October 9, 2014

The second time around...

Kirkland Hall, Vanderbilt University

I have been trying to find the time to update the blog, especially with the big life changes going on, but I'm finding it hard to stay awake. Exhaustion comes in many forms, I'm learning. There is the kind that leaves you totally emotionally and mentally spent --as in the kind I felt most days while a stay-at-home mom. And there's the kind I feel now--the kind that is maybe more physical in nature and also laced with a lot of personal satisfaction. Not that staying home with kids is not personally satisfying, but it's inherently not the point. You do it because it's what you think is best for your child and you do it without ever getting the satisfaction of your child knowing the sacrifices you've made.

This working full-time on the other hand, is inherently good for me. As much as I feared it and even sometimes avoided it, I am really enjoying it. Yes, it has been challenging and not without moments of doubt and uncertainty. But for the most part, we are all adjusting well. Also, I love getting dressed in the morning in something besides sweats or work-out clothes. I love drinking my coffee on the way to work while listening to grown-up music or NPR (no more "horse tunes" or "free to be you and me," Hooray!) I love seeing and talking to adults all day. And I love coming home and picking up my smiling girl who runs to the door and squeals with delight upon seeing me. Our time together is now more precious because it's squeezed into a few intense hours in the morning and before bed.

My new workplace - The almost 150-year-old Vaughn Home

My new job at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt means I am working on a college campus again in the same environment I used to teach in (it was the reason I moved to Nashville). But this time I get to do things that are much more practical and mundane, but also interesting and new. Instead of teaching--or trying to at least convince students that the Humanities are worth studying--now I help make possible the kinds of interactions and meaningful discussions that define the Humanities. I get to help provide the opportunities for faculty and graduate students in different disciplines to learn and study with each other. Plus, it's fun! In the first few weeks I got to play tour guide to a group of academics from Ireland and help coordinate a visit from an award-winning novelist and his gospel band. I get to go to the Southern Festival of Books this week and get paid for it. And I get to listen to interesting people talk about engaging intellectual topics that matter. I feel so lucky to have found this place!

I remember one day in the Fall of my first year teaching at Vanderbilt. I was walking in front of a huge magnolia tree and the sun was shining through the leaves on that crisp, cloudless day. I had an almost out of body feeling of being very happy and content with my present situation. That kind of pure happiness that hits you for fleeting moments is hard to come by. That, unfortunately, didn't last too long in that particular time and space, but I feel like I finally have the chance to feel that way again. It's a feeling I longed for many times during the last however many years it has been--years spent trying to find myself and my career path again after coming to a dead end. Now, although the future is unclear and mysterious, I feel like I can finally hope for that contentment again.

It helps that my husband has a schedule that allows for us to both work and still be involved parents. I love my family, I love being a mother, even though it's the hardest thing I've ever loved, but I also love working. And I need to do both. That is not to say that I didn't love my time staying home with June for the past four-plus years. But I think this is what works for me now. And I am grateful for this opportunity. Stay tuned... if I can stay awake long enough to compose my thoughts, I'll be back soon!

July 29, 2014

As I write this on a gorgeous, sunny –and dry—70-degree day in July (!), I am feeling happy and grateful and not at all grumpy like I normally am this time of year in Tennessee. I know I complain a lot about things I can’t change such as the climate where I live, and I do a fair amount of it here on the blog, but I am highly susceptible to mood swings that depend on the weather. It’s just who I am. It’s probably the reason I spent 12 years happily living in Colorado and could have seen myself living there the rest of my life. But I am glad I moved here. For many reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful family I have and the idyllic lifestyle we live which I am reminded of every single day.

I feel particularly grateful lately as I watch the news of so many atrocities happening around the world. The bombing in Gaza, the violent shooting of the airliner from the sky in Ukraine, the two-hour execution (and others like it) in Arizona, the child refugees at the border searching for a better life and being turned away, the endless school shootings…it’s enough to make you really question our existence and get pretty overwhelmed with sadness.

Some people deal with these realities by turning off the TV and the computer, by turning a blind eye to the world and focusing on their own little universes and the small things they can do to produce good in the world. That’s wonderful. I wish I could that. I am cursed with a need to know, an almost masochistic torture where I force myself to watch and to read about what’s going on in the world. I think I inherited this from my dad. He is a voracious reader and media consumer. Some of my earliest memories are of hearing the theme song to the nightly news and seeing him read the newspaper. He still does. He’s very well informed and a very compassionate human being. He gets involved, too. He volunteers every week feeding the homeless, he has arguments with co-workers about politics and he never misses his opportunity to vote.

My mom, on the other hand, had a spirit and generosity that was more local. She was a kindergarten teacher and touched the lives of many, many children who loved her, and she helped her friends and neighbors all the time. I remember her saying, as she was dying of cancer, “I wish I could do more to help people.”

So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m a bleeding heart and compassionate to a fault. It’s also interesting to see how it is affecting my daughter who watches and learns from everything we do, whether we realize it or not. But is this a bad thing? I wonder, when I watch the news sometimes while making dinner and she plays in another room or helps me in the kitchen, listening all the while. Or whether our morning ritual of having breakfast, drinking coffee while listening to NPR in the kitchen is somehow bad for her. Am I exposing her to too much atrocity and sadness? Does she become afraid when she sees the look on my face or the tears in my eyes?

I used to worry about this, but lately I have decided to embrace my compassion and not hide it from her. After all, isn’t one of our most important jobs as parents to model kindness and empathy for our kids? I am just being real. I am not interested in creating a make-believe world to shelter her from bad things. Of course, I don’t want her to have nightmares and worry about death, but at the same time, she is old enough and, I believe, sophisticated enough already to understand that there is both good and bad in the world and how lucky we are to live where we live, while other children in other parts of the world are not so lucky. I want her to know this.

So it is with pride and a tinge of sadness that I field her questions “Where is that? And how close is it to here?” (about the violence in Gaza). That’s when I pulled out the world atlas and showed her on the map where it was and explained to her about the geography of the middle East.

When she told me she had named her newest doll "Gaza," I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry.

And when she overheard on the news that there was a shooting and a mother and her child were injured and asked where that was, I told her that it was in downtown Nashville, only a few miles from where we live. But we are safe here, I assured her.

Some people may question my motives in exposing my child to so much at such an early age. And I could be wrong, but I tend to believe that in the long run, it will make her a more compassionate and caring person. She already knows about Kenya (where her auntie Neena worked last year helping women and children), she knows what war is and that it is happening in several parts of the world, and she knows that the young girl across the street who came to our door on a cold winter night because her aunt wouldn’t let her in the house was a lot less fortunate than us but not because of anything she did wrong.

As one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says:

We stitch together quilts of meaning to keep us warm and safe, with whatever patches of beauty and utility we have on hand. We help each other laugh, against all odds. Barry Lopez was right: after all is said and done, all we have are Compassion and stories. 

It’s so true.

I’ll keep being emotional and connected to the world in front of my child because I can’t do it any other way.  And hopefully, it will be something she remembers (and likes) about me when she’s older.