Transitions and Transformations

Photo of me in my office smiling

A week ago, I was entering the last 12 hours of my time in Barcelona, at the end of two weeks in Europe which I promised would be the marker of a new phase of my life, a time when I would lean into spaciousness and dreaming, no longer pulled by false urgency and the demands of the hustle. A time when I would listen more to my internal voice and truth, trusting myself and leaning on community, instead of numbing myself with distractions and stress about things I cannot control.

Honestly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for even a week at home.

This week has been a lot.

There are many transitions happening in my personal and professional life. Some are planned pivots and others have caught me by surprise.

I have cried almost every day this week. I have had a terrible migraine, the likes of which I haven’t known since the darkest time of my life. I still do not have my voice fully recovered. I have found myself in deep moments of grief and questioning.

I have also felt an amazing abundance of peace and joy this week. I have taken walks. I have written every day on research of my heart. I have read. I have responded to e-mails, and worked on administrative parts of my grant. I have connected with people I love deeply in multiple areas of my life. I have taken moments to breathe, to slowly sip tea at the perfect temperature, to check in with myself, to show myself grace. I have been setting intentional boundaries on my time, my energy, and my heart.

This week has been a lot. Abundance all around me. Intention and cultivation.

I don’t like transitions. Change is hard. Unlearning is hard. Acknowledging and choosing what is true for me, even when it is not what I’d like to see is hard. It is especially hard because I worry about the impact of all of these things on people I love.

It has been a week.

But at the end of this week, I am present. I am present to calm. I am learning to pause. I am listening to what my heart wants and what I am called to do. I am remaining open to possibility and moving towards living a life that is honest and grounded in love, even when it is complex and complicated and challenging.

It has been a week, a hard but honest week, a beautiful and confronting week. I am ever more committed to weeks like this, moment by moment, as I move towards creating the world I believe in.

A New Routine

During this time that has been transformative over the last two weeks, it has been clear that my current routine is not working. It is a routine of survival that does not allow me to center myself and touch my humanity and gratitude each day.

This morning, I woke up early.

I love getting up early because the morning hours feel precious.

I checked e-mail because I’m 9-hours ahead so the work day has already ended. I responded to all the e-mails I could before 1pm PT (when I went to bed) and then I responded to the rest when I woke up (around 8pm PT).

I would like to remember that this is just fine. It is fine that I only respond to e-mails during part of the day then catch up after the day is done. It is also fine that I wake up and respond to e-mails first thing. For me, my responsibilities (at least those in the immediate) need to be cared for before I can be at peace.

I did Duolingo and Wordle. Duolingo is, for me, an addiction, and a structured one at that, which has to be done between 6am-noon and 6pm and midnight because otherwise I miss out on bonuses. I am who I am and I’ve come to accept that after a 1347 day streak, I can probably count this as something that is a regular part of my day.

I was restless for a moment after that. In my daily life, there is not time for restlessness after Duolingo and Wordle because there is preparation of kids for school, there is preparation of me for the day, there are things to do.

And there will continue to be things to do. At home, after the things to do in the morning, the e-mails begin and continue all day and I find myself exhausted with only a few minutes between urgent communications in which to actually pause.

A few moments is enough for some things: to breathe, to stretch, to remember I need a cup of tea or to look out the window, to take a short walk around the building.

But it is not enough, when stolen from between e-mails, to fully reconnect with my humanity. It is not enough to thoughtfully engage with ideas, to prepare my heart for the writing and work I’m committed to, to bring my most authentic self to the conversations I’m a part of. It is not enough to sustain me.

This morning, restlessness, when I leaned into it, led me to prepare myself for the day ahead, led me to read during breakfast, led me to write this blog. It let me be human, stopping in the course of writing to answer texts and messages, but without urgency, grounded in love and peace. It led me to stay hydrated and to attend to my body’s signals.

I am always aware of the ways that the systems in which we are embedded, in which I strive to do humanizing work, are inherently dehumanizing.

Yet, I have found myself this year, mechanized by the systems and structures of dehumanization that I fight so hard against.

It is hard to be in the machine and find your way out.

But it is also joyful to find yourself and your humanity again. It is joyful to be in community with those who know you and can bear witness to your evolution. It is joyful to lean into ourselves instead of constantly resisting and fighting to exist. It is joyful to have no one to prove oneself to, but to walk the walk and do the work in front of you.

I am attending to this joy.

And I am confident that in attending to this joy, there is actually no worry about productivity. There is an abundance of contribution that springs from joy, and my joy always leads naturally to a desire to contribute.

But it must start with enough time to touch my humanity.

Soon I will return to my daily life.

I do not know how to stay in this joy in that space.

I do know that while I need time to be alone, I can’t stay in joy alone.

I also know that I am stubborn and often don’t listen to the people in my life who have been telling me for months that I need to take a break, focus on myself, and calm down.

I come from a place where there is always more to do. I have internalized and enacted dehumanizing practices that have suppressed my light and joy for years. It is not easy to unlearn these things in a society where they are valorized and validated and where I am rewarded for hyper productivity whether or not it is sustainable for me.

When I am calm and in the clarity of my heart, I am not afraid. I know I am a writer, that words will come. I know I am a thinker, and can engage with the thoughts of others. I know I am a teacher, and can respond to and build with those I fem/mentor in educational spaces. I know that I can leave and come back and the words and ideas will still be there.

But where I am from, I am rarely in the calm and clarity of my heart.

For me, the solution will not be to reproduce what I have here over there. There are too many differences in society and positioning and context. It may be to spend more regular time here to reground and remember who I am, but I must learn to be within the contexts I find myself, to adapt to that which is and model transformation.

This is long and without a place to end except with these final thoughts: 1) the end must be space that includes gentleness and grace as I find my way, as we find our ways; 2) the way(s) must be found in love-imbued community; 3) to make deeper connection, there have to be boundaries that honor our commitments.

I hope you will support me as I find my way.

Embracing My Humanity: Close Up & At a Distance

Selfie of me, in front of a rising sun on the Garonne River in Bordeaux, France

I have a confession to make.

As much as I have always been an advocate for humanizing pedagogies, humanizing education, humanizing practices in the world, I have deeply failed to embrace my own humanity.

I have done too much for too many people without acknowledging or doing anything about the ways the choices I’ve made for others have (in their totality) harmed me.

It is nobody’s responsibility but my own. I honor the parts of me that have not wanted to disappoint anyone, those that have found doing t0 be a form of survival, those that have craved connection that hasn’t always been available to me. I do not regret the choices I’ve made.

But now, I am choosing me.

I am in the latter third of a two week research trip that has been transformative in so many ways, personal and professional.

It has changed the way I see myself and what is possible for me in my personal and professional life in ways that are so profound I have not yet grasped them.

I have cried so many tears, deep heaving sobs of release for the pressure that I have put upon myself.

I have felt the weight of the trauma I’ve carried for myself and generations before me, the strength that came from putting the needs of everyone ahead of my own.

I have faced myself honestly and realized that I have spent so long running from my truth.

I have read and written and engaged deeply with ideas and people who have renewed me in ways big and small and reminded me of my deep commitments in this world and in this work.

I have realized that I cannot embrace my humanity if I continue to move in ways that dishonor my time, energy, and presence.

So, I am making some changes. And I am writing them here for accountability:

  1. I am going to be less on social media in general and more intentional about what I post when I am publicly sharing
  2. I am going to be less available to everyone and more available to the people I am building with and the people I love most in this world and this work.
  3. I am going to structure my time in ways that allow me to focus on my heart work
  4. I am going to prioritize presence
  5. I am going to choose myself from time to time, and in honoring myself, I will honor and uplift community
  6. I am going to rest. When frantic energy seizes me, I am going to pause, stop, and breathe. I am going to remember who I am and whose I am. I will gather myself.
  7. I am going to choose my battles. I cannot fight all the time. Sometimes, I need to lean into (internal) peace as my greatest power, to restore before moving forward.
  8. I am going to do all of this with kindness and grace towards myself and others, holding space for myself and those I love most with gentleness and openness. (Thanks to @wildwalkerwoman on Twitter for this suggestion)

I will likely blog more and tweet/ post less. I will read less about working less and actually work less (thanks, Jung, for that sage advice). I am going to trust more, take in the beauty around me, be present to the love that surrounds me. I am going to touch gratitude daily.

I am so grateful for this time, which is all that I have needed and more than I expected.

I will see you when I see you.

Space

Me holding a sign that says "Go _____. Our number one runner" to cheer for my daughter's race Photograph of two grave markers with 4 bouquets of flowers in front of them

May is a beautiful month for me.

May is also a hard month for me.

This year, as it has been for the last eight years, my daughter’s birthday and Mothers Day are within the same week, with the end of the academic year the following week. I am tired. I often wonder if there will be another Mothers Day that does not feel exhausting, as my heart and mind are divided between wanting to celebrate my daughter and the extraordinary gift of her life, deeply missing my mother, particularly as I get closer and closer to the age she was when she died, and the bustle of the end of an academic year.

May is a time of internal and external conflict. Outsourcing birthday parties, while easier, is pricey, and seems to add on to my perpetual discourse of inadequate mothering, even in this busy professional time, full of events and celebrations, for students, staff, and faculty in my college. This year, as department chair, it is particularly busy, as there is more to support and coordinate with less of the heart work and interaction with students that brings so much light to my academic work. This year, I’m also in the midst of final preparations for a grant-funded conference that is the work of my heart, and while I am confident everything will work out, it is a stressful time in terms of coordination according to the timeline that works best for my head and heart. And our college graduation coincides with two awards ceremonies for my son (school-sponsored and countywide) which I will have to miss as a member of the platform party.

In a few hours, my daughter will celebrate her birthday with my husband’s family, our family, and my sister. It will be a beautiful time, and a hard one. It makes me remember how different our lives are. It makes me remember whole families and how mine still perpetually feels broken, even as I try to repair it in this generation. I am so very tired. And I am holding a lot of sadness. I am also holding so much joy in her having this time with her aunties and uncles and cousins and abuelos, swimming and playing, in her full joy.

In these last several years, I have been working on making space where there is none, and holding space for all of the complexities of life, particularly as someone who loves deeply and whole-heartedly.  I have been working on giving myself the grace I so freely give to others. I have been working on being with what is, while working towards what is better.

It is beautiful work, and it is hard.

I hope that if you’re reading this, you will also hold space for me today, for others who are balancing grief, joy, and the myriad other emotions that may come during this time of year. I also hope you’re holding space for yourself. I hope that you will feel the warm embrace of love surrounding you, that you will have moments where you’re able to laugh freely and cry loudly, as you want and need to. I hope you will hold on to better when the moment feels not good enough, and that you will find, make, and take space for yourself in the midst of all you are doing and all that you are for others.

I am, you are, we are beautiful, in this midst of these hard times.

How is Your Heart?

Photograph of a mural with bright orange and blue flowers that reads Everyone is Different, Everyone Belongs

Over the last month, our college’s Black Lives Matter at School book club has been reading the wonderful Gholdy Muhammad’s book Unearthing Joy. There are many, many things I love about this book and the way that it centers Black joy, culturally and historically responsive teaching and learning, and attending to children’s spirits as much as their minds. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

One of the questions Dr. Muhammad asks us to reflect on in the book is, “How is your heart?” From the moment I read this question, I had to pause and sit with this. I felt this question deep within me. Generally, people will ask, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” or even “What have you been up to lately?” These questions (for me) are easy to answer on reflex, rather than with reflection and connection to our hearts and our breath. I typically answer these questions with, “Fine” or “Okay” or “It’s been pretty busy lately, but I’m sure it will get better eventually.” But am I fine or even okay? Will it get better eventually?

I don’t actually think, for myself, that “it will get better eventually,” without a lot of intentional attention, care, and unlearning. How am I doing? If I think about it, I actually don’t know, because I don’t know how I am doing half of the things I take on, things that require more energy and effort and time than I really have, if I am doing the work of attending to my heart.

So I return to Dr. Muhammad’s question, “How is your heart?”

I pause.

I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.

My heart is tired. My heart has been tired for a long time, tired from carrying around years of grief, and from running (metaphorically and actually) from one thing to the next. My heart has been tired from sustaining a body and mind that always keep going. My heart has been tired because it is attached to a mind that is unforgiving of itself when I have human moments, when I let someone down, when I am less than my best self, when unlearning is slow.

But today, my heart is also full. It is sustained by community, joy, laughter, good food, fellowship, music, my family, my children, my passion. It is uplifted by educators committed to children’s well-being and belonging, committed to justice and the work of learning and unlearning. It is uplifted by beauty in nature. Today, my heart is bolstered by fugitive spaces of resistance that have existed and exist still, around me, with those I love.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the second annual Teaching for Justice conference at the University of California, Irvine. The conference this year was focused on AAPI belonging and well-being. The first workshop I attended was led by Dr. Stacey Lee Gobir who is the Assistant Director of Pepperdine RISE (Resilience-Informed Skills Education). In her workshop on resilience, she reminded me of these things that I wrote in my notes:

  • You deserve to take your time.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Resilience can also be honoring our capacity to say no.

It is a journey that I am on. There is always more to do. But I have to return to my heart. I have to return to who I want to be. I deserve to take my time on this journey, to be gentle with myself.

If I continue to get caught up in all there is to do, I will not be who I want to be. I know this. And when I let myself, I feel this. Resilience can be honoring my capacity to say no.

How is my heart? It is strong. It is beating. It is expanding its capacity for love, rest, and joy.

How is your heart?

Holding Space for Ourselves, Holding Space for One Another

Picture of buildings on the Chicago river at night

It’s been quite an AERA 2023. AERA ends my spring semester travel season and is the last of 5 conferences in 7 weeks. It has been a lot in this season, almost certainly too much.

So now, before I head back home, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect.

What is here for me, above all, is gratitude and a deep presence to my own humanity.

This particular conference comes at the end of a non-stop 10 days of trying to manage my life, administrative duties (at work), two conferences, hosting international colleagues, travel, and for half of it, time with my family. I have told multiple people that I have felt deeply as if this has been a season of running into a brick wall, bouncing off of it, blinking in disbelief, and then running full force back into it.

This is not sustainable.

There was a period in my life during which I would have looked at the lack of sustainability, acknowledged it briefly, and then excused it as just what had to be done.

But it is not that time.

I am learning about listening, taking in, and taking action. At least 5 people I love and/or work closely with have told me in the last few days that I look exhausted, that my energy is off, that I need to rest.

I am breathing and acknowledging that they can see me before I can see myself.

This has been a time of recognition. I have been seen and uplifted in many ways that I have not expected. I have been taking in how deeply and genuinely I am loved.

And in all of that, there are those who do not know me, do not love me, who, though we may share many identities & commitments, do not walk alongside me or celebrate my victories.

There was a period in my life where I would have tried harder to make myself into something different, to shape shift into something I perceived as better so that I could be seen by those who do not care to know me.

But it is not that time.

I am seen by so many and loved so well. It is my time to breathe deeply into my being and to hold space for others. It is my time to acknowledge that in my humanity, I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I will make mistakes. There may be moments where I cannot show up, where I need rest, where I let someone down or do something that requires accountability. There will be opportunities that I can pass on to others. There will be times where I do not measure up to some external standard that I may not have agreed to.

All of this.

This conference, I have asked myself, “For whom will it make the most difference for me to show up? Where and with whom can I be the most present? How can my time honor myself and my commitments? How can I be honest about where I’m at with all of the things?”

I did my best. I attended & served as discussant at sessions of people that I love deeply and wanted to show up to contribute to, panels of early career scholars & graduate students (including a former student that I taught in middle school who is now in a doctoral program), sessions of friends who continually challenge me to dig deeper and be better. I had tea and brunch and dinner with others that I love and value, some of whom I have never met in real life. I met people on bridges and in bathrooms and hallways. I gave hugs as I waited for sessions & attended receptions. I met new people who knew me even if I didn’t really know them.

I didn’t do it all. I didn’t see all the people I love. I surely didn’t get enough time with some people I love deeply. But, I am proud to be going home having honored who I am in the choices I made and having been present in the spaces I was in. I am grateful for a bit of time at home with a family who loves me and lets me fly (literally & figuratively) in ways that are sometimes hard on their hearts.

I am breathing, writing in an airport lobby that hasn’t yet filled up because my dear sister-friend wanted to make sure I planned enough time to get here  so I could get home. In doing so, I am grateful because things work out the way they are supposed to.

I will continue to breathe and be and not be everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly it will be okay, as long as I get to walk alongside my people and build in community and love.

Reconnecting with Humanity

Sunrise over the St. John's River in Jacksonville, Florida

I had initially sent out to write a blog about all that I’ve been learning on this trip to Jacksonville, Florida for the Association of Teacher Educators annual meeting, and particularly what I’ve learned being a part of this year’s W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. It’s been a moving experience that has challenged me to find ways to walk alongside our friends and colleagues in spaces that are facing greater situational challenges than I face. It has renewed my commitment to centering those who are most marginalized. It has given me so much.

But when I started to write that blog, this blog, that wasn’t there. In fact, that whole last paragraph and this one, are only coming after I wrote what comes next in the post. I may write that other blog, or maybe I won’t, in that form, but it’s okay. There can be no room for committed action, if there is not room for the reflection that allows for us to step into ourselves. If we are not present and authentic, we are just going through the motions. I do not want to lead at a frenetic pace from an absent space. So here’s the blog I needed to write today:

I have been extremely overwhelmed lately.

This is not a particularly new feeling.

In the cycles that make up the year and make up my life, I have become accustomed to periods of overwhelm, from both exciting and hard things. In the past, I would power through these periods, snapping irritably at those I loved who might try to slow down my frantic whirlwind in an attempt to connect with me and in hopes that I might honor any form of self-preservation. These attempts often failed and I would inevitably collapse in exhaustion or illness. During these periods, there was no time for pausing, breathing, or stopping. There was no time for my own humanity.

There is a distinct feeling in these times of acute anxiety, the sense that although I am doing so many things, it is never enough. Every small request or critique feels like a huge obligation, and things that I normally want to do become burdensome things that I have to do. Everything within me wants to withdraw from everyone, particularly the people I love the most.

I don’t do this, but in some ways, I do. I offer a small shell of myself because it is what I have accessible. Then I feel badly because I am not fully present, my attention pulled in a million directions.

I have been working on this a long time. I am learning to pause and recenter. I am realizing that the old habits of withdrawing are a desperate cry by my own brain to have some space, some pause, to free itself from the obligations it puts upon itself, but also from the many demands it feels by commitments made to others. Perhaps it is my brain’s way of drawing boundaries.

I am not perfect at this unlearning, but yesterday, I found moments to pause:

  • Walking at sunrise across the St. John’s River, breathing and taking in the birds chirping and the water flowing
  • Writing a Narrative Ethnosketch/ Emulation poem (see below) under the guidance of Drs. Rudy F. Jamison, Jr. and Chris Janson.
  • On the bus between destinations in Jacksonville.
  • In my room, reading The Art of Stopping and trying to actually practice stillpoints as a form of pausing.

Although I still feel chaotic in this busy time, I am reminding myself that part of entering this next period of my life is about coming back to myself, honoring who I am, and remembering what I bring to people, places, and communities. I have seen time and time again that when I can reconnect with myself, I am also best for others.

I wrote this Narrative Ethnosketch in a workshop yesterday as part of the W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. We were given the prompts: I come from a place where … –> I went to a place where … –> I am still going to a place where … :

I come from a place where…

my mother left all of the life she knew for a chance to bring better to her children, yet unknown

a place where she was told that the best way for us to succeed was to speak “perfect English”

a place where my success meant turning away from her (our) histories, her (our) heritage, her (our) language

I come from a place where who I was never felt good enough,

where I always felt between two worlds, never belonging to either

where I was not seen as a leader

where my voice and its power surprised others

I come from a place where I knew I was not what everyone hoped I would be

where I was surrounded by others but always felt invisible and alone

I went to a place where…

I had to lose almost everything I cherished to find myself.

where I had to prove myself at all times

where I began to build (in/with) community to survive, and eventually to thrive

I went to a place where chosen and created family filled the void of lost love

where I began to educate myself rather than believing all that I had been told

where I began to reclaim my own power and become comfortable with my own voice

I went to a place where I began a journey to reclaim my (our) histories, my (our) heritage, my (our) languages

I went to a place where I could see and honor my mother’s choices for me, rooted in her humanity and love, even as I make different choices for my own children that are similarly rooted in my own and our shared humanity and love.

I am still going to a place where…

my heart is an asset instead of a liability

where I can fully embrace and hold space for my own humanity

where I continue to grow in community even when it is challenging,

especially when it is challenging

I am still going to a place where love flourishes in collective movement that does not always mean agreement but that calls me in with love, courage, and grace, knowing I can receive and grow.

I am still going to a place where I recognize and honor who and whose I am in the ways I walk & work in the world.

I am still going to a place where there is space for sustainability, rest, and thriving in all of this.

What Is Often Unseen

This week on Twitter, there’s been an ongoing debate about mental health days and what qualifies one to take a mental health day, considering the burden that it may place on one’s colleagues.

First, let me begin by saying that it is not up to individuals, nor should it ever be, to be responsible for systems that are not able to incentivize or support enough substitute teachers to be present when teachers take time off. As an educational leader in a higher education setting, I recently had an instructor approach me and ask what would happen if she needed to leave a course mid-semester. I honestly didn’t know, but I told her, if that was the case we’d figure it out. She ended up staying as we talked through possible shift that could make the course workable for her to continue, but had she left, it would have been my responsibility to figure another arrangement to make sure that students got the instruction they needed. That’s my job as a leader, to support the instructors in my department and to make sure students are getting what they need, which is sometimes less than ideal, but we do the best we can in the circumstances that we have.

Beyond this, however, the conversation on mental health days was extremely triggering to me and it took me a few days to realize why. At first I thought it was because I am a fierce defender of teachers, particularly teachers with whom I’m personally connected and those who have shared their stories in my research, who are going through so much suffering right now.

And that’s true, that does upset me, but there is a very personal layer to this story as well.

I have always been a performer and someone who compartmentalizes. After my son was born, I went back to the classroom less than 4 weeks after his birth (when my sick time had been exhausted) because I was deeply concerned that the subs that my students had were not supporting their learning. I planned all the lessons while I was out, continued to grade work, and refused to consider temporary disability to stay home with him until he could get his two and four month vaccines before he went into daycare.

The week after he entered an infant daycare, he got extremely sick, and because I was poorly insured at the time, my entire income for the rest of the academic year went to paying his ER visit (on top of what it had cost of labor and delivery). At the time, I was also supporting my two older (adopted) daughters with the transition that came following my son’s birth. I was exhausted and began losing significant amounts of weight.

I put everyone ahead of myself, particularly my students & colleagues and my children. I normalized and justified this, but over time these choices had devastating consequences.

Two years later, after my oldest daughter had a serious mental health crisis, and I was trying to deal with a continually tenuous financial situation which led me to work my full time job and 4 additional part time gigs, the academic job market (and finishing a dissertation), a toddler, and a second teenager, I hit a wall.

I entered the hospital at an incredibly low weight and was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder treatment program, which after 10 days was stepped down to intensive outpatient treatment.

During this whole time, I was trying to keep teaching a university class (which the instructor of record pulled from me because I was hospitalized for the first section) and get back to my classroom as soon as I could despite a medical leave note that had me out for 10 weeks. I still tried to send lesson plans and keep up with my students. At the time, I let some follow me on Facebook, and I sent a notice to please try to be good for the subs and that I’d be back as soon as I could.

A parent saw my Facebook post and called the principal saying that if I was well enough to be on social media then surely, I wasn’t that sick and should have been at school teaching their child. The administration notified me that maybe I shouldn’t post anything while I was out.

I understand the parent’s concern. I know the kiddos in my class that year didn’t get my best, but I was completely devastated that a post made on social media, which was my only real connection to the world outside and my world (my students), had been taken to mean that I was fine, perfectly healthy, and faking my sickness to avoid teaching these children that I loved deeply. I was also so sad that I was being asked to take myself away from what had been a lifeline for me, during a time of extreme isolation.

At the time, I was incredibly mentally and physically vulnerable. The parent’s comment broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit. It could not have been further from the truth in characterizing how invested I was in my profession and my classroom. It has been nearly 15 years since that incident, but I still remember it. I was so sick, but to the outside world, or at least to this parent, it seemed like I was sitting on social media, chilling out, and collecting a paycheck while those around me tried to cover the slack I had left behind.

We don’t always know people’s stories. We don’t have a right to them.

But we can hold space for the humanity of teachers who are trying their best to stay in this profession and maintain their love for teaching, students, and education generally. We can come from a place that assumes that most people are trying the very best that they can with what resources they have in the moment that they make choices. Sure, there will always be counterexamples, but I believe that they are exceptions rather than the rule.

I hope we’ll move away from shame culture and assumptions based on single social media posts and towards building sustainable educational systems that affirm the humanity of everyone who is within them. But it’s much harder to build when we feel broken, when trust is broken, and when you are building on a foundation that is cracked, or when we continue to hold on to being right about a person or people instead of trying to see their humanity.

Let’s hold on to each other, take care of one another and give one another the space and trust to know that we’re really always just trying to do the best we can.

We are very much imperfect, but we are trying

Tonight, we celebrated my son’s 17th birthday which was earlier this week.

My son is an extraordinary person.

He was born an old soul and has always been ahead of his time in both wisdom and depth.

He and I share an inability to do less than our best and a sense that when we give less than 100% to anything, we are letting others, and more importantly, ourselves down.

Even though others encourage us to give less, it leaves us feeling like everything is getting short-shrift, like we are letting everyone down, and like we really need to do better in our lives.

It is quite something when your children reflect the hardest parts of yourself back to you.

Tonight, my son started his birthday dinner saying that he needed to do better at surviving. He was near tears. He has been like this a lot lately.

I have been worried, but much more than that, I have been sad, that someone who is such an incredible human being would feel such a depth of despair.

But also, I understand.

So I asked, “Is there anything we can take off your plate? Is there anything you feel like you’d want to give up?”

He named a few things. One is not for now, and can be pushed back a few months until he feels like he can give more of himself. One is perhaps not for ever, something that he tried because he loved, but which morphed into something that felt more like an obligation than joy.

I see his potential in all the things, so in some ways, I could see why he didn’t even want to say aloud these things. He was worried he would disappoint those who had invested in him, those in his community, us. He was choosing to continually disappoint himself (not having the time, energy, or strength to give his all) to avoid disappointing everyone else.

He is not a kid who gives things up easily, and he is someone who has always been cautious with his time. But school is a lot, and between school itself and multiple extracurriculars, it is too much.

Yet, he looks around and sees others doing more, and he worries it is not enough.

I understand.

Tonight, as we were waiting for our first course to arrive, I looked at him and said honestly, “You know, I think that’s great that you want to set some boundaries on your time and that you want to give yourself some space to really devote your best to what you’re doing. I get it. I can’t give less than 100% to things either without disappointing myself. I wish I knew at your age how to let some things go.”

His body has been rebelling lately. He says there are days he feels more like he is 70 than 17. I told him that maybe his body is telling him he is doing too much as well, that our bodies hold wisdom our minds don’t allow us to consider.

He understood.

He decided to talk to those in leadership in the two areas he is going to delay or take himself out of. His initial concerns about what they might think of him somewhat assuaged by the assurances that it is likely they will understand, and by the reminder that those who truly know him and those who truly love him are there for him because of who he is, not anything he does.

We had a really good birthday dinner. He was able to enjoy the food and come back to himself. He was relieved. I am grateful.

But most of all, I am reminded at how much I have to learn from my children and from mothering.

I have felt so much of what he is feeling recently, so much of not wanting to let anyone down but feeling so limited in time, energy & spirit, that I am, in effect, letting everyone down. I am not capable of giving less than my best. I can’t fight against that.

So I have to do less.

Take things off my plate so that I can enjoy the feast that is in front of me.

Trust that people will understand when balls and plates and activities drop.

Trust that those who love me do so because of who I am and not what I do.

We are on parallel journeys, my son and I, to accept our own humanity, the limitations of our time and energy, and to make wiser choices that allow us to remember who we are, instead of trying to be all things to all people.

We understand.

We are very much imperfect, but we are trying.

We are in it together.

And we are well loved.

Past, Present, Future

28 years ago, my mom died.

Since then, life has never, of course, been the same.

And this date, February 3, has never been the same.

Some years, it is easier than others.

This year, it has been, in the small hours of the morning, easier than others.

Today, I am miles from home, but I am also home in my heart.

I am years from where I was 28 years ago, much closer to my mother’s age than my age then.

I am someone I hope she would have been proud of; I am someone who is striving to heal us both; I am someone who embodies her courage, her hopes, and her fears.

I am her daughter.

Today, I am thinking about the past and also about a future.

Today, I am living in an abundant present.

Today, I am present to the hope of healing, to the power of community, to the abounding love that surrounds me wherever I am in the world.

I am grateful, even as I remain present to the longing for my time with her.

Today, I will breathe and be. I will take in the joy and beauty around me and partake in it as I know she would have wanted for me. I will be kind to myself and remember to show myself the grace for my humanity that I would show a million others.

Today, I will keep her in my heart, alongside so many that I love and am holding.

I am ready for today.