Look for the Good

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By Melissa Face

“Don’t make fun of me on Christmas morning,” five-year-old Delaney said to her dad. She climbed into his lap and buried her face deep into his shirt.

“Make fun of you? Why would I make fun of you?” he asked her.

“Don’t make fun of me if I don’t have much presents on Christmas morning,” she explained. “I know I haven’t been that good this year.”

My husband and I tried to stifle our laughter. We didn’t want to further upset Delaney when she was genuinely worried about Santa not bringing her gifts. But to be completely honest, our daughter does have a few reasons for concern.

For starters, Delaney has a sassy mouth. She often offers a quick retort when she’s not fond of the question being asked. Just the other day, we were on our way home from a holiday event, and Delaney was eating her dinner in the backseat. She asked for a cookie, but we weren’t sure if she had eaten all her dinner.

“Have you finished your cheeseburger?” my husband asked her.

There was a long pause.

“Can Jesus see inside my Happy Meal box?” she asked.

Again, my husband and I tried to hold back laughter. Delaney had unknowingly given herself away.

“Finish your cheeseburger,” my husband said.

Delaney has a sweet tooth and a weakness for candy of just about every variety. She also has a history of sneaking pieces up to her room. She makes earnest attempts at hiding the wrappers, but they often turn up when we do laundry or check behind furniture.

About a month before Christmas, I bought some candy and stashed it away for her birthday goody bags. I didn’t think she was aware that the bags of lollipops, licorice, and fruit chews were even in the house.

When I moved some things around in the cabinet, I noticed the bag was slit and half empty. We questioned both children about the missing candy, and both of them promised they had not taken it. Then we told them we were going to check the (nonexistent) video footage from the dining room.

“But, Mom,” Delaney said, her face wrinkled with worry. “I don’t know if I’m lying or not!” 

Once again, Delaney had given herself away. And once again, my husband and I were nearly choking on laughter.

Later that night, we had a serious conversation about sneaking candy, telling the truth, and behaving properly, regardless of who might be watching your Happy Meal box. She listened as attentively as a five-year-old can and said she would try to do better, especially since Christmas was coming and Santa was watching.

About two weeks before Christmas, we took the children to see Santa. Delaney, who is typically pretty bubbly, sat quietly on Santa’s lap until he spoke first. I could tell she was nervous. After the photographer took the picture and we overpaid for an image of our daughter grimacing instead of smiling, I asked her how it went.

“Pretty good,” she said. “Santa didn’t say anything about my behavior.”

In the days leading up to Christmas, Delaney busied herself with making and wrapping presents for each member of her family. She drew portraits, saved coveted pieces of candy, and wrapped them in paper decorated with stickers, glitter, and bows. She worked tirelessly to make sure she had something to give to everyone.

On Christmas morning, Delaney admired her gifts from Santa then passed out presents to us. She was proud and happy, and it was a beautiful Christmas morning.

Later that evening, Delaney told me that Santa must have seen some of the good things she had done.

“I’m sure he did,” I agreed. I think he looks for the good things.”

“Well, I’m going to do even better next year,” she promised.

I think that Santa appreciates a child who can recognize and admit her own shortcomings and who has the desire to improve. I know her father and I do.

Real Moms Share Their Successes

By Melissa Face

While it’s unlikely that any of us will ever completely avoid guilty feelings, we can create a better balance and a healthier mindset. One way to begin is by acknowledging what we are doing well in motherhood (and in life) and focusing on those positive moments.  I spoke with a few local mothers about their experiences and asked them to “toot their own horns” of motherhood. Here is what they had to say:

I am a good mom when I pick my children up from school and we have conversations about their day, including their friends, and I know who each friend is and something previously shared about them. I believe it shows my children I care enough to truly listen to them and that I am present and active in our conversations.”

-Michelle Newby

Williamsburg

 

I wanted to work and have a family, and while it is not easy and the concept of work- life balance is more like work-life Tetris, they see the juggling and prioritization and sometimes the sacrifice it takes to have financial independence and maintain a family (and occasionally a social life!) and I believe they can use that in their own lives no matter what their dreams or goals may be. I believe my children know they are important to me, but by no means do they think the world revolves around them because they know I play multiple roles. Sometimes I have to take that call or go to that meeting, and they see that hard work and commitment are what it takes to continue to be successful. They have to be second sometimes so they can be first more often.”

-Carrie Long

Virginia Beach
I know I’m a good mom when those sweet little arms wrap around my neck, and he gives me a hug, and tells me he loves me no matter how the day has been. It’s the little comments: thanks for playing with me; I liked reading that book with you; or thanks for holding me, that make me feel like a good mom. My baby girl makes me feel like a good mom when she cries in everyone else’s arms because she’s so attached to me. Haha!

-Samantha Graham

Suffolk 

 

I feel guilty as a mom when I think about the different activities I didn’t get my kids in due to work schedules or because we didn’t have time. A positive aspect of being a working mom is being able to contribute to our household financially, and my kids really seem to understand and genuinely appreciate why I go to work (to provide for them).”

-Crystal Adkins

Virginia Beach

 

I feel like a good mom when I am able to be truly present with my children. Those 15 minutes driving to school in the morning are precious and an opportunity to really have an intentional conversation with the kids, even though my mind is often running through which meetings I have coming up and if I have everything prepared. I realize how little time I have to pour into my four children and how much I treasure when I can be present in the conversations, the stories, and the moment.

-Kelly Durick

Suffolk

Don’t Eat My Apple Bites

 

IMG_1973***Published in Sasee Magazine, December 2019

by Melissa Face

“Don’t you eat my apple bites!, Mammie hollered, referring to her most favorite treat sold in stores. For years, apple bites have been a staple on her grocery list. She enjoyed one per day with her morning coffee, and sometimes she shared.

I joked that I was going to eat them all. We both laughed, I hugged her, told her I loved her, and headed out the door. 

That was my last conversation with my grandmother. She passed away one week later, suddenly but peacefully. And though we were all deeply saddened, Mammie’s children and grandchildren came together to remember her in a way that was authentic and true to her life.

Several of my cousins sang beautiful hymns she had requested months earlier, and many of us shared stories. Although there were many heartfelt and touching moments, it wasn’t a typical funeral service. But Mammie wasn’t exactly a “typical” grandmother.

Mammie had four children, ten grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. Somehow, she managed to maintain unique relationships with all of us, which was not an easy feat. She knew our likes and dislikes, frequently prepared our favorite foods, and shared private jokes with us. 

Naturally, many of those stories were shared at her service. We talked about how much we would miss her fudge, her chicken rice soup, and her homemade meatloaf. We shared stories about her favorite sports teams, beach and mountain vacations, and her favorite tv shows.

Nearly everyone’s story had an element of humor in it. And while it certainly was not meant to be a comedy show, it would have been unfair to not address that part of Mammie’s life. She had a hilarious personality, and she loved to laugh.

My cousin, Brandon, approached the pulpit for his turn to honor Mammie. He cleared his throat and began reading from his phone.

“By now you have probably heard about how much Mammie loved her doll babies,” he said. (Mammie referred to all of her grands and great grands as doll babies.) “What you may not know is how diverse her doll babies are. There are doll babies who inspire through writing, through teaching, and through singing.”

Brandon took a long pause.

“I am none of those doll babies, which is why I was not asked to sing today,” 

Everyone chuckled.

“There are doll babies who are kind and gentle to animals and there are doll babies who are skilled in hunting and fishing,” he continued.  Again, I am not any of those doll babies.”

The congregation laughed a bit louder.

“I am, however, the doll baby with a unique nickname Mammie gave me that has stuck throughout the years and will continue for generations. There are so many things I will miss about you: your laugh, your smile, waking up to thirty facebook notifications, and your ability to bring the family together. But most of all, I will miss your inappropriate advice…which I cannot share in church.”

Then, to illustrate Mammie’s nickname for him, Brandon leaned toward the microphone and made a raspberry sound with his mouth that echoed throughout the sanctuary. 

The entire congregation erupted into laughter. The preacher wore a shocked expression, and I’m pretty sure that church will never be the same again.

In the end, we honored her in a way that we felt would truly have made her proud. We could have kept the service somber, but it wouldn’t have felt right for Mammie.

Since her death, I have thought a lot about my last visit with her and replayed our conversation in my mind. At first I wished we had talked about something more meaningful that day. I could have told her again how much I loved her. I could have thanked her for supporting me throughout the years and for always encouraging me and helping me feel better about myself. We had said all of that before, though. I knew she loved me, and she knew how much she was loved by every single member of her family.

And though I will always long for one more conversation, our last one was representative of our relationship: one of laughter and love. What more could a person ask for? Aside from another apple bite, of course.

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.