Important

Maggie’s obsession with carousels began six months ago when Nettie, her grandma, brought her a coloring book with sketches of horses. The cover featured an intricately adorned carousel in Tennessee. Maggie was hooked. She began begging to ride carousels and asked questions about them daily. I blamed Nettie for that.

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Maggie’s first carousel ride was a little anticlimactic; the carousel, a rickety three-horse ride at Wal-Mart, wasn’t working properly. We deposited coins while she giggled and shouted with glee. And nothing happened.

Maggie kept riding, though. She pretended the horses were whinnying, kicking, and dancing. She sat atop that broken carousel for at least five minutes while we watched, amused.

A few months later, she rode an antique carousel at the zoo. I’ll never forget her face while the breeze caught her golden hair, her eyes closed and tiny teeth shining in the June light.

part0_13 (1)Nettie brought Maggie a toy carousel a few weeks later. The carousel’s status surpassed that of her “snowballs,” globes swirling with white plastic specks, sparkling glitter surrounding Baby Jesus and his mother.

I knew Maggie loved her carousel, but I barely noticed it. When she pushed a red button, the Christmas-themed figurine played electronic carols. I couldn’t make it through two of them without distracting her to play with something else or leaving the room to finish loading the dishwasher.

Until last night, I had never heard all the songs the carousel carries. We lay in bed together, the three of us, watching the mirrored column in the center of the ride scatter its green and red lights around her bedroom. She showed me which horse she loves most on the carousel and explained why. I hummed along to the tunes and held her soft, squishy hand and rubbed her warm, smooth back.

Six months had passed, and I’d never heard the music.

How much beauty in small places do I miss?

I often ask myself, “How important is it?” I typically prioritize big, urgent, prominent things. Work. Marketing. Chores. Meetings. Writing. Scheduled events.

Last night, I saw the world through Maggie’s eyes once again.

From now on, my response to that rhetorical question when presented with moments like this will be “Top priority.”

 

THIS is networking.

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

The interview process for my new job began 10 years ago.

My new boss, Steven Rothberg, President/Founder of College Recruiter, presented the keynote address at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers Conference in 2005. I’d just entered the world of higher education as Director of Career Development at my alma mater. At that conference, I met two people who later proved to be crucial in my career—my new boss, Steven, and my career mentor, Samantha Hartley.

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. :)

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. 🙂

While listening to Steven speak at the AACE Conference, I soaked up his enthusiasm and insight like a sponge. His passion for College Recruiter made quite an impression upon me. I became a fan of College Recruiter’s work.

True to my networking-is-all-about-genuine-relationships mantra, I kept in touch with Steven over the course of the past decade. When I learned he was the keynote speaker at the AACE Conference this June, I had to be there, even though my role as an English faculty member didn’t afford me the opportunity to participate in AACE any longer. Thankfully, many of the speakers and workshops pertained to curriculum, so I made a case for my attendance and was able to drive to northwest Arkansas for the day.

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

When I began teaching as a faculty member, I truly never planned on doing anything else. I felt I’d arrived. However, some switch flipped in me when I reconnected with Steven at the AACE Conference. Feeling inspired, I immediately came home and wrote a blog post, which Steven shared on Twitter. A few weeks later, he invited me to participate in a webinar with College Recruiter. The right doors kept opening, and I kept walking through them. I had a gut feeling that if I were ever to do anything other than teach, working for College Recruiter would be my dream job. What would that look like? What exactly could I do for them? I had no idea. I just prayed for God to work things out as He saw fit.

At the beginning of August, I saw opportunities for improvement in content on College Recruiter’s website. I felt torn about whether to mention this to Steven, though, since he was my “ideal boss.” My career mentor asked me if my ideal boss would be offended by my suggestions for improvement.

“I guess not.”

“Well, there’s your answer.”

So I emailed him. Several emails and phone calls later, Steven and his wife Faith, CEO of College Recruiter, offered me the position of content manager.

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

This morning, as I drank coffee on my back porch to the sound of a few chilly birds chirping in the distance, I realized that still, soft forest would be my vantage point every single day. In January, I’ll be exchanging my office on campus for my office at home, which is currently being constructed and greets the sunrise.

I won’t go on and on about the variety of ways my new employer rocks. I won’t tell you about how funny Steven and Faith are.. I won’t yack about how amazed I am each time they remind me how important it is to maintain balance and prioritize my family. I won’t brag about the flexibility, the support, or the leadership… okay, maybe I will… just a little bit.

This process has proven these three things to be true.

  • Networking pays off.
  • When in doubt, listen to mentors.
  • English majors can do much more than teach, and earn a great living, too.

Although I do not practice the Jewish faith, I did find it cathartic to give my official “I’m leaving” notice today, the day after Rosh Hashanah began. I have a feeling this will be a particularly good and sweet new year. Shana tovah u’metukah, my friends.

I can’t wait to get started.

Choosing not to

When my friend Bruce invited me to his concert next weekend, I was stoked—and then immediately felt totally bummed. His band, Living Sacrifice, has impacted me spiritually for a decade and a half. I’d love nothing more than to watch them perform again on their home turf.

IMG_8757But I can’t. Not this time. My daughter, Maggie, is barely a year old and has not mastered bottles or cups yet. She still relies on me for some of her sustenance, and with a baby latched onto me (literally), I’m limited to what I can do and when. She has yet to fall asleep without first nursing and listening to me sing God songs to her, enveloped in my warm arms.

So I just can’t.

I can’t.

For the past year, those are the words I’ve chosen to use each time I’ve declined an invitation to a show, a party, a conference, or a big to-do. It wasn’t until I responded to the invitation to attend Bruce’s concert that I realized that those words weren’t completely honest.

Me at 26, with my friend's baby girl

Me at 26, with my friend’s baby girl

At age 21, I was an independent, strong-willed, adventurous young woman who proclaimed that she had no desire to have children. At 26, I seriously contemplated sealing the deal medically and making it impossible for me to conceive—that’s how sure I was that having a baby wasn’t the right life choice for me.

Then I met my husband. And everything changed. I began envisioning the beauty of creating life together and the joy of taking our child along with us while climbing mountains, watching sunrises, devouring Waffle House hash browns while traveling down Route 66, praying and reading classics aloud before bed, and catching trout on the White River. I began to imagine sharing our lives.

With my husband, 2010

With my husband, 2010

I changed my mind.

We began making choices to put our family in the position of being able to spend as much time as possible together in the future before we even knew that Maggie was on the way. I made different choices about jobs and turned down opportunities to interview for positions requiring me to spend lots of time away from home. I went back to school and earned my Master’s degree with the sole intention of teaching at our local community college—something I’ve always wanted to do. We found a great church. We bought a home and renovated it, even though we underestimated how much space we’d need when two became three.

We got ready.

Good thing, because before all our plans were cemented, Maggie came along and blew my expectations for what life could be like out of the water. I love being her mom more than anything. I didn’t have to stop working, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to nurse her, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to stay so close to home last winter in the midst of cold and flu season, but I wanted to. As I reflect on the past year, I feel at rest knowing I have tried to make the best choices.

When I was pregnant and unsure about whether to stay home with Maggie and for how long, my friend Vicky, who is a little older and much wiser than I am, said something that’s become a mantra.

“You may regret a lot of things in life, but you will never regret the time you spend with your kids.”

She was right.

I’ve missed out on some pretty wonderful opportunities since becoming pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t walk across the stage to receive my diploma when I graduated with my Master’s degree after working my tail off and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. One of my high school friends got married, and I missed quite possibly the most fun ever had at a wedding, complete with a live band and oodles of cowgirl boots. Right in the middle of Maggie’s worst teething crisis, I had to cancel plans to spend the weekend with one of my closest college friends and missed out on some Damgoode Pie pizza and beer and plenty of quality time. I had lunch with some of my friends from across the United States prior to a women’s conference I hated to miss, but a few short hours with them flew by, and I found myself missing them the rest of the weekend.

I’m sorry I can’t put Maggie first and still participate in every exciting event in life.

IMG_1744But I don’t regret putting my baby first, and although I have missed some special moments in my loved ones’ lives because of catering to my baby’s schedule and putting her health and well-being first, I don’t regret it. I can’t put my child on hold—she’s here, and today’s the only second day of December in her second year of life that I’ll ever get to spend with her.

It’s not that I can’t find a babysitter and check out for a few hours while watching a movie. It’s not that I can’t send Maggie to daycare tomorrow and go back to work full-time. It’s not that I can’t go to my friend Bruce’s awesome show on December 6th.

I just choose not to today.

Mama said, part 7

“Starving kids in Africa would love that pork chop,” my mom stated, twirling her spaghetti around her fork.

My good little eater, Maggie

My good little eater, Maggie

I rolled my eyes and huffed and puffed. I fidgeted. I kicked the table leg.

“Then give me an envelope. They can have it,” I narrowed my eyes.

Bad move, Bethany.

In one fell swoop, my plate was removed from the table, I consumed a tablespoon of peanut butter, and my mom swatted my heinous hind end and sent me to bed a full hour before sunset.

And that’s the way it went on more than one occasion. My mom didn’t tolerate whining, and she didn’t put up with picky eaters. Sure, she let me eat my spaghetti sauce separate from my noodles. And she didn’t make me eat green beans very often since they were my absolute least favorite food on the planet. But by and large, my mom cooked, and we ate. Period.

The only other choice was to eat a big spoonful of peanut butter and head straight to bed. As an adventurous, fearless, and athletic girl, this option was usually more dreaded than downing canned spinach.

Despite its employment as a discipline tool, I grew to love peanut butter. My favorite sandwich is a fried peanut butter and marshmallow creme pile of goodness. My favorite snack is peanut butter and graham crackers. My favorite childhood snack is Cracker Jacks. My favorite dishes at most American-Chinese restaurants are pad thai and kung pao chicken.

Clearly, I’m nuts about peanuts.

My fabulous peanut butter cookies

My fabulous peanut butter cookies

But after having a severe allergic reaction on Monday, most likely to peanut butter, I’m grieving the loss of all that delicious stuff. It sounds silly, but I’m really going to miss peanut butter. Not a huge fan of meat, I literally ate peanut butter on a daily basis—partly for the protein, but mostly for the pure love of the stuff. I mourn the loss of the opportunity to bake the most amazing peanut butter cookies on the planet for my daughter someday. I will not be able to mimic the best discipline tool ever for picky eaters, employed many times by my mother—eat a spoonful of peanut butter and go to bed early. I won’t pleasure in the delightful combinations of peanut butter and caramel, peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and chocolate… alas.

After moping around for a few days, though, I decided to do myself a real solid and put my big girl panties on even though I honestly didn’t feel like it. I started reading labels on items in our pantry. We scoured the shelves of Wal-Mart for peanut butter alternatives and found a few substitutes. I vowed to look upon this situation as an opportunity to improve my diet and to shed the 10 stubborn pounds of baby weight that have perched themselves happily around my waist.

A wise woman I know once said, “Stop making mountains out of molehills. It’s like pole vaulting over mouse turds.” It’s just peanut butter, after all.

I don’t want to spend any more time missing what I can’t have. I’d rather enjoy what I can and be grateful for what I have.

Excuse me while I savor this almond butter, please.

How about a round of applause?

???????????????????????????????Last night, I had a more-trying-than-usual time lulling my baby into slumber. I nursed her. I changed her diaper. I needlessly lotioned her silky skin. I sang my entire repertoire of lullabies. I rocked her. Then I nursed her again. And changed her again. And put a different outfit on her little limbs.

And finally, after a few hours, she submitted to the beckoning sheep who begged to be counted, left her best friend (a stuffed lamb, Lambchop) in the bouncy seat for the night, and collapsed in her crib, arms spread out wide, embracing ten whole hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As I crept out of her room, my husband looked at me while browsing the Internet.

“I’m going to bed,” I stated emphatically.

I forced myself to brush my teeth, wash my face, and apply ointments and creams in places I’ve never cared about moisturizing until motherhood took its toll on my appearance. I checked my email one last time, hoping neither of my professors had sent me a single note. I hopped on FaceBook briefly and glanced at my newsfeed.

The “Just Wheat” page I’d just created days before hovered on the left side of the screen, an annoying reminder to write, write, write.

???????????????????????????????These days, all I want to do is write. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. And literally, I can’t get enough of it. I simply don’t have time to record every rumination that runs through my brain. So, as I take 30 minutes to type this post, bright pink post-its scream out potential topics on the bulletin board in front of me. But my priorities are family and graduate school.

Well, that’s not entirely true. While my family and graduate school are my top priorities right now, I seem to be incapable of simplicity and ease. If I finish all my schoolwork two weeks ahead of time, and take great care of my baby and love my husband well, it’s still not enough.

I’ve also decided to start jogging again, partly in an attempt to lose post-partum weight and partly to provide a break for myself each day from parenting responsibilities. And when my daughter sleeps or plays happily in her bouncy seat, if I’m not doing homework or working on my fitness (just ask Maggie, she’s my witness), I’m cleaning. Endlessly. I’m a bit anal about maintaining a tidy home. I’ve evolved into a much less maniacal housekeeper since having Maggie, but I confess that seeing dirt, dust, and dishes piled in the sink drives me absolutely bonkers. And I attempt to maintain two separate blogs, which I love to write for even though they have moved down on my priority list.

???????????????????????????????I don’t just do what’s required of me. I take on more than I have to. All the time, and I always have. Why can’t I just do as my mentor recommended, and list five items on my to-do list for the day? Why do I stretch five into ten? Or why, when I don’t complete all five tasks, do I fail to recognize that my baby refused to take decent naps all day, so my time was reprioritized? And even if I’m able to cross off all five items at the end of the day, why do I plop into bed at night feeling as if it wasn’t enough?

That I am not good enough?

Ah, the real root of the problem.

Fear.

I’m afraid that I won’t be good enough. That I won’t graduate from graduate school with a 4.0 GPA. That I won’t parent my daughter in a way that’s conducive to joy, peace, health, spiritual fulfillment, and lifelong learning. That my guests will turn up their noses at the rings inside my toilet bowls. That it will take me longer than a year to lose this weight and that I will never look attractive again in my own eyes. That my husband will observe these obvious failures and revoke his love from me.

Ridiculous.

Not only are these fears irrational, for the most part, but even if they come to fruition, who cares? How important is it that I maintain a perfect GPA? If I graduate with two Bs on my transcript, I’ll still have accomplished the big-picture goal of earning my Master’s degree in English. How important is it that I manage to read daily to my daughter? Well, it’s important, but if I skip a day here and there, her brain will most likely not begin to atrophy. How important is it that my house pass the white glove test? Not at all.

What I’m afraid of—not being good enough, and not being loved—has roots that have attached themselves to the core of my being since childhood.

But I don’t have to allow my fears to dictate my actions.

My husband reminded me, as we discussed these very matters in a state of near-consciousness last night that I ought to just relax.

He is right.

I remember when I worked in a sales position, selling software and training opportunities to business owners and principal partners in a niche industry, that it felt so hard to get to work on time. My commute took 45 minutes, hauling tail while applying makeup during traffic jams, on good days. Barring any wrecks or hold-ups, I’d screech into the parking lot and lug myself into the building, gigantic mug of strong coffee in hand.

I felt as if all my co-workers should applaud. Congratulate me for choosing not to hit snooze more than once. Pat me on the back for deciding to show up at work rather than stop paying my bills and move back into my parents’ house and eat frozen dinners while listening to my parents give me advice on relationships. Offer me an attagirl for taking a shower, blow-drying my hair, and appearing decently well-kempt.

But they didn’t. Of course.

I once shared this fantasy of applause with the secretary at the office. She laughed. Then agreed with me and told me about her average morning which entailed waking her teenage son, getting his lazy butt out the door for school, starting her car in freezing temperature with no husband available to scrape off the windshield for her, and finally braving almost the same commute I battled daily.

“I should be applauding YOU!” I remarked.

When I relocated to my hometown, and returned to the realm of higher education, I shared this same fantasy with a really funny group of people who worked in an adjacent office. Recently, when I returned to campus for a “look at my adorable new baby” visit, I walked into the foyer of their office and immediately felt puzzled.

They were all clapping.

It took me a minute to realize that they were clapping for me. For showing up. On time. Clothed.

It made me laugh, but last night as I lay in bed, I wondered why we all don’t applaud ourselves. Daily. For whatever things we accomplish, no matter how minor they seem when we compare them to the books and albums published by our fellow alumni, the perfectly bleached bathrooms of our mothers-in-law, or the post-partum pictures of our incredibly thin friends.

Once a yoga instructor said something at the end of class which, I’ll admit, I scoffed at internally.

“Thank your body for what it was able to do for you today.”

Yada, yada, yada.

But maybe I will. Maybe I ought to apply those high school cheerleading skills to my own little life. Maybe I need to pat myself on the back when I submit an assignment, wrestle myself into my sports bra in order to go jogging in 45-degree weather, or successfully remove humungous boogers from my baby’s nostrils.

Maybe I ought to thank God for what I’m able to do today.

Period.