On Finding The Perfect Buddy

As the cage door opened, the six black and white balls of fur tumbled around my legs, making it impossible to move in any direction. Not much bigger than a semi-deflated soccer ball, they rolled and nipped the way only puppies can do, and I felt my heart move up to my throat.

Dropping my large black bag to the side, I attempted to maneuver closer to their level. They could have been straight out of a Peanuts cartoon, if only I could imagine Snoopy actually finding a date.

I bent down and gingerly thrust out my hand. My fingers, tipped in black nail varnish, were instantly greeted by razor sharp teeth. Oh right, I remember. So much for in tact leather shoes and flip flops for awhile.

I was a bit of a rebellious teenager, prone to following my whims and allowing my stubborn streak to govern my decisions. This day was not really unlike any other; the low lying tule fog had cleared just enough to make the ten minute drive to the animal shelter completely on auto pilot. Had I been a few years older or perhaps even a bit less self-centered, my mother’s voice might have echoed in my head. But not this day-my nineteen year old self knew just what I wanted, and it was currently performing acrobatic feats in front of my eyes.

Somehow I knew that they all couldn’t come with me, and lacking much forward-thinking I scanned the welter of fur before me. A few minutes had elapsed, and the novelty of my black boots had obviously waned. The writihing had subsided, the lure of kibble more enticing.

All except one.

This little guy wouldn’t give up. His big brown eyes glanced my direction as he scampered across the now moist concrete floor, straight towards my discarded bag. His spiky teeth wrapped around the strap, and despite being largely outweighed by my carryall, he planted his forelegs and with a great shake of his head managed to drag it in my direction.

I took this as a sign.

Scooping him into my arms, I signaled to the clerk. “I’ll take him,” I called, knowing simultaneously that this could be the best and most complicated decision I’d ever made.

This post was inspired by Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man a memoir by Brian McGrogry. When Brian his bachelor life to move to suburbia and join his girlfriend with her two young daughters, he had no idea he needed to win over their rooster too. Join From Left to Write on November 21 as we discuss Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Mothering By Faith

Emmalee pulled another mug from the cabinet and poured more coffee. She handed it to Cora. “Can I ask you a question? But you got to promise to be honest with me, even if it means hurting my feelings.”

Cora nodded and took a sip from the mug. “Sure.”

“It’s just that you know so much about babies and mothering, and I was wondering if you think I can take care of a baby on my own?”

“Of course you can, sweetie,” Cora said, sitting her mug on the counter and reaching for Emmalee’s hand. “But you ain’t alone.”

Emmalee brushed away another tear.

~from The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Mothering By FaithDo any of us really know if we can take care of a baby on our own?

Eighteen years into motherhood, and I still find myself asking that question on a regular basis.

Motherhood, for many women, is the ultimate mission in their lives. It is the transcendent goal they strive for, feeling that with the birth experience complete, their lives will somehow magically fall into place.

Many of my friends carefully planned motherhood. Some wanted to be young mothers, feeling that if they were able to give birth in their early twenties that they would be ‘young enough’ to enjoy their children – I’m sure some felt their youthful bodies could more easily survive childbirth and keep up with active toddlers. Numerous girlfriends, like me, chose the college and career path first, deciding that the stability of accomplishment would surely be the golden ticket for a successful parenting experience. I was confident that if I took care of myself first, I would be well-equipped to deal with the uncertainties of mothering.

Some women I know simply tumbled into motherhood, like many experiences in their lives, without any inkling of how they got to that place where they had to choose between what was right and best for their child, and what felt right and best for themselves. I have friends who have endured the torment of infertility, their bodies battling against every maternal instinct they feel, only to end in crumpled dreams and a reconfiguration of self. And I know women who calculate the ticking of the biological clock, never having cast their bet at deliberate conception but feeling each second tick by in real time, sure that if it doesn’t happen soon, it never will.

There is a certain sense of possibility in the unknown. The first moment our child is placed upon our chest is glutted with possibility and hope. We feel powerful, exhilarated, and terrified all at once, knowing that life as we knew it before has forever altered. Our insecurities, our inadequacies, and our aspirations pile into the six pounds of sticky, squirmy flesh that has suddenly become ours alone to nurture for a lifetime. And we wonder, can we do this? Are we enough? How will we know when they ________ or __________ what to say? To do?

And somewhere along the way, we realize the secret. We hear the words of those wiser than we, words that remind us that we all we really need to do is practice mothering by faith.

“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it”― James Baldwin

We realize that we are not alone, that all those mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers that have come before us have set the course for that pocket-sized little person we cradle in our arms. We realize that we carry with us in the very center of our soul everything we need to take care of this baby on our own. We realize, that if we stop long enough to peer right into our hearts, that we really do know the answers.

We become conscious of ourselves. We exude the instincts bred into us. We wear the crown proudly, sometimes pausing to push it back into place when it teeters precariously, or drop to our knees to scrape it up off the ground when it falls.

But we smile broadly at our child, feeling every bit the queen of the world. We trust. We are mothers. We CAN do this. We are not alone.

We are mothering by faith.

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” ― Margaret Drabble

 No one has ever entrusted impoverished Emmalee with anything important but she takes it upon herself to sew her mentor’s resting garment in The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Join From Left to Write on October 15 as we discuss The Funeral Dress.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Feminism Gone Wrong: Wounded Deers or Wonder Women?

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, my friend Lindsey from A Design So Vast shared an article written by Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, titled, “Shedding the Superwoman Myth: Where Feminism Went Wrong”. I often find many of the  topics Lindsey writes about lingering in my brain, but this one in particular struck me between the eyes and hasn’t left my mind for days. That tells me something. I need to listen.

I’ve written before about the idea that women today have more choices to make than ever before, and with those choices comes a whole assortment of wonderful opportunities and enormous challenges. Debora Spar writes on this idea, stating that “the challenges that confront women now are more subtle than those of the past, harder to recognize and thus to remove.” Or challenges are subtle – until we get to the point when the dessert tray of post-feminism becomes less tempting, and we run screaming into a dark, quiet corner wondering how we ever got here when all we have is all we ever really wanted.

I absolutely owe a huge debt of gratitude to those women who fought so hard for my generation’s ability to have it all, to be simultaneously a full-time worker, mother, and wife all in one lifetime. Never in my 1970s formative years did I ever imagine I would be juggling these demands and actually enjoying myself most of the time. It never entered my imagination that I could do all this – nor did I imagine the struggles myself and the women in my life encounter when we can’t.

I think what we didn’t bank on was the fact that with our struggle to be equal, to open doors of opportunity, that the rest of the demands placed on us women wouldn’t diminish. As Spar states, “none of society’s earlier expectations of women disappeared. The result is a force field of highly unrealistic expectations. A woman cannot work a 60-hour week in a high-stress job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without that job and all the stress. And she cannot save the world and look forever like a 17-year-old model.” Amen.

I often find myself in that place – wondering if I’m making the right choices, if my children are getting the same kind of parent as I had, one who didn’t work outside the home. I wonder if I’m using my time well here in this lifetime, if I’m walking the talk, and if I am, are my kids watching. I am not, however, worrying about looking like a 17-year-old model – at least I can take that one off my plate.

When I was talking to a friend today – a woman I met professionally several years ago, and have come to admire, I started thinking about this again.  She’s nearly a decade younger than I am, and has already been a teacher, directed educational programs, and is starting her first principalship. She’s married, has two young children, and is going back to school. At night. After a full, full day of a full time job. I asked her why, and she matter-of-factly responded that it was her time. I immediately flashed back in my life ten years in comparison, and then stopped. She likened her life to being on a treadmill, and we both agreed that when we were in the middle of it we were ok-almost giddy, actually. We consented that, for us, the familiarity of work, the acknowledgement of focusing on a task that we are confident with, offers what Spar describes as “because these women are grappling with so many expectations—because they are struggling more than they care to admit with the sea of choices that now confronts them—most of them are devoting whatever energies they have to controlling whatever is closest to them.”

I started to do what is so familiar to me, to many self-proclaimed feminist and wonder women – I retreated and reflected. I second guessed, I what-if-ed, I imagined the different choices I could have made, should have made, and then saw myself ten years ago. Two small kids, a full time job, a husband with health challenges. The enormous weight I was carrying crushed down on my shoulders like a giant hand, forcing me into the ground. For a moment, I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I had somehow let myself down.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (Photo credit: Looking Glass)

And then I stopped. First world problems, Jen, my inner muse whispered to me. Be grateful for what you have. The choices you have are more than many women today can ever dream of. Don’t let anyone make you feel you’ve done anything other than the right thing. Everything happens for a reason.

Suddenly that put it all in perspective for me. Debora Spar, Lindsey and I agree – it comes down to choice. “Women need to realize that having it all means giving something up—choosing which piece of the perfect picture to relinquish, or rework, or delay.” I made my choices long ago, and most of them, I think, have been pretty good ones. I learned that maybe I can’t have it ‘all’, but I can have what I need – and for that, I am grateful. Blessed. Proud.

For all those moments when I felt like a wounded deer – and those arrows still pierce now and then – and for all those days when the Wonder Woman cape chokes my neck – and it does on a regular basis – I am grateful. I thank the women who came before me, who paid for my ability to be more, do more, than they ever dreamed. I thank them because I get to choose. That’s what I get to carry on to the women who come after me.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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She’s Only 17, But The Decision Is Hers

            “Last night I dreamt I was returning
            and my heart called out to you
            to please accept me as you’ll find me
            Me kealoha ku’u home o Kahalu’u.”

-from “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u,” a popular contemporary Hawaiian song written by Jerry Santos 

Lily at 5, preparing for kindergarten
Lily at 5, preparing for kindergarten

She’s feeling a bit anxious now. The summer before senior year, and the glow is slowly fading. School is no longer in the rear view mirror, and as September days inch closer and closer, she knows she doesn’t have much longer.

She’s only 17, but it’s time to think of leaving home.

Watching the college application process from the passenger seat feels a little bit like those first few days of elementary school, not knowing if we made the right choices, or if she would make it through the day by herself. We always knew she was independent, not terribly shy, and was an eager learner. But something about dropping her off on those first few days left me twisted up in knots. I couldn’t wait for her to come home.

Kind of how I feel right now.

When it was time for kindergarten registration, we chose where she went to school. She had no idea that her entire day would be taught in Spanish, nor that any other school was different. It was just what we thought was best, so she went. Things went well. She learned, she made friends, she laughed, and at the end of the day, she was happy to be home.

Now that it’s time for college choices, it’s really up to her.

She’s only 17, but it’s her time to decide where she wants to go next.

I sense her anxiety. It’s palpable as we click around websites and look at campus after campus.  So much to take in, making the decision that much more complicated. Intense. Insurmountable.

She hasn’t really changed that much since kindergarten-she’s still independent, social, and eager to learn. But something about the thought of dropping her off at college takes my breath away. I want to scoop her into my arms, make the choice for her, make the fears go away. I want to know that no matter what, she can come home at the end of the day and it will be OK.

But I can’t – she’s really 17.

Seventeen years spent nurturing her every interest, protecting her, creating a home for her to sink into when she needs it – has it all led up to this? GPAs, test scores, extra-curriculars…I can’t help but cringe at the extraordinary complexity of the decision, and wonder if it has to be this way. Can’t she just plug it all into some sort of app, and the perfect place will spit out at her on her computer screen, guaranteed to be her happy place?

Lily at 17, preparing for college

So we’ll make a list, do our research, and hop in the car to tour schools clear up to the Canadian border. We’ll walk the campus, take notes, and soak in what it feels like. She’ll try to imagine herself there, alone, independent, social, and eager to learn. Things will go well.

She’s only 17, but the decision has to be hers.

I’ll try to imagine myself next year, alone, missing her, but proud that she made her choice. And I’ll be there, next year, back at home, dreaming of when she returns.

Because she’s only 17.

No decision is forever. She can always come home.

This post was inspired by the novel This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila, a collection of short stories that shares a view of Hawaiians few tourists ever experience. Join From Left to Write on August 8 as we discuss This Is Paradise.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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