Today I Feel Like a Failure as a Mom

Why do we, as moms, take so much on ourselves?

Right now, I’m looking at my kids’ standardized test scores with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Both of them have downward trending math scores over the past year. My gut is telling me that I could have done something to prevent this. And I probably could have. I could have worked diligently on keeping up with our math skills over this past summer as I had the summer before. But, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

My kids are awesome and smart and funny and kind. Last summer, I just wanted to appreciate them for what they are and not fight with them to achieve things (even those those things are easily achievable if I just fight with them a little). I wanted to love and enjoy my children. That is not to say that we didn’t work on reading and art and music and math over the summer. It just wasn’t a regimented daily schedule.

Don’t get me wrong, math is super important to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed my fair share of calculus problems (and by enjoy, I earnestly mean I enjoyed working my way through Calculus I and II in college). But I don’t want my job as a mom to be that of ‘sit down and do some rote work because you will be tested on it.’ I want my job to be a supporter of my child. I want my children to look to me for guidance and safety, for love, and, yes, for help with their homework.

I’m disappointed that I feel that I again have to assume the role of ‘rote-work assigner’ so they can climb back up to where they were before I assumed a bit more of a laissez-faire attitude. I’m also disappointed that I’m disappointed.

At this point, I have to mention that my daughter was chosen to be the one in her class that will meet and greet new students. She was chosen based on the kindness that she exhibits throughout her normal day. I find it pretty sad, however, that I waited until the 6th paragraph to bring it up. Instead of sitting here with a smile on my face, satisfied that I have done something right in creating such a kind and caring daughter, I am lamenting my abject failure as a mom for letting my kids’ math skills slide.

In any event, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach persists as I plan how to incorporate practicing more math skills into our daily schedule.

NB: I feel like I have to explain that I’m not upset over what their scores are. Rather, I am disturbed by the downward trend. This could signify loss of focus, forgetting what has previously been taught, etc.

The World is Ending and All I Have to Wear is this Chambray Shirt

I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but stuff is getting real. Hurricanes, fires, floods. Rampant overt racism. Plans to round up groups of people and ship them off to who knows where.

Even if you are not directly affected by these events, you can feel the many different holes that are slowly tearing themselves open in the everyday fabric of society. Those who previously existed hidden within those holes are now feeling emboldened to come out and bully others for no other reason than they now feel empowered to come out of their holes and bully others.

Meanwhile, life goes on. I get my kids ready for school in the morning. I put on a happy face and greet the other parents and teachers, wishing everyone I see to have a good day. They return the sentiment to me. Kindness goes a long way.

After dropping the kids at school, I return home to check my Twitter timeline, which consists of a healthy mix of protest tweets against the latest outrageous act of the Trump regime, disaster tweets documenting the newest natural disasters, and moms asking you to answer their poll about whether you would prefer to drive or fly to Disneyland this year.

So what do I, as a middle-class, white, suburban mom, do? Do I continue to play my fiddle as Rome burns? Do I put on a false face and act like the erosion of common decency, the manifestations of climate change, and the scarily backward time-lapse of America isn’t bothering me? Do I put on my chambray shirt and post of picture of myself on Facebook asking people to comment on whether they like it or not?

Or… do I try to close one of those many holes that’s opening? Do I try to block the way, standing strong, chest out, feet wide, hands-on-hips, like some middle-aged wannabe Wonder Woman?

It’s risky (and, yes, sometimes embarrassing not to fit in with the model of what I should be doing as a white suburban mom). But if I posted my own personal Twitter poll about how I would prefer to get from this point in time to some time in the future, I would choose to be a middle-aged Wonder Woman. I’m putting my whole mom-self out there with my needlepoint skills and my Wonder Woman attitude, and I’m going to try to sew up as many of those holes as I can. The future that my kids inherit is worth both the risk and the embarrassment.

I dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween one year when I was a kid. Maybe I can find my old mask packed away somewhere and wear it with my chambray shirt.

Not Anymore

This year, we have received many compliments from friends, neighbors, and teachers about how our children behave. We are told that they are kind, they listen, they are creative and thoughtful, they are calm and patient. Compliments like this fill my heart to overflowing and I’m so appreciative of people who go out of their way to make me feel good about my parenting skills.

I have to say this about how we go about our lives. We, as parents, make sure that kindness, thoughtfulness, and creativity are the foundations upon which we build everything else.

But also, as parents, we make sure we don’t put up with any behavior which affronts our standards or doesn’t meet the mark of what we would expect of a common, decent human being. I am convinced that our unwavering strictness when it comes to a common, decent standard has made our children the wonderful people they are turning out to be.

That being said, we find it very hard (impossible) to tolerate the behavior of adults that falls below what we would expect of our own children.

For me to stand down in the face of behavior that falls far below any common, decent standard, is tantamount to going against every fiber of what I believe to be true, and right, and good.

My children are a product of my husband and me. And if my kids are valued and appreciated for exceeding expectations, then I and my husband need to be equally valued for our approach to parenting, and life in general.

We are a family of strong people. I’m proud of the strong family that we’ve created. I’m proud to stand up for myself. I’m proud to stand up for my children. I’m proud to stand up for anyone who feels that they don’t have a voice. I’ve been that voiceless person.

Not anymore.

A Secular Easter for the Restivus

It it always important to remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays in the same ways. There is always someone out there that does something different. And different is ok. Teaching our children this as we celebrate our holidays is an integral way to move us toward a more tolerant and accepting society. This post is how our family celebrated Easter this year, starting with learning about the history of this holiday.

Before the Christian religion co-opted Easter as its own holiday, the Anglo-Saxons celebrated the goddess of fertility and spring, Eostre. The symbolism surrounding modern-day Easter can easily be explained by exploring how the Anglo-Saxons celebrated: Eostre’s earthly symbol was the rabbit and, quite obviously, eggs are symbols of fertility.

As I reflect on this, I cannot help but notice the switch from celebrating a woman for her life-giving power to celebrating something quite the opposite. In any event, our family set out to commemorate Eostre, do some science, and enjoy a lovely spring day.

First, we started a little science experiment to make an egg that bounces. The experiment is still in progress. But we did the first step:

  1. Place egg in bowl and cover with vinegar.
  2. Wait 3 days for the completion of a chemical reaction between the calcium carbonate of the eggshell and the acetic acid in the vinegar. (You can see some bubbles of carbon dioxide forming on the egg below.)

We’ll see if it works.

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Next, we dyed eggs experimenting with natural materials. The materials we chose were beets, purple sweet potatoes, spinach, and turmeric.

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To make the dye, we placed a generous amount of each into their own pot of boiling water along with 2 tablespoons of vinegar and simmered for 30 minutes.

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After straining the natural materials from the dye mixtures, we let them cool for a bit before placing the already hard-boiled eggs in them to soak up the dye. Natural dyes are not as intense as the dyes from the store, but they are beautiful.

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And you get mashed purple sweet potatoes!

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We finished up our family secular Easter for the Restivus with mud puddles and shooting hoops. Fun!

UPDATE: After 4 days, we removed our eggs from the vinegar and, sure enough, they bounced!

My son shot this video as he instructed his sister to bounce it higher.

She didn’t, so he bounced his higher. This is what happened:

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Motherhood, Medicine, and Institutionalized Sexism: A Personal Story

(Originally posted on JanetteDeFelice.com 10/14/2016)

Discrimination and Motherhood

I have never before felt discriminated against before I became a mother. I was always encouraged to follow my passions, my dreams, always excelled in school. I never felt the need to take a home economics course, as I was going to be a career woman. Never did I think that institutionalized sexism would hold me back.

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Excited about pursuing a career in medicine.

I became a mother later in life, not getting pregnant until age 35. I had pursued every dream, every passion, as I had been encouraged to do up until that point. I did, however, start to feel my biological clock start ticking around age 30. And, when I finally met and settled down with Mr. Right, we started trying to get pregnant. Nothing happened.

Not knowing whether or not we would be successful with a pregnancy, I decided to move on with my life while we continued to try to have a family. After the untimely and unexpected death of my mother, I was propelled to follow another dream of mine. To attend medical school. (I say “attend medical school” instead of “become a physician” because I guess I didn’t really know what the day-to-day life of a doctor was at that time, let alone residency – the required low-paying position that leads to licensure and board certification.) I had already taken all the required pre-medical courses and decided I would take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and see how I did. Well, I scored pretty well. So I decided to apply to medical school and got in.

Part of me knew, however, that if my husband and I were successful in our quest to start a family, my career would probably suffer. But what was I to do? Not pursue an interesting and challenging career? Not pursue having a child? Both noble pursuits indeed. In the end, I figured it would all work itself out. And I entered medical school in the fall of 2008.

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Late night on-call studying.
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Scrubs and socks.

Medical school was hard, as anticipated, but nothing I couldn’t handle. So I decided to throw some fertility treatments into the mix. As anyone in the know knows, juggling a relationship with a significant other while in med school is quite a challenge. Try being the perfect wife, the perfect student, and the perfect female procreating specimen. Well, lest you say it cannot be done, I am here to tell you that it can.

The first couple of quarters, I earned all A’s and B’s (well, one A and the rest B’s), and served both as a student representative to the Educational Affairs Committee and as a news editor for the student newspaper.

By the end of first year, after one abandoned IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycle in which my follicles were overstimulated and one IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle, I became pregnant. And not just pregnant, but pregnant with twins. The first time I saw two little specks on the ultrasound at 6 weeks, I knew my career would be in jeopardy. And I kind of freaked out.

I was supposed to participate in a summer research project regarding medical education, but was not able to because of my unbearable morning (all-day, all-night) sickness. I had wanted to participate in research about medical education because I, as an experienced adjunct professor in the humanities and child of a grade school teacher and college professor, saw many flaws in the way I and my colleagues were being educated. There had to be a better way than just memorizing astounding amounts of information, regurgitating with a number 2 pencil on a scantron, and repeating.

And the method of feeding all that information to the students? An instructor would stand in the front of the lecture hall reading a pre-prepared PowerPoint presentation word-for-word. There was no actual “teaching.” No wonder I continued to do just fine even after I stopped attending class to travel to the city for fertility treatments.

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Studying in the hospital–neurology notes at my knee. (NOTE: According to my OB/GYN clerkship supervisor, none of my experience with my high-risk twin pregnancy counted toward having any knowledge of OB/GYN.)

“And Who’s Going to Take Care of these Babies?”

At the point that I backed out of the summer research project, I was still telling people that I had a “medical issue.” I was a bit frightened about coming out and telling others, the dean of students included, that not only was I pregnant, but I was having twins. The day finally came when summer break ended, second year started, and I started looking like I had been eating a few too many potato chips.

I made an appointment to discuss some “personal issues” with the dean of students. She was a female who had previously given a presentation to the students about what it was like to be a woman in medicine, about her difficulties getting pregnant, about a spontaneous abortion experience that altered her career decisions, how she had an adopted a now college-aged daughter, and how she lived in a different state than her husband so they could both pursue their careers. I figured this meeting wouldn’t be too uncomfortable.

I think my attitude really said it all about how I was influenced to feel as a pregnant woman in medical school. I went into the meeting apologizing. (For what? Who apologizes about willingly and successfully starting a much-longed-for family?) I told her I was pregnant, and she took that in stride. But when I told her I was having twins, she asked me, in a condescending tone, “And who’s going to take care of these babies?”

I was somewhat taken aback and totally offended. I was a married 35-year-old woman. I replied, “My husband and I are.” Um, ok. This does not bode well for my career.

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Day after emergency C-section to deliver 32-week twins.

“Doesn’t your job offer parental leave for new fathers?”

I remember naively asking my husband, “Doesn’t your job offer parental leave for new fathers?” as I was studying for medical school exams while caring for newborn premature twins. The answer was a big no. This was so astounding to me. I painfully came to the conclusion that just because I was a woman, I was the one who was supposed to sacrifice my career. Ouch! Never had I expected such discrimination in the land of opportunity. I refused to let this phase me, however, and continued straight through school and hospital rotations until a year later when I just physically could not continue, due to stress-related back pain and severe lack of sleep.

After a 6-month leave of absence, I returned to hospital rotations, and received glowing recommendations from my superiors. I graduated soon after and was offered two different resident physician positions outside the residency matching system.

For many reasons, I turned them both down.

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Mama and son.

“Mama, why are you a little bit mad?”

My kids are very tuned in to my facial expressions these days. “I’m not mad. I’m just thinking.” I’m thinking about how I worked very hard to get through medical school and I feel like I’m precisely nowhere. Well, that’s not exactly true. I get to spend time teaching and guiding my school-age children. I get to have on the planet the people that I wanted to put on the planet, instead of having them raised by someone outside of my family with a completely different value system. That’s something.

Before seeking a residency, I got advice from many physicians (mostly male). “Your kids will be fine,” they would tell me. But I don’t want my kids to be fine. I want them to thrive. I want them to feel safe, like someone’s there that has their backs no matter what. So this is the sacrifice I made. I guess it wasn’t such a difficult choice when the only two options were to devote my life to being an underpaid resident physician, working both day and night hours, missing out on contributing myself to the early lives of my children, or to devote my life to two little human beings who, I often pictured to be floundered in the world without their dad (working a lot) or their mom (working even more).

My husband has now advanced at his job and I feel happy to give him the support that he gave me during medical school. I have even begun to feel proud at times and to reframe the traditional marriage model as a partnership.

Still, the field of medicine calls to me. And I have a call for the field of medicine in return. At this point however, because of the timing in my life, I think that ship has sailed for me.

But there are other women out there who want to pursue medicine AND motherhood. This male-centric model of medical education has got to be pushed aside to keep up with the times. (It’s important, when understanding where the male-centric model of residency comes from, to explain that medical residents were traditionally young, single men who actually lived in the hospital.) Times are changing, more varied and diverse groups of people are aching to join the field, aching to help people. If we had more flexible, extended residencies that allowed people to tend to both their work and family lives, we wouldn’t have a shortage of doctors. Instead of keeping the barriers up and keeping the non-traditional, highly educated women out of the field, they should be welcomed and accommodated for.

I now hold an M.D. (medical doctor) degree, and I’m apparently qualified to do absolutely nothing. Leaving medical school owing many hundreds of thousands in student debt, the only job I could get (outside of residency) was teaching clinical skills at the medical school from which I graduated. The pay was about $16,000 a year. Quality childcare for the twins was about $19,000 a year. Thinking that one opportunity might lead to another, I put my children in preschool and just paid the difference. Given the amount of education and debt, after almost a year, I decided it didn’t make sense.

I am currently a work-at-home mom.

5 MORE Easy Ways to Make a Positive Difference RIGHT NOW

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post called 5 Easy Ways You Can Make a Positive Difference in the World RIGHT NOW.

Here are 5 more:

1. Divest. Move your money from a for-profit bank to a not-for-profit credit union. Credit unions offer the same benefits as banks, but you become an owner. The purpose of a for-profit bank is just that – to make money. Banks invest in things like the Dakota Access Pipeline and expect a return on their investment. Putting your money in those banks helps them invest in projects that you may not support. Credit unions are a much better option.

2. Find your park. Did you know that park rangers for the National Park Service were early leaders in the resistance? They were the first group of federal employees the Trump administration gagged because they sent out that famous (now deleted) tweet decrying Trump’s claim that the inauguration crowd was YUUUUGE.

Also, on January 24, 2017 Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Oversight Committee that refused to investigate Trump, introduced House Bill 621, to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal park lands. Luckily, because he was met with such resistance he withdrew the bill.

Support the NPS and post a picture with the hashtag #FindYourPark. (If you’re in the Chicago area, the closest is Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.)

3. Subscribe to a reputable news outlet. Show your support for investigative journalism (and the 1st Amendment). With the Republican majority in Congress, freedom of the press seems to be the only check or balance we have on executive power these days. You can even give a gift subscription to someone who may need to be a little more informed. As the Washington Post‘s new slogan says: Democracy Dies in Darkness.

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4. Support STEM/STEAM education. STEM/STEAM teaches critical thinking, creativity, ingenuity, and problem-solving. Students who are educated Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math are, literally, going to save the world.

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Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

5. Take care of you. Seriously, fighting fascism is exhausting. Especially when you feel like just one little, tiny person fighting a giant cabal. Take a day or two every now and again to recenter yourself. Then get back in the fight again!

Do you know of any more easy ways to change the world for the better? Please share them in the comments below.

Please like and share with your friends.

Teaching Kids Why Facts Matter

The other day, I found myself explaining to my very curious children what the definition of fact was and why facts are so important.

First, I asked them “What is a fact?”

My daughter offered that a fact is something that’s real. Ok, I can accept that.

My son said that a fact is something that can’t change. Oops, not true.

I took that opportunity to provide them with examples of facts that can change. The weather, for instance. A simple fact is: It’s not snowing now. But if it starts snowing that fact becomes a falsehood.

My son went on to explain that he was talking about the word fact in math terms. It’s pretty absolute that if you take one number and add another number to it, you get an unchanging fact. True. 

So we all agreed that 2+2 was 4. That is a verifiable fact.

But we couldn’t stop there in our exploration of facts. (Especially not with ex-presidents using their camera/microwaves to spy on current ones and those horrible calamities in Sweden and Bowling Green.)

I then went on to explain to my children that some people in very powerful positions are making up their own ideas of reality and calling them facts these days. And many people are believing them.

I asked the kids if they could see why that would be a problem. Well, they answered, everyone can believe what they want to believe. Hmmmmm. It seems I’ve taught them the value of coexisting with others that don’t share your beliefs. Which makes me a somewhat successful mommy, but doesn’t help when it comes to the importance of discerning reality from its alternative.

So I asked them what would happen if Mommy insisted that 2+2 was 86?

They said they would tell me to use my calculator or my fingers to prove the fact that 2+2 was not 86. Fair enough.

So I asked, what if Mommy was the powerful Queen of the World. And I say that whoever says 2+2 is NOT 86 has to go to jail. Ooooh, they said. They could immediately see this was a problem.

As you can see, I tend to teach with oversimplification and hyperbole. But it gets the point across. The ultimate point it is this: There is really no defense against a person, or group of people, to whom facts don’t matter.

What the American president, the whole executive branch, and the Republicans in Congress are doing right now is manipulating the truth in the attempt to gain more power at the expense of, literally, innocent people’s lives. We cannot let them get away with this. And we cannot let any of their followers get away with it either.

For insight and information on how you can help dam the flood of untruths see How to Communicate Facts in the Age of Trump and 4 Things I Learned Engaging with Trump Supporters.