Friday, November 11, 2016

We Are America

This week has been hard. I am not sure I have yet processed the election results and what that will mean for our country. I am still stunned. I am confused.

But I shouldn't be.

I have lived in blue states - hello California and Oregon friends!

I have lived in countries that speak Spanish and spent a college semester in a beautiful little hamlet in Germany.

I live in a red state, and an even redder county of Wisconsin.

I have collected friends along the way. My Facebook timeline is evidence of the diversity of thought and experience which is why I love Facebook. Except during this election season. During this election season Facebook went from a place where I saw pictures of my friends' kids growing up way to fast and reading stories of faith and struggle and discovery to the place where I discovered that my friends who I love were seeing the election that looked so black and white, right and wrong, as not grey but the exact opposite of me.

Where I saw hate mongering, they saw policies that mattered to them. Where they saw duplicity, I saw a willingness to address the issues of race and gender and identity. Where I saw inadequacy, they saw willingness to buck the system and speak truth. Where they saw pandering, I saw growth and a willingness to listen and learn and change.

I have friends who voted for Secretary Clinton. They voted their conscience. They voted for issues that are important to them. They voted for pay equity and a breaking of the glass ceiling. They voted for a President who would talk about implicit bias, fight for healthcare for all, fund college education and protect women's rights to their bodies. They voted for experience. They voted for a person they trusted.

I have friends who voted for President Elect Trump. They voted their conscience. They voted for gun rights, law and order, immigration enforcement. They voted for a President who would say the hard things, fight for the little man, support the military and protect unborn children. They voted for a Washington outsider. They voted for a person they trusted.

I respect my friends on both sides.

But, and this is the big but, I expect all of us to hold our leaders to America's ideals. To protect the few from the many when they want to cause harm. To think big and wide and create a world of hope and exploration and creativity and chance taking. To protect free speech, free worship, free assembly, free press, and the right to petition our government when we have things we want changed. To remember that we are the country of equality for all.

The Constitution is bigger than this election. The American ideals are bigger than this election. They are not a platform. They are not exclusive to one party, one candidate.

We don't have to stop fighting for our issues, for our beliefs, for our dreams for America.

We continue to move forward, as Americans, always working toward making things better.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Goat in the Bathroom

This goat hangs on my wall. My kitchen wall because the goat is not allowed in our bedroom.

But for you, the important thing is not the goat painting because let's be honest, that goat doesn't mean anything to you. The important thing is how I got the goat painting. And that my friends is a longer story.

It begins twelve years ago, when I receive an email from the family asking about joining our small group Bible study. The weird part was that family had just moved into the house they had bought from us as we moved into another house in town.

And that family became our friends. Middle Man found a kindred spirit in their oldest daughter. We were pregnant at the same time with our third and their second.

We moved away and they moved away. We moved again. And again. And eventually we ended up living about 4 1/2 hours apart. Thankfully.

She has four daughters. I have three sons.

So we meet in the middle. Just the two of us.

For almost three years now, we have set aside a weekend here and there to meet up in the middle between our two homes. Dubuque, Iowa has become our home together.

And in Dubuque there is a restaurant that we love. And in the restroom at the restaurant there is a goat painting that I love.

I cannot explain my love for this goat. It makes no sense and yet every time we eat there I see that goat and tell my friend how much I want that goat painting. Every single time. For the last couple of years.

And then this weekend, I found my own copy of the goat painting. Well actually, I found a cow painting that I liked. That I was thinking I might need to take home. But I wasn't sure. I liked it. A lot. But it wasn't the goat. It was similar. It was all the things I loved about the goat painting, except it wasn't the goat. I was trying to decide if I should settle for the cow painting I liked. And then I saw it - my goat canvas.

I hadn't seen it the first time I had walked through the store. I had taken a different route around the furniture, eyes drawn toward a lamp and then a shelf that turned my body away from where my goat hung. When I walked back by that area my eyes were drawn down, looking at a chair my friend had pointed out. I never saw the goat the first time through the store.

After texting back and forth with my husband about the cow painting, I walked back in to take one more look at the cow. To contemplate whether the cow painting that I liked was right. Or should I hold out for the goat, or one I loved as much as the goat/

And as my eyes looked across the room, I saw for the first time the goat canvas. Right where it had been hanging the whole time.

My goat painting.

My goat.

He hangs on my wall now. And he makes me so happy every time I walk by.

Not only because I love the painting. But also because I love the memories of the weekends I spend in Dubuque with my friend. And of the years I looked at that goat in the restaurant and was in love.

When we moved into this home almost three years ago, we made an agreement that we would only bring things into this house that we loved. We are slowly collecting pieces. Each with a story to tell. And if you ever visit, I would love to tell you the story behind the three monkeys or the day we bought the BE bookends or the photos that we hang of our adventures.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

It's Not a Job. It's a Relationship.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post about motherhood. It was in response to a video that was making the rounds about motherhood being the toughest job. 

My response was simple but still holds true today. 

"Motherhood is not a job. It is a relationship."

Motherhood is simply the definition of my relationship to my sons. A very unique relationship as I am the only mom they will ever have, even as they add and take away friends and try out a few partners before finding the one. 

What has changed is my work status. I have a job now. A real out in the world, paycheck and contracts and having to show up at work job. And it is this job, this moving from not working to working full time, that has made it even more clear to me that motherhood was never my job. 

If it was my job, did I quit on them, my precious boys? 

See that's part of the problem with seeing motherhood as a job, the toughest job. 

If I go back to work, the implication is that I am leaving them, that I am choosing my new job over them, my old job. 

But I am not. 

I am still their mom. I still tuck them in at night and make sure they say their prayers. (For the younger two at least. The oldest has decided he's old enough to put himself to bed.) 

I still make sure to ask how their day was and when I find out they had a fight with a friend, I talk it through with them. I teach them the importance of apologizing when you are in the wrong, and then I make sure we set up a play date soon with the friend to let them both know that forgiveness is possible and that friends fight and make up. 

I still say no sometimes and have even been known to take away screens for a week at a time when one of my son's has not made good choices with his devices. Because I care more about him as a person than the convenience of having him distracted by a screen when I am tired after a long day at work. 

And I still love seeing my kids be who they are. Not a reflection of my parenting but the people they were made to be. I am so enamored with my boys, with who they are themselves. I love being their mom. Because being their mom means I get to spend time with them. I get to hear their secrets. I get to help them through the tough times. I get to help them make good choices. 

Those last two are what they wrote in my Mother's Day card this year. 

My youngest also wrote about my love of beer, coffee, and my bed, so I am not sure how much credit I want to give the words they wrote. 

Motherhood is not the toughest job in the world.

It is not a job. 

It is a relationship. 

And I am lucky that I get to have that relationship with three amazing boys. (I can still call them boys because as of this writing, I am still taller than them. But not for long.) 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Remember that post I wrote about being back to writing?

And then nothing.

Yeah, about that. 

When I wrote that post, work had been going well for a couple of weeks. I wasn't falling asleep as soon as I sat down at the end of the day. My brain wasn't turning off as I left work because I was mentally exhausted from battling all day long. The sun was shining. And I had taken a couple of long naps that weekend. 

I had found my equilibrium. My life felt balanced. 

And then Monday happened. New students. Old students. New conflicts. Old conflicts. My equilibrium had been lost out to the war of opposing forces. And by Wednesday the day ended with me wanting to put my head down on my desk and cry (I didn't). 

I don't like that feeling. Of being out of balance. 

But a wise man reminded me that it is the newness of each day that makes the job fun. 


In the moment, it didn't feel like fun. As I was dealing with a student saying vulgar things about me, it didn't feel like fun. As I listened to the grumblings of not wanting to do the work and the "You're forcin' it, Miss Jen," it didn't feel like fun. As I redirected the same students for the tenth time in five minutes to quiet down and get back to silent reading, it didn't feel like fun. 

Fun? No. It was hard and overwhelming and exhausting and just too much. 

And so I had nothing to write. Nor any energy to write it. 

But as I let all the frustration process and I tried a new tactic with my chatty class and I stayed consistent with my classroom management plan and I "faked it" until I "made it" I found something. It's not much, but it is something.

Equilibrium is nice. Balance is nice. But after a while it gets too comfortable. Too nice.

Growth comes not in the equilibrium itself but in finding that balance. In doing the hard work. In being uncomfortable and then working toward a new equilibrium.

So I will find my way. Slowly, step by step. I will find a new balance, a new equilibrium. And when I do I will rest up and enjoy the moment. I will laugh and celebrate the simple victories.

And then I will get ready for the next challenge.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Coming Back

I thought it had been longer since I last wrote. I thought I was done with this space. I thought I was done being a writer.

But I am wondering if maybe I am not. If maybe, I still have words to share.

I went back to work full time this winter. I am a teacher again. Not at a traditional school. My students often say it is not a real school, but I disagree. We do real learning there even if it is a therapeutic residential treatment facility and most of the students have experienced some form of trauma that has informed their lives and decision making. We do real learning even as we struggle to read the words because we are years below grade level. We do real learning as we learn to use school appropriate language and talk through our frustrations instead of running or fighting or shutting down.

It has been an exhausting transition back to working full time, and yet, I feel more energized each and every day. I keep misplacing my credit card and falling asleep on the couch as soon as I sit down but I feel more fulfilled, more purpose filled. I have given my kids more responsibility and they have happily risen to the challenge, most of the time. And my husband has proven once again that he is my partner, taking on more of the household chores without batting an eye. (I am now the one getting in trouble for putting things in the cart at Costco because "it wasn't on the list".)

I didn't think I would have time to write. I didn't think I would want to write.

But here I am.

I know this blog will be changing as my life has changed.

I am still figuring out this motherhood thing. I am still working out my faith, oh there are so many stories there from the last year that I may tell someday. And I am still living authentically because I know no other way to be.

But my world has grown with my new job. I am seeing things that break my heart and make me angry. I am wondering if I can make a difference, if I am doing enough, if there is hope. And then I see that look in a student's eyes when he his real and honest and right there with me and I wonder if maybe, just maybe there is hope that the world can be better than it is right now.

So I don't know what I will be writing about except to know that I will keep writing my truth, my questions, my struggles - all in hope.

Because it is hope that keeps me going.