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Facing the Cultural Ugliness: Clawing My Way Back From 2020 And Leaving New Orleans

There's something YANKING at my heart strings that is a major personal revalation and has me feeling like I'm on the verge of tears all the time. I just finished reading Becoming by Michelle Obama and the Lightmakers Manifesto by Karen Walrond. I've had both books on my list for a while but haven't been in the right mind space to read/listen to them. I'm not sure I was ready but a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time. The end of Becoming left me feeling like diving into The Lightmakers Manifesto was what I HAD to do next. WOAH!

My mind is on fire in a way that feels fabulous but also so unsettling.

Until now, I hadn't admitted to myself how much I am affected by the social and moral issues that have come up over the past 10ish years. I have basically stopped attending to any news over the past few years. I'm kept relatively aware, whether I want to be or not, based on what comes up on social media (whose bias I often grapple with). Since Trump was running and was elected, I basically CAN'T watch the news. I am BY NO MEANS a political person and I don't judge people who have different opinions than me. So, I've been telling myself that I'm staying out of it all because politics doesn't interest me. My revelation, though, is that it actually HURTS me terribly to see who and what is in the news. I haven't acknowledged how much the social climate of our country is strongly weighing on me.

For context, my life has also drastically changed over the past 10 years. I went from my life revolving mostly around myself and changing the early childhood education landscape, to meeting my husband, marrying him, having 2 children, having my dream job, leaving my dream job, moving from New Orleans to a small town in Pennsylvania, starting a business, inadvertently becoming a semi-stay-at-home parent, losing touch with friends, becoming much closer with great friends and family, and leaving my CrossFit family and now working out in our home gym. There is some context needed to understand the immense weight of several of these life events including leaving New Orleans, leaving a high-level social service job, leaving a CrossFit community, becoming a parent, etc. Whether you understand all those contexts or not, long story short: Everything was vastly different.

After moving from New Orleans to Mars (yes, that is actually the name of my town), I worked remotely for 6 months for my employer in New Orleans to assist in my transition out of my previous role. After that, I reveled in the glory of not working at all. I felt all the amazingness of having the luck and privilege to be able to be jobless and still be financially sustained. The world was my oyster. I could work if I wanted to or not work if I didn't want to. I could be a working parent or a stay-at-home parent. I could stay home with my kids full-time or part-time or send them to childcare full-time or part-time. All the decisions and choices. All seemingly life-altering choices. But man, not being in the rat race of "working for the man" was glorious.

Until the weight of all these decisions hit me and my "career brain" felt a little bored. We were deep in the pandemic so getting a new job in education at that time seemed crazy. Starting my child in a new childcare center seemed crazy. My husband has a job that has always had him working 10 hours a day, but when we moved, he was working 45 minutes away so his work days were more like 11 to 12 hour days. The easiest thing to do would be to not work and settle into being a stay-home-mom/housewife.

Using those 2 terms for myself, stay-home-mom/housewife, still makes me really uncomfortable. It wasn't really what I wanted, or what my husband wanted for that fact, but it was what was happening. We agreed that it was what made the most sense at the time. How would we manage everything if I was also working full-time? Even if I just worked part-time so I could still manage everything else, my income would basically, or maybe not even, cover the childcare costs for me to maintain that part-time job. To get a job that had the impact and income that I had before, I would have a lot of responsibility. How would we manage it all without creating so much stress on our family?

The work I was doing in New Orleans was SO rewarding but I was also realizing how burnt out I was from doing it. When working in it everyday, you soak up the rewards of the good that you are doing and you turn a blind eye to how much injustice and trauma you are staring in the face every single day. On top of that, with the STARK reality that our country would elect someone like Donald Trump, what difference would it make for me to try to mentor leaders who advocate for quality early childhood education for underprivileged kids? Why even bother? Improving early childhood education was never going to be a "thing" for Trump.

I worked for NINE years to improve early childhood education in New Orleans and the amount of progress that happened in that arena while I was there is honestly astonishing. The City of New Orleans, New Orleans Public Schools, Agenda for Children, and a myriad of other organizations were honestly doing AMAZING things for 0-4 year olds. Young children whose life trajectories were profoundly changed by the improvements being made in early childhood education. The pandemic unmasked the massive need for quality childcare to support our economy and also the lack of support our country has for providing quality childcare. Right now, the need for quality care is larger than ever but the ability to provide it is more challenging than ever. I digress. My work in New Orleans was beautiful (Shout out to ReNEW Schools). But being out of it and now looking at the bigger picture, it feels like the overall issues are insurmountable in our current social climate.

Since we moved, I've been over here in my bubble just trying to enjoy my family and our oasis in small town Pennsylvania. But with this revelation of needing to actually look at the impact our current social issues are having on me, I'm also having to face how much of a gaping hole there is in my soul without doing the social service work that I was previously doing. As previously mentioned, I started a small business, Teach Reach Master Consulting, to provide training and support to early childhood educators, leaders, and parents. I am so proud of it and enjoy the work that I do but, because of the ratio of time with my kids, the time they are in childcare, and everything else I have to do, I have very little time to tend to the business. Therefore, my sphere of impact has remained very small. I know my heart is telling me I need to get deeper into social service work but the ugliness of our country has been exposed and I'm looking right at it. Social change is incredibly slow and anyone working toward it knows all about the identity crisis that happens when you wonder if it's pointless. I am not the only one. But I am here and it feels heavy.

A couple of pretty huge caveats for context:

  1. The other massive life shift happening in the past few years is becoming a mother. Everything is different. My brain literally works differently. I now have a 1 yr old and a 4 year old. They are my life now. Changing the world isn't my life anymore, at least right now. My sphere of influence changed from the whole city of New Orleans and potentially beyond, to the walls of my suburban home. Even with having endless flexibility in how much I work because I now have my own business that I tend to and grow at whatever pace I want, there is seemingly no time for it or for me. Parenting is a never-ending and all encompassing job, never mind the part about tending to my marriage. Again, I am definitely not the only one. Mom life is very tough, whether you work or not. (More on this: Identity Crisis of a Stay-At-Home Mom: Is it just Me?) But here I am and it feels heavy.

  2. I have to acknowledge the immense privilege that I possess to even be in this place. I am so gracious to be in a place to decide if and how much I want to work as well as what type of work I want to do. There are so many blessings wrapped up in having those options. I practice gratitude for all of my blessings often. Having so much to be thankful for leads me to feel guilty about feeling somewhat lost which makes feeling lost feel even heavier. How can I feel lost when I have built this beautiful life with the best husband, children, family, and friends? Nevertheless, here I am and it feels heavy.

In conclusion, my current state of mind is as follows:

Everything is different. This is the process of rebuilding. When I fall, I rise. Joy and kindness are acts of resistance against the negativity and divisiveness of the world too.

If you have read this far, thank you! I needed to get that off my chest. I am not looking for sympathy by any means because honestly, I'm too grateful for the life I have to qualify for anyone's sympathy or pity. This post is also not intended to generate political debate because that's just not my jam. I simply wanted to put this out into the world in case anyone can relate. It is kind of ugly out there and it's challenging to navigate.

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