Monthly Archives: July 2014

It Takes A Butthead to Know One

A little over a month ago I was at the point of collapse. I knew I was leaving my job, but I didn’t know what was coming next. I was living in the perpetual sleep deficit fog that has become my life as a mother. I was starting to fantasize about winning a trip to pretty much anywhere in the world for a break from my life.

Enter the advice of a good friend: It’s time to go get a massage.

Massages are religious experiences. In an hour a massage therapist can work out tension and stress that weeks, nay months of yoga classes (which I do not attend, btw) cannot. A salon near my house could squeeze me in for a same-day massage, so I ran out of the school building in time to make my appointment.

In a hurry I parked my car, jogged to the store, slowed down enough to pretend I wasn’t winded from the block-long trek, and walked casually into the salon.

The massage was perfect.

The message I received after the massage was not. When I returned to my car there was a note stuck to the window. In silver sharpie (such a waste for such an amazing product) someone had scrawled:

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(Park it strait Butthead)

Truthfully, I could have parked my car much better. It was at a slant that barely, barely, put the butt of my car into the space next to it. I could have taken the time to back up, pull forward, back up, pull forward (repeat 11 more times) so that I fit into the allotted rectangle evenly. But I didn’t. I was in a hurry.

And, I want to remind you, I was at the point of meltdown.

I sat there stunned. There was the spelling issue, obviously, but I couldn’t believe that someone had been so upset with me that they ripped up an envelope in their car, found a marker, then gotten back out of their car to leave me a note under my wipers. Who has time for that?

When we’re driving together, my husband has to regularly remind me that the other drivers on the road are not driving with the intention of making me angry. For example, to my, “what the &@#% is that person doing” my husband might say, “They’re probably just in a hurry.” To my, “THAT IDIOT JUST CUT ME OFF!” he might say, “I’m sure they’re just as frustrated with traffic as you are.”

Rereading that it sounds a little patronizing, but his tone and intent are anything but patronizing. My husband lives by the phrase, “Everyone is just doing the best that they can.” And he offers me the grace implied by those words.

Sometimes I think about the lessons I want to teach our son. I have lofty goals of writing them down and making a family creed. And I have to say that this note on my car got me thinking about rule number one: Don’t be mean. (Well, technically, don’t be an a**hole, but I should probably introduce the rule as “Don’t Be Mean”, since another rule is “Watch What You Say”.)

In my new job as a coach, the coaching team takes the task of “coach” quite seriously, including coaching one another. One of the areas in which I’ve gotten feedback is that not everything I think needs to be said. For those who are my personal friends, this might make you laugh. I have a way of speaking “no filter” that can get me into trouble.

Put another way, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

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So I kinda of feel for the man who left me that note. I can guess at the anger he felt upon seeing the last available spot in the lot, only to realize he would have to wedge his car back and forth to fit into it. Maybe there was a line of cars behind him, honking to get past. Maybe he was coming from work, or leaving to go to work, and this made him late. Maybe he, like me, has a child, and the way I parked made it impossible for him to squeeze the carseat out of the door, so he had to walk around the car. Or maybe he’s just a meany. Maybe he wrote that note to feel the rush of indignation while sliding it onto my windshield.

I will never know.

Just like that man, I have a tendency to get lost in the moment and cuss at the car in front of me. Or to speak my mind without thinking through the ways it might hurt the people around me. (I can always apologize later.) Or to leave a scathing comment on a blogpost. (I don’t know the person, who cares?)

Thanks to my new job I’ve been practicing the art of holding my tongue. Keeping my job is good motivation. In true elementary school fashion, the walls of the school we meet in has the acronym “THINK” posted throughout the building: THINK before you speak: Is it True, Helpful, Important, Necessary, Kind? It’s cliche and I rolled my eyes the first forty times I walked past it.

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But like so many of those overused phrases, it’s got a point. Maybe before I pick up the sharpie to write my comment, it is worth taking a pregnant pause to consider that everyone is just trying to do the best they can. Even when driving. (Or parking.)

It’s kind of shocking how much less I’ve been saying lately.

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There’s No Such Thing As a Runner’s High

Everyone sit down and take a deep breath, because I have some startling news to share.

I’ve started running again.

For everyone who looks to me as the person with whom they can commiserate about sitting on the couch, I apologize. And I still support couch sitting. You do you, girl (or boy). And for those who need me as a companion in the battle to get back the pre-baby body, don’t worry. I’m a long way from pre-baby body. If you’re the competitive type, you have awhile before you need to start to worry. Also, for those who are avid runners and anticipate your daily run with the enthusiasm of a dog greeting his long-lost owner, bless you. I doubt we have much in common. You can read this entry with pity, or leave me some unsolicited advice below about how I can change what I’m doing to become more like you.

However, it might also help to insert here that when I say, “I’ve started running again” what I mean is “I ran this past week”.

Once.

I defend myself by noting that I would have run more, but my body has been invaded by the summer head-cold of misery. I went to start a workout video yesterday (yes, I’m doing those, too) and after the snazzy opening and making sure I had my full water-bottle, the video instructor said to start “jump roping” (in quotes because neither they nor I had an actual rope). I attempted to shuffle my body in a convincing up and down manner for a total of 3.2 seconds before deciding there was no way that that was going to continue. My whole body already ached with cold and fever. No need to add fake jump roping to the mix.

My intentions are in the right place, though. I decided it was time to make a change: the polar vortex has taken away my excuse of the weather being too hot, a new beginning in my job warrants a new beginning in other habits, and I actually sometimes enjoy the feeling of not being able to move my muscles for a week after a tough workout. However, after a week of faithfully hitting my video workouts and also running, we decided to start sleep training our son.

The thing about sleep training is that it has all the guise of being about sleep and is actually about being awake. All through the night. If you’re someone who has a child who sleeps through the night, falling asleep independently with minimal or no fussing, drifting gently into the hands of the Sand Man and his good dreams, bless you. You can read this entry with pity, or leave me some unsolicited advice below about how I can change what I’m doing to become more like you.

Anyway, the lack of sleep combined with whatever it is that makes people sick in the beautiful days of summer has put a major wrench in my plans of becoming an olympic athlete and well-rested mom. (My son is also sick, so that adds to the futility of sleep training, since he wakes with every cough. Every. cough.)

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Let it be known that I have, in the past, considered myself a person who enjoys running. I have completed a good number of races, and I have fond memories of those moments. There was once a time when a five mile jog was normal. Yeah. It’s okay to barf here.

That time is not this time.

I know there are a million reasons why people run, but one that was always motivated me was “THE RUNNER’S HIGH”. When I asked someone what that was, it was always defined as a euphoria similar to doing recreational drugs, achieved by running distances usually suitable only for reliable vehicles.

I don’t know that I have ever really reached that state of nirvana in my running career [snort], but I’ve certainly had moments in the past when running was enjoyable. Or at least, when I enjoyed completing a run. I’ve had moments of hitting a stride when the run didn’t feel like every step was bringing me one step closer to needing knee surgery. And once or twice I’ve even thought to myself during a run, “Hey, this doesn’t suck too bad.”

Why does any of this even matter? Well, I’m facing a lot of new beginnings. I’m still a new mom, I’m new at my job, I’m new at this running routine. And new is so exciting. But it can also be incredibly exhausting trying to make sure that I am putting the best foot forward, making time for my intended exercise, remembering all the right times for helping my son sleep through the night. Sometimes I long for the days when I could easily run a few miles, or walk into my school and know everyone and everything and how it all worked and where I stand with each staff member. Sometimes I long for those nights when my son would sleep eight hour stretches, albeit in his swing.

But that’s not where I am right now. I’m in transition, I’m in new. New, new, new. And in typical Rachel fashion, I have decided to change everything all at once. Because what’s the point of pacing myself?

I think it would be fantastic if at the end of my running training I could reach a place of runner’s high. I don’t know how likely it is to happen any time soon, since right now my running is taking place in minute-long increments with ninety second walking breaks. Also, that’s assuming there is even such a thing as a runner’s high, something I’m not so sure about when my neighbor looks me up and down in my spandex pants. At that point I believe in the Runner’s “Hi I’m gonna punch you in the face.”

For the record I would also be very open to having a “mom high”, something I’m willing to now define as my son sleeping through the night independently. Or a “work high”, which I will define as finally feeling like I have started to get the hang of things. (I must…ask…less…questions…)

In the meantime, I’m working really, really, really hard to be patient, trust the process, live in the moment, [insert your cliche here]. And maybe if I’m really lucky, I’ll find some people around me who love me enough to give me solicited encouragement as I make the transition. Bless you. You can comment below. 🙂

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(P.S. Let it be known here that even in my “running days” of the past, I was beaten in a half-marathon by ketchup and mustard. ‘Nuff said.)

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You Can’t Have It All

Recently the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, notable for being both highly successful and one of the few females on the Fortune500 scene, was interviewed about her role as CEO and mother. In a moment of honesty, and I would argue courage, she said, “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”

I’ve been thinking about that this past week. A lot. Over and over and over. I have a feeling a lot of parents are thinking about that. For me, parenting has brought with it a whole slew of choices: deciding what’s most important, letting go of non-essentials, shifting the focus of my time and energy to be about the tiny person I pushed into the world.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like too often it seems there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I want to accomplish.

For example, there has been a whole colony of fruit flies forming, taking down their oral and written history, and setting up a permanent civilization in our kitchen. We’ve tried various home remedies to combat the problem, but for the most part the fruit flies are winning. This has been causing me a lot of inner turmoil. Words like “dirty”, “unclean”, “inept”, and “bad housekeeper” flash across the screensaver of my mind.

Then there’s this ongoing quest to get back to my pre-baby weight. So there’s the workouts and the food plans. First no sugar. Or maybe just less sugar. Or maybe no gluten. More running? Less eating? Maybe Cross Fit is the answer? Or maybe it’s this new diet that comes straight from France, because every single French person is skinny (and expert parents, too, just FYI). Meanwhile, the scale has not budged. At least not in the right direction.

Then there’s the stuff. Because in order to be the best mom, you need the Sophie giraffe. And the miracle blankets. The right school in the neighborhood with the high property taxes. The organic baby food made in small batches by local farmers. The stuff that is so easy to put on credit cards, payments saved for a later date. A later date that is now today. That is now yesterday.

Kim Kardashian took Indra Nooyi to task, stating that you can have it all. It’s just about priorities. Maybe that’s working for her. And I’m happy for her. I guess. But the snarky side of me wants to say, “Sure, I could have it all if I had your money, Kim.” Throw a few million dollars at the problem and see if that doesn’t change my situation.

And then the other part of me thinks, oh great. So I’m failing on the priorities thing, too. It’s my fault that I don’t have it all. If I tried a little harder, then I wouldn’t feel guilty, my house would be clean, wardrobe perfect, bills paid, and I’d have a booty to win the hearts of every rapper in America.

But my brain keeps shaking the mouse in my mind, keeps preventing the auto-scroll of the screen-saver, keeps yelling, “What does it even MEAN to have it all? Who says you have to have it all? Who defines ALL?

What if the key to “having it all” lies in being satisfied with having enough?

It’s exhausting, the frantic grab at more. I’m so…tired… And I have to believe that is for more reasons than the fact that my son is still not sleeping in his crib with any success (which we can add to my list of what I don’t have).

In her song, As Is, Ani Difranco sings, “When I look around, I think…this is good enough… When I said I’ll take it, I meant “as is”.”

Let me look around.

I have fruit flies. And I have a kitchen. And fruit.

I have stretch marks and a soft belly. And I have son. I have legs strong enough to let me run and arms strong enough to rock my child to sleep.

I have more things in my house than I could use. We keep taking carloads to Good Will and still there is more, more, more.

I have it all. At least, I do when I’m willing to be satisfied with what I have. When I take a big deep breath and put down the fork, put down the credit card, but down the broom, and just let myself notice the plenty all around me.

I agree with Indra Nooyi. I read her article and tears came to my eyes because it was such a relief to hear someone willing to say that life is full of choices, and some choices eliminate other choices. This is more real to me in my thirties than it was in my twenties, and I can only imagine the clarity intensifies with age. And she’s right to say that she can’t be the Pinterest-mom who cooks the perfect meal, hand-makes the kids’ Valentines, and acquire Quaker Oats for PepsiCo all at the same time. You have to choose.

For me, those choices can seem impossible.

But what if I started making my choices from a place of gratitude instead of a place of deficit. What if I started each day in the way of my friend who says, “I thank God for waking me up this morning”? What if the intake of breath was a meditation, a prayer of thanks for another chance, another moment, another second to make another choice? How would that change the conversation about who has it all?

If the CEO of Pepsi can admit to her feelings of guilt and inadequacy, maybe it’s time to own mine. If she can stop pretending, maybe it’s time for me to, too. Maybe it’s time to look around and say, “I’ll take it, as is.”

Hi, my name is Rachel. I don’t have it all. But I have way more than enough.

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The Hustle Is Sold Separately

I like signing up for things. I like the feeling of anticipation when I commit to doing something new. I love making new goals. When I was in college, my favorite time of year was signing up for classes. I would pour over the course catalog for days, looking at every possible new course offering, thinking this might be the semester to try international relations, or economics, or political science.

I like signing up for things. But follow through is hard.

This is something I am thinking about with some regularity as I start my new job. It’s been awhile since I’ve changed jobs, and an even longer while since I’ve worked in a job that isn’t teaching. There’s something incredibly satisfying and exciting about being part of new. But even in the first three days of the job I am already aware that what isn’t new is me. I’m still me. I can wear business clothing, put on makeup, do my hair, recreate an image, but the core of who I am is not changed. Which means that despite my new beginning and all the possibilities it holds for change and growth, I still stand face to face with my strengths and weaknesses. I still have to do the hard work of becoming a better me.

One of my big challenges is that I give up before I try.

When I walked into school on Tuesday for my first day of reporting to work, I saw a quote written on the wall that made me stop, backtrack, and stand and stare. In script it read, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” (Bill Cosby)

There was literal writing on the wall. For me. Okay, not just for me. But I internalized it as a sign from above.

About a month ago my friend Lenora and I were talking, and I was crying to her about how hard it was to leave my job, how scary it was to accept a role of leadership, how hurt I have been by past bosses, and how easy it would be to hold back, to stay in stasis, to allow the circumstances of my life to happen to me instead of being the agent of change in my situation. Maybe what I have right now is good enough. Maybe my dreams and visions are foolish. After a lot of talk Lenora said, “I’ve had to face the fact that sometimes my biggest enemy is me.”

Mic drop.

I’m so scared to fail. What if my bosses don’t like me? What if the teachers I work with don’t like me? What if I can’t stay organized? What if I am revealed to be the faker I am, making things up as I go? What if I can’t make friends?

In other words, what if I fail?

A week before my last day at my charter school I went with the fifth and sixth graders to a team building nature center. Of the activities we did, the one that the students were most excited to participate in was the climbing wall. We did this activity last, and the students, most of whom had been my students two years earlier, were understandably eager to know if I was going to be climbing.

I think we’re all aware of my feelings about my body lately. The group leader came up to me privately to see if I was going to climb, and I told her that I would just let the kids climb. I made a comment about how I wanted to make sure they all had time to climb. I said something about not being sure if the harness would fit. I said a few other nonsense, pathetic reasons why I wouldn’t be able to climb the wall. The leader didn’t push me, but simply said, “Well, if you change your mind, I need you to fill out this waiver.”

I stood there as I watched my students climb. A few made it to the top. Others stopped half way. Then Sonya got up. Sonya has a physical disability that makes it very challenging for her to do gross and fine motor activities. But she marched up to that wall with the confidence of an olympic athlete. In a moment that makes me cry to just remember, she grabbed the hand holds and started to climb. She made it up one hand hold, pushing her feet a foot off the ground, and then fell down.

We cheered. There wasn’t a person there that didn’t see what an incredible accomplishment this was for Sonya. Her classmates gave her high fives as she made her way back to the group, smile a mile wide, screaming, “Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”

In that moment I decided that regardless of the size of my butt hanging out of the harness for all my students to see, regardless of whether or not I could get myself off the ground, regardless of the million reasons why I “can’t”, I was going to climb. And I did. And I made it to the top. Not such a failure after all.

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I have a dream. I want to become a principal. I want to open a school and I want to change a community. I want to change the lives of hundreds of children. Becoming a teacher coach is one step in the direction of achieving that dream. And it scares the snot out of me. It scares me to even type it.

It scares me to let you see that part of me. I am not like Sonya, I do not want you to see me. Because that makes failing so much more humiliating. Because that sets me apart from others. Because that makes it so much harder to take back if everything comes crashing down around me. Because I don’t always believe I deserve to succeed.

I may fail. I may never become a principal, or I may become a principal and totally suck at it. And as I go farther down the road toward this dream, each role becomes a little more public and  a little more open to ridicule. As I climb toward this dream, the fall gets more and more treacherous. And my fear cave is never far, giving me the reasons why it won’t work.

But what if it does?

My friend posted on Facebook recently, “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”

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This is the hustle. I have my exciting fresh start, my new beginning. I’ve signed up for the race. I’ve picked my courses. Now comes the hard work. Now comes the battle against the fears and the reasons not to try. And while there may be people along the way who prove difficult, I think the biggest battle will be with myself, giving myself permission to fail, but also giving myself permission to succeed.

I’m grabbing the first hand hold, and I’m pulling myself up on the wall. And I’m praying for the courage of Sonya, to do my very best, to give it my all, no matter the risk.

“Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”

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