet it felt leaving those years out of my story put me in a category of never leaving home. (Which isn’t a bad thing – it’s just not my story.)

When Bea was born and I settled into the role of stay-at-home mom, I was happy with that identity. But then, when a job opportunity arose a year later, I excitedly joined a team that perfectly encompassed my passions of innovative education practices with getting people into museums and experiencing the history of art. The other perk of that job is that when people asked if I “just stayed home” with the girls, I could say that I also had a really amazing part-time job.

I don’t think this search for identity is unique to stay-at-home moms. We were talking with friends about their parents’ recent retirement and how there has been a bit of a search for what that means. What do you say at dinner parties? What are the expectations of living a full retired life?

My years in Paris don’t really come up anymore. And, beyond a few ways that we choose to expose the girls do different things, I don’t think it really plays an active role in my life at the moment. But, as my friend said, it is a significant part of my story. It developed my world view and my views on faith. It made me the mom I am.

In this year of Capacity, I think part of it is becoming confident in my identity. How can I own what I do? Be proud of both the amazing parts of my journey and the mundane? How can I model for my girls that our identity is multi-faceted and that each part is worthy?

What part of your story is significant to you but is something your current community may not know about? How do you blend your journeys and lessons?

Finding My Identity in a Pair of Sneakers

I bought the red and black coq sportifs because I wanted to feel French, to blend in. You can tell a tourist by her shoes and I had moved beyond tourist status. I chose the sneakers partly for their kicky French fashion and partly for functionality – I walked everywhere in Paris.

Before these, I had replaced my more American shoes with European styles, but I had never taken the plunge to such a French brand. It wasn’t until after I spent time working on a farm, immersing myself in the language and culture and finally – finally! – feeling fluent enough, did I buy these shoes.

LIFEI wore them for about six months or so in Paris before leaving France for my next adventure. They were my hiking shoes as I trekked and explored Nepal for three months post-graduation. They took me into the Santa Cruz mountains where I struggled with my identity as a Christian, as a retail worker, as someone who didn’t exactly know what was happening next. They gave me identify – the girl who had lived in Paris. They even took me back to Europe, though not to France. This time, I wore them through Italy, feeling as though I may pass for French-ish, and not a total American.

I clung to the coq sportifs long after they were comfortable – when the insole was worn down and the funky smell permanently imbedded in the fabric. I eventually replaced them with another pair, bought from Zappos, which I still have, but they aren’t the same. They aren’t as authentic, though I still wear them. And when I do, I feel less mom-ish and more international.

In many ways, this new pair reflects who I am in many of the same ways as that original pair did. Living abroad shaped who I am – my worldview; my passions; my sensibilities. And yet. I don’t speak French anymore – I haven’t for over a decade. I don’t really travel anymore, either. I’m firmly in a phase where yoga pants and running shoes are a perfectly acceptable uniform.

There’s something about pulling out those French sneakers that makes me feel that certain piece of my identity. That piece that will travel again one day. That did have amazing experiences and will again.

These sneakers are reflected as Bea pulls out French books for kids that have been gifted over the years. They are reflected when Frank and I go to the opera or splurge on a beautiful dinner. They are reflected when we dream about exposing our kids to actual castles, rather than relying on the Disney version.

When I look back on that original pair, I’m glad I finally threw them away. They are not the person I am anymore. I am glad, too, that I bought that second pair – that pair that reminds me of who I was, of how that has shaped who I am, and that I am still on a journey of becoming.

I wonder which pair of shoes will take me through this next season?

This was inspired by a workshop I took at the Writers on the Rock Conference about the “Precious Ordinary,” led by John BlaseWhat is your precious ordinary?

Do you have an item or object that represents a specific phase in life? How has it changed in meaning over the years?

Celebrating Strong Women: Redefining Normal

unnamed-1I am glad to introduce Kerri Dawson as today’s Strong Women contributor. Kerri has a degree in Maritime Systems Engineering and worked for the oil and gas industry for 11 years as a senior project specialist. She is currently living in Northern California raising two very energetic boys ages 5 and 3. Life is good!

Redefining Normal

When my husband started reading physics for fun I thought “oh isn’t that nice that he has found a hobby” but when he decided to go to school and pursue an advanced degree I began to feel concerned. At the time our life was pretty comfortable. We were newly married and both working for an engineering company in Houston. We had family nearby and both of our careers were moving along nicely with promotions here and there. At first we decided that he should test the waters of getting this degree before uprooting us for potentially a short lived pursuit. He quit his job and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. I stayed in Houston and continued working as an engineering project manager. I really enjoyed my work and was doing quite well at it. A small part of me secretly hoped that his schooling would not go well and all would go back to “normal”. He loved it and did really well.

The decision to uproot our lives and move to Northern California was not an easy one. We discussed how difficult it would be to live far away from family, especially if we had children. We also discussed the toll it would take on my career. Ultimately we decided to head to California.

The first couple of years were a pretty easy adjustment. The company I worked for in Houston decided to offer me work to do from home that kept me at full time status. I would even fly back to Texas for work that needed me to be there. Things became a little more chaotic when we had our first son in 2009. We had just bought a home and two months later I was told that my work would no longer be full time and I would lose all my health benefits. Somehow we persevered. I managed to still work part time for 6 more years, the last two occurring after having our second son.

Trying to manage working from home with very minimal childcare was extremely difficult. Even though it was difficult I was comforted by the fact that although my career was not progressing much I still had active work to keep on my resume. In March of this year I was informed that I was being laid off. It was the first wave in large storm of layoffs for the oil industry. Even though I was nearly a full-time stay-at-home mom before, I began to have an identity crisis. Thoughts of “If I do not search for a new job immediately will I ever be able to find meaningful work once my kids are older?” and “I am letting women everywhere down by not staying active in my STEM job!” flooded my brain. Ultimately since the idea of finding a full time job and leaving my kids in daycare made me break down into tears we decided that I would stay with the kids full time for now. The financial burden of this decision is real, but with a tight budget and the support of our family it has been manageable.

Growing up being raised by a single mom who worked three jobs to support us was really tough. My sister and I had to grow up pretty quickly. Though we had fun holiday trips there were many daily things we missed out on. We did not have simple night routines like I am able to do with my kids. We did not get to participate in city recreational sports like my kids do. We did not go to the zoo, museums, take swim lessons, the list goes on and on. When Will and I got married I knew that if I had kids I really wanted to be able to do all those things.

Raising kids without the help of family nearby is definitely difficult but I am so lucky to be able to be fully present in my kids lives. I organize and host lots of playdates. I have helped organize and lead summer music classes. I am on the School Site Council. I attend Parent Teacher Organization meetings. I have, to my husband’s disliking, signed us up to be in charge of the garden area at my son’s school. I coach basketball and most recently soccer even though I have no previous soccer experience! I sign my boys up for participating in child development scientific research at the local university. I volunteer to help my son’s teacher when she needs it. We play games all the time, have dance parties and even paint our nails together (boys CAN rock pink!). I recently joked with my husband that although my professional resume is taking a hit – my mommy resume really kicks butt!

My life is chaotic and nothing like the “normal” I once desired and I absolutely LOVE it.