Failing and Trying Again

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by Melissa Face

Nine years ago, I began having contractions around 4:00 in the afternoon. I calmly called Craig and asked him to come home as soon as he could. Contractions were subtle at first, and since it was my first pregnancy, I figured I had plenty of time to get to the hospital. I also had time to shave (the parts of my body I could still reach), and put on some concealer and eyeliner. By the time Craig arrived, I was dressed, bags in hand, ready to meet my son.

After eight hours of labor and an ineffective epidural, I met Evan. We cried, snuggled, and attempted nursing. I failed and cried some more. I hated having my breasts manipulated by a young woman who had not yet had children of her own and was apathetic of the fact I had just pushed out an eight-pound baby. 

 I hated failing at feeding my son. But I tried again. And I kept trying.

Eventually, I supplemented with formula until I was able to pump milk for him. He needed to be fed, and I needed to feel better about my new role as his mom.

Throughout the past nine years, I have failed at many other parts of motherhood. I have yelled at him when he probably didn’t deserve it, embarrassed him in public, and made him cry at homework time. 

My most recent failure was choosing to move to a county that doesn’t prioritize the health and safety of its children. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I chose a school that is infested with mold, and my child has a mold allergy. I have failed him. Again.

A few weeks ago, Evan and I left a board meeting at which the state of his school and the request for replacement funding were the main topics on the agenda. At the end of the meeting, I felt no better than I did at the beginning. I had no renewed confidence that the people in charge were looking out for my kid or that a school would be built anytime  in the immediate future. In fact, a new school will definitely not be ready in time to benefit Evan.

“I’m sorry,” I told him after the meeting. “I’m sorry that things feel messed up right now and that you are hearing people talk negatively about your school, especially me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “At least you care. At least you’re trying.”

Apparently Evan measures my mom abilities by my effort and output and not by my (infrequent) moments of success. I wish I could allow myself that same courtesy. 

It occurred to me as Evan approaches his ninth birthday that this one is significant. It’s monumental, in fact. Evan is halfway to the age of legal independence, and I only have the same number of years with him in my house that we have already spent together. That is a loud wake-up call.

I can’t waste these next nine years on anger.

I have to find happiness amidst the chaos. I have to focus on things I can control, even when I feel that people around me are letting us down. I still own my happiness, and this year, that is the best gift I can give my son: a happy mom.

The next nine years are going to pass quickly. I can’t spend them mad. I can’t spend them being critical of people around me. And I can’t spend them at meetings where members will do whatever they want whether I voice my opinion or not. 

I am insignificant to those people. But not to my son.

We have to spend our time together doing what we love, laughing and learning, failing and trying again. Whether it’s a lactation consultant, a teacher, or a policy maker, there will always be someone who can interfere with my happiness. But I have the power to not let them.

“So you’re never going to be mad?” Evan asked. “You’re going to be happy every day?”

“Well, that’s not realistic,” I said. “But I can stop looking for things to be mad about. And I can try to do better.”

“We can all do that,” Evan agreed. “There’s always a chance to do better.”

So here’s my chance, and I’m taking it. I’m trying again where I’ve previously failed. I’m choosing happiness as my gift to Evan and myself.

Can’t Argue With Gandhi

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By Melissa Face

***First published in Sasee Magazine – 11/1/2019

 

My son, Evan, jabbed his fork at the meal in front of him, but he didn’t take a bite.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Do you feel bad?”

“I’m fine,” Evan responded.

He continued scooting his meal across the plate, but he still didn’t eat.

“Talk to me, buddy,” I urged. “Are you sick?”

“No,” he whimpered.

Evan’s face turned crimson and tears slid down his cheeks.

“I just can’t eat meat anymore,” he said. “I don’t feel right about it. We’re being mean to them, and they didn’t do anything to us.”

My husband and I exchanged helpless glances. We were both completely caught off guard, so instead of responding too soon, we encouraged him to express his feelings.

“I just don’t think it’s right,” he continued. “Animals are my friends. They have feelings, and I feel like I need to protect them.”

“I understand,” I told him. “And I’m glad that you are comfortable telling us how you feel.”

Through tears, Evan continued telling us about his thoughts, and while he talked, I brainstormed about what I might say that could be helpful.

“Plus,” Evan said, “Gandhi was a vegetarian.”

Well, I certainly didn’t know that, and I realized my child had just closed his argument with the ultimate mic drop. Not bad for an 8-year-old. How could I argue with Gandhi?

So, I encouraged Evan to do something about how he feels. I told him he could avoid meat, and we would find other sources of protein. I also reminded him that dwelling on the things that make us sad is not productive. I asked him instead to think of ways that he could make a difference in the lives of animals.

Evan suggested volunteering at our local animal shelter, and we agreed that we could definitely take them some food and supplies. We spent a large portion of the afternoon talking about ways Evan could help animals and participate in activities that coincide with his beliefs.

That night, Evan was scheduled to attend a birthday party without us. They were eating at a fast-food chain, so Evan and I discussed possible menu items for him. I wanted to be sure he had a plan and would be able to eat something meatless.

After we picked him up, we talked more about his decision and some meatless meal options. Evan’s new diet restrictions present an additional challenge when we already deal with a nut allergy. But it’s very important to my husband and me that we listen to our children and try to support their beliefs, within reason.

So, whether it’s a true lifestyle change or a short-lived childhood phase, we’re going along on the vegetarian ride. I’m looking forward to trying some new veggie recipes on our new venture.

“I am glad that you listen to me, even though I’m still a kid,” Evan told me. “I am still figuring out the world. I know I have a lot to learn.”

“We are all figuring things out,” I agreed. “And we should always be learning something new.”

Maybe I’ll start by reading more about Gandhi. 

Confronting My Dragon of Self-Doubt

 

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by Melissa Face

I was a terrible mother last week. I worked two late nights at school for parent conferences and an open house, so I barely saw my own children, heard about their school days, or even knew what they had eaten for dinner. 

I didn’t feel very competent as a teacher, either. I made a grading error on a student’s quiz, forgot to photocopy the second page of an important handout, and requested a substitute for a couple of hours so I could attend a luncheon at the Petersburg Country Club. I vowed to myself that I would make it up to my students the next time I saw them. That is my current state of mind: feeling like I must always apologize and make up for not giving more to either my students or my own children, sometimes to all of them.

I was familiar with the work of Katherine Wintsch, the scheduled guest speaker and author of Slay Like a Mother. I saw her interview on Today, and I’ve read her columns in Richmond Family Magazine. I wanted to hear her empowering message to moms in person.

While eating our salads, our first task was to write on an index card the most recent mean thing we said to ourselves. 

That was easy enough. I criticize myself all day. I constantly compare myself to other women who seem to have their lives more together than I do. On the first card I wrote, “You don’t belong at this event. This is a country club, for crying out loud.”  

On my second card I wrote, “You can’t be a good mom and a good teacher. Someone is always suffering.”

We shared our self-criticisms with other guests at our tables:

“You always look like a fat ass,” one woman wrote.

“You’re not dressed for this luncheon. They will kick you out,” said another.

“You’re not pretty enough. Not smart enough.”

“You are acting crazy, and your husband is going to leave you.”

Katherine told us it was okay to cry. And as if I had been waiting for that permission, I did. I cried for all the women in the room who were suffering like I was. I cried for all the times in my life I felt I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, or good enough.

After a few more exercises and addressing the mean girls inside our own heads, we had the opportunity to ask questions. 

“My daughter is five,” I began. “And she is the most confident person I know.” I explained a recent shopping trip when Delaney tried on a leotard, admired her reflection, and proclaimed her awesomeness. “So what I’m wondering is when does this negative self-talk begin?”

“It can start as early as age five or six,” Katherine answered.

So right now, Delaney is on the cusp of battling her own self-confidence and inviting in the dragon of self-doubt. And since I have the knowledge and life experience, it is my responsibility to help her keep that dragon at bay, even if I’m battling my own at the same time.

I can’t remember when my dragon was born, but I do remember its most significant growth spurts. The first was my senior year in high school when a faculty member told me I’d be lucky to be accepted at Longwood University ( Longwood College at the time). “I’m just not sure you are college material,” he said. 

The second most significant incident was when I came home on a break from college. I was visiting my sister and her boyfriend when her boyfriend’s father asked me what I was studying in school.

“I’m majoring in Psychology,” I told him.

“Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you at Taco Bell one day,” he laughed.

Those negative messages became my inner monologue, and no aspect of self-criticism has been off limits ever since. I have criticized my appearance, my personality, and my intellect. I have beaten myself up so much from the inside, it’s amazing the bruises aren’t visible.

 I have doubted my skills as a mother and my ability to contribute anything meaningful to the workforce.  I often tell myself that I am lucky to be where I am today and that I should be grateful to have a job. That was the message my dragon was fed in my teenage years, and I have continued to feed it the same lies. 

The Truth is that the workforce is lucky to have me.

But back to my second note card I filled out at the luncheon. I wrote, “You can’t be a good mom and a good teacher. Someone is always suffering.”

One line of this is accurate. Someone IS always suffering. It’s not my students or my children, though. They are okay. I am the one who is suffering. 

It is time to rewrite the script that is my inner monologue and at the same time help my daughter remain a positive, self-confident child. Katherine Wintsch says, “…there is a kinder voice inside you just waiting to guide, console, and reassure your way toward your best self. We just need to get your mind to shut up so your soul can have a chance to speak.”

I have never been so excited to begin a new book and a new journey.

You Really Don’t Have to Share!

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by Melissa Face

I sat on a couch grading papers, waiting for my children to finish their dance classes. Next to me, a mom and her daughter played quietly with a sticker book. It was the type with pages that tear out. The sheets were pictures of animals, and the stickers were eyes, noses, whiskers, etc. They chatted and laughed together for a few minutes. “Here are the dog’s ears,” the mother said. “Put these on.”

“I want a sticker!” a girl on the other side of the room told her mother. 

“Well, go over there,” the mom encouraged. “Ask them for one.”

So the child did.

“Can I have a sticker?” she said.

I’m not sure if the mom and the daughter with the stickers didn’t hear the other child, or if they pretended not to. Either way, I really didn’t blame them. They were playing together, mother and daughter. What is wrong with that? Do we really have to share with others all the time?

The other child, feeling a bit dejected, ran back to her mother and cried.

At this point, I thought the exchange might be over. I paused my eavesdropping and returned to grading. But only for a moment.

“It’s okay,” the mother across the room said loudly to her crying child. “Remember the episode of Daniel Tiger? If no one wants to share with you, find something else to do. It’s very nice when people share, but they don’t HAVE to. Plus, if she doesn’t share with you, that means you don’t EVER have to share with her.”

I felt my face turn red. I wanted to call her out for taunting the mother and daughter who just wanted to play quietly with their sticker book. I wanted to tell her that maybe she should bring her own toys and books to entertain her young child while waiting for a class that is an hour long. I wanted to tell her that there is a Dollar General across the street that sells sticker books. And I really wanted to tell her that I’ve also seen that episode of Daniel Tiger, and that’s not how it went.

But I didn’t say anything aloud. “Not my battle. Not my battle,” I chanted to myself. “I’ve had plenty of my own lately. This one isn’t mine.”

The child, still sniffling, wandered back over to the mother and daughter. This time, out of equal parts obligation and humiliation, the mother offered the other child a sticker. “Would you like to play?” the mom asked. “Here, I’ll tear out a sheet for you.”

The two girls sat on the floor and played, but the girl who owned the sticker book was uncomfortable. And rightfully so. The other child was in her face, tearing pages, dropping stickers, and interfering with what was previously a time of peaceful play. At one point, the other child hid the sticker book under a sofa so the girl who owned it couldn’t find it.

I know it wasn’t my problem, but it makes me angry when I see that other people are uncomfortable. I appreciate personal space. While sharing is a kind gesture, I don’t think it is always necessary. And I certainly don’t want to be made to feel like I HAVE to share.

 

For the record, this is how the Daniel Tiger episode really went down:

 

Daniel has a sticker book and Margaret wants the stickers.

“No! These are mine,” Daniel says. “They’re not for you. Dad, tell Margaret she can’t have my stickers.”

Daniel Tiger and his dad have a conversation and Daniel’s dad tells him that it might be even more fun if they play together. But when they do, Margaret tries to take his whole sticker book.

“What if she rips it?” Daniel pleads. “It’s really special to me.”

“I see,” says Daniel’s dad. “Some things you don’t have to share.”

Sometimes parents want to interact with their own children without dealing with someone else’s child. Sometimes children are feeling shy and would rather not share their belongings with a stranger. And sometimes children don’t offer to share because they have an autism spectrum disorder and struggle with cooperative behavior and the invasion of personal space. Or maybe they just don’t want to, and there is no other explanation. 

No explanation is needed. Some things you don’t have to share.

 

I Didn’t Move Here for This: A Letter to the Editor About Prince George County Schools

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***photo taken September 6, 2016***

by Melissa Face

Parent of Walton Elementary students

Nearly four years ago, my husband and I moved our two children to Prince George from Wakefield. This decision was not an easy one, as it meant leaving extended family behind. But we relocated in order to enroll our children in Prince George County Schools.

Prior to moving to the county, I was employed with the school system from 2008-2015. I taught special education and English at Prince George High School. Within that time frame, I had the opportunity to serve on the school system’s communications committee. We met regularly with the superintendent, and I found it an insightful experience that allowed me to understand the inner workings and goals of the school system. And even though we were often facing and addressing our own flaws and shortcomings (including our outdated, aging facilities), the division seemed concerned. The outlook seemed forward thinking. And the future appeared hopeful.

Those emotions have morphed into concern and fear. I am afraid of short and long-term health concerns, as my husband and I deliver our children each day to a building that is infested with mold, CO2, and other contaminants. I am afraid of them being at an open campus with a security situation that has historically been contingent upon funding received from a grant. I am concerned about the temporary fix of moving children to a trailer until a more permanent solution is created. I am afraid that the people who can make change happen may not do it.

It is time for our children and their safety to be prioritized within the county. They deserve better, and the county is letting them down. The county is letting us all down.

Posts and reader comments on Prince George County’s social media page indicate that the county is concerned about new business. But think about it: What reason is the county giving businesses to build or relocate here? Where is the attraction? Why should families move to Prince George County? Why should those of us who live here stay? What is the long-term relationship between the county and Fort Lee going to look like if schools aren’t improved? Will it remain a “solid partnership”? I am doubtful.

At this point, taxpayers, parents, and teachers really aren’t interested in who did what in the past. I don’t care who was or wasn’t invited to a particular meeting. Build a school for our children, and do it now. As the Prince George County School Board and the Board of Supervisors move toward next week’s meeting, I urge them to make a decision that will result in the quickest, safest solution for our students. 

The county has some serious catching up to do in terms of the school system’s buildings, technology, and safety. It’s time to make changes before parents begin seeking alternative routes for their children. Moving is an option. Private schools are an option. Creating a charter school within Prince George County is also an option to consider. I know I’m considering it.

Stolen Snack and Opportunity

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by Melissa Face

Evan didn’t mention the incident when I picked him up from aftercare. Though that would have been more convenient, I have grown accustomed to addressing school concerns after dinner and into the late evening hours. 

My kids are rarely able to tell me the things I need to know when I first pick them up in the afternoons. Instead, the details of their days trickle out like drips from a leaky faucet. A random splash here and there until they have finally expelled all they were storing.

“Oh, and someone ate my snack at aftercare today,” Evan told me, around 7:30 one night.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “The snack we packed?”

“Yes. A girl ate my cookies.”

“How did she get them?”

“She went into my backpack and took them.”

“So what did you do?”

“I told the teacher,” Evan said.

“That’s good,” I told him.

A few minutes later, I emailed the aftercare director and explained Evan’s story. I received a prompt reply with reassurance that the situation would be handled.

The next day at pick-up, the aftercare teacher told me she had spoken with the child and her parent about the snack incident.

“I explained to the mom that kids have to be careful about eating other people’s food because of allergies and that her daughter could have had a reaction from eating Evan’s cookie,” the teacher relayed.

She told me she would monitor the situation more carefully in the future. I thanked her and walked the kids to our car.

When I was driving home, it occurred to me what the teacher had actually done: perpetuated the common belief that we should be concerned about how others are impacted when they wrong us.

In an already litigious, victim-blaming society, this teacher’s response is more part of the problem than the solution. 

How does this scenario differ from a burglar’s family suing a homeowner because he fell into their pool and drowned while he was robbing the house?

Or what about someone’s auto insurance rates going up because a thief steals the person’s car, crashes it, and suffers life-threatening injuries?

What if the girl at aftercare HAD been allergic to something in Evan’s cookies? Would I have been at fault if she had reacted, even though she stole them from my son’s backpack?

It wouldn’t surprise me.

And most importantly, why didn’t the aftercare teacher simply tell the girl that stealing is wrong and she needs to respect the property of others?

My best response to my own questions is that she was afraid.

Adults have become increasingly fearful of telling people, even kids, when they have done something wrong. We don’t want to hurt feelings, step on toes, or God forbid, make someone not like us. (I shudder at the very thought of it.)

We need to get over that right now. It’s ridiculous, and we aren’t doing anyone any favors when we are trying to see how nice we can be. 

Kids want to be told right from wrong; they want boundaries.

Take the example of a well-managed classroom versus a chaotic one. Initially, students may prefer the latter. They will be able to talk loudly with their friends, run around the room, and do basically whatever they want. But after a while, they will grow tired of it and ask (in their way) for structure and guidelines. I’ve witnessed this firsthand when I had substitutes for my own classes.

“We missed you,” a student expressed, after I had been out sick for a couple of days.

“Yeah! We missed you a lot,” another student echoed. “The sub let us do whatever we wanted.”

They didn’t like the freedom and absence of boundaries. They wanted rules and structure. They wanted to learn in an environment that valued expectations and consequences.

If we are unnecessarily nice and worried about offending kids by telling them they are wrong, we are forfeiting a valuable opportunity to improve morality and teach life lessons. We are also creating a generation of adults who won’t respect the boundaries of others. Plus, avoiding calling people out when they are wrong because we are afraid of hurting feelings IS still hurting someone: the victim.

Adults need to step up their game and provide children with appropriate boundaries. That means we sometimes have to tell them things they don’t want to hear, like “No”, “That’s not okay”, and “Stealing is wrong.”

It seems we have become so concerned with being nice that we have lost sight of the real objective: doing what is right. 

            Perhaps a blend of kindness and assertiveness might be more beneficial. And if we are calling this concoction a cocktail, let kindness be your garnish. Not your main spirit.