Welcome 2017, I am going to breath you in.

looo

My goodness, 2017 is actually here.

We all needed a little Christmas to prepare for this New Year. We had a lot of Christmas, and it was glorious.

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Tiny Humans, Christmas 2016

We have done basically nothing with our week off. It jives with my own inner mantra for the next year. My feelings about how to live this next year are still a jumbled mess, but I am working on sorting them out. They include the words on this list. I had a professor once who suggested writing lists when I couldn’t write accurate sentences.

2017 Concentration List

Less

Stop

Breath

Patience

Work is not my entire life

Read

Cook

Eat

Enjoy

Yoga

Find Joy

Slow down

Watch for laughter…listen

Listen

Smile

Mindful Mothering

Move

Sleep

The data person in me is a little agitated by this list, because half of it is not measurable. I can measure the meals I cook, the yoga I practice, and the smiles I capture. I can do that. Some of this list I can’t measure, and it is an exercise for me to remember what I am assigning value this year.

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There was a lot of sunlight on my mat this morning. 

Our 2016 was stupid hard. I did a lot of yelling, and not enough sleeping. I could resolve in 2017 to yell less, but that is not really a goal, because it is not sorting out the root cause of yelling.

I’m determined to live a better year. Mostly, I am determined to smile more.

That One Time We Dropped Out of Preschool for Love

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I am not completely sure why I have not shared this experience yet. It is a super important issue to draw attention to. It is one that affects so many people. And, for whatever the reason… maybe the politics of this choice, the protection of the people involved, the judgment, and the urgency of needing to make a super fast decision left me unable to validate the feels enough to be ready for public consumption. (Truthfully I share things, because I learn from all of you, and I hope to be a contributor to the lessons our generation will hopefully catalogue.)

Quality, affordable, accessible, safe, and loving childcare is like finding a rare unicorn hair in a barn full of chickens that are allergic to unicorns, and in a world where unicorns do not exist. However, after exhaustive searches, and extensive vetting, and actual full days of pounding the pavement we always have managed to find the most epically amazing childcare providers close to our home. We have found the unicorns, a few times even… We have found the people who wrap my tiny humans up in so much love that we want to send them daily roses, and provide annual trips to Disney. (Obvs, we can’t do this, but I do buy a lot of extra Dunkin’, and drop off wine for the hard days.) We have found the people that not only love our tiny humans, but also love our whole family, our dog, the new baby doll, their skinned knees, their need for snuggles, their smiles, their challenges… We have found the providers that treat and love our tiny humans exactly like they would their own. They set expectations, and provide lots of love and guidance, compassion, they validate feels, and understand…. And they model what it means to be a family… because they even love threeangers, and eight year olds who refuse to do anything logical. (They also love their grownups, and believe in the value of the grownup work.)

Then life happened, as it does, and our magic-unicorn-hair-childcare-provided could no longer care for the tiniest. Because life…. Because 2016…. This year though…. (We are all super hopeful that their absence is temporary.)

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I took this news in stride (after I cried a lot). I researched, and thought “okay, new place, we will do this… I have a job to do, and the tiniest human is resilient.” I thought she is technically preschool aged; we can rise to that. (Although, the reason she wasn’t in preschool was because she wasn’t ready to be in preschool.) I selected a wonderful, warm, friendly, well vetted, and kind program to replace our magic unicorn. You can’t actually replace magic unicorns with strangers, especially for tiny humans who are not ready.

It was a disaster from day one. We gave it three weeks. During the third week the tiniest started waking up with night terrors about having to attend preschool. On her last day, the look of sheer terror on her face will be one I never ever forget. She didn’t just miss her momma. She was afraid, and I was about to sacrifice three years of working to teach her security… I drove to work in tears, and researched FMLA laws… I realize we all have our parenting struggles – this day was one of my hardest. I will never forget her face of terror. (On this day she got to bring hot pink Frozen cupcakes to preschool to share with her new classmates, and she was ready to abandon the cupcakes so she wouldn’t have to stay. Imagine being three years old and giving up hot pink Frozen themed cupcakes?) It wasn’t working. It was traumatic for all of us.

I knew all along that I had a village of people who might be able to care for our sweet tiniest human, at least until the end of the semester. But for some ridiculous reason I was worried about continuity of care, and the burden of asking for help. I didn’t realize that the tiny human didn’t need the continuity of a single provider if people who love her always surrounded her (and surrounded her momma).

So… we dropped out of preschool, because we are not ready. And the village offered to help until the New Year. (I finished an entire undergraduate degree one semester at a time.) I will figure out next semester… when I need to.

I was chatting with my mom tonight who asked how our ad-hoc childcare was going. (She’s a piece of the village helping.) I said the tiniest keeps having so many great days, and she just knows her people, so it’s not even a thing. My mom said she likes her bubble, and fair enough, who doesn’t? She continued to say that at barely three years old that we need to protect their bubble… if they love their people they are doing okay. My tiniest loves the people and their families that love her. She loves the people that have witnessed her entire life. She loves the people that love her mom, and her sissy, and her daddy – that is who she trusts, because that is who we taught her to trust.

I could wrap this up in a lot of ways… we are preschool dropouts. I think what matters was I made a super quick choice against advice that “she would eventually settle”… I’m sorry toddlers don’t need night terror. I rose against the advice that “it was good for us.”

I picked my mama heart. I picked my gut. And our people offered help. Because when other people love your tiny humans they become magic unicorns. Magic unicorns bring tears of relief for my family, for my work, for my students, and for the sweet tiniest who just loves her people, because she isn’t ready for preschool, and that has to be okay.

The tiniest chooses love. Because that is what makes sense to her. I don’t anticipate every drop off to be without tears, but I can go to work, and serve students, knowing that the tiniest guided us all towards love, because she reminded us all that we do people who love.

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to The Academy, Again.

The loss is nuanced, and people will think I’m completely insane for mourning this kind of loss.

Today, I let “Zoning Is Sexy” Finn walk away. I made a choice to let “Mama” Finn and “Professional” Finn thrive. I watched the opportunity for independent quantitative research walk out of the room.

Background (I tell undergrads this is a super important piece of their writing.)

I returned to higher education as an adult thinking I needed an education that matched a job. So, I was going to teach elementary school. Then I actually spent some time in a public school, and was all “Yay!” but “OMG, I don’t really like this even a little bit.”

Fast forward a few years, and I had discovered the Liberal Arts and research, which I love. I had a lot to learn, and I don’t write well enough for the academy, but sheer grit produced research that people cared about. I was hooked. I was completely in love with academia. Academia is a prescription that continuously rewards my accomplishments with awards, funding, opportunities, and accolades.

Despite wanting to look at terminal degree programs, my advisor gave me a morsel of advice that I often I repeat. Students need to go do something meaningful before pursing graduate work. (Listen, students. Do this.) So I did.

Meaningful Work 

I got a really neat job researching and writing (the thing I’m terrible at) for large federal grants. Again, I got to research, which is the most fun. Except, I had very few practical skills outside of an ability to coordinate large research projects and collaborative writing assignments. I actually couldn’t use Excel. I couldn’t figure out Outlook. And the worst part was I didn’t have the credentials to back up the skills I did have. (Sorry students, the paper matters.) I also was working as a professional writing tutor. (The most ironic pathways for me.)

Almost Returning to The Academy

After about a year of this work I started to look at different graduate programs that would pair with the skills I had learned with my fancy Liberal Arts degree. I selected a very expensive program to earn an MPA. Winning, or so I thought, because lets face it, those who know #classicfinn know that the ultimate career goal is to run things. (Clear career goals, friends. Obvs.) The program was an enormous let down. It lacked the academic rigor and pursuit of knowledge that my undergraduate environment provided. The environment that I had thrived in, and that I still gaze back on as my most privileged years.

I transferred to a different institution. I found an MPA program that would offer both the ability to pursue real quantitative research, and learn public finance. (Public Finance is a skill I need to run things.) I am in my third semester, and I haven’t been disappointed. The program has extremely dedicated faculty, quality advising, content relevant courses, and admits smart and prepared colleagues. Transferring was an excellent decision. 

The Loss (The one that makes me crazy.) 

The department recently overhauled their programs. Today I was faced with a choice, again. I could pursue my MPA with only five classes left to finish, no thesis requirement and only a final project to complete, or I could easily move into the other degree offering with significantly more classes to finish, but with the carrot of independent quantitative research at the end. (The department was beyond gracious, flexible, and thorough in our hour-long meeting. I would not lose any previous course work, and I could pick the best fit program. This is not a fault of the institution. I fully believe thriving institutions change to meet market demands.) 

I looked at the plans of study for both programs, and I knew I would not write a second thesis.

When I ran into a trusted faculty member on the way into this meeting, she assumed I would be heading into the research-based program. Regretfully, I admitted that I was thinking no, because right now, I just needed to credential up. She actually totally understood, and was beyond kind.

It sounds awful to me… I do not look at higher education like this. I do not believe education is where we go to credential-up, but it kind of is, because the papers matter. I am pulled into a direction that doesn’t fit my life or my skill set, and a direction that I have spent years romantizing. 

So, can I still be one of the cool kids?

My current program is amazing, and certainly this piece is not meant to suggest otherwise. I use the skills I am learning in this program everyday. I am learning program evaluation, and how to analyze every step of the policy process. I am learning about finance, and management, and how to write for a professional audience. These are the skills I need to run things.

However, my current grad program is not preparing me for a terminal degree. I will not pursue independent research. The data I have meticulously collected for the last year will only be used for professional development. (There are no IF/THAN or VLOOKUPS in my current academic path.)

I know this means that I have different work to do, like my goal to run things. I know that I will still be the designated researcher on the task force. I still have professional development funding to pursue student success research. I still can be an academic in a public sphere. I know this. However, today was the day I made a choice to not lose my mind and write another thesis. Today I made a mindful decision to learn the skills to run things, and I watched independent research walk out of the room.

I’m sad. Maybe next lifetime I’ll be the academic I dream of becoming, and maybe I will even have better writing skills to help that destination become realty.

See ya later “Zoning Is Sexy” Finn, until next time. I’ll save the data, and we will be cool again, but first – FDH, MPA.

If I Lose Myself, Who Will Find Me? 

Dear Lonliness,  

Our lives, and the expectations and realities of our lives change all the damn time. A short two years ago I was home with our tiniest, and loving every minute of it. Now I have all the great things to do, in addition to raising the tiny humans. I have all the great responsibilities and pressures that come with the choices to continuously add all the great things to my adult life. 

The additions are kinda awesome, and I’ll save you all from the “I am blessed” speech. You know it’s good. I know it’s good. We are good. 

We might even be thriving. Although 2016 has been challenging AF, it’s still kinda awesome. I mean I gave a commencement speech – that’s some cool shit. 

What I was unaware of as our lives change is that I might be lonely. (I am surrounded by some amazing people that I am so fortunate to call my friends, and a crazy family that continues to support Finn in all the insanity.) 

This is an existential loneliness… #firstworldproblems

I simply didn’t expect that the next few years might lonely. I didn’t realize that my stories would be less significant, less valued, less listened too. I didn’t realize I was making choices to add things to my life that do not align with values and choices of many people. (Family Phrase: Different families make different choices.) I didn’t realize that the older I get, and the more nuanced my choices are might mean that less people will care about them. Even the people I love the most. 

When I completed my undergrad at TrinColl I befriended the sweetest and kindest group of young women (10 years younger, and we drank coffee in expert solidary). I don’t have that same comradery these days.  

When I was newly at TRCC I was surrounded by fellow colleagues begging students to please just learn how to write. I don’t have that same comradery these days. 

I have a paper to write. Research to conduct. Data to analyze. Courses to attend. Another paper to earn, and increases in enrollment in my program. For me, it all has to matter.  It all has to contribute to the discourse. 

I guess I didn’t know that loneliness might be a reality of my heart craving need to produce meaningful work.

With love, Finn

Dear Norwich City Planners, downtown divestment is a choice.

Downtown Norwich, CT

Our downtown Dunkin Donuts closed this past weekend, and I am distraught by the news. We walked there several times a week, and the manager Kim always had chocolate munchkins waiting for my children.

I am a homeowner in downtown, and my husband and I made a choice to raise our young family in the downtown area. We purchased our downtown home just two years ago. We both work in Norwich, and we believe in walkability, in supporting a downtown tax base, and the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity our neighborhood provides our young children.

Sadly, all anyone has to do is look at a map of downtown to understand that decisions are made in this city to promote empty storefronts, vacancy, and divestment.

Downtown Norwich, CT
Downtown of Norwich, CT 2016. Map provided by Google. 
  1. There are four major roads that lead into downtown from the West Side, which is the busiest section of traffic and commerce in Norwich (Church Street, Main Street, Water Street, and Chelsea Harbor Drive). Two of these streets only lead out of the city (Main Street and Water Street); meaning drivers cannot use them to access the city by car. Water Street only leads up and away from downtown establishments, and puts drivers in front of our City Hall, and guides them towards the Historic District, again leaving no access to the downtown. Chelsea Harbor Drive is the only road leading directly into the city, and provides drivers with access out of downtown via the one-way-out-Main Street, and the Viaduct that enables drivers to avoid downtown all together. Furthermore, when visitors arrive at the corner of Chelsea Harbor Drive and Main Street, the most prominent business is a storefront that provides bail bonds.
  2. City establishments east of Broadway suffer even more. Franklin Street could be a bustling district, but there isn’t a direct route onto Franklin Street, even from the treasured historic district. There are just more one-way streets leading drivers away from city commerce. Bath Street points away from the city, which prohibits access to Franklin Street from Broadway, Union Street, and Chestnut Street. Again, isolating these businesses from people who may drive into downtown.
  3. The two main parking garages on Chelsea Harbor Drive/Market Street are far from city services, like the city library and city post office, which are several blocks east of the parking garages.
  4. The City’s major public transportation hub, sits just outside of the city limits on West Main Street, not Main Street.
  5. The open public meeting space, Brown Memorial Park, is separated from city commerce by Chelsea Harbor Drive, which is the only access to the City, so it is a busy road, and does not promote an ease of, “grabbing your coffee and taking it down to the water.”
  6. Waterfront investment and entertainment at American Wharf is not actually within the downtown limits.
  7. Not on the map, but important to include, is drivers see that there are no benches, no bus stops, and zero places to sit to enjoy the center city.

City planners, you made decisions to make our downtown impossible to navigate, you provide parking, but not near services people might need or enjoy, you deliberately direct traffic away from anything east of Broadway, and you promote the leaving of the city with more one-way roads pointing out of the downtown, then towards it.

Do not scratch your heads, and blame a false economic downtown for our vacant and empty storefronts. You made choices, and these are the consequences. Imagine if you planned streets that promoted easy visitation of downtown, and ample parking near services citizens want access to, and imagine you subsidized business that we need, like grocery stores, and medical clinics. Envision walkability, and imagine the tax revenue of a bustling downtown. It is a choice you can make.

Sincerely,

Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens

 

Mothering Moments

Happy Mother’s Day, Mamas! 

I have lots of feels about this day, and I don’t totally understand all of them. In a full disclosure these are just MY feels, and not meant to be offensive. 

 I don’t love the constant Internet dialogue of “this is the hardest job ever.” I loath the posts that beg for readers to feel sorry for mothers, because when we feel sorry for someone, we look down on them, ultimately think less of them, and we think “thank goodness that isn’t my reality.” These sentiments are such a tremendous discredit to our relationships with our children. 

Mothering is super hard! Yes, you are correct. However, any meaningful work I have ever done has been super hard, and mothering has an advantage that as Internet mothers we don’t write about often enough, we don’t talk about often enough. In between making sure we limit screentime, and provide nurturing and enriching environments ALL OF THE TIME…we somehow have lost the greatest gift, or at least the Internet has forgotten. 

Mothering has 10,457 moments in a single day that reward the most valuable work we do, and no other work I have had has ever given me this many accolades. These moments make our work the most powerful, and create the most poignant privileges of our lives.  I’m not approaching this as some sanctimonious “motherhood is a gift” nonsense, but I am suggesting that motherhood is most simply our reality, and maybe we need to change our rhetoric. It’s neither an honor or a burden, it’s just regular things everyday, that as mothers we do because it’s the right thing to do, and simply put, it’s our job. We get to smile at the 10,457 moments no one sees, but we get to, because we are moms. We get to smile at them between every tantrum. 

And shit, this year has been rough. I have cried in my beer more times than I care to admit. My co-parent has worked for over six weeks straight without a day off, and I miss having a second parent. We spent most of April sick, and Saturday morning started way to early. I HAD to get out of bed to feed my tiny human breakfast hours before I wanted, and I had to make two bagels because the first had peanut butter on it, and even though she said that’s what she wanted, she actually wanted cream cheese, obvs… because she is two years old and is a mini dictator. But then we snuggled for a few moments and she read me a story, and for like 5 minutes and 20 seconds I was awe struck with this tiny human for this moment. What job, what meaningful position reminds us so frequently that we are awesome, and we are doing something right. 

Later, she cried all the way to Target because I put her crackers in the wrong snack cup. The injustice, people. I bribed her to stop screaming at me with a chocolate milk from Sixbucks. The chocolate milk was purchased, and two minutes into her beverage she asked, “mama I share sip with you, it’s delicious.” I realized, wow, I’m raising a tiny human who wants to share her treat with me, her momma, and that’s pretty awesome. In this fifteen minutes of exhaustion that was my moment. (Have no fear, friends there was obviously an epic meltdown leaving Target because I wouldn’t buy my two year old lipstick.) 

Even later I had the privilege of listening to tiny human laughter, as I snuggled a friends newborn, and cheered to Mother’s Day. It lasted a whole 30 minutes. #winning 


My dear friend earlier this week wrote that she wanted to have a moment that didn’t feel like the only thing her family was doing was yelling at each other. She framed this sentiment in between beautiful pictures of her children, and finding the moments that didn’t suck. (She’s a rockstar.) Despite a lot of yelling, she was finding her meaningful moments, and that was powerful. She was celebrating her work, even though it wasn’t always awesome. (Thank you friend for your wisdom, and keeping it real.) 

The sentence held my heart. I realized this is where I was at, and I felt like this was my season of a lot of yelling, and maybe meaningful work has bad days. 

I realized that sometimes this is mothering, and sometimes its not glamorous, and some weeks we catch puke in our hands, and spend a lot of time yelling. But, that is simply the reality of this work, and not every moment is going to special, and some of them are going to be hard AF. It’s meaningful. And it isn’t really an honor, and it isn’t really burden… It’s just our job… The most meaningful work will we do. We will raise tiny humans, and some days we will be rockstars, and some days we won’t be 

I have feels about Mother’s Day. I simply anticipate being let down, because shockingly my tiny humans will behave exactly like tiny humans EVEN ON MOTHERS DAY, and our family will gamble at a family fun day or a family fail day. And that’s mothering. There is not any other date on the calendar that we expect praise or gratitude for doing this work. We do it because our tiny humans depend on it, and we love them with our entire beings, so we obviously wake up everyday and love them, and work for them, even when it’s hard. 

It’s nice to be recognized, and it’s important to say thank you to the people in your life who work hard at their jobs. But Mamas’, we do this everyday.It is always Mother’s Day if we find the moments between the tantrums, the sarcasm, the TWO bagels, and we find the moments that fill our cups to make our meaningful work awe inspiring. Sometimes it’s just a sip of chocolate milk. 

Anxiety 

It’s like asthma. It’s a real and present danger at every turn. Run to fast in the cold, asthma kicks in. Your car gets hit, and anxiety hits. 

We are safe. We are fine. Car seats and cars did their jobs. Everyone walked away. The adjuster asked today THREE TIMES, “was the rear facing infant okay?” And I lost my shit. Because a third party saw my car post accident, and thought, holy shit. They saw that baby seat, and thought holy shit. (Maxi Cosi Pris 70 did its job.) They saw that our accident was a real and present danger. 

And world, maybe I’m struggling. Maybe I was afraid to turn around to look to see if they were all okay. Maybe I was afraid they weren’t. Because imagine that moment. Imagine that second when your whole world might not be okay. Imagine that sound. Imagine their crys. I hear them over and over again.

And world, we are going to be so good. All of the great technology kept my tiny humans safe. But I’m having a super hard time overcoming it. I’m having a super hard time. 

And that super hard time is anexity. It’s as real as asthma. Things that are regular for people who don’t have anxiety aren’t the same for someone who suffers with anxiety. Our breath becomes quicker, and we don’t process as fast. 

Trauma is real. 

And world, we will be fine. These are first world problems. We will buy a new car, and we will buy new car seats. But it’s going to take me longer than you to feel okay. 

I Know You Know All of These Feels

When your heart hurts you stay up late. When your soul is literally begging for a friend you listen to the saddest music, and you drink wine, and you hope that tomorrow you will be awesome. You plead with yourself to be awesome tomorrow. 

And she smiled today as her favorite song played, and told me to pick the next one. 

Because sometimes it’s all way to much. And I am certain we will persevere. Tonight, I will stay up to late, and drink too much wine, and listen to sad music, and tomorrow I will still be awesome. 

When it’s messy and ugly, you can retreat. You can pull on your shell, and wait out the storm. You can cry silently. You can watch it dismantle in front of you. You can watch your own heart break.

And she will ask you to help her with these words, in this book. And you do. 

Because sometimes being this person is so horrifically hard. And sometimes you are at war with these expectations. Tonight, I’m going to feel all of these feels. And switch the music to hip hop. To prepare for my awesomeness. 

And she asked for triple braids tomorrow. 

Because we will all survive watching our own hearts break. And Hill proclaims that “I will treat this life like my thesis, a well written topic broken down into pieces.” So bring it, life. It’s the hardest paper I have ever written. 

And she thought I knew hieroglyphics, because I teach students how to solve problems.

Because when we finish watching our own hearts shatter, we will rebuild them. We will rewrite the thesis, again. There will be more sad songs to listen to, and there will be more words to learn. 

When Did You Become Big?

The baby had a hard day. I picked you up from school, and you had already glanced at my messy bun, and knew my day was less than fun. “Mama, your day was hard because she is really screechy.” Super screechy.

Your black yoga pants are loose against your lean legs, and you decided to not wear a coat to school. When we got home and you said “I’m here to help.” I truthfully never saw you. I forgot to remind you that you are awesome.

You arrived in the kitchen with your long ponytail and your hoodie, and your movements are precise. There is no more awkward child in your body. You are big. When did you get big?

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Photo Credit: Suzanne Davis, Ginger Snaps Pictures 

This past weekend you went shopping with your Granny and returned with dresses that match your style and your enthusiasm. I adore your confidence. I hope you keep it forever. When did you get big enough to know your style? To know what makes you feel like a rockstar?

At bedtime I apologized for the challenging afternoon. We hugged, hard and long. You told me it’s okay. When did you become big enough to know that a hard day is only one hard day? And that the hard days end, and they are no ones fault? When did you get this big?

You my sweet, you are awesome. I wish I could tell you to slow down, but your Montessori training, and your independent nature will laugh in my face. You are big, like the baby says. You are so big. You are my big, and everyday I learn from your grace.