The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?

Raising Feisty Girls

When we got our puppy, we had a beautiful vision of our life as a family of three. Hikes, dog parks, frolicking along the trail by our house. We would take her to puppy school and train her to be The Best Dog – so friendly and welcoming!!

17868_286290712937_7754337_nThe first six months of Daisy’s life were almost that. She was inquisitive, friendly, fluffy and adorable. She loved puppy school and made new friends on her thrice-daily walks.

And then something happened and she remained deeply loyal and snuggly with us. But, us only. Her pack narrowed significantly to Frank and I, my parents, and friends she saw frequently.

Her bark became deep and she became suspicious of strangers in the park. We continued with the classes and she passed all but the barking portion.

554251_10151262307262938_1703121966_nWhen I was pregnant with Bea, Daisy became even more protective, giving a preemptive growl as we walked. When Bea was born, she wasn’t as protective but definitely had a new mission. Her skepticism toward others increased with Elle’s arrival.

My initial response when Daisy barks at the doorbell is to apologize profusely. I want her to be friendly and loving toward everyone. But I’m realizing (especially after she made some salespeople uncomfortable enough to leave with a shortened pitch) that having a protective dog isn’t a bad thing. (Especially during tax season!)

If a dog is your first (or only) child, then the parenting lesson I’ve learned from Daisy is that I can offer lessons and skills to be socially acceptable. I can guide and discipline and parent to the best of my ability. But I also need to recognize Daisy’s innate nature. She is a dog and she is wired to protect her family. That’s what she was made to do.

I’ve grappled with how to raise strong, independent, inquisitive daughters. And I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far. But I’m also learning to recognize and encourage the things they love without me – the princesses and warriors and books and running. I’m learning that whatever my girls are interested in, whatever innate skills they have, my job is to encourage and cultivate and help them do it in a socially appropriate manner.

And maybe, the biggest lesson I’m learning is that we were given three feisty girls to raise. As challenging as that can be, it’s also a pretty cool adventure.

Are you a dog owner? Are your dogs your kids? How does your dog parenting style line up with your human parenting style?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “protect.”

It’s the Man’s Job to Deal With Mice

When we moved into our new house, we went from a tiny little ranch with only an extended one car garage for storage to a space with two full size storage rooms. We decided to only use one – we still don’t have enough overflow stuff to take up the space and I’m not organized enough to remember where everything is spread out.

The second space is right off our basement stairs, so we keep our wine and home-brewed beer in it since it’s convenient and cool. I used to think nothing of going downstairs to grab a bottle for dinner until one day I came across a dead mouse.

I abandoned my wine mission and ran shrieking upstairs. Frank dropped his dinner prep and came running – I’m usually not so easily freaked out. When he found out the commotion was about a mouse, he got a twinkle in his eyes. Frank loves playing into the traditional “male” roles – opening jars, moving heavy furniture, and taking care of icky rodents.

Last week, I wrote about wanting to raise daughters who open their own doors. And, I do. But not so much out of pure gender equality (though that’s part of it.) I want to raise kind, considerate humans who help other humans because they need help. Not because of their gender. I appreciate doors being held for me, especially when I’m loaded down with babies and groceries or books, but from anyone – old, young, men, or women. I appreciate the help because we all need help sometimes.

I appreciate that my daughters are being raised in a home where Frank is the chef – he loves cooking and experimenting and makes sure to include Bea and Elle as his sous chefs. I cook, too, and the girls see that, but they see that both of us contribute to our family’s nutrition. We try to emphasize the fact that each of us do certain things because we’re good at them or enjoy them, not because of a gendered prescription.

I still don’t like going into the “mouse room,” as our storage room is now called. It will always be Frank’s job to deal with rodents in and around our home. And, I’m ok with my girls seeing that. I want them to know that when mom can’t do something, dad helps. But, I don’t want it to stop there. I want them to see the reciprocity of our relationship and the acknowledgement that we each have strengths and we all need help.

For me, that’s the key in raising strong, independent women. It’s not teaching them to never ask for help or to be too proud to accept help. It’s raising them to know how and when to ask; how to be gracious when help is offered; and how to say no when they truly don’t need or want help.

What is something you hate dealing with on your own? What areas are you most likely to ask for help?

My Daughter Can Open Her Own Door

The problem with raising strong, independent girls is that they’re, well… Strong and Independent.

The other day, on the way into preschool, Bea got in an altercation with a little boy who wanted to hold the door. She wanted a turn and was grumpy that he wouldn’t move. The grandma looked at me and said, I’m just trying to raise gentlemen. She should say “thank you.” I half smiled and replied, And we’re trying to raise independent girls.

On our way out of preschool, we happened to leave at the same time as this same boy and his grandma. And again, he opened the door for us and refused to pass it off. This time Bea flipped out. I had to carry a screaming, independent girl to our car.

What I wanted to tell this grandma was that she’s not raising a gentleman, she’s raising a chauvinist. If he’s only holding the door because we’re women, that’s not ok. If he were a real gentleman, he’d recognize Bea’s feelings and share.

We got home and processed how to respond to situations like this. On the one hand, I told Bea that we have to take turns – that’s life. (And ultimately, for the kids, that was at the root of this interaction. They each wanted a turn.)

But because of the grandma’s comment, we also delved into how we respond to boys raised to treat girls as people who need to be helped. We talked about how, if a boy wants to do something for us that we don’t want or don’t feel comfortable with, we say no.

In hindsight, we should have pulled aside and let the boy and his grandma leave. It may have meant waiting a bit longer to leave school, but what do I ultimately want the lesson to be? I want Bea to retain her independence, to feel empowered to help her family, and to not feel pressured to thank a “gentleman” for something she didn’t actually want.

It may seem like a small thing and, again, the root of the issue was more the inability to take turns. But, I also recognize that if I don’t seize these opportunities to empower Bea, I’m losing to the chauvinists. If this little boy is hearing at each door that women need him to open it, then I need to counter that with allowing Bea to open it herself.

By making this choice, I’m probably inviting more screaming exits. But I’m also inviting more opportunities to discuss how to handle these situations. Hopefully I’m inviting my daughters to gracefully decline help they don’t need.

Moms of Boys, Do you teach them to hold doors for women? What’s your perspective on this?

The Practice of Caring

Did you know that November is National Family Caregivers Month? I didn’t until Heather Von St. James emailed and asked if I’d write a post highlighting when someone helped me through a difficult time.

Heather certainly knows about the need for help – she is celebrating 10 years since her diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos.

Being in the throes of early motherhood, I have a glimpse into the world of full-time caregiving. While I’m not witnessing a life-threatening illness or deterioration that comes with age, this phase is nonstop. Even with an incredibly supportive partner, I am the primary cleaner, discipliner, feeder, and playmate. Even on our quiet days, I am on.

Even though I haven’t needed caregiving for any traditional needs, I want to take a moment to highlight my aunt, who has cared for me emotionally during these early years of motherhood.

Growing up with seven aunts, I never lacked support. They almost seemed to take turns – one aunt would send books during my tween years; another checked in regularly during college. When I became a teacher, my Aunt Elaine would send notes of encouragement. We both taught second grade and she became another mentor – someone who shared lesson plans and ideas. Our classes were even pen pals for a few years.

IMG_8821But it was when I became a mom that Elaine’s support became a necessary, grounding part of my practices of early motherhood. She takes the time to check in, to FaceTime, to text, to send encouragement. She gets those crazy days and loves them. Whenever we visit, she has her home ready, not only for Bea but also for me – good food and wine and conversation ready to rejuvenate.

What she’s modeled to me is the need to care for people before a life crisis. She’s taught me the importance of checking in, of laughing, and of relationally caring for others in the mundane, daily practices of life.

I’ve learned that caregiving is calling when someone comes to mind. It’s sending a note in the mail. It’s checking in and doing life messily together. It’s remembering to ask others over for dinner, even when the house is a messy. It’s being intentional about playdates – as much for my connections with other moms as for interactions for our kids. It’s about sending a note when someone is on my mind.

It’s remembering to do the work of caring for others, before a meal is needed or a crisis occurs.

How do you care for others in the day-to-day? I encourage you to take some time this month to thank someone in your life who is a caregiver.

Celebrating Strong Women: Letting Go of Certainty

unnamed-1Today’s Strong Woman is my friend, Anna Pantano-Cotman. Anna is a yoga instructor, life coach and has a Masters in Management International. Moving frequently as a military spouse with her husband and two daughters, she is on a personal journey to truly learn how to make the best of every situation.

Letting Go of Certainty

At age eight I got my first alarm clock after my Mom discovered I was awake at 2:00 a.m. worried about how I would know when to get up for school. It is safe to say my obsession with the future continued well into my late twenties and is something I still struggle with today. Although being a planner by nature can be beneficial, it has its dark side. It has cost me hours of moments missed because I was thinking, talking or making plans for the future. You would often hear me utter the words “when I get this job…once I am married…after I have kids…” all ending with some description of why life would be better.  However, as the years went on “when” never came. What I know now is that “when” will never come because our big opportunity to be happy is right now, in the present moment.

My first real wake up call happened in my late twenties. Three months before my wedding I broke off the engagement after he admitted he never wanted children and I was determined to have them. Ironically, by ending the relationship I faced the possibility of not having kids in addition to leaving the man I had known for twelve years. I was devastated, but I was also given something wonderful: the opportunity to learn to joyfully live in the present moment. After lots of counseling and soul searching the person who always was focused on the future, never happy with what was, started experiencing the pure joy that can only be felt when one is fully engaged in the present moment. In my late twenties, no relationship, very little income and having let go of the certainty of children I found myself happier than I had ever been.

What helped me make the change?

  • I figured out what inspires and grounds me in the present moment. Yoga, experiencing nature, connecting with my spiritual community and savoring the precious time I have with family and friends.
  • I gave myself permission to really be present with my sadness or anger when things don’t work out the way I hoped and then I let it go shifting my focus to what is possible now.
  • I frequently spend time with gratitude.  I tell others I appreciate them, write down what I am grateful for and make mental lists of all the blessings in my life.  I promise, the more time you spend in gratitude the easier it becomes to see all you have to be grateful for.
  • I practiced living in the moment. This can be done at anytime, e.g. when taking a shower feel every drop of water on your body, while with your children play even for five minutes undistracted completely engaged and when on a walk really listen to the variety of sounds that surround you.

Despite my years of practice I am still a planner by nature. I frequently have to stop myself as I try to figure out what decision I want to make five years into the future. I often spend my precious quiet time away from my kids enjoying the process of adding things to my calendar.  The difference now is my attachment to the plans and the understanding that I have no idea what will be best for me five years from now.

A little before I turned thirty I married the love of my life and he is an Active Duty Military Member. Three months after we married we moved to South Korea and moved five more times in the last eight years. With at least a few more moves, possible deployments and I guarantee many unexpected changes over the next ten years I am grateful for the lessons I learned during my late twenties. That experience is exactly what has prepared me to thrive not just survive as a military spouse. I now know each change in future plans is an opportunity to experience something new, a chance to meet someone so wonderful that your heart will break when you have to say goodbye and another opportunity to practice living joyfully in the present moment.

This brings me to the last thing that has kept me moving forward enjoying the life I have now. Don’t give up on making the best of every situation; every twist and turn that life throws you. Whether you find yourself physically moving or emotionally moving due to changes in your life letting go of what one thought should happen opens up a whole world of opportunities of what is possible. Most importantly change is another opportunity to spend time living with all the blessing you have now and enjoying them without distraction of past or present.

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.