August 12th

August 12th was a beautiful day. We’re in Florida so it was 98,000 degrees, but it was a beautiful 98,000 degrees because my friend, Tarra had just returned from China. She’d been singing in a Shanghai nightclub for the past eight months.

WhatsApp kept us close. Text messages, videos and voice-recordings preserved our relationship.

“Plan a day for us,” she texted before her arrival.

I agreed, but I forgot to tell her that I rarely plan things anymore, not entire days at least. She’d find out soon enough.

We began that Saturday with breakfast at our favorite spot, Another Broken Egg.

“Do you mind if I invite John?” she asked.

I didn’t mind. I’d visited John’s home with her last year. Blue crab and conversation permeated the air and left me with a fondness for him. It was fine.

img_4677We talked and laughed over fried green tomatoes, lobster and Brie omelets, and shrimp and grits. Tarra’s overseas stories captivated my imagination, and reminded me of every other artist’s story; the opportunity to sing in another country was fascinating, but underhanded business practices seem to be the norm.

Once breakfast was over, a girl outside agreed to photograph our mini photo shoot:

Tarra by herself.

Tarra and me.

Tarra and John.

John and me.

Tarra, John, and me.

I’m grateful for younger people who understand the importance of documenting events. She didn’t ask questions or look annoyed.

A few weeks prior, I’d asked Tarra if she wanted to do a wine tasting.

“I’d love to,” she responded. “I’ve never been to one.”

Doing things that someone has never done before excites me. I dusted off my Cooper’s Hawk wine tasting gift card and we headed ten minutes up the street. My friend had only had an African Shiraz and hadn’t been very impressed. Now, we were on a red wine mission.

As the sommelier poured and explained each glass, I laughed as Tarra’s former educator-self shone through. Check + for Rosé. Check – for Lux Pinot Noir.

We talked about over-40 lady issues, her relationships, and my children. I shared my latest writing projects with her. We high-fived and toasted to achievements and marveled at how we’d attained them in the first place. That’s the type of friend she is. We’ve deemed one another Dream Partners. She was there when I completed my PhD and I was there before she stepped into her calling. Everyone needs someone to say, “You can do it,” especially when you’re not so sure you should, much less can. She’s that friend.

I checked my phone. It was two o’clock already.

“I have a confession,” I began, “I know it’s not like me, but I didn’t plan the rest of the day. I’ve changed quite a bit…not as anal as I used to be. I figured we’d just find something to do.”

“You know. That’s not like you at all, but we can do whatever.”

A thought popped into my mind. “Let’s take a riverboat tour!”

She agreed. Twenty minutes later, we were downtown and looking for the loading dock. We’d also lucked out and could do an hour tour with another group.

st_johns_river_artworkBy now it was 158,000 degrees outside, plus those eight tastings were slowly taking effect. I fell asleep about 15 minutes in, so much so that when Tarra woke me up just in time to take this picture, I didn’t even remember that I was on a boat. My photog instinct kicked in just in time. And I’m grateful because this is something I’ve only seen from the water.

“You’re welcome!” She said. “I thought you wouldn’t want to miss this.”

“Thank you,” I said, wiping my forehead with the toilet tissue the tour guide had handed me when we first boarded.

Our water taxi lasted much longer than an hour. The captain’s and tour guide’s shifts ended, and somehow, we ended up taking another lap around the St. Johns River with the new crew.

img_4725We disembarked by five o’clock and headed to her friend’s get together. There, three other women welcomed Tarra back to the States. One of the lady’s husbands had made blue crab, shrimp, sausage, and eggs, a Jacksonville staple. We sat around the round, glass table and reveled in Tarra’s growth and presence. It’s hard not to leap spiritual bounds when you’ve been living independently overseas.

My phone read 9:00. It was time for me to hug Tarra good-bye and head back home.

I reflected on the twelve hours we’d shared. They were easy. They were calm. They were relaxing. They were exactly how I would expect spending the day with a friend should be.

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Journey to the Center of My Heart: Trusting My Inner Voice

The year after my mother died, my father packed up all of my belongings in trash bags and sent me to live with my maternal grandmother. I was seventeen. One day after I’d gotten settled, I confided a feeling I’d had.

“I’m going to write a book,” I said with a smile.

“Oh yeah?” She asked. “About what?”

“About my mother’s death.”

“You think you’re the only whose mother’s died?” She replied.

feedback_opinionI want to share this with you, not to bash my grandmother. Twenty-seven years later, I know that people’s conversations and comments have little to do with me. I’m sharing this with you because I never wrote about my mother. Her response led me to believe that not only was my topic one in a million, but that no one else would want to read it.

So I didn’t write it. In fact, I didn’t write much of anything for the next 25 years.

I became a high-school English teacher, got two more degrees, and became an education professor.

The urge to write crept back around 2014. I asked my little sister friend to create this very WordPress site for me. She did. I took it from there and learned the ins and outs of blogging. I continued to follow my intuition. Blogging gave me more writing confidence. Blogging 101 and 201 gave me more tools and knowledge. Following people like Janice Wald gave me more tips.

2015 rolled around. My dad died. I felt a flurry of emotions and another urge of intuition: Write about it. This time I didn’t tell anyone, not one soul. I sat in my stepmother’s guest bedroom and wrote the entire story of our failed relationship from 1989 to his death in 2015. I included all of the murky, emotional details that people rarely want to discuss or feel. By the last keystroke, I felt satisfied. But it was too long for a blog post (that’s something Janice Wald taught me).

I broke it up into five separate posts and called it a series; that’s something I learned in Blogging 101 or 201. The response was positive and endearing. Once again, this validated a choice I’d made to follow my heart.

A few months later, I had another stroke of intuition: Find a local writers group. I sought out the Florida Writers Association and considered entering their annual writing contest. Mek, a blogging friend I’d written with had been taking writing courses. She read The Transition and offered genuine suggestions.

I entered the contest and won first place for Creative Nonfiction of an unpublished piece. Did I need to win to prove I should follow my heart? Not really. I’d already felt good by simply writing it. But there’s no doubt my choice to write was again validated.

Now I had an “award-winning” piece of literature. It came in handy when the Still I Rise Grant required three writing samples. And although I didn’t win, as some of you remember, Alternating Current/The Coil published that piece during Father’s Day weekend.

Furthermore, Alternating Current then nominated The Transition for Best of the Net.

meditating_1This is just one example of why I’m adamant about listening to your inner voice and tuning others’ out. This is why I almost beg people to follow their hearts. Those feelings, voices, visions, or whatever come to you, they’re not accidental. They are specific nuances sent to guide you towards what you and only you should be doing.

Furthermore, I finally realize my grandmother was right. I’m not the only person whose mother (and father) have died. However, I’ve also recognized my ability to string words together that convey relatable feelings for people who’ve been through similar experiences. Today, I’m glad sharing about my life through writing has not only helped others, but also shaped a clear path for me as I continue to follow my heart.

Monday Notes: Writing Endeavors®

Recently, I began an editing service business called Writing Endeavors®. While I’m happy for you to procure my services, what follows isn’t necessarily about the business. It’s more about the process of actualizing dreams.

bradburyPeople ask me all the time how I do fill_in_the_blank. The answer is simple. I just do it. Take this business for example. Over the years, friends have asked me to edit work for them. There have been times when I decline and pass the work on to someone else. Sometimes I’ve edited for free. Other times, I’ve worked more like an independent contractor; we create an agreement and the person pays me.

As recently as February, I edited a first-time book for a friend’s son. Shortly after, a thought occurred. The urge to begin my own editing service business flashed in my mind. I needed to stop passing work to colleagues and friends and do it myself…for a fee.

The next step was to tell Dwight. Announcing my plans to him somehow solidifies things. He’s been with me long enough to know that once I say it, then it’s as good as done.

What happens next is what I’ve learned to be the difference between myself and other people. I typically research how to do things while I’m doing it. For example, I didn’t know if I should create a business first, or trademark a name first? Well, after working with Legal Zoom, I found out that you create the business first. So, I did that. The business was created March 21st.

Afterwards, I trademarked the business’s name. During that process, I learned the difference between the little TM symbol and the R in a circle sign. The first is something you can use, whether you registered the name or not. The latter means registered trademark and allows the owner to sue if someone else tries to use it.

More questions cropped up, as is common with on-the-job training.

Should I create a whole new website just for this business, separate from selling books and blogging? Should I pay for this website, or be comfortable with using an extension, like .wix? How about registering the business with the county? The state? The government? What’s required? When am I supposed to pay taxes on this business? I found all of that out…as…I…went…along.

img_3635In fact, I just started editing a client’s dissertation, while still in process of learning more business-related info.

I don’t want to paint an idyllic image. I’m not dancing through poppy fields while establishing a business. Functioning this way can sometimes be a tad stressful, like when the state notified me that I’d missed a deadline for reporting income, even though there was no income. But here’s the reality. I know that dreams might not materialize, unless I just begin. I know it’s important to just get going and trust that the rest will work itself out. I know this because it always does.

So, I have one question. What are you waiting for?

Astigmatism and a stigma

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the fifth grade. We all lined up as usual to take our public school vision test. I giggled my way to the front of the line. This would probably go like previous years.

Finally, it was my turn. Was that an “F” or an “E”? Was that an “O” or a “C”?

“Kathy,” the visiting optometrist started, “it looks as if you’re going to need glasses.”

I was already different than the children on my block. They attended the neighborhood school and I was bused to a magnet one. My hair hung down my back, while other girls had cornrows or braids with colorful beads. I spoke “standard” English when everyone else used “ain’t” and double negatives with ease.

And now I had to add wearing glasses to this list?

My first reaction was a single tear from my near-sighted eye. Another soon formed and trickled down my cheek. Before I knew it, I was full-on crying, in front of the whole fifth-grade.

The visiting optometrist whispered, “Now dear, you don’t want to make the people who wear glasses feel bad, do you?”

She was talking about Alexander Adams, a kid named after a president. She referred to Eli Korner. A nice boy, but not someone I wanted to be in the glasses gang with.

So my mom took me to a place called For Eyes. My first pair were lilac. If I had to wear them, then I was going to look as cool as possible doing it.

***

Fast forward to 1991. I had just graduated high school and had a job. All this time, I’d been wearing the glasses that someone else could afford for me. This time, I’d wear the glasses that I wanted.

My first pair, with my own paycheck were Laura Biagotti’s. I’m pretty sure I paid over $200 for them. But it didn’t matter. I was fly. Ironically, I’d also decided to ditch wearing them in public. It was time for me to enjoy the convenience of contacts.

That was back when you could get a pair of annuals and they would last, well, all year, as the title suggests.

I wore those contacts so much that Dwight didn’t even realize I needed to wear glasses. I slept in those contacts so much that the optometrist had to threaten not to give me a prescription because you know, you’re not supposed to sleep in contacts.

Every year, I’d renew my contact lens prescription. And every other year, I’d renew my eyeglass prescription, wearing them at night only. I held on to this routine for 25 years.

***

Much like many prescription holders, my eyesight worsened over time. Much worse. But it didn’t matter. I could hide the truth behind my contacts. Decades later, companies discontinued annuals and only offered monthlies.

Everything was good, until this year.

My eyesight had worsened still. Because according to Dr. Suddath, no matter what, when you’re over 40, your vision will continue to decline, regardless of the starting point.

My current prescription is: -7.50 with a -1.75 astigmatism and -8.25 with a -1.00 astigmatism.

All this technical mumbo jumbo means I can no longer wear monthlies. My contacts only come in dailies, which cost $106 per month. Say what?

This means, as my good friend Mek suggested, “Maybe you should embrace the glasses now?”

And suddenly, I felt like I was ten again. I cried and cried, like a week ago y’all.

It might sound silly. But there was a slight fear.

Most people don’t even know I wear glasses, for real. Most people don’t know that if I didn’t have these contacts in, I wouldn’t know who was standing in front of my face. Most people don’t know that wearing glasses is what makes me feel 10% less confident in public spaces.

Most people don’t know that I’d been holding on to a feeling of inadequacy for 33 years, all because I couldn’t see clearly.

Sheesh! 

I had subscribed to a stereotype about wearing glasses and safely hid behind contact lenses. Well, it has to end here. I’ll have to shed this made up stigma and find the right frame for my (public) comfort level. 

The journey to loving me for me in this and every moment continues, glasses and all.

Do you have any hidden insecurities you’ve held on to since childhood? Share them below so we can support one another. 

Thanksgiving? 🦃🍁🍂

dinner-1060352_1280Did everyone have a great Thanksgiving? I did, but something’s been bothering me over the past few days. It began when I read Tareau’s commentary. You can find it here. His description of Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering elicited some ill feelings. I was just about to sit down and enjoy half a Cornish hen, mashed potatoes and green beans that I’d prepared.

I consider myself pretty conscious. So I thought I was doing pretty good not overindulging in turkey, dressing and other common staples. Certainly, Tareau wasn’t talking to me. Was he? I know the trials and tribulations of Native Americans. Surely, I can enjoy my food and be #woke. Right?

I finished my dinner and stumbled across Darryl’s post, explicitly titled, Thanksgiving and Black Friday: The Epitome of American Culture. Was the universe trying to tell me something? Darryl very succinctly explained the irony of the American football game for the day. Well, there’s nothing I could do about NFL scheduling, so I didn’t feel as bad, but I did begin to think that maybe baking hens isn’t enough of a rebellious stance.

My next stop was Facebook. Unfortunately, I didn’t screenshot my friend’s post, but here’s a loose paraphrase:

We all know where Thanksgiving came from so stop telling everybody about the Indians. Today is a day when most of us just get together to be with family and eat food, so enjoy it the best way you know how.

On the one hand, I used to be one of those didactic people sharing all kinds of information about Native Americans and how this wasn’t a holiday for them. On the other hand, I understood what he was saying. The holiday has changed. We’re not pilgrims celebrating the deaths of indigenous people. We’re people eating food with family.

Just when I’d begun feeling okay about how I’d celebrated this year, Dwight posted four things; two were about the Dakota Pipeline and the other two? Thanksgiving origins.

We talked about it during our Sunday walk.

“You got me thinking about planning a family trip to Plymouth Rock!”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said.

By the end of our walk, I’d decided this. Whatever I do for any holiday is fine, as long as I’m doing it consciously. This year I was mindful about the amount of food the girls and I cooked, and I’m good with that. There’s no leftover anything and I don’t have to force someone to eat turkey for seven days. Conversely, Dwight and I could have a more in-depth conversation with the girls about why there’s a so-called Thanksgiving. If we add a road trip to Massachusetts, then I’ll let you all know. But for now, that’s as far as our activism will reach.

What about you? I know the holiday is over, but I’m wondering why, how and if you celebrate? Do you consider indigenous people on this day? How active do you have to be to be an activist?

7 Days of Yoga

meditating_1
Royalty Free Pixabay

Yoga sparks my creativity. I’m sure there’s some scientific/spiritual rationale of which I’m unaware, but for me, the proof is production. With all my Unhappy Wife marketing, it became challenging to write anything new, so I decided to engage in seven days of yoga. Consequently, I attained more than creativity.

Monday, October 31st (Yoga Den, Mandarin 7:45-9:00 P.M.) It slipped my mind that today was Halloween, so I almost didn’t make it. I wanted to pass out the four bags of peanut and peanut butter M&Ms that Dwight’s eyes had signaled was too much. But I’d promised myself attendance at Sun Flow Yin. I would have to rely on my nonsocial daughters to take the lead. One little boy showed up right before I left. Turns out he was the only trick-or-treater we got this year, so I didn’t miss anything and my daughters didn’t have to interact with people.

Today’s Lesson: Follow your instinct.

Tuesday, November 1st (LA Fitness, Kernan, 9:45-10:45 A.M.) I slept like a six-month old baby snuggled in between co-sleeping parents. I’m attributing a good night’s rest to the previous night’s yoga. However, practicing back-to-back made me nervous. My anxiety floated away once I noticed a guy doing downward facing dog in his drawers. I was slightly distracted, not because anything showed, but because I kept wondering if those were indeed his skivvies. They were. The bright blue band around the top gave it away. I didn’t think my yoga crew noticed because there were no side eyes or eyebrow raises. He and I walked out together and he engaged me in conversation. Underwear guy’s name is Joe. He’d lost his wife seven years ago in a drunk driving accident. She left him with a set of twin boys and a daughter to raise. Without yoga, he believed he would’ve died too.

Lesson: You never know what someone’s gone through, so treat them with kindness.

Wednesday, November 2nd (Yoga Den, Mandarin 6:30-7:30 P.M.) I loathe Wednesdays. On this day, I drive two hours to teach one class that lasts an hour and fifteen minutes. The angst of the drive begins Tuesday night and settles into my consciousness, making for a stressful morning and grumpy day. But today felt a little different. Maybe back-to-back yoga helped me maintain peace. After class, I usually drive to main campus and participate in a meeting, work in my office until 5:00, and then leave. The chair cancelled today’s meeting, so I graded papers until 3:45 and made it back home just in time for Mind-Body yoga. To be honest, I chose this yoga because the time was appropriate. But the lesson about mind-body connection was also what I needed to hear. Hopefully, I can put it into practice this coming Wednesday.

Lesson: Everything begins in the mind.

meditation_2
Royalty Free Pixabay

Thursday, November 3rd (LA Fitness, Kernan, Jacksonville, Florida 9:45-10:45 A.M.) Welp, my yoga crew did notice that Joe and his undies. They were in a circle discussing it as I rolled out my mat. By the time I returned from the restroom, someone had approached Joe about it. I came back just in time to hear this:

Joe: Y’all shouldn’t be looking at me anyways. Yoga is supposed to be a meditation. Y’all should be meditating. Everybody in here should be able to do yoga naked ‘cause we should all be so focused on ourselves.

Mrs. Gail: That’s what I tried to tell ‘em Joe!

I politely stretched into child’s pose and minded my own business.

Lesson: Focus on yourself.

Friday, November 4th (Yoga Den, Mandarin, Jacksonville, Florida 9:15-10:45 A.M.) I almost didn’t make it today you guys. The bed was so warm and cozy. And I thought to myself, KG, you’ve already done four days. Isn’t that good enough? Then, that same nagging feeling I get when I make self-promises began to surface. It’s familiar. I cannot tell myself I’m going to do a thing and not follow through. Off to yoga I went. This isn’t any old type of yoga. The instructor begins by playing a banjo and we all chant Om Namah Shivaya. Then, we chant three OMs and begin our practice. It’s intense. Today, I almost threw up. I know that’s not a good yoga practice if you almost hurl. And it certainly goes against what you’re supposed to be practicing in the first place. I thought I was done overachieving, but this proved otherwise. Every now and then, I still unconsciously overextend myself; yoga is no different. I’m working on it. After Savasana, she plays the banjo again and we do three more OMs. This particular practice is my favorite one, but it usually doesn’t come behind four other yoga days.

Lesson: Be true to yourself by honoring your word. Be mindful.

Saturday, November 5th (LA Fitness, Lakewood, Jacksonville, Florida 11:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M.) On Saturdays, I wake up sans alarm clock. I lie in bed, blog a little, write a little, and then decide what I’m going to do. Not today. Friday afternoon, my goddaughter texted to inform me that the local bookstore had run out of copies of The Unhappy Wife.

“So I can come Monday?” I asked Jen, the owner.

“We’re open Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 A.M.” she replied.

I broke my usual routine and was at the bookstore by 9:00 A.M.

“Thank you so much,” she started, “Really appreciate you.”

“No. Thank you,” I smiled.

We were helping one another. Because of her, I didn’t have to sell books out of my trunk, and because of me, she was gaining more customers and revenue. This was the win-win I’d heard so much about.

Afterwards, I went to yoga.

Lesson: If you want something, you have to be willing to break self-made traditions.

om
Royalty Free Pixabay

Sunday, November 6th (Walk with Dwight) By this day, I was tired of yoga. My shoulders felt as if I’d been lifting weights all day. My core was a bit tighter, but hurt when I bent to the side. My legs felt as if I’d done 100 squats each day. So Dwight and I took our usual Sunday walk.

Lesson: Know when to listen to your body, as opposed to your mind.

My creativity is back, but quite honestly, three days worth of yoga is quite enough for me.

All Summer ’16

My summer was fabulous.

It started with this new job and how they function. Typically ten-month employees are only paid until May, but not this one. This institution gives you no choice; they spread your salary over 12 months. Initially, I was bothered because 12-month pay meant fewer dollars in my check. And my salary was already at an all-time low.

But then something happened.

My director asked me if I wanted to teach summer classes. During past years, at former universities, my answer would’ve been a healthy, “Yes.” In fact, I was always the one begging higher-ups for summer classes to teach or busting my butt to write grants to supplement three months of income.

But not this year.

Nope. This year, I was getting paid my regular salary during the entire summer! This might sound like a small thing to some of you who work and get paid annually, but trust me. This is HUGE (in my Donald Trump voice).

So my answer was, “No.” And that’s where my summer planning began. I was going to do nothing and anything.

1470948563407Summer vacay began as it always does, with my birthday shenanigans. This time, Dwight planned a fun party on a casino boat that left from Port Canaveral. Twenty-two people came out to celebrate with me. It was pretty amazing because none of the guests lived in the area. Everyone either flew or drove in. I was surrounded by love and water.

Once that was over, my youngest daughter, Desi finished the eighth grade. Now she’s headed to her high school’s IB program.

All along, I kept taking cool photos of people, and you know what happened? Two people purchased the one called, “Chillin.’” I could’ve never imagined that someone thought my photography was good enough to buy.

1470948854382Because I was off this summer with free time, I vowed to visit a different beach every week. Sometimes I just walked on the shore. A few times, the girls and I set up chairs and hung out. I even convinced a few other people to join me. This summer, I visited Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Hanna Park, St. Augustine Beach, Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach, and Smathers Beach!

Around June, my best friend made her bi-annual visit from overseas. Traditionally, we tube down the Itchetucknee River when she comes. But this time was a little different. In addition to my family and I, Kesi brought a friend; my goddaughter came; and another friend and her family arrived. We tied those blue rafts together, and floated down the cool river for 45 relaxing minutes.

Because I didn’t have any teaching duties, I created a schedule to self-publish and market The Unhappy Wife, which I’ve deemed successful. When I wasn’t publishing the book, my bestie and I drove eight hours to Key West. We hung out at Margaritaville’s, the Butterfly Museum and Ernest Hemingway’s house. Visitor’s tip for you all, Key West is not the best place for beaches.

1470949099634A couple of unexpected events occurred. Around July, I learned I was finalist for a creative nonfiction piece I’d submitted. Dwight and I will be driving to Orlando in October to see if I won. Send me some positive energy please! The second thing that happened is a friend of mine nominated me for an award. I was one of 30 women named as a Leading Lady of Jacksonville. So I ended the summer the same way I began it: celebrating!

Well, that was summer 2016! To say that I lived every moment would be an understatement. Now, I’m back at work, sitting in a meeting as you read this. But I can truly say that I’m refreshed and ready to teach.

What about you? You might not have had as much time off as I did, but what did you do during these summer months? Have you been to any of the places I’ve named?

Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother

My first public blog post…

A few years ago, I attended one of my former high school student’s baccalaureate graduations. Also in attendance was her mom, a single mother of three young adults. She had literally arrived just in time for this commencement, which was 706 miles away from home. She donned a black, sequenced matching shirt and pants. Her luggage was in tow. This scene was typical; she wore her challenges. As Langston Hughes might say, life for her ain’t been no crystal stair.

But still. No matter the situation, this lady was always there for her daughter and her other two adult children. She might be the loudest one in the crowd, but that was because she was supportive. She might have snuck some popcorn into so-called prestigious events, but that’s cause everybody knows that concessions at large events cost too much.

I watched her quite a bit that weekend. She snapped 27 pictures on her disposable camera. Tossed the throwaway in her bag and snatched a new one. She did this four more times. I watched her “save” the graduation chicken because essentially, nobody else there really knew how to grill it. And I noticed how she loved her children, the best way she knew how, given her experiences. By Sunday, Mother’s Day 2013, something dawned on me; this mother is no different than I am, a mother of two daughters, or any mother for that matter. So I posted this: The longer I am a mother, the more I understand that each mother just does the best she can, given her circumstances.

1462536161555Then, something else happened. I thought about my own experiences as a daughter. Many times I felt embarrassed because my mother carried a terminal illness that would lead to death, kidney disease. A lot of times, I wished my mom were someone else. So much so that she had offered to take me to see Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, but I declined. As much as I loved MJ, I didn’t want to be asked if this was my grandmother, again. It wasn’t until years after my mother’s death that I realized how much of a gem she really was.

In between dialysis treatments, she led a fearless life. She was deeply involved with NAPHT (National Association of Patients on Hemodialysis and Transplantation), volunteered as a Sunday school teacher, worked part-time, supported anyone she called family and friend, and all the while actively chose to raise me, this daughter she had adopted. My mother had ensured that I attend the best public magnet K-12 Chicago schools, which provided me with rich childhood experiences. In fact, I attribute my spirit of service, advocacy and motivation in part to observing my own mother do the very same things. So while there were moments of adolescent shame due to my mother’s physical appearance, there’s now an adult appreciation because I recognize and honor her for doing the best that she could, given her circumstances.

Now, I’m the mother of two fairly quiet teenage daughters, who would rather I remain silent than speak out about small infractions. These daughters turn a side-eye with every picture I capture and every post that “tells their business.” My oldest claims that she won’t tell me anything because I’ll tell everyone (guess this blog partially proves that). My youngest daughter would rather become invisible than to watch me dance in public. I’m often met with a lot of, “Are you wearing those shoes with that?” when leaving the house. But I hope that one day they’ll understand that it matters less if my shoes match my shirt. I hope that they’ll understand the reason their mother took a 320-mile commute every now and then for a career she felt called to do. I hope that they’ll remember family trips, game nights, healthy food, and movie dates. And when they’re feeling as if I could have done more, I hope they’ll remember that I too, did the best that I could, given my own circumstances.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Confessions of an Overachiever (II)

Part I and Part III

It was 2009. I was conducting a study, analyzing data and giving job talks in a few states. The interview process itself was an unexpected stress. One interview lasted three full days. After talking with search committees in five states, I secured a position at a liberal arts college in Georgia. It seemed perfectly aligned with my vow to avoid stress.

There were a few challenges, though.

The institution promised to support my husband in finding a job. They never did. We still had our Florida house to sell. The girls lived with me; Dwight stayed in Florida. It was a three and a half hour drive. So while my job wasn’t stressful, the weekend commutes to have some semblance of normalcy was. For me, this meant packing up the kids and dog, and then trekking up and down I-75 every other weekend. We did this for two years. The cycle was relentless and taxing. I went back on the professor market.

To say I was desperate to move back to Florida is an understatement. My pre-teen daughters were well-behaved, but with the absence of a father, they had gotten a little lippy. We were also sustaining two households. But I didn’t feel as stressed as I had before. I mean there was no chair of a doctoral committee determining the balance of my life. As a matter of fact, I had lost weight and felt more energetic. Still, the situation wasn’t ideal and we needed to move back together, under one roof.

When the next prestigious university called me in 2012 and offered me a visiting professor line, I was overjoyed. However, I had no intentions of moving to Tallahassee. The point was for our family to reunite. I chose to commute.

“Tallahassee is a long way,” Dwight warned.

“I know. I can do it,” I said.

As I type these words, it feels arrogant. I know. I can do it. I can drive 320 miles twice a week. To be fair, droves of people I knew and didn’t know called me crazy. The truth is I really did think I could do it. It’s an innate part of my personality. I truly believe I can do anything I set my mind to. Or am I just an overachiever? The line is fine and sometimes the two collide to blur my judgment. Either way, I did it.

too_much
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The job was supposed to last only one year. It was visiting. Instead, they were soooooo impressed with me that they found a way to offer a tenure-track line. One year turned into three. Teaching classes, mentoring graduate students, advising a couple of doc students, serving on two committees, running into unexpected microagressions, conducting research, presenting at national conferences, writing, getting published in the “wrong” place, seeking grant funding, and getting rejected publications from the “right” place made for a stressful job. The out of town commute twice a week was just bonus stress. Some days I would cry all the way to the university’s parking lot. Other days I would pray all the way home for answers. In between, I looked for jobs. Nothing surfaced.

It was six years of doctoral work all over again. There was no chalazion or sleep paralysis. But I was ignoring other signs. Although I worked out whenever I wasn’t on the road, it didn’t matter.

“You run with your fists clenched,” a trainer observed. “Are you angry about something? You have to calm down and then work out. Open your fists.”

I hadn’t noticed it before. But now things made more sense. I had run a 5k, consistently practiced yoga and maintained a restricted diet, but gained 20 pounds in three years.

I made time for my family and me: movies, vacations, cookie baking, you name it. Life looked balanced, but it wasn’t. Not really. This was the most imbalanced life I’d ever lived.

But I ignored it.

Only thing about disregarding things is that they don’t really go away. My body had had enough. It was overstressed.