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On the Road Again

On our trip back to Asheville, the kids and I noticed the smell of a skunk. Our three-year-old loves to point out when we smell a skunk because one of his favorite episodes of Curious George has George getting sprayed by a skunk multiple times. He has to take a bath in tomato juice, which is very silly to a three-year-old.

I didn’t think much about it. Smelling skunks along the road as you travel is something I remember from my childhood travels as well. It is a part of traveling in the south.

But then, we noticed a second skunk. This was within an hour of the first on we smelled and my antennae were up. Since beginning the journey towards reconnecting to my intuition, I have begun to notice when the cosmos repeats sights, smells, and occurrences. Smelling one skunk was not unusual. Smelling two skunks in the course of such a small distance was unusual.

I asked our oldest to look up what it meant to smell or encounter a skunk. Although she wasn’t sure why I was asking, she looked it up and we both discovered this:

Skunk symbolism is presenting you with the perfect opportunity to become more confident in your interactions with others. In other words, you must realize that you can meet life’s challenges with a calm and peaceful heart.

We were on our way to take our oldest girls back. The first weekend trip we had done since the long visits of summer. To be sure, I needed this reminder, this wink from the universe to meet the challenge of sharing children with a calm and peaceful heart.

Sometimes when we open ourselves to being present and to being a part of the deeper work of being connected to yourself and the world around you, you get the reminder that you need at just the right time.

Jumping Into the Deep End

Right as summer was winding down this week, our three-year-old surprised us by saying he wanted to jump off the diving board. First he wanted to jump with his swim vest on and then he surprised us even more by saying that he wanted to jump off without his swim vest.

As I watched him on the edge of the board, I thought about how far we had come in regards to swimming. Memorial Day weekend, I dragged him into the water because it had been a year since we had been in the water and because he had a healthy sense of fear about the water. And now three months later he is jumping into the deep end using his courage and his strength to keep himself afloat.

I watched him jump over and over again and marveled at his confidence and his courage.

Why does that disappear as we get older? Where does the self-doubt enter and change our ability to say, “I am going to jump and I am going to swim by myself?” Perhaps it’s because we have lost the feeling of sheer excitement and anticipation of standing on the edge of a diving board ready to be immersed in a new experience. Perhaps it’s because we have lost our sea legs and allowed the stiffness of routine to set in.

Whatever the reason, watching that smile creep across his face as he leaped into the air reminded me that we are never too old to jump into the deep end and never too old to be courageous.

Six Months Postpartum

This week our youngest started her nursery school. When I went to pick her up, the teachers told me that she was still sleeping and I chuckled to myself. Being the fourth child, I can just imagine that the dark and quiet room was just what she needed to get some good rest. Six months is a big marker because there is so much that starts happening all at once. She is flipping from tummy to back, back to tummy, tummy to back and actually moving different places. She has the cutest laugh that usually follows something her older siblings have done.

Six months also mark two seasons of being together as a family of four. We hibernated during the season of winter getting to know each other. We watched her grow and move and start to smile as the flowers bloomed and everything turned green. Now we are relaxing in the long summer days and nights playing games, watching movies, and going swimming.

Six months of being a family of four together learning and growing together. I can’t wait to see what the next six months will hold.

To Nurse or Not To Nurse: On Aching in the Bones

Oh this question is one that is riddled with mom guilt by too many people because the very nature of the question is binary as if there are only two choices in the quest to nourish and support your child. This is simply not true and the wrong premise. As I work with young mothers and first-time mothers, I often phrase the question, “Are you going to try to nurse?” I explain quickly that whichever they choose is completely fine and that I simply want them to know that I can help them find supplies, resource, and community for whatever choice they make.

If the women I work with tell me that they are going to try to nurse, then I try to point them to resources that will tell them what to expect. My response to this question when I was pregnant with our first child was, “I am hoping to,” understanding that there is no way to anticipate what the labor and delivery experience is going to be like and no way to know what is going to happen with your milk until your baby is actually here. Our firstborn came into the world in a scary and traumatic whirlwind that left me in an emergency c-section and Sam holding our son for close to two hours after he was born and stabilized. There was so much of the time after the surgery in recovery that I don’t remember, but I do remember Sam walking in with our son and saying, “He’s really hungry.” Not sure of how much time had passed since his arrival into the world, I was disoriented and very lost. I pulled him to me and was thankful that he latched immediately and began nursing. This was one thing that went as I had hoped in our labor and delivery story and I couldn’t stop the tears at that moment. That would serve to be the easiest time I fed our baby during the first night of his life full of heel pricks and glucose level reports and ultimately being told we had to give him formula because his blood sugar was too low. We tried to give him the tiny bottle the pediatrician resident gave us only to have him throw up all of it.

By the time the lactation consultant came in the next morning, I was in tears because we had been told that they were going to have to take our son away and keep him for up to 2-3 days. The lactation consultant was the first person I saw after they had taken our baby to the special care nursery. Everything we had experienced all the fear and pain and trauma came out in our conversation, but especially my hope to do the one thing I had left to hope for: to nurse my child. She was wonderfully patient and explained that we could pump and take it to him and that she would do whatever she could to limit the amount of formula he had to get. I was so grateful and relieved.

It turns out that our son only needed one bag of fluids to get his blood sugar back on track and that we were able to nurse from that point on, but there was so much about the actual process of nursing I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the 2-day cluster feeding, but our night nurse was wonderfully supportive and told me each time she came to check his and my vitals what a good job I was doing and how hard she knew it was having had a c-section to reach over and get him to feed him. No one told me about the 2-3 week cluster feeding or how you will suddenly understand the phrase “aching in your bones” in a real and deep way after a night of cluster feeding. No one tells you how physically demanding nursing is or how frequent growth spurts are because your baby needs for more and more milk increases during those first six weeks. And although you may hear a funny anecdote here and there, no one will tell you how frequently you end up in the position where you need to feed your baby and you don’t have the right top on or you don’t have a nursing cover or a blanket and you end up in the bathroom stall trying to feed your baby while not touching anything.

Friends and family may tell you with good intention that “breast is best,” but not how difficult it is to keep your milk supply up if you have to return to the hospital for any reason or return to work or how pumping is not intuitive, but a process with lots of parts and planning. And no one tells you how messy nursing and how many times you will put on a new shirt only to have to change your shirt fifteen minutes later.

I’m thinking about all of these things I didn’t know with our first as we walk this nursing journey again. That lactation consultant who listened so compassionately to our story and told me she would help me learn how to pump and that she would personally go and check on our baby to see what was going came walking through the pre-op curtain the morning of January 22. She told us that she would be the nurse in with us during our c-section and she would be the one who was in charge of watching our daughter and getting us skin to skin as quickly as possible and helping us nurse if that’s what we wanted to do. My partner was the one who recognized her and told her that she was the shining light after our traumatic first night with our son. She smiled and said, “I thought I recognized you.” I don’t know how our nursing journey would have gone if we hadn’t had this woman and the nurse who supported and encouraged me during that first cluster feeding session and if I didn’t have really close friends who sent me articles and sent me stories about their own experiences and told me it was good no matter how long our nursing journey was.

This time I got to be skin to skin with our daughter in the operating room and got to nurse her within thirty minutes of her birth. And although I know so much more this time around, what I ultimately learned is you never truly know how this parenthood journey is going to go and that the most important thing is to feed your child and to seek support from medical professionals, experienced parents, and parents who are right there in the middle of the journey with you. We need community, we need sanctuary to ask questions and to express exhaustion and frustration, we need real stories of real journey and not binary options or easy catchphrases. We cannot do this parenting alone.

Developing Critical Literacy

One of the aspects of our current cultural conversation, especially in regards to a digital presence, is the observation that many, many, too many people don’t know how to distinguish between a reliable source and an unreliable source. Many, many, too many people don’t know how to search and find multiple perspectives. This is something that impacts our ability to make compassionate connections and conversations with each other as well as our ability to make informed and educated decisions.

For me as a reading professional, this is a heartbreaking reality because this is what my graduate work focused on: how to develop critical literacy. This was a bit of a revolutionary goal for me as a teacher in high poverty schools because there was so emphasis of developing grade-level literacy BEFORE developing critical literacy. But are they really different? I would argue that critical literacy, digital literacy, and researching skills like distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources are all a part of literacy. If that is the case, then what we have is a literacy crisis.

I appreciate and support parents, teachers, and indeed ministers who are making efforts to include diverse voices into their own personal reading as well as in their instruction and curriculum. While including authors and voices from different perspectives and backgrounds certainly is important, it is not the only tactic we can take to develop critical literacy.

One of the best books, I’ve ever encountered and that is powerful no matter the age of the audience is Voices in the Wind by Anthony Brown. Buy this book. You will see how one day in the park can look so different because of the person who is experiencing that trip to the park.

We love Sandra Boynton books because they are fun and silly, but there are two books that ask readers to look at a story from multiple perspectives by having almost the exact same page in both books.

The top spread is from But Not the Hippopotamus and the bottom spread is from But Not the Armadillo. We can’t read one book without reading the other book now with our three-year-old and then lining up the books just like this to compare and contrast the two pages. This is an amazing critical literacy experience in a fun and non-threatening way.

Our other favorite is We Are in a Book by Mo Williems. This book invites the characters to break the third wall and realize that they are characters in a book. What a powerful way to illustrate that there is a greater story and that it is not only about us.

The best way we can overcome the literacy crisis we have is to work within ourselves to ask good questions and to work with the people in our lives: children, parents, congregants to look at a story from multiple perspectives and different voices with a calm and understanding presence. Sometimes using children’s literature makes practicing that just a little easier and more fun.

On Being an “Experienced” Mom

The last two weeks have been filled with the awe and wonder of new life. Memories of the first days of our three-year old’s life have flooded back in as we get into a routine of feeding and sleeping and being a family all together. Yesterday I took our two-week-old for her two weeks check up and the doctor said, “Do you have any questions?” and I only had one. I can remember that appointment with our son being filled with questions. Is he ok? Is this normal? Am I doing this right?

As the pediatrician was dictating notes to her nurse to go into our daughter’s chart, she said something that struck me: “Mom, is an experienced mom and nurser.” I was caught off guard. I immediately thought: Mom, whose mom, her mom? I hadn’t thought about the fact that I am no longer a first-time mom, at least not of a newborn. I’ve done this before. This idea still hasn’t sunk in.

This week was also marked with the arrival of a parenting book compilation in which I have a short piece. As I reread my own words and my reflections about when I first became a mom five years ago, I realized that five years is a significant amount of time. Five years does mark a threshold that is often called experienced or is listed as a time interval for having experience in a field or profession.

If that’s the marker, then I am also an experienced preacher, an experienced pastor, and an experienced puppy mom. How in the world did that happen?

I guess it happened somewhere in the minutes that made up the 1,825 days of the past five years. The interactions, the challenges, the conversations, the sleepless nights, the minuscule decisions and the time in silence and solitude reflecting, seeking, and wondering if I was doing any of it right.

And all I can think about is all the times that I wish I had been fully present in those moments rather than lost in what ifs and maybes. Because really the challenge no matter how long we’ve been at this parenting thing or this pastoring thing is just that: to be present and to be aware of where we are. To understand, at least in part, that this moment, this conversation, this interaction won’t happen again in the same form or the same place or the same time.

I don’t really think I am experienced at any of this because our daughter is different than our son and our older two girls. This church is different than the other churches I’ve pastored and perhaps that’s where you get labeled as experienced. When you know that you don’t really know and can fully and freely admit that you need all the help you can get from parenting books, from pediatricians, and most importantly, for me, from a partner who is right there beside you traveling the road full of moments with you.

A Seesaw of Awe

This week our summer officially started as we had all three children. We spent our late afternoons in the pool of a generous neighbor who let us come swim and take a reprieve from the summer heat. My heart began to fill in ways it hasn’t in our long Spring of not having all three kids together as I watched them laugh and splash and play together.

Before I left for the pool, I asked Sam if I could wear my Apple Watch in the pool because I had heard that it had been redesigned to be able to keep track of movement and exercise underwater. He assured me that I could and I was amazed to see a notification come in while my wrist was submerged underwater. How in the world could I be getting a signal underwater? I was even more amazed at the fact that I could swipe down to read the notification underwater. Wasn’t submerging electronics underwater once the death wish from which technology never returned? I don’t pretend to understand the innovation that is going on in the world of technology, AR, and VR, but I know there are people much smarter than I who are pushing the limits of what technology can do and the problems technology can solve. I have the same awe for these innovations as I did for the robots that would come by my fifth-grade classroom from the robotics teacher’s students down the hallway who just happened to become my husband.

And then I started reading the news about asylum-seeking families being separated at the border and for the second time in the week I was speechless with awe. This was not an awe of innovation, engineering, and imagination. This awe was a speechless, helpless awe. How can a people capable of designing a device that can be submerged underwater and receive text messages and notifications also be the same people capable of claiming that families seeking safety from violence, abuse, and abject poverty earn the right to be separated from their families?

I will not pretend to understand what asylum-seeking families have already undergone in order to decide to make the dangerous journey to a promise of a better life. There is no way I can possibly imagine the fear, uncertainty, and sheer terror of having to uproot your whole family, your kids, and your life with the hope (not the certainty) of starting something new. I cannot because of my privilege.

Our family has just a tiny taste of separation as we share our older kids, but this is in no way the same separation as what these asylum-seeking families are undergoing. We know our children are going to a safe place. We know that they will have food and they will go to school. We know where they are and yet still many times as we are saying goodbye the separation is unbearable. Just recently our 2.5 was clinging to his older sister begging her not to go and there was nothing I could say or do to make it better. At that moment, I felt so helpless to offer anything that would help except the promise, “We’ll see her again soon, buddy.” But these families don’t have that promise. But these asylum-seeking families can’t offer that promise. They don’t know when and if they will see their children again.

I’ve been pulled back and forth on this spectrum of the awe of our capacity as humans to create and innovate and with our capacity to separate and distance ourselves from the suffering of other people with explanations and reasonings that those people deserve the suffering they are experiencing. Here’s what I know is true: we together as humans are smart enough and innovative enough to do better. We are reducing our abilities and our capacities when we demean and belittle each other. We are creating more tension and strife when we staunchly insist on defending our worldview and perspective. There is no question that we can do better, the question is will we do better?

My hope is that we will.

Because we certainly don’t know when we will find ourselves in need of asylum, shelter, and safety with only hope to guide us.

The Best Books I Read in 2017

For the last two years, I have participated in the reading challenge on Goodreads. I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books. In 2016, I read 23. In 2017, I read 34. And this year, I’ll also challenge myself to read 50 books. It’s good to recognize that sometimes challenges take longer than a year to achieve.

Here’s the list of the books I read. 

While I recommend almost everything I read this year, I wanted to think about the five books I read this year that most impacted me and why. Books change us and challenge us to see the world and our own realitites differently. These five surely did.

  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown
    • I’ve read a lot of Brene Brown, but this is my alltime favorite. This book describes the inner struggle we have as we wrestle oursevles into the people who can make a difference in the world.
  • Small Great Things by Joci Picoult
    • This one was insanely difficult to read. Picoult tells this story through the eyes of the different individuals’ eyes who are involved in a situation with racism, white supremacy, and love for you children. This was gut-wrenching and eye-opening in the way that makes you rethink the way you see the world.
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    • The beauty of this book is the compassionate responses by Cheryl Strayed. It is a compilation of essays by people who are writing into an advice column called Dear Sugar. These writers tell their most intimate struggles and hopes and Cheryl Strayed responds with care and love (albeit sometimes tough love). Everyone is fighting a great battle. Things are never what they seem.
  • The Body Keeps Score by Bessel A. van der Kelk
    • This is the most important book I read this year. As someone who has survived and overcome spiritual abuse, this book was crucial to my understanding how to move towards healing and why I still have such strong reactions to certain situations. The body keeps score of trauma, but healing and wholeness is possible.
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
    • As someone who wants to raise whole and confident children, this book helped give permission to say no to our kids and to opportunities when it’s just too much. Children have exponentially more stress on them at an early age. Although some would be quick to say this is the connection to the digital world, it isn’t. It’s parents who overfunction and want their children to be successful at all costs. Payne reminds parents the most important thing we can do for our children is to raise them with the least stress and the most security we can provide. It is a struggle to fight against the go go go of our consumerism culture, but a fight worth fighting for our children’s well-being.

I have a stack of books reading for 2018 and close to twelve books that I have started I hope to finish in 2018. Thank goodness that there will always be more books to read!

What We’re Reading with Our Girls

As we were traveling to see family, Sam and I were listening to a NPR interview with the author of Lab Girl. She was talking about the difficulty she has had as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Tom Ashbrook asked if she would thought that she would ever be able to operate in her profession, after the many discoveries and awards she has been given, without gender being an issue. She laughed and laughed again and then responded, “No, I think gender politics will always be an issue.”

And I wondered about our girls. How are we going to raise girls who are resilient and independent? How are we going to teach our girls that they can pursue and succeed in any profession and field they feel passionate about?

My teacher instincts tell me that introducing them to books that question and challenge gender stereotypes is really important. Here are some of the ones we are reading and we read and read with our girls:

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Stephanie’s Ponytail is a brilliant book that shows how having your own style despite what other people think about you is empowering and often leads to people following you. It also cautions about the power you have when you are a leader and have people who are looking up to you. Powerful message for independence and responsibility.

 

 

Paper Bag Princess falls into the category of fractured fairy tale because while it has the elements of a fairy tale, it changes the roles. The princess is the one who rescues the prince in this story and she does it without batting an eye. The questions and conclusions that have come from our reading this book are certainly worth rereading at every opportunity!

 

MH just got this book and she loves it. It is chock full of nonfiction stories of powerful women who were successful. It also included instructions for knot-tying, camping, and other outdoor activities that some would say were for boys. The content area reading strategies she is developing is an added bonus!

 

The story of a girl who doesn’t judge a giant for just being a giant and who travels to giant country and defeats the giants eating other children? Yes, this is one of our favorites for sure!

 

This one. Matilda harnesses her powers to help those who have been oppressed by an evil headmistresses while also defying and overcoming her family of origin. Wow, just wow. I need this one as much as my girls!

 

The hardest aspect of parenting is that you don’t know how your kids will turn out. You can’t be certain that what you hope you are teaching them settles down into their hearts and souls and becomes a very part of who they are, but we can try. We can read them stories with strong female characters who challenge powerful people and beings. We can reread these stories telling them that their style, who they are, is unique and special. We can talk after these stories about how we can use our power and leadership to do good and to be kind to others.

And we can hope that in reading and talking, we too learn these lessons.

Sometimes You Forget…

Sometimes you forget that what you’ve experienced and been through is not what everyone else has experienced and been through. Sometimes you forget that sharing your story and experiences might be exactly what someone else needs in that moment. Sometimes you forget that you can offer hope and understanding by just sharing who you are.

I hold a Master’s in Literacy, something I forget about in my day to day being because teaching isn’t my profession. I also hold a Master’s in Divinity, something that is more in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to preach and worship with the amazing community of faith, New Hope Baptist Fellowship.

Sam also has teaching experience and theological education and as we journey together as parents, we are trying very intentionally in what we do and say to raise and foster kids who are compassionate, aware of the needs that surround them, and who understand that they each have something they can offer no matter how old they are to offer love and hope.

One way we do this is by what we read to them and in front of them. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately and why we chose it:

I love this book a teaching friend gave us when Ben was born because it teaches kids that even when you have always seen yourself to be a certain way, there is always a chance that you will encounter someone who will change and transform you.

 

Peter Reynolds is brilliant in how he addressed the magical, mystical element of creation for young readers. This one in particular shows that even when the people around you try to discourage you, you shouldn’t give up what you love to do. Also, being the voice of encouragement to someone can change their whole perspective.

 

Not only does Mo Williems write the Elephant and Piggie series incorporating the 100 site words for first graders, he also hits the nail on the head in topics. This is one of our favorites for teaching that waiting and patience often allow us to experience something miraculous.

 

 

We love this one for the way it plays with rhyme and meter, but also for how it reminds us that there is always need surrounding us. When we barrel over other people, they won’t be quite as willing to help us when we need help.

 

Looking for specific age suggestions for your own children or grandchildren? I’m happy to help! I love talking about children’s literature and the powerful impact it can play in teaching our children.