Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Parenting, or How I'm Doing It Wrong

I'm an early childhood educator. I've been doing this for almost 12 years. I've been an assistant teacher, a lead teacher, a director, a teacher trainer, and a passive observer. I've written lesson plans, done observations, created behavior plans, met with families, and done countless training sessions. It's in my blood. Working with children and their families is what I was created to do. There is one tiny, 6-year-old sized problem: my daughter.

Being a parent, as someone wise told me, is all about not knowing what you're doing. It's about being befuddled, confused, frustrated, and completely at a loss most of the time. It's about rushing headlong into something totally unknown and simply feeling what to do. No one really knows how to parent. We're all just winging it. This is where my problem lies.

I don't know how to separate myself as an educator from myself as a parent. I don't know how to erase years of studies and research and classes and observations and see my child as just my child. Every time she reacts to something that I do or say, I immediately assess what she's just done and start crafting my response. I know too much about children and why they do what they do, so instead of being my daughter, she's like my real-time case study. What the actual hell is that.

My child. My sweet child. I just went into her bedroom and looked at her tiny face. I brushed her hair back from her eyes and gazed at her for a few minutes. I touched her tiny upturned nose, that looks just like mine. I caressed her cheek, her beautiful olive skin that she gets from both me and her dad. I brushed her rosebud lips and was immediately transported to her first few weeks of life, when that tiny mouth first smiled at me.

I created this beautiful human, this masterpiece of chaos and loveliness. I grew her in my womb for almost 10 months, and then nourished her with this body for another year after that. I watched her take her first steps, listened to her say her first words, held her after her first injury, nursed her during her illnesses, and cradled her as she drifted into sleep for the last 6 years and 4 months. Everything that we've done together, everything that she's taught me, is tucked away in my brain. I remember her mistakes, her successes, her losses, and her triumphs. Her life shapes mine.

It is in the midst of this, however, that I become lost in all the knowledge I've accumulated about early child development and how it has impacted my life. It's in my veins, just as my daughter is. They are both a huge part of me. Somewhere along the way, her life, those success, mistakes, and triumphs have become interwoven with that knowledge and the career I've made of early childhood and now I don't know how to separate. I'm constantly assessing what she's doing, how she's reacting to me, how I'm reacting to her as a result of that, and hypothesizing possible outcomes. She in school; she's learning to read. When I sit with her to read, I do so as an educator and her parent, and it feels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I want her to be successful, because I'm her parent. She avoids reading to me, however, and I immediately move to the why, instead of just acknowledging that she's a normal child and will learn to do things as she's ready to. I start cycling through my list of interventions, ideas and strategies that I have implemented with my students.

This isn't my student, this is my child. What have I done?

I want to begin unravelling this huge knot, this massive tangled mess of Christmas tree lights all twisted up around itself, of educator vs. parent. I don't know how long it will take me, but I want to appreciate my child as a human, as an individual. I created her, but now she is creating me, or rather, re-creating me.

Brooke + JuneBug

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I've grown up my whole life hearing phrases like "Home is where the heart is," and "Home is where your story begins." Many people don't know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, 'home' was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that's comfortable and safe.  I was lucky enough to know this reality.

My family moved into what I grew up calling 'home' when I was 5. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn't stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could 'make it' on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we're going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.

With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don't have a home anymore.

I don't mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, 'houseless.' I live in a house with my JuneBug, 2 dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.

I can easily go to my mother's house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly; fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.

I don't have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word "home," I don't think of a specific place because there isn't one. Home isn't a place.

My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn't seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmothers house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen 3 generations grow up, is home.

I'm starting to believe that I will never have a 'home' again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn't where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you're 'home.'

So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building 'home' all along.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

To Be Free

Her chest was heavy as she walked toward the field. Her breathing had become labored, but not from exertion. She was experiencing the depth of her choice, and it was physically tugging on her, making it more and more difficult to breathe. She carried the cage with both hands in front of her, because it was too much for just one arm. She had come a long way, and with a heavy load. Her strength was waning, but she was almost to the field. Only a little farther, she encouraged herself. One foot in front of the other.

This wasn't just any field. This was the field she had dreamed about since her youth, the one she visited with her grandfather when he released the birds. She was very young when it happened, so her memories were blurred, like watercolor mixing on a canvas. She remembered the cage built into the back of the truck, the rumble of the tires over the uneven earth, the squawking of the wild things in the back, anxious for emancipation. The truck suddenly halted, and her grandfather got out. She followed him to the back of the truck. This part was the clearest in her memory. Her grandfather unbolted the metal latch on the gate and held his hand over the door, gazing intensely at the feathered creatures, who were now so loud she couldn't hear anything else. Then, as if he were mastering a magnificent ceremony, he threw the gate wide open and flung his hands into the air. The birds rushed out of the cage like water rushing out of a hydrant; the pressure of their wings and their palpable excitement pushed her to the ground. She rolled over and laid on her back, watching them fly around, experiencing the freedom that had been stolen from them for so long.

This is why she had returned to the field today. She, too, had a cage full of something with a longing for freedom. She suddenly realized how incredibly heavy the cage had become, wondering how such a thing could have happened, as it had felt much lighter at the start of her journey. She took her first steps into the field, taken back by how much longer the grass was than on her first visit here. She smelled the air and knew that today was the perfect day for this release. It was going to rain later, and would wash away the dirt and damage that had accumulated on her prisoner during the course of their trek.

Once she felt that she had gone a fair enough distance into the tall grass, she set the cage down. This release alone gave her a great relief and she laughed at how wonderful it felt. She wiped her brow, tied her hair back, and knelt over the cage. "This is it," she whispered tenderly. Leaning over this beautiful creature she had kept captive for long, she felt suddenly mournful for its obvious pain and also for the loss she knew she would feel after releasing it. She quickly brushed a tear from her face and set her eyes on the latch. Unlocking it, she held her hand over the door, just as her grandfather had done, and gazed at the thing inside. She looked for a long time; she was unsure when she would see it again. She took a deep breath, one that felt like it reverberated down to her toes, and then she removed her hand from the door to the cage.

In a burst of flight and frenzy, the captive burst from the cage, just as she remembered the birds doing so very long ago. She flung herself to the ground and rolled over to watch the first flight of this beautiful slave she had kept all to herself for so long. As she watched it circle above her, she knew that she had done the right thing. The movements were so lovely it nearly took her breath away. She steadied her breathing and watched, full of utter awe. The freed captive pushed farther into the distance, closer and closer to the edge of the sky. Her lips curled into a small smile, and she closed her eyes, full of the most tremendous peace she had ever known.

Her heart was finally free.