Finding My Program

Six weeks ago I signed up for a graduate program in educational leadership. I was enthused and excited to take on a new challenge. Paul had just finished the same program six months earlier and I felt ready to try something new.

I’m pretty good at trying new things. In the last decade I’ve added three babies, six different homes, two international moves, seven half marathons and a host of other world-rocking events to my life.

It seemed like it was time for the next thing.

And so I began the process. Emails were sent, recommendations written, and transcripts ordered. I organized my calendar, secured the appropriate books, and began setting times aside to work on this next thing.

And then life happened. Our oldest started running track and along with that came practices, trips, and a lot more responsibility to help him learn to manage. Our middle-always our strongest and most individual child-was riding the roller coaster of tween emotions and pushing back a bit. And the youngest was busy being four. You know, the usual four-year-old package of occasional meltdowns, disagreement, and the demand and immediate resistance to independence. And of course, there’s our next international move coming up in less than six months.

Life happened. Just life.

But the program was still pulling at me. The professional growth. The possibility of redefining of my role in schools. The dare to stretch the boundaries of being a wife, mother, and teacher even further than they had been stretched before.

And then, as they do from time to time, things started unraveling. And much like a pesky thread that has the possibility to take apart a whole shirt if ignored, I knew I had to properly deal with the situation.

Because sometimes making a sweeping change in  life can actually be a way of not dealing with the life in front of us.

And so with mixed feelings, yet resolve that I was making the right choice, I decided to defer my entrance to the program.

There is so much life happening right now and I need to be present for those things.

For now, that life needs to be my program.

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My Hedgehog

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There’s nothing quite like hearing the truth out of your four year old’s mouth at dinner time on a Wednesday night. Tonight, as I poured water and sliced delivery pizza, I mentioned I didn’t think the air conditioner was cooling very well. Perhaps it was the stifling Mumbai air seeping in through our poorly sealed windows or the crazy level of activity that erupts just before the five of us manage to sit for dinnertime prayers, but either way it seemed unusually hot.

And I said that. Out loud.

The second the words fully tumbled out of my mouth, Stella turned to me and said, with the confidence only the baby of the family can manage, “Mama, stop complaining.”

The soundtrack in my head was immediately filled with the sound of a record screeching to a halt.

Did she just really scold me for complaining?

The one who inspects every slice of apple for even the slightest imperfection?

The one who insists on only eating breakfast out of the turquoise bowl?

She who cannot be bothered to even hang up her backpack without melting into the floor Wizard of Oz-style?

I’m the complainer?

The say denial is usually the first response.

As Stella’s statement echoed in my ears I was clearly reminded about a concept we’ve been studying in one of my professional learning communities. The hedgehog concept examines the way that passion, ability, and economic gain can intersect to create a central vision for an organization. It’s this focus and unwavering commitment to a singular plan that helps take groups from meh to incredibly successful.

As my littlest called me out for grumbling about such a ridiculously not-real problem problem I was struck by how much my life could easier by adopting a version of the hedgehog concept in my personal life. To have a small, clear and consistent image by which I make most decisions. I don’t need to load down my to do lists and create exceptionally lofty and complex goals. If it’s not within my hedgehog, its not happening.

Obviously that’s easier said than done. However, as we stare down the end of March and see April, May and June on the horizon (otherwise known as often the most painful months of a teacher’s year) it seems that the hedgehog idea-especially a hedgehog that focused on being positive and seeing the good in any situation may be particularly useful.

I’m not typically one to shore up my life with unicorns and rainbows, but I do have to admit that the idea of my four year old calling me out for complaining p ut it all in a new light. These last few months are long, but to fill them with nothing but heavy and tiresome words hardly makes any one feel better about any of it. So for now I’m going to focus on my hedgehog and the let the rest fall by the wayside.

And if everyone else could play along, that’d be great.

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To The Mother In My Ear

To the mother in my ear:

Way back when, in the throes of indecision about living and working abroad versus returning home, we booked a trip. At the time our thought process had us squarely in the “go home” camp and we reasoned we should really squeeze in one more international trip before returning home. After all, traveling to far-flung lands would surely be cut from the budget once we were back living the dream of weekend trips to Target.

And so we did.

We booked a 9-day trip to Italy without our children.

Way back when, that seemed okay.

We have a diligent, caring, responsible nanny that has been with our children every day we’ve been in India. She’s cared for Stella since she was 13 months old. Heck, she hangs her underwear in our bathrooms. We are that familiar. The kids are registered for school intersessions and will essentially be in cricket-swimming-tumbling-computer programming-forensics-soccer camp every day next week. We have play dates and schedules arranged. I’ve written down every doctor’s number and emergency number I can think of. And yet, I still find myself justifying our decision to friends, family and my own insecurities.

Can you tell?

I was up last night unable to figure out why I couldn’t sleep. The weight in my chest is the anxiety I have about leaving the kids. Half of it about their well-being and the other half is the constantly overflowing well of guilt that is motherhood.

What kind of mother would leave her children?

And yet, I know that kind of mother. It’s the kind of mother who’s forgotten what its like to finish a sentence. The type who sincerely can’t remember who she was before she was responsible for the care and feeding of three little humans. The one whose character was once entirely wrapped up in being a good wife with no consideration given to how to be a good mother. The kind who longs to have a second glass of wine without dozing off on the couch at 9 o’clock.

And so we’ll go.

Late Thursday night we’ll head to Rome and then onto Florence and Venice. We have a quick one-day stopover in Vienna on the way back. We’ve packed only backpacks and a carry on, and I actually plan on reading and watching a movie on the flight. If either of us has to go to the bathroom or feels sick we can handle it on our own.

And if I’m lucky I hope I’ll come back the kind of mother who feels free in her decision to leave her children in the capable hands of others that love them. The kind who can carry on a conversation with her husband that doesn’t solely involve the kids. And hopefully, the kind of mother who can occasionally enjoy a second glass of wine and watch a full episode of House of Cards without falling asleep on the couch.

Fingers crossed.

And this face (with two beautiful others) will be waiting for us early on Sunday morning.

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On the Importance of the Pose

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Shortly before we left Brazil I was sitting around the lunch table when a colleague mentioned how important it is to be aware of the transitions of life, particularly those that involve leaving one place and moving onto another. She said, “Remember that leaving is like a yoga pose. You want to be as thoughtful and intentional getting out of the pose as you are getting into the pose.”

In that moment I didn’t fully understand what she meant. It was our first overseas stop and I was just excited to be heading off on a new adventure. I was sad to be leaving friends but I fully believed the move was going to be good for our family. Everything on the horizon was shinier and brighter than the present.

For me, getting out of Brazil was anything but thoughtful and intentional. It was awkward and messy. I was happy when I should have been sad, standoffish when I should have with friendly, and disconnected when I should have been sentimental. Despite Brazil holding such a special place in my life, I have almost no fond memories from our final months in Brazil.

Everything about that transition felt wrong.

It’s easy to convince yourself that if you just build momentum and push yourself through the movement to the next pose, or life event, you will be stronger, more balanced, and more beautiful.

But that can’t be the truth. We can’t rush through the less attractive and more uncomfortable places in life just to move on to the next big moment. We can’t rush to the destination and miss the journey.

Taking the transition slowly, strengthening and flexing each move intentionally, will carry us further than the momentum alone. It will make the next pose that much more beautiful.

We have three and a half more months in India. We’re beginning the process of transitioning to our next stop. There are so many things that require our attention and focus on the future. My hope is that I can move from this pose to the next not just with ease, but with intention. I want to spend time with those who are a part of our life here, say the goodbyes to our favorite people and places, and build a strong foundation for our new life in Doha.

And this time, maybe this time, I can move from this pose to the next with the thought and intention that will not only carry me to the next place but help me embrace the beauty of the in-between along the way.

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Quality Time

I took my Sophie to get her nails done yesterday afternoon. One of my goals this month was to take each child on at least one individual outing so that we could have some sweet uninterrupted time. Sophie was first on the list for many reasons, the least of which is she’d been begging me to take her for a pedicure for months.

Nine, I’m learning, is a funny age. Sophie’s precariously straddling the world between child and tween (I hate that word and yet I don’t know what other one to use). Her sense of humor is strange to all of us but her close friends, and her emotional buttons are triggered with little warning.In short, these days she can be hard to figure out. I was hoping a few hours by ourselves would be helpful in bridging this gap.

We had a good time. Lots of chatting and though Sophie’s humor seemed to appear in the strangest of moments, we enjoyed each other. On our way home we swung by the mall to pick up Paul, Noah and Stella. While we were waiting for them to come out Sophie turned pale and shaky. In a matter of minutes she’d become quiet and withdrawn and it was clear something was wrong. Once she said “I don’t feel so good,” I pulled her out of the car. And just in time.

Poor thing spent the rest of the afternoon and evening laying on the couch or bathroom floor. Her whimpering and shaking took me to that dark mother place where you can do nothing but hold her hair and rub her back to help.

As we laid in bed just before sleep last night Sophie said, through her broken and hoarse voice, that there was one thing she liked about being sick. She said the only good thing was that when you were sick you could see how much your family loved you.

And in that moment I recognized that as fun and important as dates with each child can be, it is really more the time in between-the packing lunches, the tuck ins, and the holding hair moments that define my relationship with each of them.

At the end of a rough day it wasn’t the fun nails, or the time without her little sister, or the treat from the deli that Sophie treasured. It was simply that when it counted,
I held her hair back.

And that alone is enough to keep me going.

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I Wonder

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I wonder they’ll remember their life here.

The people. The smells. The pieces of culture that sneak their way in to our daily lives.

The rickshaws. The street dogs. The bumpy roads.

The never ending flights. The temples. The beaches.

The heat and the rains. The dust and the dirt.

The first mangoes of the season.

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Or perhaps it will remain buried underneath her thoughts.

Like an urban legend waiting to be proven.

As if it never happened at all.

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This week was the winner, handily beating me without much of a fight.

School was incredibly full-we worked a half day on Saturday and managed to host three different artists throughout the week. That led to packed days and exhausted evenings. I coped with this craziness by deciding NOT to run this week (when will I ever learn?!) and going to bed by 9 pm every night. I’ve been in a terrible mood and I’m hoping a weekend of rest and relaxation will be just what I need to recalibrate.

And so here, in rapid succession, are the seven quick takes from our week:

Sophie celebrated her ninth birthday! Around Christmas Paul and I agreed we wanted to scale back the birthday parties and focus more on family parties than friend parties. Sophie took the news quite well, but I was unsure how she’d feel when her day arrived. A few days before her birthday she decided she wanted to have our friends over for penne a la vodka and blueberry pie. We enjoyed an early dinner together and then she had one friend spend the night. It was very low key, but I think she still had a great day and felt very loved.

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In addition to Sophie’s birthday, we also had our last Festival of Nations at school. It was a bittersweet day to see the kids walk in their last parade at this school. As it’s been every year, Noah walked for the U.S.A. and Soph and Stella for Brazil. I was almost convinced we’d have three kids walking for three different countries this year, but Stella decided to embrace her Brazilian roots. It always amazing to see the whole school gathered representing a ridiculous number of countries and religions together.IMG_7989

Even with this internet thing, I still manage to be so far behind everything important. I just discovered Audrey Assad this week. I can’t tell you the number of times I blasted her songs through my ear buds all through my lunch just so I could make it through the afternoon. Listening to this is like one long exhale and I’m only disappointed it took me this long to find her.

Stella and I went to mass this week. It was our first time attending our local church. It all felt a bit intimidating and there were quite a few stares since there aren’t very many (if any) other expats. Especially ones with long blonde hair. Stella sat patiently through the whole thing and got the promised rickshaw ride back home.

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In just over a month Paul and I leave for Italy. Back when we thought we might be heading back to the US for good we decided we should book one last international trip. We booked Rome, Florence and Venice and then decided to stay overseas. So we’ve got big plans for our kids (spring intersessions at school), our reliable nanny, and hopefully enough wine to wash away the guilt of leaving them behind for a week.

Floating around Facebook today I learned that Qatar was the 19th most peaceful country in the world and the most peaceful country we will have ever lived in (the U.S., Brazil and India didn’t even make the list). Seven months or so until we move to the desert!

Finally, the Superbowl. Uh. So disappointing. As part of a self-protecting mechanism Noah’s already moved on to baseball season. Fingers crossed for next year.

Linking up with Kelly from This Ain’t the Lyceum to share the fascinating details of our week.

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