D-Day Celebrations Have Me Thinking About Patriotism

I don’t come from a military family, nor was I raised with any real political discussion or  thoughts about country. Yet, in my twenties I started paying attention to history and even more so in the last decade, I’ve grown to be highly patriotic. There was no significant reason why other than maturing enough to realize that we truly live in a great nation and freedom really isn’t free.Catching a bit of the D-Day celebrations on the news yesterday once again touched my heart and mind. Veterans who served 75 years ago had patriotism – a love of country – and understanding of history and the importance of serving that is lacking in contemporary society. Our 20-somethings struggle to answer questions such as, “What is D-Day?” “When was WWII and why did it start?” My own 20-somethings included.

Even us 50-somethings can’t fully relate to some of the news tag lines from yesterday:

My grandmother widowed at 18. She still feels that grave loss 75 years after D-Day.

We had to go down and clean up the bodies on the beaches because we had new troops coming in.

When service transcended party: D-Day, my dad and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

War is terrible. Tragic. D-Day was those things. It also was heroic and necessary. Younger generations of Americans won’t understand what happened on June 6, 1944, unless they are inspired to learn it.Years ago when I started talking politics and studying history, I brought topics into my college classroom, encouraging students to be engaged. They were. I learned that there is a big difference between reading your 6th grade textbook and bringing history and politics to life by making a practical connection to modern living. I also raised my kids to be politically engaged in the last few years and encourage all young adults to study and understand why they believe what they profess to believe.  In a world where taking time to read, learn and pay attention longer than five minutes is rare, I’m going to take six minutes (wink) and continue talking to my 20-somethings about history and its relevance to our future as Americans.

The next chance to really celebrate this amazing nation is July 4th (and of course wear red, white and blue on Flag Day, June 14th!). I plan to take time to honor our nation and thank those who serve.

Happy Weekend to All! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Why Isn’t Parenting Considered a Profession and Why Are We So Embarrassed by It?

If you’ve read this blog lately, you know I’ve been traveling a bit. Conversations among a wide array of human beings, each simultaneously living strikingly similar yet vastly dissimilar family lives fascinated me. A perpetual student at heart, I enjoyed every small talk chat and lengthier conversation surrounding the literal commencement of our graduating children’s passage into employable adulthood.

Weeks prior to the graduations, I sat on bleachers and walked across fields with fellow parents of college athletes. Hearing how they raised their almost-college-graduated children was riveting. Or, maybe I was just most enthralled with how they viewed their parenting. After all, these big family moments such as college graduations launch us parents into all sorts of deep reflection.

Joys, funny stories and softly spoken regrets were shared as we stood shoulder to shoulder squinting into the sunny lacrosse field. Plans for our kids’ upcoming entrance into the professional world were discussed with excitement and apprehension.

Graduation ceremonies evoke contemplation. We wonder about many things, including how our professional choices influenced and affected the life of the beloved child walking toward us in their cap and gown.

We mid-life parents huddled together, humbly sharing a few successes and challenges while also perching our lips in anticipation… waiting for approval or disapproval from our peers as we revealed our employment. While the good men in our conversations chuckled and segued into NHL playoff statistics and how the Yankees were doing that week, we Moms remained attentive listeners to each other’s decisions, silently comparing, tallying our worth against theirs, adverting direct eye contact when the words grew too personal for folks only together for a weekend. Ultimately, each indirectly revealed the hidden label we always carry: “not good enough”.

Perhaps the most riveting was watching the responses to the Mom who was a former physician, left her practice, fired the nanny and raised her children. No, her husband wasn’t wealthy. She made a choice and here we stood, years later, her smile content watching her daughter run the field, but eyes narrowing through sunglasses when questions such as, “how could you abandon all of that schooling?” “did you pay your loans off before quitting?” “do you regret it?” were asked of her.

There were a few genuinely disappointed people. “She could have been so much more” their eyes said. I sensed she was accustomed to disenchanted peers as she firmly added, “it was right for my family”.

Another Mom in our little mid-life circle shrugs, “I was always home with our kids”…like it was a bad thing. I was even a very casual conversation with a young man when we found ourselves talking about his Dad’s highly successful business and I asked what his Mom did. I don’t even know why I asked such a question but he answered, “well, she stays at home…but she really works hard for us and volunteers and helps my Dad.” Ugh. Even the child felt the need to explain.

But back to our mid-life Mom group…No matter who was talking, the outside-the-house and stay-at-home women both felt the need to explain their professional choices. Yet, the few who did odd jobs and largely remained “at home” over the years were definitely embarrassed to say so.

Why are we dissatisfied with ourselves if we become anything professionally-less than Sheryl Sandberg?

There exist countless answers to that question but one of the many is that the very real parenting accomplishments are invisible to the world. Observing others during those conversations really affected me, particularly those who shrunk back for having remained in their nests. Their words and expressions stayed with me the last couple weeks and prompted this post. I also recently started a new job outside of higher ed (although I’m still teaching online), so I’m familiar with job-hunting as a mid-lifer. When raising my kids, I had done all three: full time, part time and stayed home for a spell. I settled upon part time as a professor. Some years were crazier than others, but I had some flexibility which was a blessing.

This mindset of parenting-worthlessness even seeps into those of us whose workplace career is part time and raising children is full time. Why do we always answer the new-introductions question, “what do you do?” first with our outside titles such as Consultant, Dentist, HR Rep, Professor?

Because Motherhood is not acknowledged as a profession. It’s frowned upon to include a decade or two on your mid-life resume about being an employee (of your family) and leader in your organization (home). Even if only five years out of the workplace, experts tell you to leave the employment gap rather than, gasp!, mention being a literal lifeline to a few little humans.

Once the early infant weeks pass, there really is no such thing as a “stay at home parent”. Exhausted parents long to be home for one full day. Instead, they are integrating their children into society via trips to the library, museums, parks, play groups, preschool, and endless extracurricular activities and sports. Yet, the label of “stay at home” remains locked in heavy chains.

I volunteer for MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. It truly feels like I was JUST a 30-year old MOPS Mom and now, I serve in this wonderful organization. While cleaning up the room one evening, a young Mom with two children was asked what she “did” and I observed her also shrink back when answering, “I stay home with the kids”. She too meekly looked up, waiting for the other woman to approve or disapprove.

We have good reason to respect big titles in the workforce. Obstetricians who bring our babies safely into the world are godsends. We nearly drop to our knees in gratitude for the brilliant Neurosurgeon who saves our loved one. Understandably, there is a scale for professional respect. Mere titles spoken aloud make people nod in appreciation, eyebrows raised in approval when introduced at a dinner party. Yet, full time parents will avoid stating their title as long as possible when asked – depending on the peer group they find themselves in. Myself included.

The weekend conversations veered into parenting being a profession, albeit unrecognized by the world at large. Full-time working Moms need employers to truly understand they have two careers. Stay-at-home Moms need recognition for being the extraordinary workers they are. Especially those Moms who are reentering the workforce.

Respect. Esteem. Reverence. Many professions generate these adjectives merely by their title. Other careers earn praise after a couple of years in the field. But people who choose to forego full time day care or grandparent sitters, selecting instead to independently raise their own children continue decade after decade to be ignored as smart, productive workers contributing to society – including contributions to its economic system.

This got me thinking about all they do that should be resume-worthy…

Modern parents who choose to be with their children full time are often educated. Smart. Resourceful. Highly Productive. Impressive Multi-Taskers. They are negotiators and mediators. Their communication skills must be impeccable as they create order from chaos.

They direct and lead the undisciplined youth into a disciplined life. They refuse to allow their homes to become modern-day arcades, leaving them to be the unpopular supervisor including developing policies which restrict endless screening. They were already lonely leaders at the top of their organization, working overtime without praise. Added rejection from those they are serving takes a toll.

Then, when they decide it’s time to reenter the outside work world, they are further rejected. Or worse, they receive no response to their resume at all. Silence. For years prior, they were invisible in society, unheard in conversations among employees with paychecks. Now, they pull their emotionally drained, appreciation-starved selves together and put their identities out there, already aware of being behind the 8-ball. But they do it anyway. They shove aside the negative self-talk that dominates their mind. This takes discipline and courage.

Surviving full-time nesting with children from infancy to Kindergarten and certainly beyond, takes mental, physical and emotional energy. There is almost never any gratitude or positive feedback and certainly not enough to cover the array of nonsense that is involved in this very real job.

So-called “stay at home Moms” are both the employee and the management. Their work travels into the nights, weekends and holidays. There is no added pay or new promotion for their exhausting commitment to the organizations named “home” and “family”. They too navigate the ever-present sensitivity toward “diversity and inclusion” as they arrange play dates and teach about the differences in their kids’ peers. They demonstrate exceeding wisdom and restraint when they patiently teach their children that the profane bully in the schoolyard is ravenous for attention somewhere in their psyche. (What Mom would rather do is grab that bully by the neck, lift them off the ground and spew expletives and hurt right back at ‘em.) Moms know how to deal with the office bullies.      When workers are acknowledged, there is tremendous personal satisfaction and elevated confidence. Recognition increases motivation to perform even better and well, it just lifts a person up. Kind, genuine words of praise for doing a good job stays with people. If you’ve ever received such recognition at work, you likely recall the person and exactly what they said. Moms have lasted sometimes decades without such acknowledgement or green dollars. What strength of character they possess as professional workers!

If you hire, give Moms (and Dads) a chance. If you believe in the wildly popular “Servant Leadership” trending in business and industry, read Moms’ resumes. Maybe they are applying for something other than their professional position from 10 years ago. They have learned more about their strengths and abilities and now realize where they are most suited to contribute.

Full time parents have far exceeded the primitive societal view of simply making meals and cleaning house. If you are in a position to interview people and see the “parenting” resume gap, don’t assume “stay at home” parents are less-than. If you read that Moms were only working part-time out of the house for the last twenty years, don’t assume they were vacationing in their “off” time. Their kids demanded, their aging parents needed, the schools asked for volunteers, the hockey team required hours…their minds and hands rarely stopped working.

I hope we can start recognizing parenting as the profession it is. The minutes, hours and years count. Most of them were without hour-lunch breaks and “personal” days. I’m now in a position to help hire employees and I plan to give parents a chance to change careers and/or re-enter the workforce. I doubt I’ll be disappointed. And, through MOPS and other situations, I will continue to remind parents that they don’t owe anyone any explanation for their professional choices of full-time, part-time or home-time while raising their children. At the end of each day, we only have to answer to the One and Only. Images: click on photo to see location(s).

The Coming and Going During the College Years

Nearly three months ago, I walked through the brisk November air into the sliding glass doors of the airport, traveled up the escalator and stood outside security, waiting for my youngest to get off the plane. It was two days before Thanksgiving and my hands had not been on my baby girl in 88 days. It was the longest separation ever, me feeling impossibly emotional, despite that we speak, text and facetime every day. It’s just not the same as hugging and being in the same house.

With each new wave of people rounding the corner through the glass hallway, my heart leapt and my eyes grew wet.

I missed her something awful. I see my older two because their universities are within driving distance, but it was too long since I had seen my youngest.

A girl in a ponytail wearing a college backpack turned the corner and my heart leapt again – then fell – when I realized it still wasn’t her.

A little boy ran past the security guard and toward his grandma’s waiting embrace next to me. I silently prayed, Oh Lord, when grandchildren arrive someday, please let my children and their children all live near us…preferably next door ;~).

Washing bedsheets, putting turkey-themed socks on their dressers and cooking family-favorite foods…the days of anticipation finally ended. The second she turned the corner she waved through the glass and hastened her steps toward me. I vowed not to cry but she threw herself into my arms which quickly circled her slim athletic frame, and I couldn’t speak. Tears flooded my face and I squeezed her tightly. I kissed her cheeks and her eyes smiled at me, her words bringing more tears. “I missed you so much Mama…”

Last year my older daughter spent her junior year in a bustling – thankfully also a safe and very nice – area of New York City. For breaks and long weekends, I waited to pick her up at train stations and airports. As I stood watching the various people disembark from their transportation, I reflected on how I have never been on planes as frequently as the kids have been. Much of the going away is very, very good for them. They have been forced to handle situations that without a doubt, my husband or I would have taken care of swiftly for them if they lived at home. Heck, most of the experiences would not have occurred at all had they stayed home and commuted to college (as I did throughout my entire college career). Some of the situations were unpleasant, but life was an excellent teacher. Their greatest lessons and growth occurred outside of the classroom.

During the kids’ breaks, the full nest is a joy (and of course, sometimes annoying), and now that my twins are seniors, the holiday breaks remind me that these are adults, despite my continued reference to them as my “baby ducks”.

At 4am the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the painful alarm rang, announcing the required departure back to the airport.

Thankfully, I only waited 15 days until my youngest was about to again ‘round the corner and I stood outside security, not feeling nearly as emotional as when I waited 88 days. This time, all three of them would be home over a month.

The day before, I had cleaned their bathroom and put up the Christmas shower curtain. As the rag hung in my hand and the smell of cleanser filled the air, I reminded myself that secure, confident kids grow up and start doing their own thing. I’ve been told we are supposed to feel accomplished and proud of ourselves when we reach this point. I am proud of them and they are accomplished, but I have never felt more un-accomplished.

While raising children, there are a million little accomplishments…interesting middles with satisfactory endings. Planning birthday parties or end of season sports gatherings…watching them eat meals together and sharing stories at the table…going to the rinks and fields…weekend outings. Completing a book together when they are young or watching them deliver a speech when they are older (that you sat through 20 times before they gave it)…each gave me tremendous joy and satisfaction. I felt accomplished.

In between their physical coming and going in and out of the nest, I have increased volunteering, have plenty of girlfriend time, bible studies and winter walks with my husband. We now have “TV shows” and I’m actually finishing books cover to cover ;).  I’ll admit that quieter hasn’t been terrible. It’s all truly blessed and I am thankful. But adding more new things or extra time spent on old things do not replace an entire lifestyle.

An acquaintance of mine looks at me with a mix of complete confusion and sympathy as I reference the heart-upset of the coming and going during the college years. Two years ago, she told me she was counting the days – literally had a countdown like you do at Christmas – counting the days until her youngest would join the oldest at college and get out of the house. I thought she would feel differently when the house was actually empty, but she does not.

Those of my friends who prioritized their careers while raising their children are faring much better with their emptying nests. Although I’ve always been an adjunct professor, it’s vastly smaller than the 50-hour work weeks while climbing to VP, where the bulk of their life’s energy built an entire existence outside of their households.

It’s only been a little over a year with all three away at universities so I keep saying I’m running a little late to the party of parents who are celebrating their emptying nests. Perhaps I’ll revisit this topic again in June after my twins move home after graduation. I may not be feeling nearly as nostalgic (wink).

The truth is, throughout the “coming and going” over four years, they’ve grown and changed, and so have we. Parents must learn to navigate the “babies” we raised who are now almost full “grown-ups”. Even when they move back home, for however long that will last, “family life” will not be as it was. Just as the school years were different from the toddler years, and high school different from middle school, the dynamic will change yet again. Not worse or better, just a new chapter in this ever-updating book of life.

While I stand in the airport this afternoon to pick up the baby duck for spring break, I’ll be thinking about these comings and goings. Reminding myself that it does get easier, and as they evolve, so must I.

Photo: first2board.com

When Your Kids Near Marrying Age


I don’t recall where I picked up the idea, but for several years I’ve been drying the petals of flowers my girls (or myself) have received so they can be used on their wedding day. It was a fun activity with a “someday” thought attached to it. Now, it’s a closer reality as my baby just turned 20. These are the years they will likely meet their future spouses (or perhaps know them already).

Like all the thoughts plaguing my mind in an increasingly quieting nest, the thought of them marrying is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I’ve always told my kids that you can easily change your wardrobe, food, house, location, job…but when you marry, it’s serious business. Follow God. Fall in love first, not lust. Be friends. Be sure. Really observe their parents, their friendships. Watch how your boyfriend/girlfriend handles a crisis, disappointment… how they treat others.We hope all of our investment in our children’s lives leads them to God’s best. One of my investments has been considerable prayer. I was praying about their “future spouses” long before they were dating. What I don’t know is who they will each choose. Free will is real and many pained parents have watched their beloved children suffer through horrible marriages. It’s not only the free will to choose poorly, but it’s the “big reveal” that sometimes happens to the poor souls who gave their heart to one person who turned out to be an entirely different human being once they married and lived together. Heartbreaking.

Marriage is unpredictable. The early years with young children can be tough. What we need at 25 isn’t always what we need at 45. It takes effort to evolve together. Marriage can be difficult.We want to save them from all the hardship. We want to talk and talk and talk in preparation to protect them from the miserable stuff. But, we know the reality. They will walk their own walk.

As my kids live out their early 20’s, I’m still doing a lot of talking 😉 even when they say, “I know, Mom. You’ve told us a thousand times.”  I’m still praying. Our society is increasingly hurtful and as they marry and create their own nests, I pray those nests are safe places…warm, accepting-of-faults places. The place where they can escape from the cold, judging, desensitized world and rest and play and laugh.

I pray they marry into unconditional love.

And, I pray they give it in return.

Like Moses, My Arms Got Tired

Exodus 17 11-13

As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when he lowered them, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side, so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his army with the sword.… 

Just like Moses, I was in the battle. Moses wasn’t on the battlefield, but he was having a profound effect on the outcome. I wasn’t in the high school, the hospital or the locker rooms, but my loved ones were and I was on a prayer mission.

Moses’ hands were in the air praying to ensure Joshua’s victory; and whether my hands were in the air praying in the car, or I was on my knees, or at church, or at the kitchen table, I had determined throughout my parenting years that I would be a prayer-warrior. And, I was. But my urgency and the amount of time spent in prayer really revved up during my kids’ later teen years. It wasn’t all about them, it was the onslaught of circumstances on top of parenting teens…

During the battle, I studied my Bible in a new way, went down on my knees more, read and prayed fervently. I spent countless minutes on the floor of my son’s room…aside my daughter’s bed while they were at school… One day kneeling on my son’s floor, completely perplexed as to why God was not answering my prayers how I wanted them answered, I lifted a photo frame off my son’s bed stand and whipped that sucker clear across the room. There is still a sharp, deep cut in the body of the NHL fathead on his wall. On that particular day, I was really angry which is rare for me. Looking back, I was just hurt that God was either saying “no” or “not yet” but either way, the more time passed, the less chance there would be for what I was praying about.

To make up for less-than childhoods of our own, my husband and I were doing way more than normal parents. We set out parenting with more enthusiasm than Dory and Olaf combined. And, we never lost steam. He is a man in non-stop motion. You will not see him reading the paper nor does he leave projects unfinished. I am just as productive on the home front, endlessly working on something to make the nest more comfortable while working outside the home part time. I invested time in my own friendships, invested in my kids and all the other kids they brought into the nest over many years, I handled group gatherings and hosted every holiday at my house.

Then, things started breaking down at a rapid-fire pace. I had small appliances given to me at my bridal shower that lasted 20 years. In the last five years, the replacements I purchased have broke down every other year. Then the oven stopped working. The fridge wasn’t cold anymore. And on it went. Between expensive kids sports and household nonsense, we were bleeding money.

Finances were tight on top of practices, games (traveling overnight for those games), driving, shopping, holidays, cooking, cleaning, talking, teaching, instructing, negotiating with teenagers in the kitchen and adults on committees, appointments, friends with diseases, extended family insanity, being lied to…

I felt like Moses. My arms were growing weak and the battles were still raging around me. My friend of 18-years was dying of cancer before my eyes and it was ripping my heart out. I was helping with her treatment visits, rotating time at her house and trying to support her daughter. My parents were embroiled in a disturbing family situation that had just come to light by a close relative. It was all-consuming and truly gut-wrenching. Despite the mountain of unpleasant circumstances, I was still mentally and physically operating at 110% as Mom, wife, worker, homemaker, holiday-maker, volunteer… just as I always had. Remaining silently overwhelmed by profound sadness and drama, I expended even more energy keeping the majority of my struggles from my children. Even though they were in their late teens, I still functioned as if they were ten. The details my extended family produced were simply not something I wanted in my kids’ heads. But, I could have exposed them more to the realities of death and dying.

One day I just got tired. All the prayer in the world didn’t seem to be making any difference at all and I eventually crashed.

I could not pray my way out of the haze draping over me. Like Moses, my arms that had held it all up for so many years were exhausted. So, I reached out just a little, looking for an Aaron and Hur. I was quickly reminded that many others had it much worse and, at minimum, they all have their own challenges. This knowledge does not deter everyone from asking for help anyway, but my type A, first-born self could not impose on anyone other than my closest friend. My dearest sister-in-Christ was the one who listened to a few of my sad tales (absent the gory details) and she agreed to be my Aaron. We still pray for each other regularly. But, I simply could not tell her all of the extended family depravity, nor could I tell anyone else about it. My own husband shrunk back, cutting me off as I shared only a sliver of what I had learned.

Everyone knows about Moses – even people who do not read the Bible or attend church or temple. They can talk about him floating in a basket, the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Not many can name his parents Amram and Jocabed. His parents no doubt, went through some stuff. His poor Mom had to eventually surrender him to Pharoah’s daughter. When they could no longer control their own situation, they reached out for help, even to the extent of having the enemy of their people raise their precious boy.

Moses’ parents’ life was not easy and neither was his. Life is life. There is good and bad and if I merely accept what is, and cease searching for reasons “why” that do not exist, I’ll fare much better. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon suggests eating, drinking and enjoying your work while you can. I had to start “enjoying” and stop thinking and analyzing and trying to figure out people because I discovered “nothing new under the sun”. There were painfully few real answers for all the sadness and stupidity. I was making myself crazy trying to understand circumstances, human behaviors and how God could bear to continue watching it all.

I had set out as a young wife and mama with the wrong mindset that if I worked diligently, life would be fairly close to perfect (try not to laugh). But the outside creeps into the nest, even when you’re really diligent. People get sick. Others make horrible choices. I internalized others’ decisions and heartache as if they were my own. I took on responsibilities that were not mine to take on. People were happy to pile their stuff on to me. It was unhealthy.

As I eventually emerged from that difficult time, I tried to see the lessons in the madness, where God may have been in the midst of some really unfortunate happenings. I refused to stay in defeat but it was not easy to overcome.

It’s hard to let go of being the go-to person because you feel you’re letting them down. And, it’s really hard to speak up to – and stand back from – crazy people, even those you may share bloodlines with. In my case, I thought I was being a good Christian by supporting others without boundaries. When you begin to draw necessary boundaries for the toxic folks, they do not like the new person distancing themselves. They want the “yes” “nice” girl back immediately. But distance and creating borders are required in order to preserve your own sanity and to have any personal semblance of happiness on this side of heaven. It also frees up mental space and physical time for enjoying the humans who truly care about you and yours.

My fellow Moses whose arms are tired, find yourself an Aaron and Hur to walk this nutty life alongside you, and enjoy yourself as long as you can.

Mama Duck