Before

There is nothing like being in the presence of those who knew you before. Before the husband, before the children, before the move. Before the JD, before the phd, before the dissertation. Before kindergarten, or first grade, or second grade, or third babies. Before losing baby teeth. Before you even remember you.

When you are in the presence of those who knew you before, all pretense falls away. Who you are is who you’ve always been. Not “LaToya Baldwin Clark,” but “Toya,” “Toy,” and my parents pet name of “Boop.” How good it feels to have to be no one other than who you are — a Baldwin, a Noble. A big sister. A little cousin. A big cousin. A daughter. But loved still as a mother and a wife and a friend.

And a welcome accomplice to foolishness and nonsense. To be celebrated for staying out after 10. For shutting down the club at 3 a.m.

There is simply nothing like being with folks who knew you before. Who loved you then and love you now. People who don’t care about your degrees. People who are simply happy to see your face and the reflection of you in your children’s faces.

I feel grounded after my weekend in Philly. I know who I am and where I come from and that I am enough just being Toy. Toya. I love being where I am. But I needed to feel whole with the idea that even if I did nothing more in my life besides take care of my children and be a decent person, I’d be more than loved. I’d be cherished. I’d be wanted. I’d still be me.

2014: I Think I Can

2014 will close a chapter in my life and open another. By the end of 2014, and at the age of 33, I will have been married for 9 years, have 3 children, have a JD/PhD from Stanford University. I know people think I’m nuts, but really it’s just that I don’t believe in limits. I never intentionally set out to do this, but I did it because I believed I could. And surrounded myself with people who believed in me.

I thought I could. I think I can. And I will.

By God’s grace, I will!

Note to Self: Pay Attention When Walking Down Steps. The Cookie Will Still Be There At The Bottom.

So sorry I’ve been gone so long. I was ready to get back into my work…and then the unbelievable happened.

I sprained my ankle.

I’d like to be able to say that I sprained it running, or doing something incredibly altruistic. But that would be a lie.

I sprained it reaching for a cookie.

“A cookie?!?” you said? Right, because I’m supposed to be gluten-free (yeah, that’s why you said it.) But these were homemade chocolate sugar cookies with icing and awesome decorations.

The story: I’m walking out of our dissertation writing space, going down the steps to get in my car. My friend had made these cookies, in all their sugary goodness, and we were walking down the steps, and I had a cookie already in my hand, but we were about to split up, and I wanted another cookie for later, so I reached…and missed the last step.

And I’m all kinds of tore up because I had on my back my bookbag on with my laptop inside, and a heavy shoulder bag with my dissertation binder and a file-folder thingy with my interviews in it. So when I fell, I went all the way down. I heard a pop and then that was all she wrote.

I feel a bit better about myself because at least they were homemade cookies. If I was reaching for an Oreo, y’all probably wouldn’t be reading this story right now. ‘Cause I might have told you I sprained it running.

In any case, it’s now been a week and I have been performing at a diminished capacity and lower than usual motivation, and today I went back to the doctor because it was still hurting. Now all the ligaments around my ankle are messed up because I am hardheaded and have been doing too much, so I’m wearing a fancy airbrace which makes me feel like my pain is legitimate. It will probably be another 2-3 weeks before I run again, which is disappointing because I planned to run on Thanksgiving. But I will use this time to be home with my family, having movie nights and doing Rainbow Loom, cooking and baking. And of course, some dissertation work. (Right? Right.)

Progress Report

Prayer works. I talked to God, I meditated in stillness, I listened for His still, small whisper. And He moved through me, and through the advice of others.

During my ten days, I cancelled all kid’s evening activities going forward, and consolidated all our credit card debt with our credit union. Saving money + saving time = just a little bit of sanity. A lot of bit of sanity required a little more: running, prayer, yoga, prayer, meditation, prayer, art, and prayer. A whole lotta prayer. Both by me, and by my friends. And by some of you. Thank you.

I’m back on the writing schedule. (I’ve abandoned the count down. Other said, and I agree, that it’s nothing but anxiety producing.) I started today with 2.5 hours. That felt like enough. An hour of it was going back and forth in my head and on my laptop about whether or not to use qualitative data analysis software. The only one that is reasonable and can run on a Mac is Dedoose, an internet-based platform. But it is SO ssssllllloooowwwww and actually crashed on me today. My paper, highlighters, and scissors never crash. Guess I’m keeping it old school. But that made me anxious, because I know old-school is also inefficient. So as soon as I felt that anxiety, I knew it was time to stop. I don’t want to be back where I was 10 days ago.

But life kept going even when I was stopping. My little girl came home with her progress report today. I already knew some of the issues were about her emotional regulation, her “shutting down” suddenly, her inability to let things go. But today I saw a new word: “argumentative.” And I’m like….

One of my interview respondents, in talking about their child who struggles in school, said something like as parents we have to take responsibility for the kids we made. We have to realize that when we, as parents, came together to mix our genes, we would create a kid that is like us in some ways. And those ways might be the ways that we don’t like about ourselves.

I’ve been told I’m argumentative my whole life.

Honestly, I’ve always taken that word “argumentative” to be more about the person making the assessment than about me. I don’t think I’m:  contentiouscontroversialdisputatiouspolemical,  quarrelsome, or scrappy. What I know about me is that I have a very honed sense of justice, and I always have. I don’t go along with just anything. If it doesn’t seem right to me, I’ll probably let you know, if you’ve asked my opinion.

I also am very curious, and I’m not one to believe just anything. If you say the sky is blue, I want to know how and why you’ve come to that conclusion. I don’t think it’s “argumentative” to ask people to justify the things they say and things (they say) they believe. I don’t like to argue, because I don’t really care for anger or contentiousness, but I do enjoy a healthy debate which to me is a conversation in which we have a difference of opinion. I’m the person that wants to talk to atheists and Republicans and pro-lifers and racists to understand why they think the way they do and understand better why I don’t think the way they do. I realize that all most of us have are opinions, including myself. I can’t argue with your opinion, but I can debate the propositions that lie underneath. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve always had a keen sense of what I consider to be just (which is different from what I consider to be wrong) and yes, I will argue over that.

So when the teacher says my little girl is “argumentative” I’m struggling a bit with keeping an open mind about what that means. And what it means to call a six-year-old argumentative. And what it means to call a black six-year-old girl argumentative (angry black woman, anybody?)

Sigh. I don’t need this right now. But I’ll take it.

All things. All good.

 

The Kids Will Be All Right

The kids will be all right.

The kids will be alright.

The kids will be all right.

I’m trying to convince myself of this sentence. This short sentence of five or six words, depending on how you spell “alright” (are they two different words/phrases ‘alright’ vs. ‘all right’?) It is these five or six words that have been nagging at me the last two days as I struggle to bring more calm to my life so I can finish my dissertation.

I had a talk with the older two yesterday morning at breakfast. As they ate their waffles and I sipped my coffee, I pointed to our schedule chart, and I said, “Mommy can’t do that anymore.” I explained that I had eight months to write a book so we could leave here and I could start a new job. I reminded them of the things we want as a family, like to go on vacations and to buy a house. I have to write my book to do those things. But with an activity every single evening, I couldn’t write my book.

I also explained that our family couldn’t be the type of family we want to be RIGHT NOW either, where we can watch movies together, play games together, and eat dinner together. For the last two months, we were not doing any of those things, all five of us (well four, after we put Destructo, otherwise known as Baby A, 18 months old, to bed). And the weekends — activities on the weekends were killing any down time I thought I had. I explained to them that in addition to wanting to write this book, I also wanted to be healthy. I told them that both my mind and my body get too exhausted with all the activities. I hate when I’m depressed and my kids see me in the bed all the time, labeled with “sick.”

So we discussed it. Big A was all too happy to be stopping martial arts. Little A was disappointed to be stopping soccer. But we told her coach and her team and she seemed okay with it. She’ll play one last game on Saturday and that’s that.

It feels nice, tonight, to have been able to put my Baby A to bed tonight. Usually, I am not here, chauffeuring one child to an activity, sitting through said activity, and then driving home.

But I feel bad about them not being able to do something they wanted to do.

But just now I hear the squeals of laughter between the two older ones, when usually on a Wednesday night we’d still be driving home from somewhere. And I am so grateful to the advice from friends that lead me to this decision. God-given advice, I am sure. Because I asked for clarity, and I received it. I asked for a way, and now I see the way. I asked for calm and simplicity, and now I’m getting it. I asked for my kids to be all right, and they are.

These are hard choices, but good decisions. But not just because I’m writing a dissertation. I don’t want my kids over-scheduled any time and I want to have family time always. I want to be able to put my toddler to bed.

In the darkness, there are treasures.

But something is still picking at me and worrying me and the anxiety is still there and I’m still grieving SOMETHING. So as I pray, in addition to “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” and in addition to Romans 8:28, I am also praying “may my kids be all right.”

Amen.