Eight(y) is Enough

What’s more important – what we know or what we don’t know?

I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately as I delve into the preparations for the role of tech. startup founder, small business owner, solopreneur, mompreneur, crazy lady.

I think about the skills I have honed in my personal and professional lives, the leadership qualities I have developed and the complicated interpersonal situations that I have managed and – in many cases – facilitated a solution to.  I think about all of that, and I get so frustrated that I can’t be that person here yet.  Instead of walking into a room of wily middle schoolers and helping them to refocus and to keep their eye on the prize, I find myself reading every day to learn things from absolute scratch and doing things I never imagined could be part of this adventure, like shooting and editing a video.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to learn.  But it’s so strange to feel so incompetent at so many things out here, especially when all I would have to do to see the take-charge me is to walk back into my school.  I’m not on a circular course right now, and my path is taking me further and further away from my comfort zone.  They say that’s where the magic happens (unless you get lost in the woods!).

The upside to this month’s journey has been the meticulous whittling of Growing Gratitude’s mission.  The office floor is covered in shavings and sawdust, and only the very heart of it remains.  When you do eighty takes of a video (while I am naturally prone to exaggeration, take me at my word on this one), what does not ring perfectly true really stands out.  I knew what Growing Gratitude was; that part was easy.  The surprise to me was the time I needed to take to sort out the nuances of what it isn’t and will not be.  The time spent there has been invaluable.

Saw, carve, file, sand.  Smooth it over with my fingertips.  Only the very heart of it remains.

First Gear

My few weeks after the last post have gone like this: get up and get the boys ready, take my 4-year old to preschool, play with my 7-month old until he goes down for a nap, then race upstairs and work on my business plan until he wakes up, whether that’s 45 minutes later or 2 hours and 45 minutes later. I do the same in the afternoon if he takes a second nap. And then again at night if I’ve still got my wits about me.

I have been poring over research and blogs and professional association lit about the smartphone app market, where it’s been and where it’s headed. Who risks how much and how often to try to get their ideas out there like I’m working on doing with mine. How people collaborate – or don’t – and where to meet investors if you don’t live in Silicon Valley. It’s all fascinating to me, in a real and unlikely way. And while some people breathe business because money is, for them, the endgame, I see it all as means to an end.

My mission in this whopper of an adventure is gratitude for the 21st century. And while I’m not going to go into many more business details just yet, I believe it’s the worthiest of causes.

As a parent, does anything irk you more than moments when your own child could not be less grateful? It gets me right in the gut. Really. I do not love the prompting – “What do you say?” – how that feels as a parent or how inauthentic it feels to the recipient of the obligatory thank you. And it’s not just a matter of those two words, of course. I think gratitude is a way to view the world, a humility we don’t see enough, a way of grounding ourselves which cuts right through the noise of this modern life. It’s so much more than just two words.

I love taking time like this to think about the root of everything I’m doing. While the need to help provide for my family is strong, as is not wanting to bellyflop in front of basically everyone I know, the electricity which powers reading tech blogs and typing like a madwoman in my 90 degree office is the understanding that I have the chance to put something into the world that it may not have had without me and something it will be better for. I say that with belief, not arrogance.

And belief in an idea is basically all I have right now (unless you count the bones of a business plan which will surely need revision once someone else takes a look). But if behind one door there was $50,000 and behind the other the steadfast belief I feel that this can and will work, the choice is easy. While the funding is what I need to move forward, it’s my belief in this project which will help me navigate when the funding falls into place. So I am frustrated and impatient…and grateful.

(Hey there, Mother of Mayhem reader. First of all, my most sincere thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. It really means a lot to me. If you’d like to follow along on the more public, business face of this adventure, I invite you to visit our Coming Soon page, our FB page, and to follow us on Twitter . Stay tuned for more rock-your-world gratitude adventures!)

I’ll Follow the Sun

Middle school. The last day of school. You could power a medium-sized city if you could harness the energy here today. Looking at kids in the lunchroom, it’s almost as if I can see the molecules in their bodies, spinning in random, haphazard fashion—aimlessly but at breakneck speed. It is something to see. (Bring earplugs.)

I try to focus on these abstract, scientific interpretations because I am not yet ready to sink into the reality of my decision. There is nothing more self-centered that believing that things can’t go on without you. And that’s not exactly how I feel. I know that someone else will be helping kids cope with friendship rifts and broken hearts, making calls to social services and playing cheerleader when kids and adults are carrying loads that seem to be more than they can bear. But part of me still wants to be the one handling all of that, partly because I don’t have a clear view of my future life right now. And because I was good at doing all those things, and it’s satisfying to be in a situation doing things we’re good at.

I explained to my 7th graders yesterday that when I am at school it feels like there’s a hole in my heart because I’m away from my kids and that, come August, there will be a hole in my heart where they (my school kids) should be. But I wonder if that’s true. I feel like the few emotional situations that I dread are usually less horrendous and long-lasting than I anticipate in all my fretting about them. I’m not sure if this will be one of those.

Last week my husband suggested I go get a massage. I’ve been on edge, getting migraines, not sleeping well. I declined the massage because I was afraid of letting go of my stress too soon. This school year I had a baby, went on leave and then came back (reluctantly). That was a lot but not all. One of our students died in February, and we spent much of the rest of the year grieving and trying to regain our bearings. Then, in April, a female student went missing. A few days passed with no word from her—luckily, she reappeared, safe and sound. Then there are the daily heartaches that anyone who works with kids is familiar with: broken families, abuse, so many other non-academic situations which interfere with learning and—one of the hardest for me to help kids manage—getting through to adulthood without believing that hurtful things said about them are true.

I guess I just feel like I had the choice between quitting my job to attend daily therapy sessions or forcing all that emotion down as far as it would go. And I haven’t let it out since. So when my husband suggests I get a massage, I don’t visualize relaxation. I see myself breaking into a thousand pieces. And I can’t afford to do that yet.

My plan is to walk out my sadness and grief from this year and my uneasiness about what the future holds for me – walk it all out in the sun, wandering with my sons around our neighborhood, listening to music and letting all of the emotions seep out through my skin a bit at a time. Let it all swim out of my body with my sweat and evaporate out into the universe in particles so tiny they are harmless.

Let the (Hunger) Games Begin!

I quit my job today. I guess resigned is a more appropriate description, as I went to speak with one of my district supervisors in my best heels and holding a carefully crafted letter. If you feel conflicted about quitting your job and want help with a resignation that indicates that you’ve long wrestled with that decision, seek me out. It’s not a skill I hope to use often, but apparently it’s one I possess.

I don’t have another job lined up. I think we’re still in a recession. My business is still several months away from any sort of official launch – my business is waiting for my end-of-the-school-year busyness to subside.

On the way home, I couldn’t find the right music to match my mood. I needed something jubilant with an undertone of a stunned OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod. If you know what kind of music would complement that, please let me know.

I have jumped. I have climbed. And while I am a big fan of the cannonball (check out some previous posts if you don’t get the reference), there’s that lingering belly flop fear. Still, part of me knows that this may have been the hardest part, and it’s done.

Let the (hunger) games begin! And may the odds be ever in my favor.

Don’t Look Down!

I tend to think in metaphors. Right now, the imagery I am using to put my current situation into perspective is that of a rock climber. I’ve been bouldering for months by myself. It’s tiring, but around each turn there are unexpected finds that I would not have come across had I not been alone with my thoughts. My project idea has survived a few different reincarnations already, and I need to keep moving and protect the space in my head to get there.

Now I’m at the base of this mountain. It’s breathtaking – and terrifying. I’ve been able to get a little ways up by hoisting myself on fairly easy, obvious footholds. The branding process is complete, and our logo is perfect. It inspires me and is my vision for the company. The COMING SOON page on our website is in the works. I am off the ground but not high. Falling from here would injure my pride more than my body.

The next stage in the journey requires ropes, harnesses and expertise. I’ll need equipment which takes money – more than I have, of course, or this blog post would be irrelevant. The dilemma is one which is familiar to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. The options are these: put my family’s house up as collateral to get an SBA loan, lose some autonomy and take on investors or put the project up on Kickstarter and risk someone else taking my idea and launching it before I can get funding together. I have posed all three as negative, though each one certainly has its advantages.

I know that people in business take calculated risks all the time. They use their understanding of the context surrounding their situation to decide whether to leap or to wait. And I suspect that they often do not regret having leaped at an inopportune time if that experience makes them wiser the next time around. Live and learn. But when you don’t have a string of successes beneath you to buffer a misstep, the stakes feel higher.

When the house where my kids sleep is on the line – or I risk losing the opportunity to pursue this dream altogether because I shared when I should have kept it close – I want to pull the ropes tighter, lean towards the rock and steady myself, wait until there’s no wind at all and think hard about my next move. But when in life does that strategy work out for anyone? In life, as in rock climbing, looking down is counterproductive and pointless. Eye on the prize – ever upward – and forward march.

Swan Dive? Belly Flop? Cannonball!

The title of this post is the closest I have ever come to articulating my personal philosophy about life-living. When making big changes, I think the swan dive is too much to wish for. Change can be wild and gritty. Change can be cumbersome, like that moving box that isn’t quite too heavy to carry by yourself but you just can’t get enough of grip on to move for more than a few steps. I don’t expect to handle great changes gracefully, especially as stress builds and instability seems to permeate everything. There will be some thunder. I will get wet on this ride.

I think belly flops are for people who can’t change position fast enough. You see the surface coming and know how badly it’s going to sting, how the sound of the pain will resonate and the way you’ll pause underwater, stunned for a moment, before limping up to the surface. All you had to do was swing your legs up to your chest or pitch forward, point your arms down and slice right into the water. Somehow being a participant in the spectacle of the thing makes it worthwhile for some – reminds me a bit of how some middle school kids rationalize their behavior, actually. If you have something you care about, like an exciting idea or, you know, your internal organs, why not position yourself better before jumping in?

I’ve always had a fear of heights. It was never severe enough to keep me from thinking I might do whatever it was, from traveling by zip-line in Girl Scouts at age 10 to riding the Zambezi Zinger roller coaster at Worlds of Fun at 15 to jumping off an insanely huge boulder into Lake Powell at age 20. I chickened out easily as often as I actually did these things or – even worse – stood for interminable lengths of time pondering the worst case scenario, listening to my heart pound, wishing I were anywhere else.

Even so, in terms of the all-out adventure of life-living, the cannonball is, for me, the finest option. It is bold and captivating. A skillful cannonball also involves the audience in the exhibition. I’m bored by the perfection of swan dives and wince even thinking about belly flops, but I could watch cannonballs all day long. Approach, anticipation, giant splash, laughter. Isn’t that how we want all of our greatest adventures to turn out in the end?

Now I need one of you to get a running start…and push me off the edge. I can take it from there.

(I promised myself after my last post that I would not bore y’all or myself with any more posts that centered on my internal struggle about whether to quit my job, how this new business idea is going to work, how to help support my family financially and be able to be present emotionally and physically, too. Easier said than done. The truth is that I feel no closer to accomplishing all that than when I wrote my first blog post. I am so much better at managing these decisions when it’s only my very own ass on the line. Knowing I can survive on rice and beans and Goodwill clothes and friendship and cheap wine has made many big decisions in my life so easy. Twelve years ago, I sat on the floor of my friend Rachel’s house, rolled a Magic 8 Ball in my palm, read the bubbly triangle of advice and resolved to move to Spain. On my own, no decision (or mistake) ever felt irreversible. But I often wonder how head-of-households justify these risks. My best justification for moving forward with the plan in my heart is to be the living example for my kids that IT CAN BE DONE, whatever IT turns out to be for any of us.)

Good morning, paralysis.

So I talk a good game. I thrive on change and do not tend to do most of anything for more than a few years. I like changing houses and hobbies and usually jobs. But this is no usual job.

I’ve been working at my school for nine years now, five as a teacher and four as an administrator. In that time, I have had the distinct honor of getting to know some of the most amazing middle school kids on the planet. Most people hate the idea of middle school, based both on their own experiences at that age and interactions with kids who are that age. I get it. I used to say that middle school is an acquired taste, but the truth is it’s a calling. And the urban middle school is its own particular kind of fun. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires a sense of humor.

If just the words urban middle school make you want to run screaming, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I’ll be walking in, ever against the current, sitting down next to some very angry boy and getting him to process through and beyond that anger. I am really good at it. I can get most kids from total denial of any culpability in a situation to admitting that this pattern behavior is an obstacle to their fulfilling their potential in a matter of minutes. My seeing them differently allows them to see themselves differently, and therein lies my source of power with kids.

It’s hard to think about walking away from that.

I have every intention of returning to the world of education in some capacity when I’m in a place in my life when putting in those necessary extra hours at work does not inspire resentment in me. I know for a fact and without a doubt that I don’t have this in me right now, and while I will certainly miss the colleagues I have worked with for almost a decade, I am really going to miss my kids. All 551 of them. And probably the pain-in-the-ass kids the most – they’re the ones I spend the most time with anyway.

We as a society have a tendency to make things into anecdotes, oversimplifying them and thus not really doing them justice. I could tell stories about all the urban school crap – fights, drug busts, weapons, etc., etc., etc. I have experienced all that and more.

But if you asked me to summarize my experience at my school, none of those urban school cliches would even make it in. The story is one of the resilience of kids, many of whom are faced with all-too-adult issues as kids. I think that is true more and more of all kids in all schools, which is one of many reasons that I feel that being present as my own kids get older is imperative. But my stomach hurts when I think about quitting, and it feels like I’m quitting kids and not just my job. There’s really no quitting your calling – and no easy walking away from it either.

In the beginning…

This journey actually started on my son Ivan’s second birthday. I was presented with a need and no way to fill it. As with many dilemmas in the parenting arena, there was no “app for that”. I created one, vaguely, in my head, and I stepped back out into the dining room with something in my hand to offer our party guests.

The idea remained filed somewhere in between “write that novel” and “don’t forget to ____ tomorrow” (the million things I did not get to even after the most productive day at work). I thought about the idea now and then and even shared it with my friend Lea over tacos one day, but it went no further.

Then, this winter, snuggled up with my newborn son Elias and scheming up how to stay that way, the idea jumped down out of the filing cabinet in my head and sat down right on the end of my nose. No kidding. I was in that body-conscious post-partum thing, or I would have taken a picture.

I started scheming in earnest then, with direction – two main directions, actually: how best to work the idea and how to get the funding to make it happen. Both are currently in the works. I have learned the hard way that development and funding are part of a vicious cycle: branding is expensive and necessary to get funding, but potential investors don’t take you seriously if you don’t have the basics, like a logo and a comprehensive look.

They say “it takes money to make money”. They are right. And probably rich. That sounds like something a rich person would say to someone like me. And then expect a thank you. Did you know many investors expect a tenfold return on their investment within five years? Seems like the thank you should be coming from them, no?

Here goes something…I hope.

I am…

I am…

I am working on being able to define myself as who I am and not what I do. I am a mother of two and wife to a Spanish ex-pat living in the great American Midwest. I am a writer and a baker and a good friend and sometimes a great cook. I have been an educator in various positions over the past 10 years. Ever worked so hard at your job that you don’t get to the things that top your priority list? That’s me.

And that’s my reason for the deep breath and the bold step forward into unemployment. Unemployment’s a step forward? I know. Check your logic. Think again. Back up. (Wo)man up. Keep on keeping on and stop yer whining, right?

Not this time.

When I had Elias, my second son, almost four months ago, a switch was flipped. The kind I can’t reach myself. The kind that’s un-flip-off-able. (How is someone who would write un-flip-off-able qualified to blog, you might ask? Excellent question – and perhaps the subject of my next entry. Stay tuned.) I felt the all-too-familiar rage at the fact that I would have to leave this amazing creation of mine with another to return to the world of work, though I was luckier than so many other superwomen because I got to spend an incredible ten weeks at home with him. But I only had five weeks off with my older son and returned back to work and grad school and survived, and he’s turning out okay. So what’s the problem this time?

One of my many theories about our complicated modern world is that part of the reason so many of us use prescription drugs and see therapists and still feel “off” is that we’re trying to make fit what doesn’t. Stifling jobs, toxic relationships, unhealthy schedules – there might be a pill for that, but why should I need one?

The trail I am attempting to blaze for myself is heart-led. Heart-led suggests a sentimentality that does not apply here. What I mean is that I have loved loved loved my job and felt energized and driven and inspired by my students even on the toughest days. And then the switch flipped when Elias first burrowed his slimy self into my shaky, exhausted body, and the job I love love love is no longer what I am supposed to be doing right now. Not the right fit. Stifling. Even toxic. Sure, I could check in with my therapist and medicate my heart away. Or just hold my breath and plunge.

So at the risk of sounding disgustingly privileged – I know how lucky I am to have choices, even risky ones – I am choosing to plunge. This blog will be the story of that plunge and hopefully of surfacing safely with my family intact and better for it. I welcome you along for the ride.

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