The Kind of Mom I Want to Be

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, especially over the last couple of days about the kind of mother I don’t want to be.

I spent a lot of my dating life looking for my other half and within him, making sure that he was going to be a good father who loved me and his children and most importantly was someone who wanted to be involved in the life we built together. That was always extremely important to me and I know that I had found that in my husband. Phil is with me without being asked to every doctor’s appointment and ultrasound. He only has ever missed one appointment and that was because he had class, but he sat there texting me the entire time and got teary eyed when I played him the video of our baby’s heart beat.

Now, I want to make sure that I am the kind of mother that I want my children to have. I think most importantly is that I don’t want to be the kind of mother that manipulates and plays games with her children. I don’t want my love to come with contingencies. I also want to be present in my children’s life and I want them to always know that they could come to me with anything and not have to go through their lives alone. That’s the biggest one for me, I think, because I have always felt I was going through life alone which I think made me the sort of driven person that I am, but at the same time it would have been nice to feel like I had that kind of support where I could have gone to someone without judgement and contingencies had I really needed to, especially with the big stuff.

I have also become really fixated on the idea of buying a new house and selling our townhouse. I would like to find something that is our forever house and becomes something that we can eventually hand down to our kids. I always have liked the idea of a house that is shared among generations of the same family. I guess I can no longer deny how much of an old soul I really am…oops.

Anyway, as I stress over all of this like I do with anything in my life, my husband looked at me as I was hand painting the name plate that we picked out and out together in AC Moore for our son, and told me that I was the most loving person he had ever met and how many people would sit there knitting baby blankets and hand painting name plates for a baby that wasn’t even born yet? Not many, I guess. He reminded me that if I love our kids and am present for our kids, our kids are most likely not only going to be okay and successful in their lives, but also will love me back just as much and have solid relationships with me. I mean, I know they will be total monsters during their teen years, but once the hormones of adolescence calm down and they become normal people again, I would love very much to be close to all of my kids.

I’d like to be the kind of mom that makes her kids Halloween costumes and birthday cakes. Whose kids have memories of baking cookies every Christmas and watching A Christmas Story on repeat. And when life got hard or uncertain that they had a mom (and dad) that they went to and who made things better for them.

And it all starts this summer with our first born, Logan Philip. I’m slowly getting ready for you, my little love. I am in love with your name and am relieved that your dad and I finally agreed upon a name and it’s a really good name too:

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The Week That Was: Oh Baby & Doctoral Comps

My week started off with a trip to the ultrasound place. We both were looking forward to it for a week because we would have gotten the envelope that had the sex of our baby in it.

Only, baby had other plans. The moment that she put the wand on to my stomach, we looked up and saw that our baby is very much, in fact, a boy. Phil’s heart had been set on a gender reveal party next weekend, but after that, we pretty much called and told everyone our news.

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I knew he was a boy from the moment I found out that I was pregnant. Sometime in my late teens/early 20’s I had a dream that I was in a room with all of these babies. They all looked too small to even walk, so I was shocked to see them running around. I followed them up a flight of stairs until one fell backward and into my arms. I was amazed by how beautiful he was with his soft blond hair and huge blue eyes. A voice from behind me told me that his name was Dylan and that he “wasn’t ready for me yet.” Then I woke up.

I knew I had met my future son, and I knew eventually he would be ready for me. I just knew that this was him when my 5 pregnancy tests all turned positive. Only, Dylan never really fit him and for the longest time, I wanted to name my son John Dylan, John for my grandfather and Dylan for the dream. Phil is on this Phil the third thing, but I really feel that it’s too much to put on a kid and kids need their own names and their own identities.

We’ve been kicking around John Philip which I really love because it honors both grandfathers who are no longer with us and it gives our son his own identity. We have time to decide, but I’m really rooting for the latter choice. I was very close to my grandfather when he was alive and I know that I was his favorite. I took his death really hard in high school and in a lot of ways, I think losing him really put me on the path I took as an adult. He would be nearly 100 years old today. I wonder what he would think of all of this and how he must be up there smiling thinking about becoming a great-grandfather.

I thought this was going to be my big news for the week, but it seems that life also had other plans. Yesterday as I checked my phone for the time, I saw a gmail notification from my university. I didn’t breath the entire time the e-mail loaded. Coming in a whole FIVE DAYS before I was supposed to receive my results, it was the email containing my pass/fail notice on my doctoral comprehensive exam.

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And…I PASSED!!! I am officially a doctoral candidate and am now only waiting for my university to assign my doctoral mentor and committee before I plunge into dissertation. If I follow my plan, I will be done in a year and a half. I really can’t wait. I even hope I get there sooner because I am ready to be done and moving on with my life and career.

Pretty crazy week, eh?

The End of Doctoral Comps?

I am 15 weeks pregnant.

And I just submitted my doctoral comprehensive exam.

All 50 pages of its 13,000-word glory which I wrote when I spent much of the writing period in bed battling the worst flu I think I have ever had.

Getting sick when you’re pregnant is kind of one of those sick jokes. You can’t really take anything, other then Sudafed (does nothing) and Tylenol (never does anything, but when you can only take ONE pill, it REALLY does nothing).

Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and straight up brain fried.

I won’t know for another 10 days if I passed. My university will forward my exam to 3 faculty readers and they will each score it. I will need to have at least 2 of the readers mark each criterion as proficient or distinguished in order for me to be passed and fully moved into dissertation with a mentor.

I thought I would be biting my nails raw, but I think I’m just going to enjoy those 10 days where I won’t have to be writing or researching…or worrying. I have some for fun books that I want to get through, even though I definitely did not make my 100 book challenge. And, I’d like to shop for my baby.

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The Secret to Success as an Urban Educator

I saw a status from someone who began teaching around the time that I was deciding to commit to teaching myself. She wrote that her former students were shocked that she had had a baby and that just because she has high expectations and wasn’t a “nice” teacher doesn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person in life.

Seeing that, just dumbfounded me. Particularly because we both teach in inner cities and teach special education populations, her more so than me as I am not a special education teacher, but for the majority of my years in the inner city, I had volunteered to be the general education teacher in inclusive classrooms for my grade level.

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And there is a side to teaching wherein if you want to be successful, meaning you help students achieve academically in your subject area, then you have to have high expectations, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love your kids as well or that you have to be “a not nice teacher” to communicate those expectations. With city kids, that means being consistent in your judgement, consistent in your love and your criticism as well as being flexible and truly listening to what these kids have to say.

The majority of the students I have taught remain in contact with me, updating me on their lives and their dreams. They visit sometimes and when they do, it’s always with big hugs and excitement. That is how I know I am successful in what I do. Sure, I have years of data that back me and show my administrators that I am successful in teaching kids how to read and bringing them towards career and college readiness, but that’s not all there is to teaching.

I remember the first time a student called me mom. Continually. Later, when I asked them why I had become their mom I was told it was because they knew that I was there for them, even when they were acting a fool. They knew that they could come to me with anything and I would do my best for them. That was when I knew that I was on the path of becoming the kind of teacher I knew that urban kids needed.

Urban kids are different from your suburban kids that come from nice homes, with semi-intact families and better financial support systems. Urban kids are often starting school well below their suburban counter parts because of the environments they are raised in, they often have parents or grandparents working multiple jobs meaning they’re home alone more times than not or in state-funded daycare. Urban kids are also semi street smart, because really, kids are also kids in any environment and come into school with an attitude more times than not because they feel like they don’t fit.

However, if you hold these kids to a high expectation of achievement as well as give them them the empathy and love that so many just need, then you are not only going to have success in their academics, but you’re also going to have success in helping to raise a better future in that, your love and acceptance may be what sets that kid up for an entirely different path in life.

Within urban education, I firmly believe all students need it. Some more than others, specifically kids with difficult home lives and worse yet, the kids that have spent their lives in and out of the system. If you pursue your teaching career in an inner city district, you have to become an educator with clear expectations as well as someone who will become another mother or father towards the kids that you are working to educate.

And I carry that belief with me in everything I do. For instance, the college class I am teaching this summer is at the city campus. It took me less than 5 minutes to e-mail the students who missed the first class to just remind them that class was today. Within 30 minutes, I even had one show up late to class.

Sometimes, you just have to be that person for other people. If you want to be a successful teacher, you need to remember that you have chosen a profession where you are in service to others.

Away We Go: Where Life Puts You Down

There’s this Ben Okri quote in The Famished Road, a really great book that I read from the optional reading list when I took Art of West Africa as an undergraduate student at Rutgers. It say, “This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down.” As a clueless 20-something at the time, I appreciated the sentiment, but it has only been recently that I have really gotten it.

For most of my life, I had a plan for myself and though it changed and diverted in places I am reaching the end stages of that early adult life plan: become a teacher who writes books and travel, get married to someone you love with your whole heart, and finish your PhD. Of course, at the time I thought it would be a PhD in art history and that I would be an art history professor, but the way it has turned out has made me happier than I would have been had I followed the original path. Life had other plans and I grew into them because it’s where I was put down.

 

Again the tides are starting to change and with them, I am beginning to feel the feelings that signal change and uncertainty. In 2015, I took a huge leap of faith and commitment. I left my apartment in Bordentown and bought a house at the Jersey shore where I would move to with my boyfriend. I have never lived with a boyfriend and really never thought I would, but that’s the path life was taking me and instead of second guessing everything like I always do, I went with it and in doing so, I made one of the best decisions of my life: I began my own family with the man of my dreams and in 5 months, we’re going to be husband and wife.

Which has led us to a whole new set of adventures and life questions. After this year, we’ll be married and God willing, my PhD will be completed which means I will begin to look for administration positions as well as full-time university positions. We’ve begun to discuss many things, but the biggest one is: How committed are we to a life in New Jersey? And, where do we want to live?

We’ve outgrown our tiny seaside house with just us and the tiny zoo. Both of our dogs are full grown now and they would be so much happier with a lot of space to run around in. With the concern over honeymooning in Ireland, which, I think is also fed into by when we were in France/England in 2014 and were existing via Calais to Dover to Heathrow and they put the terror alert to red as we walked through lines of migrants, riot police and a crazy airport, it was all very unnerving. The world has only gotten crazier. With all the talk of what to do for a honeymoon and what our plan is for the next steps in our lives, I started to suggest maybe a road trip? What if we just drove around to all the states we always wanted to see and experienced them for a little bit? We could be like John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go, and maybe figure out the next place that we want to venture to or at least try to, before life puts us down again.

Let’s Skip the Honeymoon

Is a honeymoon mandatory? I would think not, but as I began to plan my wedding, I realized how quickly people were willing to give you both solicited, but really mainly their unsolicited advice and opinions on what you should do on your day.

We had been dating for 2 1/2 years when Phil had asked me to marry him. We had talked about marriage often and about starting a family as well as all of the other things we wanted in life. We had done so probably since the third or fourth month of dating. My mom always told me that when you meet the right person, it was all going to happen quick and effortless. Looking back, I would have to say my mom was pretty right about that.

Within a few days we already knew what date we wanted to be married on and where. Planning started quickly and by spring of this year, our wedding was pretty much together. We just had to pay for everything. We wanted to honeymoon in Ireland.

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I have always wanted to go there and Phil, being the gigantic fantasy nerd that he is was all for the castles and the history. It’s really the perfect spot. However 2017 is turning out to not be a very kind year politically and I really feel like the world is spiraling out of control. I am almost scared to bring kids into this world, because I do not think that it’s going to get better any time soon and for it to get better, it’s definitely going to get much worse.

Suffice it to say, we will not be going to Ireland on our honeymoon. After this latest attack in Manchester, I believe that Europe and us will be separated for some time which is a hard realization to reach since I love Europe and could spend so much time there happily.

We kicked around cruises, Hawaii and even weekend trips like Maine. However, as cool as Hawaii and Maine sounds, it wasn’t Ireland. And cruises? I never understood them. You spend days just hanging on this boat spending money and only a few days in the place that you’re sailing to. It’s been a big discussion.

Until today when Phil texted me and said, “Wanna just spend the days together after getting married and not do anything but relax and be married?”

I couldn’t type yes fast enough. This year has been one of big changes and working really hard to pay this wedding in full and in cash.

After this marathon we’ve been on since Christmas, there’s nothing I’d like more than to just be home, and be married with my husband and our tiny zoo.

Dallas & the Seasons of My Life

I’ve spent the last week decompressing from being in Dallas, Texas for much of last week. I was there for my final doctoral residency. Once I got out of the Dallas Fort Worth airport, I was immediately reminded of what I hated about Texas the most: the heat and humidity.

The last time I had been in Texas was when I went to La Porte, Texas to visit one of my little sisters from my sorority. I loved the openness and the relaxation that it brought. It was so different from NJ.

This time though, the residency was at the airport hotel and I didn’t get to see much of Dallas which was disappointing because I had never been and they have a pretty cool art scene. The point of this final residency was to, by Sunday night, have an approved DRP plan to submit for SMR and IRB approvals. Mine got approved the first day of “classes” which was Friday and it happened early in the morning. I then had to sit there for the next three days and work on my presentation and a paper for another class. I was so bored, but since these are considered to be “seat hours” I literally had to stay, in my seat….for hours.

Sitting around not doing a whole lot, to me, is more exhausting then even my most trying days as a teacher. By the end, I was extremely happy to go home to NJ to Phil and our tiny zoo. I am officially set to enter comps (doctoral comprehensive exam) in January. I probably could do it this next term, but with the wedding I just don’t think it would be a good idea. Better to let us settle into married life before I go crazy with another exam.

This spring was all about taking the School Leadership Series exam. ETS charges…are you ready for this? $425 PER TRY! How crazy is that??? I was so thankful when on the day, I got in the day before the 16th anniversary of losing my very cherished and much loved grandfather and was put on computer 16. I definitely felt like he was there with me that day and I finished with an hour to spare. It was a long 16 BUSINESS days of waiting, but when it came back that I passed I ran around our bedroom dancing.

In my personal diary, I talk a lot about seasons of my life. I firmly believe that women age in seasons, each one not like the one that came before it. A couple years ago, my more carefree season of my 20’s ended when I made a larger commit to my boyfriend at the time and we bought our first house. I remember how sad and excited I was to be leaving my life in Bordentown with my small apartment and my three cats. Even looking back professionally I was just a middle school teacher then with some publishing credits to my name.

Then I moved and I had finally made it to my life at the Jersey Shore, only 10 minutes outside of Point Pleasant where I had always dreamed of living. Then I started my PhD program and worked really hard to become a college professor. Then we got engaged and now, we’re going to be married in 5 months. I just don’t know where that time has gone, and lately, I have begun to have that feeling again…the one you get at the end of seasons as the new one starts intermingling. 2017/2018 is going to be a year of a lot of change: I will have tenure, I will be completing my doctorate and we might even be starting a family. All of those things, will push me into a new season of my life one where I will be settled, grounded and making huge leaps in my career.

And that’s just the stuff I know about, there’s still all the surprises that have yet to come and the very real idea that we could very well be leaving our little house at the shore to start a family life in my hometown. When I was just out of college and moved home to figure out my next move, my friends and I who were all in similar circumstance at the time, would joke…”All roads lead back to East Brunswick. Every last one, eventually we all come back.”

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Love is, actually all around.

I make no grand illusions towards my 20’s and dating. Point blank: they sucked. I was often lost, broke and dating some wannabe. That was the majority of my 20’s until I wised up and held true to my standards.

I read a lot during that period in my life. In college, I was obsessed with Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife because I largely envisioned Colin Firth and all of the hot things that occur throughout that insanely long novel. More importantly though, it was the sort of relationship I envisioned for myself when I found the right man to have it with. It was passionate, loyal and brave with such a dedication to the other person that throughout the pages, many dramatic and daring things occurred to keep Lizzy and Darcy together. Though, Phil and I aren’t having dagger fights with scummy period men and riding horses bareback…or really riding horses at all, the sentiment is still there within our relationship.

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Mr. Darcy a la “Lost in Austen.”

When we became engaged, I had no doubt in my mind that yes was the answer and that this is the man I would stay with until death. Having that realization though, made me think back to my past and I became nostalgic for things, people and places that were no longer a part of my life. I also would get sad over some pretty stupid stuff like when my toaster oven from my apartment finally went. It was cheap and we use it a lot, but I was sad that that was another piece of my life before now that was gone. I know, it’s a toaster, get over it, but I did have a couple minutes of mourning over the toaster.

I picked up Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and thumbed through it. Out fell papers from my first teaching job where I somehow became a french teacher. I laughed, and turned to the front, eager to re-read and picture my new Mr. Darcy courtesy of Lost in Austen. That’s when I saw it. The dedication page. I had never realized it before, because why would I ever have a need to? The author had dedicated it “to Phil.” Years before, I even knew Phil it seems that I was waiting for him.

I made note of it and put the book down, thinking it was just too weird of a coincidence. Fast forward to the weekend where we’re sitting at our church with our priest, formalizing all of the initial paperwork for our marriage. We’re getting married in the Byzantine church so Phil had to have all of this documentation from his Roman catholic church including his confirmation papers. I was half listening because it wasn’t my turn to speak when Phil got to the point of his confirmation name.

“Matthew,” he says to the priest. All of a sudden, I was listening again and laughing to myself.

Of course it would be. I spent so much of my early to mid-20’s subconsciously dating idiots because I had loved someone named Matthew. I told Phil about it later, over lunch. And just like Phil will always do, he took my hand and told me,

“You were just waiting for me like I was waiting for you. See, you knew it would be a Matthew, you were just wrong about which one. ”

Living the life and the love I have now, just makes me realize how much of us was actually already all around me until the universe knew the timing to finally let us meet.

 

 

Molly Bags

Back in the tumult of my 20’s, I remember looking at happy couples and thinking, how do those people get like that? How, in this crazy world do you possibly find someone that compliments you so completely that it almost becomes like you exist in your own world with them? It really was something that was so foreign to me. In my 20’s, my relationships were often drama-fueled and with men that I never felt comfortable with. They didn’t get me and largely, I didn’t get them. I actually really hated dating and I went through large spans of time where I just didn’t.

I met Phil 3 years ago on a blind date, and pretty much ever since, we have been together. It was almost like that date was only a formality too as we had been talking continuously for days before we actually met. It was an effortless click.

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Since then, we have become the sort of people I used to people watch in my 20’s. The sort of couples that would move around the world in their own time, in sync with one another. I hadn’t realized that we had in fact become those people over time.

It started out innocently enough. We came up with silly names for one another, and then pretty soon, names for other things. Before we realized it, there was the voice. Do you the voice? If you don’t, I firmly believe you have not found the right person yet. What is the voice? It is quite simply, the voice you use only with your person. It’s probably softer, more high-pitched and your person will usually respond back to you in the same voice. It’s the beginning of the language used only between the two of you.

From there you begin to name other things. Of course, these things already have common names like phone, remote, bag, etc. However, the two of you will begin to rename them and again, these things will only really make sense in the world that you are currently in.

For us, I realized we had reached this point when Phil had come home from his mom’s house. He was so excited, she had given him all of these plastic shopping bags. Now, in our house these are all “Molly Bags.” So, when she had given them to him, he exclaimed something like, “Oh thank god, there are SO MANY Molly bags now,” without so much as a thought as to the fact that his mom would have no idea what a Molly Bag was. I imagine there followed the confused face from his mom along with a “what the heck are you talking about?” Phil then explaining that we call them Molly Bags because we use them to pick up her giant poops when we walk her.

I would put money on the fact, that now, whenever Phil’s mom sees plastic shopping bags, MOLLY BAGS will forever be popping into her head. Phil was a little embarrassed after this exchange, when he came home, he told me “I forgot. I was just so excited that we have so many know! I forgot that not everyone speaks us. My mom probably thinks we’re nuts now.”

I smiled to myself, I think everyone should speak “us.”