I’m 40,000 feet in the air right now, on a cross-country flight to see one of my best friends marry her love. I couldn’t be happier. I’m on detroit’s favorite low-budget airline because it was the only nonstop flight that had times I could live with, and that means no wi-fi. So…I’m left with just my thoughts and candy crush to entertain me (those candies are NOT going to crush themselves). I’ve had a thought for a long time now – and that’s where all my blog posts start. Something that stews in my brain for a few weeks until I’ve had enough and have to get it out.
This blog was started for me, and only me. I’ve been lucky that a few loving people read it, and I’m going to ask for feedback on this one – if anyone is still reading at this point…
I’m struggling with the idea of gratitude vs. bragging. My dad has always demanded humility of my sister and I. We could be proud of our accomplishments, and we knew he was proud of us…but he was clear that we didn’t need to brag to the world. He despised it. I get why, completely. There’s nothing more off-putting than someone who is constantly telling you how amazing their life is (which is most people’s Facebook — an extremely edited version of their lives, mine too). People brag about how amazing their kids, marriage, house, car, job, shoes, lives are. Its obnoxious. Especially when you are working really hard and struggling. I know. I’ve been both the bragger and the struggler. We all have, I suspect.
So here’s the question: my focus is gratitude – which requires I focus my energy on looking for the things I’m grateful for. This mindset has truly transformed my life. I could make a laundry list of things I’m thankful for and reasons why – but it feels like bragging.
The man – he’s the most compassionate person I have ever met. He treats me very well, and is an amazing dad to Those Johnson Girls. He’s incapable of saying the word “no” to them (which drives me insane)…and also to me (which is totally different and a strength rather than a flaw…double standards be damned). He works very hard and can literally fix anything I break (which is a real challenge). He takes his time to make decisions (but usually makes the right one the first time), whereas I just make decisions quickly – for better or worse. The man will literally give you the shirt off his back, weld your car back together and offer whatever he has, even if he’s just met you.
Those Johnson Girls – what can I say here. I have always wanted to be a mom. I think I can check that box now. I have four completely different personalities that make me a better person (and make me laugh) on the daily. They aren’t perfect, they are real. They make mistakes, they certainly make messes, they make lots of noise, and I love the crazy mess.
The Job: I love teaching. It’s my true passion and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve entertained the idea several times — but I can’t bring myself to seriously consider it. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, I love my district.
The house: three years ago we moved from a small house with one bathroom to a slightly larger home with 2.5 bathrooms in a neighborhood that is perfect for little girls! I’m still thankful for every single square inch of space. I vividly remember the claustrophobic nightmare, the suffocating feeling that our walls were closing in – and the plastic toys appeared to be breeding at night. I’m thankful we can have two girls using a bathroom at once! I love our neighborhood “pack” of kids that roam from one yard to the next (they’re all attached) playing and being kids. I love giving out popsicles all day long to my little friends too!
The side gig: I know many of you don’t want to read this part – and I’ve purposely not included it in my blog thus far… but I can’t any longer. Before you roll your eyes (I did that too), just hear me out. I’m on an airplane right now going to a friend’s wedding across the country. This is something that I would never have been able to consider before this side gig. Without hesitation, when I got the invite – I booked the tickets for the man and I. Which brings me to my next “thing” I’m thankful for.
My family & friends: My mom asks when she can watch my girls – for real. She comes every Tuesday during the school year. Most of the time when I need someone to watch them, I feel like I’m inconveniencing them (they require a great deal of energy and patience). But not yet, she says “I can’t wait. I love being with them”. For real. Is there a working mom alive that wouldn’t cry to hear that? My mother in law comes and watches my girls on Thursdays – and usually ends up doing all of our laundry (working moms cry again, right?), dishes, and cleans whatever she can get her hands on. She takes great care of Those Johnson Girls and almost always brings treats to eat and dinner. For real. My sister lives close to me and drove me to the airport this morning. “Bye bye bye” came on the radio and without any words exchanged, we started our performance with the dancing at 5:45am. I have friends and a sister who I could call anytime day or night and they’d be there for me in a flash.
What else could anyone ask for? My gratitude is unavoidable with this much amazing stuff around….but rereading that — it does sound like bragging!!!!! So, what’s better?? I’m really conflicted about all this.
I’ve chosen to love my life. Exactly as it is. Does this mean I’m not humble?
My mom is one of the smartest people I know. There was a commercial on TV about having a readiness plan in the event of an emergency. So, I asked my mom what she would take from our house if she only had 5 minutes to grab things. Without hesitating (this was clearly not the first time she had thought about it), she said “all my pictures”. That really stuck with me. Pictures weren’t that important to me and I really didn’t understand why they were to her.
I’m not sure when it happened. But it does, to most people (mainly women) at some point and it certainly did to me. I despised having my picture taken unless I was 100% perfectly groomed, with a new dress and every hair in place.
When I was 5 years old, I imagine I was a whole lot like M (well-played, karma). Spunky, wild, and begging to have my picture taken any chance I could. “MOM, take one of me up here in the rafters of the garage!” I never even considered what my hair or makeup or outfit looked like. Chances are pretty high that I was covered in dirt, bruises and scrapes (a lot like M) and had a huge smile, the kind where you can see the sparkle in the person’s eyes many years later.
Perhaps puberty is to blame, or society with their images of perfection…but I’m not interested in placing blame.
In high school I was uncomfortable in my own skin (as I imagine many are at that age). I didn’t enjoy having my picture taken most of the time, but I still obliged my mom or grandma when special occasions demanded photos.
I had a lot of fun in college (there, I said it). A lot of fun. I joined the best sorority in the world and quickly learned how to pose for pictures so I would look marginally better in them. We took more pictures than anyone could ever need (and yes, we needed film then). It was just a thing we did. And…looking back at them, I’m so glad we have those pictures.
So, not to go all amateur philosopher on you, (but this is my blog, so I get to do whatever I want), but I believe there are two branches of the “meaning of life” and I’m going to oversimplify them to the point where my philosophy major friends will likely unfriend me…but here goes:
The first is to be happy, and the second is to leave your mark on the world.
When I married the man, we had a photographer and a videographer like people sometimes do. I’m certainly glad we have pictures of that day — but I’m mostly glad I have pictures of all the guests and family on that day. I will look at that album about once every few years (when searching through the boxes in the basement for something else, generally) and I never look at pictures of me in there — but all the other people of that day.
My body doesn’t do pregnancy well. That was a big understatement…but, it doesn’t. So, I definitely didn’t want any pictures taken of me. This was true when I was pregnant with M as well — and also the years in between when my body wasn’t “normal” anymore. Those Johnson girls and I have a saying about that now anyway:
Normal is a dryer setting
Between M and P, I realized a lot of things. I grew as a person in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I changed. My perspective was dramatically different. Because of the sign I saw (see blog post from June 2017).
So, I started allowing people to take my picture whenever they wanted. I willingly jumped in to pictures (no matter how I looked…but a side effect was that I started taking better care of my appearance because I knew someone might take a picture of me. I even honed my ninja photobombing techniques. My mom even commented that she was surprised I let her take my picture when I was pregnant with P.
Here’s the thing. Funerals make you think about life. I had a streak where I was attending too many in a short period of time…which shifted my amateur philosophical ramblings into hyperdrive. They all had picture boards or slide shows with pictures and I was always drawn to them (I’m socially awkward and NEVER seem to have the right words to say in these moments, so looking at the pictures gives me something more comfortable to do). It made me start to wonder what pictures they would find of me one day….I had childhood pictures (albeit FAR less than my sister since I was the youngest), I had senior pictures, wedding pictures, and…. pictures of me that one time I had my hair done for someone’s wedding…and…. well, there wasn’t much else. Don’t get me wrong I am a mom of 4 girls. I have a million pictures of them. But, if you needed to find a picture of me as an adult, you would have been more likely to find a live unicorn making muffins in your kitchen.
So, I decided those johnson girls needed some pictures of their mom with them. Their mom doing stuff (I am actually fortunate to do an incredible amount of stuff). My nieces will want to see a picture of their Aunt one day. They deserve them. My picture board at my funeral will have happy memories because of this shift. There are definitely some photos I cringe to look at – but through my girls’ eyes, I am beautiful and that’s all I need.
So, I’m pleading – be in the picture. Some say that selfies make our society narcissistic… I say take a crazy selfie with everyone you meet. Because they are fun! Smile and let the camera see the sparkle in your eye. Be alive.
Wow. I can’t believe how much has happened with Those Johnson Girls since the last blog post. I don’t know why it still surprises me; chaos is our MO.
To begin, the car troubles continue. The van is currently in the “van hospital” where the local dealership is attempting to exorcise the demons from the electrical and transmission systems. The man is driving the big diesel that belonged to his dad. Tomorrow, kind friends have agreed to pick us up and take us home, and my mom is helping to shuffle the little Johnson girls home and C to her activities. I’m thankful we have supportive, willing to help, people in our lives.
C is not making a lot of progress at PT due to her refusal to do the “homework” as it’s uncomfortable. If we can’t get some cooperation soon, it looks like a night splint is the next step. Meanwhile, M needs tonsils and adenoids removed. We, again, were fortunate that the head of pediatric ENT at U of M (who was NOT accepting new patients) agreed to do her surgery consult and surgery because her sister was a patient four years ago. Phew! She’s super excited for kindergarten, and from what I can tell…she’s ready!
On March 29, a close friend at work passed away suddenly (at work). This man was one of my best friends at work. The one I could vent to, and would offer support and encouragement. He would tell me “you’re doing a hell of a job” exactly when I needed to hear it. He was also a local celebrity. With his celebrity status, there were many ceremonies to honor him. I attended them all, hoping to get some peace. They were beautiful ceremonies: a candlelight vigil for students, a faith-filled funeral service for family, and a memorial service at my school. All beautiful tributes to this man and teacher. But, my friend was still gone. It still wasn’t real. It still isn’t now. I keep expecting him to walk around the corner with his big toothy grin and yell “hello”, except he was never actually yelling. I keep waiting for him to barge into my classroom and tell me the latest news about our school and we would discuss it. We both had the same mindset when it came to decisions about teaching and learning “are we doing what’s best for kids?” It was wonderful to have someone whose teaching intentions were so closely aligned. An ally in the political world that is public schools. Especially the last few years. When I returned to work after P, I was pumping and therefore not eating lunch with others. I didn’t have much time to chat with my other friends at work due to my schedule, but he made time — and made it a point to talk to me several times each day. Many days, that was the only adult I spoke with all day long. I took over one of his classes. That has helped me the most. These were the students who were with him when he passed away. Together, we feel his presence. It’s healing for me to get to know them and to work with them. We all agreed he would be angry if we sat around being sad and NOT doing math for very long….so we do math now. Every morning. They are some of the most amazing students I have had the privilege to work with in the last 15 years. It’s a very special group. If you’re out there wondering if I’m alright, the answer is “not yet”. I still get mad at him for leaving his family and his friends and his students, but I know that he wouldn’t have chosen to. No one loved their family more than him. For now, the students will laugh at my attempts at 3D drawings and we will carry on doing our math with our heavy hearts.
In the midst of this incredible loss, I was feeling rather rough. The day I attended the funeral, I went home and slept. It was 3pm and I woke up the next morning. Definitely not normal for a mom of 4! Feeling so rough, I decided a trip to the doctor was in order. My mom and dad met me and took the kids and my dad drove me in my car (they quickly realized I was a mess and shouldn’t be driving). Dad took me to the doc and they wanted an ultrasound and some blood work stat. So we did those tests (luckily in the same building) and I got a nausea shot and we went home. I slept from 11am when we got home until the next morning (Saturday). I had a voicemail from the doc saying some things weren’t right with the blood work and he sent me for more. So the man took me this time and we did the blood work and went back home. Again, I slept until the next day. Apparently, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law visited on Saturday and brought C home from her sleepover and I didn’t even know they were there (I was sleeping on the couch in the middle of it all). Sunday rolls around and my family heads to mass. I couldn’t do it. At this point, I hadn’t eaten since Thursday and I was no longer able to keep anything down (including water). I called the doc and he sent me to the ER as things were getting worse and not better. The rest is a blur thanks to the magical potions they put in my IV line. I was sent from the ER to the ER Observation floor (from what I can tell, it’s a regular hospital floor but they don’t have to tell your insurance you were “admitted”). I stayed there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and had many tests and scans and pokes. They determined on Tuesday that I needed my gallbladder removed and they did that around 4pm. I was sent home immediately after and NEVER FELT BETTER. They think it hadn’t been working at all in quite some time and I was feeling rough and didn’t realize how bad I felt. The only downside (other than the days I lost) was that I couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds. M is 35 and P with car seat is definitely over 20. I didn’t listen exactly, but took it easy. I asked if I could go to work on Wednesday. The surgeon said “usually two weeks”. I can be very persuasive when I need to be and convinced him that Monday I would be ok to work. I have a high pain tolerance (physical pain only, I have zero tolerance for emotional pain…giant baby). He reluctantly agreed. I just wanted to be back with my students and back to routine. As luck would have it, I missed out on administering the SAT, and the other state tests and didn’t miss much of class time (Friday happened to be Good Friday as well). I’m thankful for great health care, health insurance, my mom, my mother-in-law, the man, and my friends at work for arranging things for me.
I was anxious to get to know my new students – nervous like the first day of school. Only, it was actually worse. They had been together all year and had witnessed his death. The trauma and grief were real, and they would be looking to me, an outsider. I played out so many scenarios in my head where mutiny in the classroom was the reality. None of those happened. The kids were warm, inviting, amazing souls who were also eager to get to know me. All my fears subsided quickly. We are working each day, and I am learning so much from them. I’m truly thankful for these amazing students.
Getting ready to end a school year and making summer plans for the kids always makes me second guess my choices. Have I scheduled enough activities for the big kids? Did I schedule too many so we can’t have plain old fun at the pool and outside? Will they forget about me when I go to grade papers for a week out of state? Anyone else have this anxiety?
So, in addition to taking on an extra class I also have been contracted to write questions for a national test. Sort of like, a little freelance side work. I figured that could pay for one kid for one week of summer camp and I was spot on with my estimate. It’s also crunch time for my new advanced class as papers and presentations must be scored (by my partner and I) by tomorrow at midnight. Also, I have two groups of students preparing to take tests to receive college credit in high school next week. The pressure is certainly on! I have been too busy recently with all this, but I know it’s temporary and things will ease up.
So, I was feeling overwhelmed one afternoon and rushing to get home from daycare before C gets off the bus (she would NEVER forgive me for not being there – and I haven’t missed yet, but it’s a huge fear). I must have said something like “Oh, come on! Every single light has been red! I can’t seem to catch a break today!” while driving. M piped up (like she usually does) and set me straight. “Mom, three of them were green. How come you never say ‘Every light has been green’? You never notice when the light is green.” Wow, incredible wisdom for a 5 year old. She was so right. This was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to get back to my mission of gratitude (and I’m so thankful for her comment). So, I challenge anyone who has read this far — to take note of when the lights are green, of when things just fall into place, of when the plan works, of when the backup plan works, of when one little thing goes your way. Take note. It will change your life. Because after all….the answer is NEVER to love less (the origin of this tagline deserves it’s own post soon)!
I see you. You’re exhausted, but pretend you’re pulled together and energized. You even joke about not having enough coffee. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been ‘that mom’ and suspect that we are all ‘that mom’.
The seemingly binary dilemma: reading articles like this one, which state you are doing fine playing on your iPhone on the playground and the ones that accuse any mother who owns any electronic devices of neglect. As a mom, no matter what you are doing, society will convince you…you are doing it wrong and your kids will suffer, permanently, for your failure. This doesn’t even include the debate over screen time for the children. I am not qualified to host that debate.
Then, there’s the age-old binary quandary: stay-at-home vs. work outside the home moms. I will not participate in this debate either. My feelings are clear: I love my job, I love my kids. I genuinely wish I could be both places at once. I imagine both groups wish they were able to be both. I don’t believe there is a ‘win’ or a ‘right answer’ here. It just doesn’t exist. In my perfect world, I would be a professional speaker of some type and would travel with Those Johnson Girls and the man to all of the places my hypothetical job would take us and I’d be with them all the times I wasn’t presenting and basking in the fame and glory and admiration of my fans. HA! In case you were wondering, seniors who struggled in math for 12 years don’t exactly show this fandom in my daily classes on algebra. Nor, do I get to travel often or even be with Those Johnson Girls or the man as often as I’d like. But, I am grateful for all I have (see my first post for how to achieve total gratitude— there are two step 9’s and 12 billion errors, no one mentioned it).
The binary issue I’m currently battling: time with the kids vs. time for self-care/fitness. The smallest of Those Johnson Girls will be 6 months on Monday. I’m making some changes.
I’m also battling what I believe is a trinary issue: having a clean house, having happy children, or having your sanity. Sadly you can only choose two at one time. For example, I just offered children the choice to go get groceries with dad or stay and help me clean up so we can get the groceries in the house when he gets home. Guess what? They are all interested in grocery shopping this morning. Which means, I can clean up without screaming at anyone. They think they won.
My cousin (who also has four children) said to me recently when we were debating if you ever get over the imposter syndrome as a parent, and you do. I haven’t reached that point yet. I still feel like I’m not a real mom. Even though I have Those Johnson Girls who call me mom. Society says I’m a mom. I even describe myself as a mom. It’s strange. I don’t feel like I’ve done any of it correctly. Another friend says “if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t make mistakes”. I like this philosophy. It makes all of my failures into lessons I’ve learned. This aligns nicely with my personal life philosophy about not having regrets.
You see, I’m completely average in life. I am SO average, in fact, that I teach about averages (ok, means) all day long. I’m an overweight, suburban, mini-van driving, schoolteacher, mom in the midwest. I live in a house, have 3.2 children, a mortgage and lots of responsibilities. Average. I like all of the things I am (except maybe the overweight parts). In fact, a dear friend recently told me that everything she’s ever wanted was to be married, be a teacher and have kids. She has none of those things. I have them all. Then pinterest hit me in the face that night with this.
So, I am working on gratitude. And I’m becoming more astute at recognizing ‘that mom’ everywhere I go.
This week has brought some challenges. It has been said that bad things come in threes. Unfortunately this we true this week (I still saw the things I was grateful for in each of the bad things).
I cried over spilled milk. Anyone who has ever nursed a child understands this pain. It’s real, it’s raw. At work, after working VERY hard to get this milk, I dropped it all over the floor trying to rush to get to my afternoon class on the other side of the school. I wept. A lot. It was the ugly cry.
First, I was on my way to a beautiful cousin’s house for some nutrition advice that she graciously offered to help me with when the van died. It just died. I was not out of gas, the electrical system quit and the dash lights were doing a great strobe-light show. It was 12 degrees and sleeting sideways with gusts up to 40mph. I was about half a mile from my cousin’s house at the time. So I called the man to come get me (the man is good at fixing EVERYTHING and has my respect for life) and fix my problem. In the meantime, I got cold so I called my cousin to come get me and take me to their house while I waited. He loaded all Those Johnson Girls in the truck and headed over even though it was bedtime (around 7:30pm). Apparently, in the truck C had a complete meltdown and had to be returned home. The man forgot to let me know (so glad I went to the cousin’s house to wait) in the chaos. At 9:44 he finally answered the phone and said “mission failed” and to get a ride home. I joked that my cousin would call me an uber — which he apparently thought was serious. Obviously, my cousin took me home.
When I got home, the man took the van keys and went in the truck to go rescue the van. About six minutes after he left my phone rang. I answered hushed (the baby was sleeping next to me) figuring he was trying to locate the van and I could help him find it. I was wrong. He kept saying “I’ve had a collision and I can’t get out of the truck”. I’ll never, ever forget the robotic sound of those words through the phone. You see, the man is a trained merchant marine and incredibly amazing in any kind of crisis. He goes into some sort of alternative state where he’s extremely calm-appearing and able to make good decisions. This is a helpful skill if a ship is on fire or taking on water or…. My heart stopped. I told him to call 911. The next thing I heard was him figuring out that he could climb out the window. The truck was apparently in the ditch and the door was blocked. He climbed out the window and I heard a police radio in the background. I heard him asking about the other car and running over to make sure they were ok. Thanks be to God, they were ok. He was ok. Did I mention the sleet coming down sideways and high winds? That makes for an icy mess of a road. No one needed to go to the hospital, thanks be to God. The truck is likely totaled. We’ll find out more next week when the insurance estimates come in.
He got home around 11:30pm and came in the front door and out the garage door in one swoop. The “calm” part of his crisis reactions usually manifest later as a suppressed delayed adrenaline rush. He wanted to go for a walk (remember the weather?). He walked off. I watched carefully which direction he went, etc. I called my dad (yes, I still call my parents even if it’s the middle of the night if I need help). I was home with Those Johnson Girls asleep upstairs and had no wheels anyway. My dad jumped in his truck (I told him to PLEASE be careful driving) and came over to help. He found the man who insisted on going to get the van. They did. With his magical fixing abilities, they got the van to limp home (about 5 miles). In the matter of an hour, we went from two vehicles to none. Interestingly, that morning at C’s IEP meeting they mentioned she had a strange fear of car crashes, obsessing over them. I laughed and said we’ve never even had one (and she’s never been in one). Damn you Karma. I think we went to bed around 4am, completely drained of all life. I got up with the baby about 4:45 for the day. I was in bed long enough for my iPhone to charge from 0 to 32%. Convinced that the next work day would be rough, I put the coffee in my stomach, showered and put on that face. The one I talked about above.
My mom came over and watches Those Johnson Girls on Thursdays. When she arrived, I borrowed her car to get to work. I got to work early, gave my plate info to security so the car wouldn’t get towed, set up for the day, graded some quizzes and got as ready as I could be. Of course, I was observed by an administrator for 1/3 of my yearly performance evaluation this day. Of course. Damn you karma. It went ok, but definitely not as good as a typical lesson in my class. When I called the man to check on him, I said “Where was St. Christopher on that one?” (he had a visor clip). He quickly set me right. He said “I wasn’t hurt, and an hour before I was on that same road in that same place with all three kids in the back”. Yes. This. He was right. (I don’t say those words as often as I should). Sorry, St. Christopher, and thank you.
We survive the day as a family, make it home. I order pizza (remember how I went the night before for nutrition advice? this wasn’t it…) and we ate and went to bed early. I felt better. It was going to be ok. The man had replaced the battery in the van and retrieved his dad’s old diesel truck to drive.
I wake up Friday morning around 4:30 (normal for P) and go downstairs in search of magical hot bean juice. But what I found was something different. Water. The floor in the kitchen was wet. Very wet. Now this, alone, is not unusual for Those Johnson Girls do lots of strange things. It was right in front of the refrigerator so I figured it could be ice cubes that had melted or someone spilled something or…. But, then I looked up.
The saturated drywall had fallen down at a seem and water was actively dripping on my head. I said the appropriate four-letter words and headed upstairs (after feeding P – she’s super impatient with the food). By this time, the man was up. I cautiously told him what I had discovered – after all, he’s had a rough week too. The sink in Those Johnson Girls’ bathroom leaked all over and through the floor. We haven’t filed that claim yet…… trying to give our insurance time to finish our vehicle paperwork before filing a home-owner’s claim. Thankful we have both insurances, but may start a gofundme for deductibles soon. Lol!
Honorable mentions this week: C started physical therapy after finishing an occupational therapy stint. My students did an amazingly professional presentation for the school board. The oldest of Those Johnson Girls turned 17. P ate cereal for the first time and LOVED it. I signed both girls up for latchkey in the fall and I signed M up for Kindergarten! She’s SO ready and I’m excited FOR her. She thought she got to go the next day though….
Incredibly grateful for: God, my ‘average’ life, my man, Those Johnson Girls, my mom and dad, insurance, cousins, friends, and my children’s teachers and professionals.
I’m making some changes, planning my next moves, and have some exciting things in the works for me, the man, and Those Johnson Girls. Stay tuned…
If you are ‘that mom’ reading this, I have some advice for us that I heard this morning on “Splash and Bubbles” on PBS: