Our Village

This post is a big shout out to my village. I couldn’t be the homeschooling mom I am without it. Somehow I moved and within a year I found a fantastic group of families to help get the day-to-day done.

Some citizens of our village at the beach.

Some citizens of our village at the beach.

On a typical week, I find myself in need of help getting from point A to point B with these 3 girls with me at all times. By far the most challenging thing about homeschooling is the lack of alone time. There is no time to schedule a doctor’s appointment. No quick run to the store without finding 4 pair of shoes before you go. It’s exhausting. And sometimes it’s impossible.

When I find myself in a bind, I have a handful of women I can text saying, “hey when we see each other at Lego class today, can you keep the kids for a half hour while I go to the Chiropractor?” Recently, I dropped my kids off with one family for a few hours so I could drive another family to the airport in the middle of the day. On my way back I picked stuff up at the store for a third family we were all going to see in the afternoon. All the kids got some extra play time, no one’s family was put out, and all the work got done.

Now that I’ve found myself in a group like this, I can’t think of living without it. I’m happy to bring anyone’s kids back to my house from a class we share because I know the favor will be returned at some point in the future. No one is keeping track, and no one is abusing the privilege.

A large representation of our village's children.

A large representation of our village’s children.

If you don’t have a village like this, I recommend finding one quick. It starts with making time to get together on purpose. If you get along with someone, and your kids happen to get along too, sit together on purpose at the activities you share. Soon, your friend will say something like, “I’m really not looking forward to taking the kids with me to get the oil changed on the way home.” This is your chance.

Offer to bring her kids to your house so she can do the oil change on her own. Don’t worry if your house is a mess. You just saved her day, she’s not going to judge the dishes in your sink, I promise. When the chance to help arrises again, offer again.

The next part is even harder. Now that you and your friend have some report, it’s time for you to unashamedly ask for help the next time you need it. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just ask. You know you’d be happy to help her, so believe that she’s happy to help you. The worst that can happen is she is not able to, and she says no. Big deal. You can ask another time and it will probably work out. After a while, you’ll have an extra set of eyes and hands when you need it most, and this sometimes lonely job of parenting just won’t feel so big anymore.

Shifting Priorities

First, a nod to our new ten-year-old who inspired us to blog. Happy birthday to our sweet O (I’ve made the choice to start using initials in our blog posts and public social accounts because the kids are getting old enough to require that level of privacy). I feel honored to be her mother, and am overjoyed at the young woman she is becoming. You can see some one of her awesome ideas here.

Next, some news about our family and me. Moving to California was a really great choice. We’re all very happy here and thriving. Rob is enjoying his new job (if not so much the commute). Homeschooling has been a great choice as well, and the girls are learning just as quickly as they were in traditional school, but they are getting more sleep and living with less stress and hurriedness. I’m hopeful that as they get older and become more skilled at balancing their own priorities they’ll start learning even more deeply the things which they are most interested in. It’s already happening to some degree, like with From Scratch News, but I can see so much more potential for growth with all the free time homeschooling can provide.

And now for the sad news. Honestly, I’m not sure how public I’ve been with this because of how difficult it was to come to the decision. I’ve decided to take a longer hiatus from doula work. I waited about 6 months after our move to start working, and I was getting some opportunities to work which excited me. Without giving away any private info about my clients, the births were so much harder on my kids and on Rob here in CA than they were in Ohio. Having family to pull together to help out was such a difference in support for us, and without it the kids were really suffering. When O is old enough to be the babysitter for an hour or two, I’ll head back to doula work but in the meantime I need to put my kids and homeschooling first. I spilled a few tears, but it’s time to move on.

So what am I doing instead? Everyone knows I’m too high energy to not have something going on the side. It’s not easy finding work I can do which I can keep in the margins of my first priority which is schooling and raising these girls. But I have a few solutions which are working out well. I’m teaching sewing classes on Friday afternoons while the girls are away at their enrichment classes. I’m building websites for friends here and there which is fun. But I’m most excited about a manuscript I’ve finished for a children’s picture book. I’m in the company of a couple of children’s authors in my kids’ park day (here and here) and it has inspired me to take my own shot at it. I’m in the editing phase but plan to be submitting it to publishers in the coming months. Leads and personal experience is definitely welcome.

When people told me that it would take a year to settle in after a move, I believed them. But what I didn’t expect was that a cross country move wouldn’t just change my location, but it would also change my priorities. A lot of the plans and work I was doing were very location-centric. I haven’t really changed the person I am through moving, but my position in the community has changed by necessity, and so my contribution has changed as well. It’s definitely taken a whole year, and I’m not even sure the transition is complete, but I’m finally more certain of where my spent efforts will have the biggest payoff. When you only have a few hours a week to spend your efforts, a good ROI is a high priority.



Finding my Identity

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can't live in the woods all the time.

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can’t live in the woods all the time.

If you want to learn how little you know about yourself move across the country. We heard a sermon in Akron before we left where our pastor used the illustration that you don’t know who you are until you see how you are reflected back by your community. You do something good for people, the community reflects your generosity, you learn you’re a generous person. That reflection forms your identity.

He then used the same illustration to explain the Gospel. Well, this blog post is not about that. It’s only about the first part of the illustration, how your self image is made up of reflections from your community. I know about 15 people here now, maybe 30, but only 10 or so I know well and see regularly. In Akron I knew every one and everyone knew me. I knew everyone because that’s the way Akron was. It was the biggest small town I’ve ever known. It was both comfortable and overwhelming. And all of that identity reflection was very comfortable after beginning a family life so quickly I felt like I was reeling a little. Put the pieces back together, make some good plans, do some quality work in the community and next thing you know I’ve got some pretty good self esteem and life is good. Then pick everything up and leave that mirror behind.

Trying to get back to work here has been hard. I have learned about myself that I’m not very good a being only a stay-at-home-mom. I’m too worried about what I’m going to do once the kids are gone and I’ve spent the last 20 years driving back and forth from playdates. I haven’t said that out loud very much because I don’t want to insult my fellow stay-at-homers who feel complete in their callings. I steer away from controversy because I can hear it clanging in my ears. But I’m going to try to be more honest in my writing. It’s time.

I digress…

So, I have been struggling to get back on the doula-work bandwagon. I went from 9 births in one year, to 1 birth in a year. The silence is deafening and misplacing my doula-work identity mirror has left me wondering who I am again. I’ve been trying to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of web design while I wait for my birthworkers network to grow. Some things about web design are well suited to my natural strengths, some are a major struggle for me to understand. I spent a few nights trying to hash out the discrepancies between my understanding of php and the reality of php only to come crashing head-on into an identity crisis. I am trying to get positive feedback about who I am as a person based on how well I understand computer stuff. I am lacking something.

Out of the group of wonderful people I’ve met here I’m growing close with a handful of them. I was very blessed that one of these people texted me for an impromptu park date the morning after my php-meltdown. She is going through a similarly disruptive year so we can talk about the things that are hurting us …and there is the mirror I’ve been looking for. She called me out for being too hard on myself, and said important things like, “You have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling.” And together we puzzled over what is going on and that’s how I figured out that I’m struggling to know myself as a mom.

I want to write about this. I want to figure out what’s going on in my mind and in the collective American mind. How does feminism and parenting fit together? How can I build my own life confidently while not pointing out how others are doing it wrong just to make myself feel better? How can I share my experience as someone who’s survived some really rough times, and how that informs my choices as a parent? And how can I do it without letting myself be a victim of the random internet-shaming from strangers? So much is going on in the collective American Woman experience that I have to share about, from the #yesallwomen movement to airlines continuing (STILL?!!?!) to harass passengers for breastfeeding on flights to trying to raise three STEM strong girls in a bro-technology culture. I’m going to start talking about this instead of just puzzling over it while I drive or take a shower. I’m going to share my struggles about it because it wouldn’t be Love and Blunder if I didn’t. And I’m hoping that once I find my voice again I won’t spend so much time looking for my reflection in the wrong mirrors.