Moving Parts, Moving Whole

A photo of boxes and an empty shelf with just a painting laying flat on it

It has been a destabilizing time.

This last year has been a navigation between multiple places and spaces, made more complex by a parallel journey towards greater humanity in a world that seems to be moving (in so many ways) towards dehumanization.

It has been a tiring time.

I find myself this week packing up my home, getting ready to sign papers for a new home, preparing my son for graduation, talking with my daughter about leaving her besties behind, balancing multiple work-related projects, and holding a lot of feelings and realities with very little capacity.

It has been a deeply humanizing and deeply humbling time.

I am realizing that there isn’t a way to actually honor humanity without honoring one’s own humanity. I’ve been recognizing my internal and external fragility, expressed through exhaustion and missed deadlines and commitments, through the flare up of chronic underlying health conditions, through a wanting to run away or bury myself in work (productivity solves everything and makes the emotions go away…or so I’m unlearning) or isolate. I have been trying to call myself in with kindness and compassion, to let myself be loved when I feel unlovable, and to recenter joy and strength in community.

It has been a hard time.

I hate struggling when I am the emotional center of my family. Truth be told, there is a lot to hold for everyone in this moment. I do not know how to hold it all when I am barely holding my own things.

We are in a process of moving.

Moving can be so fragmenting, uprooting, and traumatic. This time it is also drawn out. I am trying to remember to hold community close, in and through this transition, on both sides of the move. While there are many, many moving parts, I am pulling for our wholeness in the move, for a coming together that is so desperately needed. It may begin with me but it ends with us. We are moving towards wholeness, towards healing, even as we move through these times.

Being Fully Human

Picture of a flight of ice cream with napkins that have a smiley face and the words Sorry not Sorry in cursive.

Yesterday was a day.

I started writing this post about all the things that happened yesterday, but really this is a post about my humanity so I want to write about the feelings instead.

Yesterday was the memorial service/ celebration of life for a dear friend and church brother, Dave Lamondy. Dave was someone who constantly could make you laugh because he didn’t take himself seriously, who would give you the shirt off his back (or come over to do any home repair job you needed), and who didn’t need to draw attention to the things he did because who he was spoke volumes. He left a legacy of love and care that was celebrated by family and community. I learned during the memorial service about how fully human Dave was, and it didn’t particularly surprise me because often such generosity comes from a knowledge of how much undeserved generosity we’ve received through the blessings in our lives. I will miss Dave, his smile and way of being, his kindness and humor, and that he was the only one with rhythm more off than me in our gospel choir 😅.

Following Dave’s service, I took my little one for a follow-up appointment to the endodontist, after her fall from a few weeks ago that chipped her front tooth. She ended up needing an urgent root canal which left me simultaneously grateful for an amazing Endodontics team and for the ability to provide nitrous oxide for her to keep her calm in the midst of severe phobia of needles and dental surgery. This, however, was a lot to hold for me, and it activated a sense of stress around sudden, unexpected expenses which there are a lot of, in this moment.

Because my daughter and I both needed a treat following the unexpected procedure, we drove to a local ice cream shop. I got a text from my friend, Leah, asking if she was in the right Zoom room for the virtual book talk that I was supposed to be hosting IN TWO MINUTES that I had completely forgotten about. Cue extreme guilt. While Leah and my equally amazing friend Jung, jumped in to pick up and we hosted a wonderful book talk with the incredible Joanna Ho and Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, I felt terrible about my very minimal bandwidth for this event and about literally barely showing up for an event that had been my idea in the first place.

Once I arrived home and we closed out the event together, I realized that I had pretty severe stomach pain, almost certainly a result of a stress (+ diet) induced flare up of IBS. I sometimes forget that I have chronic health conditions that don’t bother me until they do, and then come at the most inopportune times to remind me that, despite my best efforts, I am fully human, and fragile at that. This morning, the pain is better, but still present and accompanied by the start of a migraine or tension headache (I can’t quite tell which).

So it was a lot: grief, joy, stress, pride, joy, stress, guilt, exhaustion, pain.

It is still a lot.

Am I sorry not sorry for my humanity? Sort of.

Am I deeply aware of my humanity? Definitely.

I am working on being where I am, on being present, on being alive, at learning from my body, my humanity, and from my limitations rather than resenting them. I am learning to let go and to ask for support. These are hard lessons for me.

I am so tired. I am not wanting to disappoint anybody.

But if I cannot show up for myself, I also cannot show up for anybody else.

It is a time. A very fully human time.

 

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.

Abundance & Overwhelm

Photo of a blossoming tree outside the two story education building (ED2) on the CSULB campus

When a lot feels like too much, I simultaneously go into hiding and overdrive.

As winter moves towards spring and hibernating grief shifts towards swiftly moving productivity, I go from quietly hiding out to perpetually in motion.

A frozen state of liminality is beginning to thaw as more and more is pulling me towards my new life, pulling our family towards a new life.

In a big thaw, the flow of the run-off can be so sudden and unexpected that it sweeps you off your feet, even if/when you know it’s coming.

Perhaps, I should grab for something to slow me down but I feel like the current is carrying me far too fast to reach out for something to hold on to. Everything is rushing by so quickly and I don’t have time to be where I’m at, even though I’ve tried to take so much care to proceed with intentionality.

The beauty of spring is coming and I want to be present for it.

But, I am so tired.

Perhaps, instead of fighting the current, I should go with the flow, allowing what passes by to go even as I wish I could slow down time.

I have never been good at letting life carry me, at not feeling completely in control.

But, I am so tired.

There is so much out of my control and I can no longer delude myself into a semblance of control over most of it.

Sometimes I find myself even at a loss for words.

So, perhaps in this moment, there is simply surrender to what is, a return to moment by moment, an acceptance of just good enough, an acknowledgment of abundance (with gratitude), an equal recognition of overwhelm (with humility), a desire for rest, and a longing for authentic connection that comes from just being, in my full humanity.

Mothering Moments

My son standing at a green chalkboard with a black face mask, holding a piece of chalk

February is an emotional month.

This February, particularly, it has been a metaphorical roller coaster, because of an actual roller coaster (model that my son and his physics group had to design for his physics class) and because, well my son turns 18 today.

I birthed an adult.

This morning, I shed some tears when I thought about this morning 18 years ago, waking up with light contractions. I would go to a local Indian restaurant with my sister in law for lunch, and she would urge me to eat as much as I could since this was likely to be my last meal before the baby came. We were stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital where they were not sure they should admit me because I wasn’t “that far along,” but did because I lived 30 minutes away, “just in case.” Less than 2-hours later, when they came to check on me, my son was imminently on his way. They rushed to call my OB/GYN who had been finishing up a leisurely dinner, sure that I wouldn’t deliver any time soon. He arrived just as I was pushing, in time to cut the umbilical cord and hand me a little boy that was half of me genetically, but held my whole heart.

I can’t fully describe how much I cherish my son. His early years were some of the very hardest of my life, when I was struggling with severe health issues that nearly killed me while also completing a doctorate and going on the job market. He was with me during the most exhausting parts of the tenure process, and sacrificed a lot throughout his K-12 schooling, switching elementary schools 4 times (because of moves and fit) and still never feeling like he quite belonged, even when he found stability in his 7-12 grade secondary school. While he considers himself pretty lucky to have had the life and family he has, things haven’t always been easy. There have been moments where he’s felt lost, including many where he’s felt alone and questioned his decisions, wondering if he’ll ever find his people outside his family.

This hurts my heart because he still holds so much of it.

Today, he turns 18.

We are waiting on college admissions decisions and anticipating the many transitions adulthood will bring.

He is irritated about the many, intense projects in his physics class, one which culminates today, only to shift focus to another due in 4 weeks.

I am irritated because sometimes I can feel his irritation, but I can’t force him to talk about it, and so I can’t help him through it.

We are exhausted from late nights and uncertainty, which neither of us likes, from things we can’t control and things we perhaps should have done better.

We are human.

In the journey of the last 18 years, perhaps no one has helped me to grow in my own humanity, humility and imperfections as much as my son. Few people have shown me as much unconditional love, grace and understanding as he has. He reminds me to care for myself and that I’m doing a good job as much as I remind him of the same.

I love my son with my whole heart.

What a gift to be his mother.

What a gift to journey together.

What a gift to receive his love and grace.

I hope the next 18 years bring all the joy and belonging that he so richly deserves, beyond that which he has in our family, as he moves out into a wider world, and that we continue to journey through those years together.

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.

Family, Grace, and Thanks

Today, my mother would have been 85 years old.

She is eternally 56, but I often think, and always on Thanksgiving, particularly when it falls on her birthday, about how my life would be different if she were still here, how we would celebrate her, how we would celebrate with her.

I feel (more) acutely her loss, and the longing for 28 years of memories that were not to be.

This is the first time in quite awhile that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my mother’s side (my side) of my family, as I’m with my cousin (my mother’s sister’s daughter) celebrating this year. We’ve had a beautiful and joyful time of laughter and exploration this week with our two families. I’m so grateful.

For a long time, because I was hurting and because I was also the youngest in my family of origin, it had never been my task to keep connected with the family. I didn’t know how to reach out or who to reach out to. I missed out on connecting with my mom’s side of my family, which was, in effect, the only side of my family I had ever known.

These were hard times where I felt incredibly alone. There were periods when I didn’t feel like I had any family that truly knew and loved me. They were there, I just couldn’t feel it.

These feelings have taught me incredible empathy, and an understanding when things happen in my own life and people I love need to distance themselves from me, or when I need to distance myself from them. Sometimes this is just something that happens. It is hard, but sometimes it is what it is. I have learned to trust that when the time is right, if the relationship is meant to be (repaired), it will be.

It has been, in some ways, a very hard week, at the end of a very hard month. And it has also been an incredibly joyful week as I reprioritize parts of my life, and I work hard…at rest.

I am grateful for the generosity of grace and space, of people who are able to make space for me and give me grace in my imperfections and in the spaces we may never agree, for the people who hold on to love for me anyways. I am grateful for the ability to be fully human and to write from a place of that humanity. I am grateful to make memories with my family in the midst of times of grief and loss on so many levels in so many places. I am grateful that we can hold hard things alongside beautiful things.

I know that many people, many who are grieved on many levels, struggle with this holiday season, particularly with a holiday that has a tainted historical origin and that is so connected with family. I am holding space for all those suffering, near and far, today.

It is both this particular day (and holiday) and every day that I am also so incredibly grateful, for the life I am blessed to have, the fullness and light, and the loneliness and darkness.

I am coming into myself and the presence of all the things. I am grateful in the midst of it, even when things are hard, and especially when they are beautiful.

Thank you for being here with me.