Friday, January 12, 2018

Ringing in the New Year in Joshua Tree.


We began the new year with ¾ of our family sick, battling fevers, squashed in a tiny hotel room in the desert. Only one of us made it up past 9pm on New Year’s Eve, and we found ourselves reevaluating our plan to spend New Year’s Day in Joshua Tree. The kids were in recovery mode from being sick, and Matt was feeling a little too ambitious, so we medicated the feverish among us and rallied. We headed to the car, only to be welcomed by a sputtering dead battery. Once again, we wondered if the best choice was to adventure on or just stay put, but the thought of being trapped in a hotel room with a sick family seemed more depressing than being in the beauty of nature with a sick family, so we called AAA, waited at a coffee shop with a hot latte and a bagel, and once our car was ready, we drove into the national park. 

Everyone fell asleep on the way there, except for me, the ¼ of our family feeling healthy, so I relished the solitude. It felt indulgent listening to a podcast in silence while sipping on my hot coffee as the Joshua Trees scattered across the desert landscape came into view in multitude. 

New Year's Day in Joshua Tree was beautiful and challenging. We ended the day eating hot pho outside the door of our hotel room on the ground, trying not to wake the two sleeping children inside. We didn’t have any profound reflections on our hopes for the new year, because Matt was still feeling sick, so instead he went to sleep as soon as we finished eating. 

I’m not sure if this New Year’s Day was a good or bad omen for what 2018 holds for us. Sick children, a sick husband, a broken car, a date between two exhausted parents on the cold ground outside of a small hotel room, knowing a night of intermittent sleep would be upon us soon. Yet, the day was filled with awe inspiring, striking desert views, which were surpassed by the beauty of our kids exploring nature, hiking, and playing in the dirt. We spent the day together, seeking out adventure and fun and joy.

We ended up spending a couple of days in Joshua Tree on our desert vacation, wooed back by the calm and peace and unexpected love for a barren landscape. The living things are sparse, but those that thrive have adapted to the harsh conditions, and we were in awe of the beauty present in such a place. It is a metaphor for life that was not lost on me.

As we enter into 2018, this is where we are at. We take on the challenges, seek out the beauty, and adventure on, the four of us, together.   


Hiking to Barker Dam:
We made it a fun game on our hike to try to find the craziest Joshua Tree:
 It's fun that Everett can hike on his own now, but this still happened:
 We let them play in the dirt, and then we wonder why they get sick all the time:
Hidden Valley:

When your hair matches the landscape of Joshua Trees. Still haven't figured out how to tame this mane:

 Love this exchange. "Cambria, I can help you climb the rocks:"
 I'd say I taught him well:
Cap Rock hiking trail:
One of the most fun parts of spending time in Joshua Tree was climbing rocks with Everett:
"Look at my antlers":
Skull Rock hiking trail:
Ended up like this again somehow:
Hidden Valley:


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A letter to my kids.// Things I'm learning in this season.

(Photos from a spring weekday picnic in a canyon that we walked to from our house.)

This is a letter I wrote last spring to my kids after deciding to take a break from my career to stay at home with them. I found it helpful to re-read it today. 

***

Dear Everett and Cambria,

I recently decided to not go back to work next school year to be able to spend more time with you. I have spent a lot of time building my career. I got my teaching credential and began teaching when I was 22 years old, taught for three years in a big public high school, went to grad school and got my master’s degree in Peace and Justice Studies, and then taught at a well known charter school for eight years. Teaching is not often seen as a prestigious career, but it was to me, and I loved being a teacher.

One of my biggest fears in taking a break from my career is that one day, you will feel like your mom sacrificed everything and gave up on her dreams for you. I want to assure you that that isn’t the case. It turns out that dreams can shift and change in different seasons of life, and that when I was really, truly honest with myself, my dream for this next year is to be home with both of you and to take time off of work. As I was struggling in making this decision I was worried about what your adult selves might think of me, but I also thought about what your current selves think, and I can assure you that you are really excited that we get to spend so much time together and have control over what our daily lives look like and the freedom to go on adventures as a family whenever we want.

While I tend to overthink everything and it is not always helpful, I want to share with you some of the things I have learned through this process of deciding to take a break from my career.

Decision making 101
Taking time off from my career to stay at home with you is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, and there were a few questions that people posed to me that really helped me, which I think can be applied to most decisions we have to make in life:
  • Is fear what is holding you back from making a decision that you want to make? 
  • What choice will bring you more joy and/ or peace for this season of life?
  • What choice will be more life giving to you?
This is not a decision that I reached lightly; there has been so much thought and contemplation that has gone into not going back to work right now. I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons and thought about all of the little nuances that could justify this decision in many ways: getting two kids out of the house and dropped off at two different day care locations by 7:00 am sounds completely overwhelming, paying for daycare for two kids takes a big chunk out of my teacher pay check, I can stay on a better family budget when I am home and on top of our finances more. However, none of those are the reasons. What it simply comes down to is this: during this season of life, I want to spend more time with my kids than a teaching position at my work permits.

Try to set up your life in a way that gives you the freedom to make choices.
Work hard and save and plan so that when the time comes, you have choices about what kind of life you want to live. I recognize that this doesn’t always work out, but I think it is a good goal to have. This can relate to many different seasons of life, but specific to my current season, I am grateful that we were able to make the choice about whether to have a stay at home mom or a stay at home dad or have two working parents. I am grateful that I had a choice to be a working mom when it felt right and that I have the choice to be a stay at home mom as it feels right. I wish more people had the choice.

Don’t put yourself in a box. 
I have had a lot of my identity wrapped up in my career. Being career-minded was so much of who I was in my twenties before having kids, and it is scary to leave that part of myself. However, I am realizing the beauty in not limiting myself to one thing that defines me or one thing that shapes my identity. This is a season of life where I am in a way reinventing myself and it is actually quite freeing. It makes sense that we can have multiple passions throughout our lives. I hope that throughout your life you have the opportunity to devote yourself to many things that you are passionate about. That’s what I am discovering now. During my twenties, I devoted myself to my career, which was and is still a big part of who I am and what I am passionate about. Now, at least for the next year, I want to devote myself more to my family, which is also a big part of who I am and what I am passionate about. Different seasons bring different priorities.

Don’t let society’s expectations dictate who you become. 
For some reason, I have a lot of baggage about being a stay at home mom. Somewhere along my journey, I was given a lot of messages (not from my own family) that being a mom did not warrant the same value and validation that a career does. In my experience, society doesn’t seem to value stay at home moms in the same way that career women are valued, and somehow I internalized the message that being a stay at home mom is not a worthwhile endeavor for me, because I should have a career and be a mom. I am learning more about my personality, and I am realizing that I like to be known for my career and I find a lot of value and validation in it. I love my job, the school, the students, and the community of people I work with so incredibly much. I have my “dream job,” but at least for right now, having that job and two small children is not my “dream life,” so I’m taking a break. Becoming a parent has led to peeling back the layers and making me aware of judgments that I never knew I was holding onto. I have a whole new respect for stay at home moms. When I started to reframe my view about stay at home moms, it turns out that that is what I want to be for now. (I also have a whole new appreciation for working moms. One of the greatest gifts of taking an extended maternity leave this school year was that for the first time, I truly have empathy for working moms and stay at home moms. Both are beautiful and both are challenging in different ways.)

Yes, make decisions that are good for your family, but also, make decisions that are best for yourself.
While I am taking time off to spend with you, I didn’t necessarily make this decision for you. I think that preschool and day care can be great things for children, and that there is nothing wrong with putting kids in full time child care. As women, we are told we can have it all, but also that we should do what's best for our family. I looked at my decision as a false dichotomy between choosing between a career that I love and my family that I love. In the end, I chose neither. Instead, I choose me; I ultimately made this decision for me. I want to be there for the types of moments that you see in these photos, a simple weekday picnic. For at least the next year, I want to spend my days with you. I want to watch you play and learn and develop. I want to put you down for a nap and cuddle you when you wake up. I want to go on adventures with you around town or in our own backyard. I want to enjoy a slow pace of life where we can spend our days together while you are young.

Slow down enough to appreciate life.
It is easy to fill our lives and be busy all of the time, but I have found a lot of value during this season of life in slowing down and giving ourselves space to appreciate the little things like a walk in the canyon, exploring amongst the wildflowers, scootering through the park, an afternoon picnic, a slow hike, or a walk through the neighborhood. We live in a culture that tends to value and promote busyness, but busyness doesn’t always equal happiness. I am a goal-oriented person in general, and it has been a shift for me to adjust to a stay at home mom life where goal setting isn’t always necessary, but here is the goal I have set for myself for next year: create a beautiful life. When a to do list is stripped away, when pressure to achieve is gone, when I give myself a season to shift my focus on my family, when I take a break from my career, what might life look like? What might our lives look like when we slow down and truly enjoy each other? What might it look like to focus on creating a beautiful life? I have had a taste of this kind of simple life the past couple of months, and I have found that this season where we don’t have to worry about drop-offs or a strict schedule or a morning hustle has been so good for my soul and the soul of our family. I am truly enjoying my kids. I am enjoying the intentional balance we have found between scheduled activities and the freedom to do what we want.

Listen to your heart.
Ultimately, what helped me the most in my decision making was being quiet and still and listening to my heart. That is really cheesy, but it’s true. Often, the right choice is within us, and we just have to take time to discover it. I am nervous, fearful, but ultimately, excited: I am following my heart and the quiet voice inside myself, and that is all we can really do in this life. I have spent a lot of time in the past couple of months trying to listen to my inner voice, and finally feel like I have reached a peace with my decision.

Here's to a year off together.

Love,
Mama