Broken Teeth, Broken Hearts & Healing: MotherScholaring & Holding Joy

Yesterday was a long day to end a week of unlearning.

When we commit to honoring our humanity and embracing joy and healing, I suppose it’s to be expected that our humanity will show up in full-force. I mean, honestly, our humanity is always showing up, but I guess I’m more attuned to it now that I’m not shushing it or judging it and trying to instead, acknowledge and nurture myself.

So this week, plenty of mistakes were made in all the areas that tend to activate my self-judgment the most: finances, mothering, and time. I also did things that were hard but necessary, offering public comment at a commission on teacher credentialing meeting, admitting to myself that not everything was going to get done, and holding my little girl’s hand while she went through an emergency dental procedure.

This last event leads me to yesterday afternoon. I had just finished my last call for work and was looking at a paper revision while waiting for my nail salon date with my dear friend, Anna. My phone rang and the name of my daughter’s school office came up. My daughter has had many a share of accidents in her young life. We generally get 1-2 calls a month about her hitting her head on something and have gotten used to concussion protocol. So when I saw the office number, I was concerned but not alarmed.

When I answered the call, I realized that this accident was more serious. She had tripped on the blacktop and hit her front teeth. There was a lot of bleeding and crying. I rushed out the door and ran down to the school (which is fortunately a 10-minute walk; 7-minute jog) from the house and found my little one in pain and in need of serious dental intervention.

After dealing with the frustration of my phone refusing to connect to the internet to find her dentist’s number which I somehow didn’t have programmed into my phone (or maybe I do, but I didn’t look there in the moment), my husband arrived, found the number, called the office and we were on our way.

My youngest daughter is one of my greatest sources of joy. She brings light, energy, and joy into every space she occupies. She is bold, hilarious, and amazingly self-expressed. She is also kind, caring, and incredibly loving towards those around her. My little one is the one who has always called for me to be home more, to make time for her, to take care of myself. She is goals for me in so many ways and she holds me to high standards as a mother.

Because of all these things, as I was walk-running to her, the inevitable heartache and self-questioning began. Yes, I was there for her in this moment, but what if this accident had happened next week or last week (when I’m traveling)? What if her accident had been more serious? (This is a huge fear of mine because I have extreme trauma from accidents.) What if she didn’t really know how much I loved her?

These are hard questions that I struggle with a lot. Because of my commitment to my professional self, I have missed out on major events for my kiddos, both good and bad, and it doesn’t ever get easier. Even when I’m ACTUALLY there (like yesterday), I still have guilt triggered about the moments when I’m not there. My children have an incredibly competent and loving father in my husband, but I am still often left with not feeling like I’m the best mom they could have.

Fortunately, the immediate fix for my little girl was quick (although not covered by insurance) with follow up in a few weeks to give her teeth time to heal from the trauma (hopefully) and re-root in their place. Depending on how they’re doing in a few weeks, she’ll have additional procedures, and they’ll reconstruct cosmetically a part of her chipped tooth, but eventually everything will be fine. After sleep, she’s feeling better although still adjusting to a tooth splint and some very sore gums.

I’ve realized, however, that the tensions around my MotherScholar life aren’t going to go away (at least not for a while without more explicit unlearning).

Still, I am lucky to take my cues from my little one who slept it off, cuddled with me this morning, and is happily using baby medicine syringes to feed herself mango smoothie this morning. We’re going to go to the library later to check out graphic novels, after my make-up nail salon date this morning. I’m grateful to take my cues from my son who is spending his morning playing video games before his last concert with his high school orchestra. I’m even (more begrudgingly) taking cues from my dog who is always resting, eating, and self-soothing.

This is, I suppose, my full humanity. I continue to work to embrace it. It is not easy, but it is joyful and authentic, and if anything, I know how to do hard things.

A Year of Healing & A Year of Joy

Photo of a page from Shamari K. Reid's Humans who Teach that says "We must take care of ourselves, as we cannot be replaced."

If you have not read Shamari Reid’s Humans who Teach, I cannot recommend it more highly.

AERA 2024 owes me truly nothing. [Note for non-education professor friends/readers: AERA is the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. It is the largest professional organization of educational researchers in the country and the conference this year drew over 15,000 registered participants]

I came into AERA 2024 exhausted. As those of you who follow this blog know, it has been a long period of transition for me. In this transition, as I do, I have been in the practice of prioritizing the needs of everyone and everything over my own. After two major scares in the fall (one involving a loss of consciousness and a fall, and the other involving a car accident with my daughter in the car) which thankfully didn’t result in serious physical injury, I knew that things had to change, but getting off the hamster wheel is hard. And I am human. Very fully human.

So, I was not actually looking forward to being in 7 sessions and a committee meeting as part of this conference. I was beyond tired. I had prepared my sessions, which actually reminded me how much I love the research side of what I do, but I was not necessarily excited about them. I was stressed. Years past had me in my head about prospective lack of attendance. Imposter syndrome reared its ugly head and I wondered why I always do too much.

But, the conference ended up being so different from what I had thought it would be.

From the time I arrived at the airport this year, AERA was about community and reconnecting with the best parts of this academic endeavor and (some of) the very best people in my academic (professional and personal) circles. At the airport and boarding the plane, I saw many friends heading to AERA. I got to connect with them on the flight, at the airport after we landed, then saw colleague-friends for meals, coffee, drinks, in the hallways, business meetings and sessions. My heart was so filled with the joy of reconnection.

My sessions were beautiful and, for the most part, very well-attended. I learned so much from my co-presenters, got good feedback from discussants and appreciated the deep engagement from audience members. By the Sunday of the conference (when they were slightly less well-attended), I realized that the number of people in the room wasn’t important, what was important was WHO was in the room, and that exactly the right people would be in the room whether there were 2 of them or 50 of them or 100+ of them. I connected with so many emergent scholars who spoke about the impact of my research on their scholarship and on them, as humans. My heart was so filled with the joy of scholarship, the joy of new connections, and the joy of possible futures.

During AERA, I was challenged with the both/and of counter narratives or counterstories that challenge stereotypes and dominant narratives existing alongside our rights to tell our own stories and have them stand on their own. I was reminded over and over again about the importance of joy, of centering joy, not in a way that refuses to consider the very real challenges to our ways of being, livelihood, and lives, but in ways that reclaim our right to all of these things. I was reminded that my work matters, but that more than anything, I matter, and I’m not replaceable to those who truly love me.

On the plane ride home, I read Shamari Reid’s Humans who Teach which came at the exact perfect moment for me. Shamari is someone I consider both a friend and an academic sibling. His work on humanizing teaching is deeply aligned with my own views about how to make teaching sustainable and joyful as a profession. Also, Shamari walks the talk, and he stands for me and my well-being. For all these things, I am so grateful.

As I read and began what I know will be an ongoing work of healing and letting go of A LOT of perfectionist standards and harmful ways of being, I truly began to feel the words he himself has said to me for several years, that I am love and I am loved and I deserve to be loved right where I am and regardless of what I do. That being alive is enough. That I am enough. Also that love is about nurturing, that yes, love requires sacrifice, but also that at its core, love supports our physical, emotional and spiritual development, and that it starts with self-regard. Yes to all of this.

I am writing this as a commitment to bring myself back to my humanity, in its fullness, as a means of accountability. My humanity is as much my joy as it is my struggle. My humanity is as much my struggle as it is my success. It is all of this, and….

This will be a year of pacing, a year of intention, a year of joy, a year of healing, a year of learning and unlearning, a year of deep self-regard.

And as is human, I am afraid of much of this, but I am also ready to move forward trusting that I am surrounded by love, if I would only accept my full humanity and honor the full humanity of those around me.

Lifeboats

Photo of a boat on water in the evening with dark clouds around it

I am hanging in there, Friends.

As I move through this period of transition for myself and my family, I am so present to the immense privilege of my life.

I do what I love.

I am deeply loved and held by family and community.

I am safe. I no longer have to worry about physical or emotional survival.

These are things that are absolute gifts that I don’t take for granted.

But it is hard to exist with an extremely open heart in a world where there are so many that don’t have these things, for whom basic survival seems tenuous, opportunities to be seen and feel loved seems far away, and opportunities to live in ways that are their best expressions of themselves (even within unjust systems and institutions) feel completely unrealistic.

So I am working on being with these contradictions in the midst of transition, to never take for granted that I am extremely blessed, sharing those blessings generously with others, and also recognizing that there are so many that don’t have these things, that the arc of justice is long and requires committed, intentional action.

I am often very tired these days, Friends, often sprinting the internal marathon between my head and my heart multiple times a day.

Thank you for those who offer water and rest, for those taking things off my plate when I’m not even sure what to give you, for those who continue to honor my spirit and my heart.

I want to let you all know that I am fine, as fine as one can be in this world in which we live, a world that is not meant for the fully human and tender hearted. I am continually moving towards greater wellness, but this is not a marathon I can sprint, it is one that requires slowing down and intentional steps forward, with occasional steps back.

Thank you for being my lifeboats, for coming alongside to pick me up from the water when I feel like I’m drowning. I know I will never be alone because you are with me.

I love you and am grateful for your care always.

Legacies of love

Photograph from the bottom of a canyon looking up with a tall tree in the center

29 years ago, my mother died unexpectedly in a car accident.

A year ago, I was interviewing for a job that would be a significant turning point in my academic career and bring enormous change to my personal life.

Although the moments where I can recollect my mother’s physical touch and even her voice become scarcer and scarcer over time, my proximity to her and her guidance to me is as strong now as it has ever been.

There have been so many benchmarks that I wish my mother could have been physically present for:

  • My high school, undergraduate, and doctoral graduation ceremonies
  • My marriage
  • The birth of each of my children
  • The start of each of my professional careers (middle school & university teaching) and positions along with the moves that accompanied several of them

Yet, as I reflect, I know that my mother has always been with me in these moments, that I have been even more aware of her presence through her absence, that she has been guiding me through the choices I’ve made (including the many mistakes along the way). Through her loss, I feel the depth of her love; I’ve come to understand the strength in her sacrifices; and I’ve arrived at a place where I feel that my healing is a healing that spans generations and brings the best of her into the lives of my children, even though they will never meet in person.

Somehow, although to my knowledge, my mother never set foot in Seattle, I feel closer to her when I am on Coast Salish lands. Perhaps it is because of the deep relationships that local indigenous tribal communities have with both the lands and their ancestors. Or perhaps it is because I somehow feel she guided me to this part of my journey, reconciling with a place that caused a rift between us before she passed. Perhaps it is because I am healing and choosing what to bring through the present transition to this new place.

This week, through work with my therapist, I realized that I’ve been holding on to guilt, particularly in relation to my mom — survivor guilt, mainly, but, in many ways also, guilt for many privileges that feel undeserved and guilt for never being able to give back to her when she gave so much for me to be where I am today.

It is a process in letting that guilt go, in embracing that what she would have wanted was for me to live my best life, and in fact, that this was, in her heart, much of what drove her. I understand this, as I feel these same emotions towards my own children.

For perhaps all of these reasons, unlike many years in the past, today, I feel a certain peace, or, at the least, a movement towards peace. It is a peace punctuated with sadness and loss, but overwhelmingly filled with love and gratitude.

That is my mother’s legacy, not one of loss, but one of deep love that I’ve tried in all ways to pay forward to those in my life.

I will never not acutely miss my mother or wish she were here with me physically. But today, I feel her near me, more than ever, reminding me that I am stronger than I think, than the world might think I am, that I carry wisdom of generations, and that I will weather the seasons and transitions ahead.

She is in my heart, and the legacies of love she (and her mother) have passed down to me are as alive today as they have ever been.

Transition

Photograph through trees of a body of water and a mountain

I am in a long period of transition.

It is extremely taxing and exhausting.

I think this is because this transition is transformational, pushing myself beyond who I know myself to be, which in turn forces me to reckon with all that I have been.

In that “all I have been” space are many moments that are hard. It is these moments which seem at the forefront of my mind as I leave old spaces, move into new spaces, and find myself wandering across spaces that are both strangely familiar and unfamiliar.

It is all around disorienting.

I know I am not alone, both in that I’m not the only one going through extended transitions, and that I am grounded in communities through all the spaces.

Yet, sometimes, it feels so very lonely.

A year ago, I was preparing for a job interview that would change the course of my academic trajectory, that would set in motion this transition in which I currently find myself. I was preparing for an interview which was to take place partially on the hardest day of the year for me, the anniversary of my mother’s death.

While I know the ancestral wisdom, the deep values, and the sheer will of my mother, and her mother before her, always guide me and are always with me, as the anniversary of her transition comes again this year, I am acutely aware that I am moving away from her again, at least the physical space where her ashes lie. It feels unsettling even as I know it is what she would have wanted for me.

Transitioning from one space to another has always been closely connected to loss.

What do I take with me from all I have been here? What do I leave behind?

Who will come with me and continue to walk alongside me? To whom will I say goodbye?

This transition is my choice, but many of the questions and feelings remain the same.

Dear ones in my life remind me to give myself the space and grace of this time, but it is hard to remember in a world that rarely slows down, when there are so many things to do.

I worry that even if I give myself grace, others will see it as an excuse, an unearned respite from carrying burdens which have been with me (often hidden carefully) for so long. I worry that something urgent will arise and I will forget. I worry that time will continue to slip by, an elusive record of all that is left undone. I worry that the things I do will still not be enough, that I will not be enough. It is the “all I have been” and all I am becoming merged in the present.

I am tired.

When I am tired, I need to stop. I need to reflect. That is why I created this space.

Yet, in these moments I am mostly likely to run away, even from myself, to the silent judgment within me that makes me feel acutely alone.

I am breathing. I am grateful to come back to myself. And yet, I am also only here in moments, struggling to find my footing while keeping on a path that keeps moving without me.

It is all what is.

It is transition.

A long period of transition.

Moving with Intention

2023 has been a year.

I suppose that every year is a year, and this year may actually have felt closer to many years, but I mean that it has been a very full year with much rapid movement despite a beginning steeped in stillness.

Coming into 2023, I had a feeling that it would be a year of growth and change. I felt a shift in energy as I entered the year that was preparing me for a “what’s next” which ended up being a large personal and professional move, a move that will officially begin tomorrow, on the first day of 2024.

I entered 2023 on a social media pause. It’s interesting to me that my natural winter state is one of retreat, of time to collect myself away from public access, of drawing close to those who are nearest and dearest to me. I also spent a big part of the first quarter of 2023 grieving, reflecting on mental health, wellness, and trying to find a balance between overwhelm and balance.

In April, as I entered the second quarter of year, I made the big announcement about my professional move to the University of Washington (Seattle), a position which will begin tomorrow. It was an incredibly busy month where I was doing way too much and not making a lot of space for my heart. In May, as the academic year wound down, I realized the need for space and made commitments to embracing my own humanity. They were beautiful commitments, many of which I have held to in the several months since even while I haven’t been present to them consciously. I am grateful to my May self for guiding the rest of this year.

The summer was a beautiful season of embracing presence in the midst of transition, receiving affirmation and acknowledgment in the world, and realizing a vision months and years in the making. It was a time of completion as I left my interim department chair role for my final semester as CSULB faculty, and a time of new possibilities, as we toured several campuses with my son in preparation for college application season.

As summer moved into fall semester, the reality of transitions began to set in slowly. It was a particularly challenging semester, for many reasons. Personally, there was a lot to hold in the courses I was teaching, and my son struggled for the first time in a course where my interventions couldn’t do much.  It was also a time of too much, where all that I was holding began to spill out from my arms. I had a health scare and an accident this fall, with the latter taking away a lot of my sense of independence. Things I had worked extremely hard on began to unravel. The world also felt like it was unraveling, painfully, before our eyes. It still feels like this, particularly in Palestine. At many moments, I also began to unravel, feeling unmoored, untethered, in a time where I desperately just needed to hold on to something.

It is the winter again. I find myself at the dawn of a new day, when still so much of the pain of the world continues without pause. I know I cannot hold it all, but I feel stronger in my resolve to hold onto myself when there is nothing else to hold on to. I know that if I am here, I can stand up, show up, and use my voice to advocate for a better world for those facing so much injustice, violence, and loss.

This year, I hope to move with more intentionality, more slowly and deliberately, with more kindness to myself that allows me to listen to, understand, and have the energy to move authentically in solidarity with others. I hope to forgive my imperfections and truly live them as places of growth; I hope to honor the calling of my heart and body and trust myself as I walk always towards greater good in the world around me. I hope to do less, but to do what is done whole-heartedly, and always, in love.

Rest & Care

Photo of a screenshot from my Twitter (X) account that reads, "I love teaching. Also 14 hour days are a lot and now I am going to eat pasta, then maybe collapse in a puddle of exhaustion and tears. 😭"

Whew, friends. The last couple of weeks, especially the last three Wednesdays, have been A LOT.

I love teaching.

There aren’t even really words to fully express the joy that I feel from teaching. Teaching gives me the opportunity to profoundly connect with others and (often) support them in learning, while also challenging me to continue to grow. It’s a huge part of my professional heart. It brings me energy, life, and sheer joy.

And also, it’s exhausting.

This semester, I’ve returned to the classroom to teach a double section of a Masters (teacher) (action) research course (online) which I’m picking up from two other instructors mid-way through a two-course series that is split over the spring and fall semesters.

I could have spent my last semester teaching out a course (in-person) that I helped to create and transform, that I’ve taught before, to credential students, and that I love. But, for a variety of reasons, I chose to take on a new prep, also teaching something I love (and I always love students so that is what it is), but with very different constraints.

I love these students. I love teaching (teacher) (action) research (in parenthesis because this is not exactly how the course started in the spring for almost half of them). But it’s been a rough semester of transition for students and for myself, that has involved a lot of support, unlearning, and co-construction. I know we’re all going to be fine, but it’s…well…a lot.

Beyond this, I have a foot in (at least) two professional worlds as I transition universities (between fall and winter), am at a peak moment of motherhood, as I support my eldest biological child into college (my older daughters did not choose to go a traditional college path so this is a first for me), and have been working to wrap up initiatives and support others in my professional and personal circles. I also have multiple writing projects I’m working on, lots of them with people who are deeply important to me, going on consecutively. Fall conference season is quickly approaching. Oh, and I decided to start a new (part of a) study. It is all the things.

Not to mention that I am a whole human being, with feelings (lots of them), limits (working on them), and only so much energy.

So this week, after my third consecutive 14-hour Wednesday, I kinda hit a wall.

Or an ocean.

I mean, something in my path that stopped me (insert your favorite nature metaphor here).

If I’m being completely honest, I began to rapidly approach the wall/ocean/ inserted metaphor last week, feeling a deep sadness & loneliness, in spite of being surrounded by people and all the things there are to do. I was not taking a moment to pause and be with myself, to nourish myself in the light of those I care deeply for and love the most. I was just pushing forward without care or acknowledgment of what I was experiencing, without pause.

Urgency doesn’t bring, bridge, or build community.

I knew it was bad (good? making its own space for itself?) when I cried in a meeting with our new department chair, the third time that week that tears welled up in front of my computer.

Still, I felt compelled to work over the long weekend. That compulsion often comes up when I’m feeling out of control, a remnant of years where professional/ academic accomplishments were the only consistent validation in my life.

But this week, after Wednesday’s exhaustion, I couldn’t keep pushing on.

So yesterday and today, I am pacing myself. I am reminding myself that the work I need to do, especially the work that involves writing and femtoring, requires my full self, and my full self requires time, breath, and the modeling of wholeness (and regathering) that is not on a defined timeline. There will still be things that get done, but I am breathing into them, rather than rushing through them, and I am working on being willing to let some of them go, if they are not for this moment.

I am working on this. I am still highly imperfect at it, but I’m sharing this as a work in progress because that is a part of the life and times of an evolving academic, I suppose, and more importantly, it is part of the life and times of an evolving human.

Blessed

A photograph of an engraved glass apple and a bouquet of flowers on a desk

Today was probably my last convocation as a CSU Long Beach faculty member.

It’s one of those things that I knew but I didn’t really feel until my colleague Lindsay mentioned it, and then all of the sudden, I thought, “Yes, this is one of the first of the lasts of this semester, of this leg of my professional journey.”

There has been a part of me that has held this last convocation with a deep pang of sadness. It is the sadness of transition, of a chapter of my professional life coming to a close soon. It is the sadness of leaving the proximity of community that I have built over 11 years, that has nurtured me, and that loved me and continues to love me even as I grow and will soon leave it.

The pang of sadness is there because there has been so much joy. The joy of seeing staff and faculty colleagues that are friends and even chosen family, the joy of being together in the beautiful sunshine, the joy of belonging, of feeling seen and loved and honored.

Institutions are what they are and there are challenges to all of them. My son often tells me that universities are just collections of buildings where the learning takes place, but I know that this place has been more than that for me. People and communities have made this place my professional home. The many years, many challenges, many fights, some losses, other victories, the work and walk alongside so many people I cherish. That is what makes any place home.

While there has been sadness and joy, what has most profoundly been with me today is peace and gratitude. I have given with my whole heart to the people and programs that I’ve been involved with in the last 11 years. I will continue to give with my whole heart this semester. I will stay close to many cherished friends and colleagues that I have met here. I will drift away from others, after having passed a beautiful season together.

Not everyone finds a professional home. Not everyone feels seen and loved and joyful where they work. Not everyone gets the privilege of deep connection with brilliant, committed souls.

But I am blessed, even in transition, to have a forever family at CSULB.

Pause

It’s been a week.

I am adjusting to the flow of this period of transition. It is both hard and emotional.

In the past, I would have just buried the hard and emotional in the flow of the constant work there is to do. (There is always more that can be done in this work.)

But I am practicing humanization (including towards myself which I often find most challenging).

In being with my full humanity, instead of pushing through to do one more thing, I am pausing. I am feeling. I am reflecting.

It is a lot.

Transitions involve grief. Even the best transitions and even those which are gradual require a process of grieving. It is certainly a different form of grief than many others I have been through, but it is a grief process nonetheless. It is a letting go of what was, a being with what is, and an uncertainty of what will be. (I’ve been thinking a lot about expanded notions of grief since listening to the “Hella Healing Grief” episode of the Black Gaze Podcast and want to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Farima Pour-Khorshid and Yaribel Mercedes for their perspectives on this which have helped me approach myself more gently in this time.)

I am sharing this here, publicly, because I am great at masking grief, at being effective and high achieving, at being happy, when I am also holding a lot of emotions. I have a sticker on my water bottle that reminds me, “It’s ok to feel many things at the same time.” I am reminding myself, reminding you who read this, we deserve pause, we deserve our own gentleness, we deserve the space to hold many things at the same time, to be however we are, even when that can feel confusing and inarticulable, even as we continue to press on and survive when we wanted to be thriving by now.

Sometimes we will have weeks like this week.

It will be a lot.

And that is a part of our humanity.

A Full Heart

Photograph of a letter confirming my promotion to Full Professor

Today, at 4pm, I received notice that I have been promoted to Full Professor at California State University, Long Beach.

This is not my first rodeo as full professor (I was full professor for a year at another institution when I was on leave from CSULB) and it’s not the last institution I’ll be full professor at (since I transition at the end of this calendar year to be the Boeing Endowed Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington), but this hits differently because I have been through the entire tenure and promotion process at, and given my heart and much labor to CSULB, an institution which, despite all that institutions represent, contains a community where I have been seen, loved, nourished, and affirmed, in spite of it all.

It’s a big day and it comes at a time of much transition indeed, as I prepare mentally and spiritually for things ahead, as I am on Day 11 of prioritizing the things I love about this work, giving myself grace, and resisting temptations to overwork.

I am grateful that on this day, I am fully present to the culmination of my years of teaching, research, and service to this community. Today, I got to eat lunch and have a mentoring conversation with a former credential student, spend time with research collaborators, and meet with my own femtor and friend. I got to spend an hour and a half on research and got to have my work acknowledged.

Soon, I’ll go to pick up my 17-year old from his last dance practice before the summer break at his studio. To him and my little one, I am not any different than I was this morning. This letter doesn’t mean anything in particular. But, I am most grateful to them and for a partner who has supported me in this journey, even when none of them quite understands why it means so much to me.

I am also grateful to my community who has sourced me and believed in me even when I didn’t know how to believe in myself. I am fully aware that I am because we are, and that no one gets to this place alone.

Finally, I am grateful to my mother who sacrificed a doctoral trajectory to be mother to my brother, whose absence is felt most acutely at these milestones she only gets to witness in spirit. And to my grandmother before her who sent her youngest to study in the US not knowing that someday the baby of the family would be among the few Asian American women who are full professors.

My heart is full of gratitude and love, of community and ancestral strength, of joy and peace.

Onward in community and always in love.