Rules for the Accidental Stay-at-Home Mom

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Some girls grow up dreaming about being a stay-at-home mom. They relished the idea of snuggling their babies all day, baking delicious chocolate chip cookies, and volunteering at school holiday parties.

Not me.

While I will take baby snuggles whenever I can get them, I honestly always imagined myself in the classroom as the teacher instead of the parent volunteer. And baking just isn’t my thing… the two dozen burned Valentine cookies that ended up in my trash can are testament enough of that.

So when I became a stay-at-home mom, it was…well, a learning experience. Everything I had always believed about myself and my career path suddenly shifted. I was terribly insecure about myself as a mom (I mean, who isn’t?), and unsure of how to navigate a life I had never imagined for myself. It took some time and, while I still struggle here and there, these 4 rules have helped me navigate SAHM mom territory:

1.) Stop Explaining Yourself

Five years into my SAHM mom life, I still have a hard time with this. Maybe it’s because I grew up with two working parents. Maybe it’s because I get antsy about falling into an ill-fitting stereotype. Either way, I find myself explaining our family’s choices more than I care to admit.

On one hand, I know it’s nobody’s business. On the other, well, I’m an insatiably curious and ambitious person with a passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of others and even though I am intensely grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my kids, I am just as intensely dissatisfied with “wasting” years changing diapers, doing laundry, cleaning up puke, and waiting out temper tantrums because, frankly, I’m jealous of my husband’s career successes and his ability to have adult conversations while I’m stuck trying to decipher what gibberish word my youngest is screaming about while dinner is burning and the oldest is busy reminding me about the swimming class that started two hours ago.

Whew… Did I just black out?

Listen, explanations that lend themselves to horribly constructed run-on sentences just aren’t beneficial for anyone. It might feel good in the moment but you know what’s even better? Feeling at peace with your family decisions even when you aren’t totally content with your professional achievements. Frustration is inevitable but give yourself a break. You are your own harshest critic.

2.) Make a Long-Term Plan

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When you stumble into this lifestyle, it’s easy to fall into a wheel of negativity. There is the pain that comes with isolation, the guilt of feeling discontented, and confusion in the struggle to maintain an identity. Dealing with such heavy emotions is no easy task, especially when our cultural messaging makes confronting them almost taboo. After all, what could possibly be better than staying home with your babies? Well, depending on your personality, a lot of things — and that’s perfectly fine.

Whatever the reasons behind your SAHM status, if the situation feels less-than-ideal, do yourself a favor and make a long-term plan. Is returning to work possible once your kids are in school? How many years will that take? Check out ways in which you can further your education in the meantime so that you’re prepared when the time comes. Keep an eye out for work-from-home opportunities. And, most of all, communicate with your partner so that you are both on the same page.

Taking these steps will help you maintain a sense of accomplishment outside childrearing, while also serving as a reminder that this is only temporary.

3.) Allow Yourself to Tune Out

Buh-Bye, mom shamers! Ignore their judgmental stares and snuggle into a good book or—gasp!—laze away on Facebook while your kiddos entertain themselves on the playground. It goes without saying that you’ll keep an eye on them but, let’s be real, kids are pretty adept at playtime. They really really don’t need your help. And because your job literally never ends, it’s important to allow yourself a mental break here and there. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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I mean, look up at least once in a while…

4.) Don’t Let Your Interests Die

I know, I know. Easier said than done, right? Especially if you have a difficult baby or are in the throes of toddlerhood (somebody save me…). Maybe the only pastimes you can recall include watching Dora the Explorer on repeat and emptying diaper pails but, believe it or not, you existed for many years prior to becoming a mother. Get back to that girl. Self-care is crucial for all moms, and that includes being selfish enough with your time to pursue the hobbies you once loved.

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Get out in nature (check out the Osprey if your kiddo is still tiny!), read a good book during nap time instead of worrying about the dishes, or sign up for a fun dance class. Hell, start a blog so you can indulge in topics outside of Dr. Seuss and Paw Patrol. But find something you enjoy doing and learn how to put yourself first every once in a while. After all, part of being a SAHM is modeling the kind of behavior you want your kids to emulate, right? Take the opportunity to show them that self-care is not selfish. It is a lesson that will have far-reaching impact.

When you’re an accidental stay-at-home mom, digesting the guilt of yearning for a career while trying to enjoy the fleeting precious moments of childhood, life can feel unsettled. The journey isn’t an easy one but it can certainly be made easier. What are your thoughts? Is there anything you would add to this list?

  • C

 

 

 

 

The Sweet (and Exhausting) Arrival of a New Little One

 

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If you’ve been following our Facebook page at all, you saw that C apologized for our lack of posts and being quiet but that we both soon would have some exciting news to share.

And mine is that we have FINALLY welcomed the newest addition to our family. My baby boy was born on the 16th of February. Lots of people have already said “aw wouldn’t it have been cute if he was born on Valentine’s Day?”. I for one though, am so relieved he wasn’t! Sure, it’s sweet for the first few years maybe. But then how much would that have sucked for him as an adult? Having to wine and dine someone else on his day! I’m quite happy that he dodged that date.

Ya know what I wasn’t happy about though? That he was late. C mentioned we’ve been quiet. Well, I’ve been very quiet because I was moody as all hell. I couldn’t even think about writing because I didn’t even want to talk to anyone. (I can’t say enough how grateful I am to my sister for keeping this blog and our Facebook moving forward) Any other mamas out there know the feeling of wanting to respond like a fire breathing dragon when someone asks the question, “How are you doing?”. But you can’t, because well, people are just being nice. And the truth is, if no one asked how I was doing, that would probably have upset me too. Nevertheless, well meaning texts from friends received my icy one word answers and FaceTime calls simply went ignored. I finally sent a text to my closest friends saying I was crabby, didn’t want to talk and that they were my friends so they could forgive me later! I think the lesson here is that there is no pleasing a woman past her due date!

But now he is here, and I am back to being the more cheerful version of myself, if not the much more exhausted. My daughter was a great sleeper from day one. This one on the other hand has his days and nights confused. I have a feeling he’s going to get turned around just in time for us to move back to the states. On the other hand, he’s an amazing eater! Baby boy was born big at 8 lbs 13 oz. If you don’t know, I’m in Japan and gave birth in a Japanese hospital. Their babies are about 5 to 6 lbs at birth so the doctors and nurses can’t stop commenting on my oversized baby. He just keeps getting bigger too! Ya know how most babies lose weight at first? Not this guy, he hasn’t lost an ounce and just keeps growing. Breastfeeding with my daughter was a struggle the whole time, a constant fight, and exhausting. It is amazing what a weight off the shoulders it is for it to be easy this time around.

The breastfeeding and sleeping aren’t the only differences between my kids. My daughter was content from day one. In fact, often times, putting her down in her bouncy chair stopped her crying. It’s like she felt she just needed her own time and space. And at almost 18 months old, she still is that way. So far, baby boy is the exact opposite. He is hating the bassinet but the second he’s picked up he’s content as can be. I know we’re only five days in, and he’ll be changing a lot (as my daughter will continue to also). But on the other hand, we’re only 5 days in and there’s already such clear differences in them! I find it so interesting and I’m fascinated to see their differences and similarities continue to emerge.

My daughter seems to be teeter tottering on the role of best friend or arch enemy. The first time she met him she gently patted his head enough for us adults to let our guards down before wacking him on the head. I’m happy to say the next meeting (we’re still in the hospital) she requested to hold him and then hugged him without any prompting. We’ll see how she does when she realizes later today he’s coming home to stay for good!

So, I know I’ve had nothing profound to say today. Just wanted to share the exciting update over here. There are so many changes happening right now as I’ve said before. Welcoming a new baby, having my last baby enter toddlerhood, taking on a stay at home mom role for at least the next 8 months, husband deploying, and us moving back to the states. It’s a lot to take on. But as I sit here and write this my baby boy is curled up on me looking up at me and I know that even though my hands are full, my heart is much, much fuller.

• K

To My MilSpouse Friends: Politics Aside, I’m Still Me

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Dear milspouse friends,

While I have conservative and progressive friends both in and outside the military, I am speaking directly to you. Why? Because you are my community. Whether you live right next door or halfway around the world, we share this wonderfully unpredictable life; and it’s quite likely that the military will one day plop us in the same place at the same time once again. More than anyone else, we understand that distance can be overcome. We know that by experience, by months measured in tears and worry. And, perhaps, because we share this hard-fought knowledge, we can extend it to other types of distance—like distances in personality, interests, and even that dreaded word: politics.

Don’t stop reading.

I am not going to assail you with my personal beliefs. As a little blue dot in a vast sea of red, I am well aware that they sometimes come across as intrusive. After all, my kind are few and far between in our world. What I want you to know is this: I am still me.

I am still the same person I have always been. I am the friend who dropped off an unexpected bottle of wine at your front door after a particularly stressful day. I am the girl who sat at your kitchen table, laughing and conversing with ease. I am the FRG leader who gave every moment of free time to care for your family—who made meals in times of trouble, happily babysat your children, shared in your struggles and triumphs. I am still the person you cried with as your your husband boarded a plane, unsure of when or if you would see him again. I attended your baby showers—planned them even; or perhaps listened over a cup of coffee as you confided in me the pain of infertility. I am the mother who hosted playdates, attended birthday parties, and celebrated milestones with you. I am who I have always been.

I am still me.

For a long time, I was not forthcoming about my political opinions. Can you blame me? When people find out, it’s as if I can see the gears kicking into overdrive. 

But she seems so nice. 

I don’t understand—wasn’t she in my bible study class? 

Doesn’t she love America?

For the record, I try to be nice to everyone I meet. I identify as Catholic, even if that typically lends itself to different political leanings. And, let’s be clear, no party has a monopoly on patriotism.

But none of that should matter because I am still the same person I have been since the day you met me. You, most likely, are still the same person you were the day I met you, as well. But you know what? I know that and have already accepted it.

Here’s the thing: the fact that you are most likely a deep shade of red, will never make a difference for me. I will never unfriend you on social media. I will never avoid you in public. I will never look at you any differently.

Why?

It was already baked into the cake for me.

When I met you, I already assumed we would disagree on politics. And yet, I loved you anyway. Our similarities far outweigh our differences, and that’s more than enough to bind us together. Don’t undo that binding—please.

I know it bothers you that I have decided to be vocal about matters of state on social media. I know this because some of you have taken a passive aggressive stance, bemoaning the need of anyone to have their voice heard. I know this because, since I have started writing about politics, I have become an “untouchable.” While my left-leaning pieces are understandably ignored, everything else has been ignored too. Some of you have turned your back on me entirely, deciding that my progressive stance is grossly unacceptable—irredeemable even, and therefore unworthy of your friendship.

But I need to get something off my chest. Friends, your voices are always heard—perhaps more than you know. Because your worldview is consistent with most military spouses, your opinions and concerns are understood. They are acknowledged.

Mine are not.

And while it may be frustrating to have this tiny speck of blue dull your red portrait, please understand that it is not painted out of malice. Indeed, I am simply speaking my truth just as you are speaking yours. And—can I be blunt now?—even though you think you have been quiet for the past eight years, you haven’t.

No matter your opinion on politics in social media, I can assure you, your political leanings have been made painfully clear in public. It may feel like an impossibility. It may seem like an impropriety of unconscionable affect. But, nearly to a tee, it is true. In real life, far away from keyboards and Facebook notifications, your beliefs are made evident.

With offhanded comments you could not recall for any amount of money, with eye rolls and physical shudders as involuntary as the day is long, your views are consistently expressed and validated within a deeply conservative echo chamber.

I say this not with contempt, but with the perspective of an outsider.

And as your resident outsider, I can tell you this: I am not offended. While I regularly find myself smiling politely and ignoring inflammatory comments, I try not to let resentment grow. Because I know it is neither purposeful nor personal. I recognize that you are not using me as a punching bag, but rather assuming that I ascribe to your belief system. And who can blame you? The numbers are on your side.

The truth is, in our world at least, you are in the majority. You can assume everyone else agrees with you and ignore the reality that, at least sometimes, they don’t.

But can I ask something of you?

Can you give me the benefit of the doubt, too? Can you try not to be so offended by my differing opinions and pull away as soon as they are made clear? Can you, sometimes, let down your guard enough to let me in? The real me, I mean. Because I am who I have always been. I love you the way I always have. And I am a military spouse, too.

Give me a measure of patience. If willing, lend me your ear. But, more than anything, offer me your unconditional support and I will do the same. Because we are in this together, always.

 

  • C

 

 

 

The Insidious Nature of ‘Nice’

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Growing up, I was your quintessential ‘nice girl.’ Teachers liked me. My parents trusted me. The mere thought of detention was enough to give me a panic attack. I smiled at people in the halls, served in student council, and mediated disputes between friends. My idea of trouble was sneaking a single wine spritzer from the garage on New Year’s Eve senior year and promptly blaming it on my sister. You get the idea…

For a long time, I derived a lot of my self-worth from that descriptor: ‘nice girl.’ And it wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I began to understand how truly sad that is.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I have since thrown decency and decorum out the window—far from it. What it does mean is that I have come to realize how much value I ascribe to others’ opinions of me, and the many ways in which it has held me back from my true self.

When you’re a ‘nice girl,’ you don’t want to rock the boat; you hate confrontation; you are a born people pleaser. So it’s been hard taking those first tentative steps toward finding my voice and summoning the courage to make it public. But I have reached a point where it no longer feels optional. My kids need to know what it means to stand for something and I intend to be their teacher.

So I write.

I write about anything and everything that moves me. I write to be a voice for those unable or not yet ready to use their own. But I always write sincerely, with the intent of furthering an idea, a cause, or fractured dialogue. And, yes, sometimes—in fact, oftentimes—that includes writing about politics.

Trust me, I fully understand that a large percentage of the population has an aversion to it. Our elected officials, on the whole, make it pretty easy. And it’s hard to escape the pervasive belief that political opinions ought not to be shared. But I think there’s a danger in keeping silent about policies that change the fabric of our country; and I think we do a disservice to our children by modeling apathy and actively ignoring intellectual conversation. It’s okay to disagree. Our kids need to understand that.

And yet, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. As it becomes ever more clear that our country is heading into turbulent times, as the average citizen feels more of a pull to weigh in on matters of state, there are those waiting in the wings to casually dismiss such commentary with empty platitudes.

Be nice, they plead.

Can’t we all just get along? 

I love everybody. Just agree to disagree.

If something doesn’t affect you, leave it alone.

Nice people of the world: I see you. I know your hearts are in the right place. But the world is not always as nice as you are. Bad things happen. Cultural turbulence and political unrest don’t bow down to adorable pictures of kittens and puppies. I mean, we all love them and thanks for reminding us of the good in the world, but don’t dismiss the voices you hear—from either side. Your reminders to be kind and compassionate are helpful and needed, but assuming passivity is the path to those ends is a dangerous mistake.

Listen, playing the referee and toeing the line is exhausting. I know; I did it for years. Just understand that it’s okay to allow yourself to be drawn into serious topics because they speak to your values and your vision for the future. You can be both polite and passionate. Your opinions matter. Your words matter. You matter.

So stop being ashamed that you are a fully functioning human with valid opinions. Don’t preface that lone partisan post with any variation of, “I promise, this is the only thing I’ll say about politics.” Just don’t. Stop. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy.

And you know what? You’re still a good person, even when you shed the ‘nice girl’ image. I promise.

But, in the future, try not to worry so much about it. There’s something insidious about that word: ‘nice.’ It’s not always enough to be agreeable and pleasant. In fact, it’s not always appropriate to be those things.

‘Nice’ implies deference. It demands the quiet acceptance of completely unacceptable things. ‘Nice’ requires your silence so as not to ruffle feathers, to honor hazy rules of decorum. ‘Nice’ says, “honor congeniality above all else, principles and passions be damned.”

‘Nice,’ it turns out, is not very nice at all.

What you can be? Empathetic, respectful, informed, brave, and even outspoken—every day, without apology. Because when ‘nice’ demands your silence or shames you from civic-mindedness, it’s no longer a flattering descriptor.

These days, I’m not sure others would still describe me as a ‘nice girl.’ But these days, I grab my own damn wine spritzers whenever I want. Things change. You can, too.

  • C

The Uncomfortable Reality of a Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip

 

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Traveling to Cambodia was the fulfillment of a longtime dream. I had long romanticized the notion of exploring Angkor Wat and the country’s many other enchanting temples so that, when the opportunity arose to make the trip, I was ecstatic. Part of what triggered such a strong reaction for me is its intoxicating blend of religion and culture. While I identify as Catholic, I have always loved learning about other religions. I’m endlessly fascinated by their many commonalities and also intrigued by their differences. Learning more about other religions helps refine my own faith, not by elevating the dogma of my church above any other, but by incorporating a fuller understanding of who and what God is.

In other words, this trip was to be both an adventure and something of a soul cleanse. And while there was certainly a great deal of exploring, laughing, and learning, there was also an aspect to the trip that weighed heavily on me throughout.

Upon arriving in Siem Reap, it is impossible to ignore the abject poverty apparent on every street corner. It is a gorgeous and enchanting country in so many ways, but financial hardship is evident nearly everywhere. In America, it is easy to visit a large city and simply navigate around the poorer areas. A smattering of homeless people may, at times, dot our path but it’s easy to sweep along with the incessant flow of pedestrians. Our privileges become momentarily apparent but are easily avoided and ignored. In Cambodia? Not so.

It’s not as if I was particularly surprised by what I saw. Prior to arriving, I had known that Cambodia is a relatively poor country and had considered myself prepared. But having a cursory understanding of something is not the same as experiencing its reality. And through all my excitement, a pervasive, somber undercurrent began to snake its way into the trip.

For the first few days, I navigated the uncomfortableness with a detached sense of gratitude. My family and I would discuss the innumerable ways in which we had won some sort of geographic lottery. We took care to learn as much about the country and its people as we could, peppering our driver, Wii, with an array of questions.

But no matter how hard we worked to converge our understanding of two radically different worlds, we spent much of each day being chauffeured around the countryside in an air conditioned van. At day’s end, we would take our reprieve from the seemingly inescapable poverty by relaxing poolside at our private villa.

I simply could not reconcile these convergent realities. It wore me down until, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and began quietly weeping upon a river dock.

That evening, we had taken a boat ride out to a small village for something of a sunset cruise. Simple stilted homes rose out of the water as children navigated dilapidated dinghies with the same familiarity as other children ride a bicycle to and from school. Toddlers ambled down rickety staircases leading to the water’s edge while their parents tended to any number of laborious tasks. Deep in tourist mode, we were busy taking pictures, captivated by this tiny village. Then, from over my shoulder, I heard my brother mumble about how appalling it was to be gawking at their misfortune, to be capturing images of their obvious poverty for our own frivolous keepsakes.

He wasn’t wrong. And I felt a deep sense of shame.

How ridiculous I felt in that moment, suddenly aware of the absurdity of vacationing among impoverishment. Of course, that hadn’t been the intention but does it matter when the outcome produces that very result?

The sentiment only grew as we disembarked from our small boat onto even smaller rafts, floating amongst the swampy marsh at the edge of the village. It was there that we watched the sun set below the horizon in what was supposed to have been a calm and peaceful moment. Instead, it was all I could do to curtail my horror that the oarsman of my raft was a girl of about eight, accompanied by her younger sister. Why were they there, rowing around a privileged American as night set in? Why weren’t they at home playing with their dolls or packing their school bags for the following day? I understood they were there out of financial necessity, their families dependent on their work. And there I was, having spent thousands of dollars on a vacation to escape my own “stressful” daily life.

Who was I to complain? Who was I at all?

Reaching the dock, I walked away from where my group was standing and allowed the emotion to overtake me. I couldn’t have explained in that moment, even if I had wanted, what I was feeling or exactly why. I just knew I felt acutely uncomfortable.

And yet. That wasn’t enough. I had witnessed my privilege and been ashamed by it, but I had yet to recognize the value in such discomfort.

The next day, we continued our daily routine of exploring religious temples like Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Ban Srei. Stunning in their beauty and resiliency, I looked forward to each new stop on our adventure, captivated by their religious and cultural backstories. What I did not look forward to? Walking past the throngs of locals, often children, selling trinkets outside the entrances.

This, too, I had been aware of before my arrival. I had been instructed to look straight ahead and not make eye contact because any engagement whatsoever would result in incessant pleas to purchase a magnet, a t-shirt, or small statuette. And in the time it took to pay each seller, another would quickly take his place. The pleas would simply never stop.

It was difficult, of course, to ignore these people. My heart ached for them but my head reminded me that, practically speaking, I could not give to everyone. This was eased by notices posted outside some of the temples instructing tourists not to engage with children, as it discouraged them from attending school. This made sense and allowed me to walk past the locals with increasing ease. Eventually, it became a habit, one made easier by the rationalization that engaging would do more harm than good. The disparity between ourselves remained the same but my level of discomfort decreased markedly over just a few days.

One night, far from the temples, we stopped at a roadside ATM in anticipation of a trip to an outdoor market. While waiting in line, three young boys walked up behind me. Dirty and disheveled, the oldest could not have been more than seven. Walking beside him was a child of three or four, and slung over the eldest’s shoulder was a baby no more than eighteen months old. The baby was completely naked and asleep, relying upon his brother to safely walk him through the dark night. None of them had shoes. No adult was anywhere in sight.

And what did I do in that situation? I smiled politely, barely registering what I saw, and continued waiting in line. I ignored them.

After being overcome with emotion at the sight of a little girl working in a poor river village, I had failed to convert my sympathies into action. At the very next opportunity, I hid behind my privilege, afraid to look, completely unaware of how repulsive my actions were. After all, it’s what I had been conditioned to do.

The boys waited quietly behind me, whimpering half-hearted pleas, seemingly resigned to the eventuality that they would be discarded, ignored, as they undoubtedly had been innumerable times before. After an uncomfortable minute or so, I rummaged around my wallet for whatever spare change I could find. Handing over a couple dollars, the boys gratefully took the money before a worker at a nearby gas station shooed them away.

After they had left, I stepped into the ATM booth, once again overcome by what I had seen and done. Not only had I literally turned my back on helpless children, when I finally did acknowledge them, I had offered a pittance compared to what I was about to withdraw from the cash machine.

Why?

What disturbed me most of all, was that I had not really looked into their faces. Their obvious misfortune had made me nervous, unsure of how to react. I could tell you about the dirt that caked their little feet or the uncut hair that hung low over their foreheads. But I could not tell you the color of their eyes. Had they been a creamy almond, an enchanting hazel? I could not tell you about the shape of their faces or what kind of smile might light them up. I could not tell you because I didn’t take the time to look, to ask their names, or to offer a smile of my own. I didn’t take the time to see them as people, people who would continue to exist after our paths went separate ways. And it’s that stinging realization that has stayed with me.

I looked past them for two reasons: because I could and because it was easy.

It had not been a conscious choice to be rude or to decide that they were uniquely unworthy of my resources and attention. In reality, I had unconsciously hidden behind my privilege.

I didn’t really see them because I didn’t really have to. 

Though it’s a difficult thing to acknowledge, I think it’s critically important. And this doesn’t just apply to random occurrences like my own. Indeed, it can be applied to any number of injustices committed around the world, in our own country, and in our own backyards. Without acknowledging that it exists and making a conscious effort to change that, inequality will reign supreme. And the insidious nature of it is that it is perpetrated by good people.

Read that again.

I consider myself a decent person. I try to do the right thing whenever possible. I don’t consider myself racist, elitist, or disrespectful. And yet….

And yet.

The truth is, those three boys don’t take over my thoughts as much as they did in the immediate aftermath of my return home. Life has marched on inside my own plush reality, the days consumed by an array of distractions and responsibilities. The palpable impact of their appearance has dimmed but, crucially, it still exists. And I hope it always does. Because when the memory of their unwashed faces and bare footing wandering does peak through the veil of my everyday life, it hurts. It should hurt. Not because I deserve to feel guilty for the fortunes of my birth, but because I have a responsibility to acknowledge those fortunes in a meaningful way.

This goes beyond the superficiality of captioning an Instagram picture with #blessed or mumbling a vague prayer of gratitude around a Thanksgiving feast. It requires a deep introspection, an honest assessment of how I benefit from my privilege and the ways in which I can help those not born into the same circumstances.

The difficulty is that we are conditioned not to look because, when we do, our hearts ache. And perhaps that’s not surprising in a world where communication has become increasingly impersonal. We never have to look and our electronic screens don’t care whether we listen. It is easy to withdraw into shells of blissful ignorance, but it certainly is not beneficial.

Today, I challenge you to really see. Force your eyes open and don’t look away. Be braver than I was. When the opportunity presents itself, look into the eyes of misfortune. Acknowledge and connect with it. When you do, a vast new world is within grasp. And, yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and even dirty. But so were the feet of those three little boys whose paths intersected with my own, and I can only wonder at what goodness dwells inside them. I will never know, but I could have. And that’s a tragedy I don’t intend to repeat.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken a trip around the world for me to understand. Indeed, that same lack of introspection is at the heart of so many of our collective problems today. I could have looked into my own backyard and seen the same thing had I only been willing. Whether referencing police brutality, racial inequality, illegal immigration, or any other number of intensely debated subjects, we can’t even begin an honest conversation without confronting ourselves first; and that means acknowledging the uncomfortable realities of our privilege and the equally unsettling realities of the biases we all carry.

In the end, I didn’t find God inside the walls of ancient temples. I found Him, or the closest thing I can understand of Him—a call to genuine love and compassion—exactly where I should have been looking all along: in the lives of the downcast and disadvantaged.

Now how do I move forward from here? How do we move forward from here?

It starts with confronting the ugliness within ourselves and the willingness to expose it. Read. Reflect. Talk to people you would not have noticed before. Be deliberate in your actions and words. Give charitably. And be prepared to feel uncomfortable. That’s where the true journey begins.

  • C

This Is Why We March

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For those who still fail to understand:

Women aren’t marching because they’re whiny hags who don’t understand the vast privileges we enjoy compared to culturally repressed countries. The expectation of change is not contingent on solving every other worldly injustice first. They aren’t marching because they are hedonists who have waited their whole lives to wear pink hats and scream the word “pussy” on national tv. And they certainly aren’t marching because they want to bash men or use their gender as a scapegoat for every bad experience life throws their way.

They are marching in protest of a man whose ascendance to the presidency normalizes mistreatment of women. You want to explain away his hot mic comments as nothing more than poor judgement? Fine. You want to dismiss the claims of sexual assault as fake? Go for it. You want to pretend Ivana Trump testified under oath that he raped her because divorces are messy? Gross but ok.

Of course, the list doesn’t stop there. This man objectifies women without a second thought. He openly discusses his visions of them on their knees. He mocks the appearance of his female political opponents. He uses their periods as an insult the way middle schoolers do. He ogles his own daughter, proudly boasts of his many infidelities, and claims he could have ‘nailed’ Princess Diana. The man is repulsed by the thought of a wife with an identity outside the home, claiming he gets bored when they become successful. He has called breastfeeding disgusting, instead opting to judge women according to the size of their breasts and deeming smaller chests “pancake tits.” Cute. Every single one of these examples (and countless more) are verifiable and on the record.

So yeah, we will march. We will do it because we won’t allow a bully in his bully pulpit to shame women for their bodies or degrade them by virtue of their gender. And this goes beyond rhetoric. His administration is already looking to cut programs that provide support to domestic abuse victims. On day one, he began the process of repealing the ACA without having a new plan in place. This could, once again, result in women paying more for health insurance simply because they are women. He vows to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive healthcare and preventative screenings to women all over this country. You want to use abortion as your trump card? It would be more effective if you advocated for preventative measures like birth control and sex education instead. Until that day comes, kindly take a seat.

While Donald Trump is busy grabbing pussy, the women who marched yesterday will be busy grabbing back… grabbing seats in the House and the Senate, grabbing attention away from his narcissistic tweeting, and grabbing the microphone so that we can say loud and clear, “We see you and we’re coming for you.”

You call that whiny? I call that powerful.

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It’s Inauguration Day And, Yes, I Am Watching

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I wasn’t going to watch it– the swearing in. And for my political science-loving heart, that’s saying a lot. For nearly two years, I watched with insatiable curiosity as the presidential primaries turned into an angry and bitter general election. It turned people off, I know; but not me. I lapped up nearly every moment, setting my DVR to watch every minute of every debate. I watched both conventions with eager anticipation, weighing the political cost of each speaker and misstep in my head. I digested every article on the candidates I could find, eventually finding the nerve to write my own for public consumption. And, being overseas on the day of the election, I woke at the crack of dawn so that I wouldn’t miss a single minute of election day coverage. So how could I not watch the swearing in of our next president?

Easy: It makes me sick to my stomach.

And no, this isn’t about being a sore loser. My candidate has lost before and this acute despair—melodramatic though it may sound—has never been an issue.

I feel sick to my stomach because, even though I respect our democracy and the procedures it enumerates that have brought us to this legitimate outcome, I can’t help but think that the man taking over its reigns does not. The flippancy with which he has undermined our military, discredited our intelligence agencies, and disregarded decorum has proven this. We, as a collective, are nothing more than another notch on his belt. And, sorry puritanical conservatives, he has a lot of those—baby hands and combover notwithstanding. We are nothing special.

I feel sick to my stomach because this will likely be the first president my daughter remembers— a man who brags about sexual assault and regularly objectifies women. Surely, we can’t expect a grown man who openly degrades women as fat, ugly, and dogs, to suddenly change into the sort of role model our little girls deserve. I already mourn for the day that he nonchalantly values a female world leader on the basis of her looks or sexual prowess. He won’t think twice about it. He won’t even notice. But she will, my daughter. And I will be there to pick up the pieces.

This is the first president that my son will likely remember, as well—a man who shrugs off the concept of consent as political correctness run amok. It’s just locker room talk, snowflakes. Take it easy. Except, someday, that little boy of mine will engage in locker room talk. I shudder that this man’s example will make it less likely that such talk revolves around college acceptance letters. This man is not worthy of emulation, but I will raise my son to be a true man in spite of it.

I feel sick to my stomach because I am a military spouse. My husband is about to serve at the whim of a man who tweets at the whim of his ego. No matter how many times I hear a conservative scream, “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” I will never be comfortable with dismissing a candidate with human flaws for a man who lacks the sober mindset of a statesman. “Blow up the establishment,” they say. “Give a businessman with literally zero understanding of geopolitics command of the greatest military on Earth!” they say. Well, cool. I’m super glad you came up with with a half-baked rationale for seating instability with power just to win an election. But you know what? Your “blow it all up” mentality has a very literal meaning for military families. Chew on that for a minute.

Yes, my stomach is sick to the core. No, I don’t want to watch this man take over the responsibilities of the highest office in the land, corrupting it with his infantile grievances and misplaced arrogance. But I will. I will watch Donald Trump become our 45th president. My heart will ache, every inch of my skin will crawl. But I will do it.

I will do it because she is doing it.

Hillary Clinton—who won the vote of the people, endured every false attack, and fought to the bitter end. Hillary Clinton will not only watch, she will be there. Good God.

If she can swallow every ounce of her undoubtedly monumental pain to be an example for our nation, then surely I can follow her example and swallow my pain, as well. I will watch because it is my civic responsibility to take interest in the handing over of power. I will watch because my patriotism demands it. And I will watch because I am still with her.

Donald Trump may not have the celebrity-filled inauguration his vanity-driven-heart desperately requires. But he will have an audience, of that he can be sure. We are all Dorothy’s daughter today. We will watch every heartbreaking moment of this presidency and, in doing so, we will take up her mantle. We will be her voice; we will take up her causes; we will follow in her footsteps.

Oh, there will be an audience watching today, Donald Trump. And we will keep watching. Our eyes are on you. We are coming for you. With our voices, our strength, our determination, and yes, our femininity, we are coming for you. We are watching you today, Mr. President; but, from here on out, you had better keep your eyes on us.

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