Opting Out & Leaning In

You are in for such a treat! I'm so pleased to share a guest piece by Betsy Osman. For those of you who don't know Betsy, I am certain you'll enjoy the perspective of this insightful, funny, inspirational mom and writer. Meet Betsy! 

Betsy married my stand-in brother Aaron Osman. (I was lacking in that department, as the middle of three girls.) Aaron's sister, Sarah, was my childhood bestie. I spent years under the Osman eaves: Admiring Jim's rose bushes, listening to Vicki on the piano, playing cabbage patch dolls, sliding head-first down the carpeted stairs, dressing up poor Molly the basset hound.

Fast forward 30-ish years, and I'm lucky to call Aaron's wife Betsy a friend and Instagram pen pal. Our girls are close in age, and we share many of the same hilarities and hurdles. Here's the lovely Osman family of Mt. Zion, Ill.

Below you'll find Betsy's take on opting out (of the traditional workforce) to be a Stay at Home Mom, then leaning in again, when the time was right. Had me in laughter and tears! 

In Betsy's words:

A little over a year ago, I made the decision to leave my full-time job and try my hand at being a Stay at Home Mom. I was worn down - tired of marshaling out all my resources and carrying the heavy, guilted weight that came from missing out on my kids' everydayness. I longed to be able to apply my creative energy to my family; to make each day less about my “To Do” list, and more about my “Do, too!” list.

So I took the off-ramp, directed toward home.

The months that followed were … lifey. Busy. Happy. Hard. Exhausting. Freeing. I loved and loathed the pace of home life. Some days I appreciated my husband for allowing me to have this time in life. Other days I completely resented how easy things seemed for him.

I watched the girls grow and change. And over our long days together, I came to enjoy them in new ways. They didn’t always get the best version of me, but they always got me. For everything. Every question, every special event, every field trip, every lost tooth, every nightmare. I was witness to each of those moments.

Over those months, I struggled with new ways to define my own value. I wasn’t meeting huge professional goals and deadlines. I wasn’t building endowment funds or capital campaigns. I was building humans. In my professional life, my successes were seen and acknowledged. At home, my forward-momentum was usually anonymous. Overlooked and underrated. And the pay sucked.

One day I was talking with a girlfriend, confessing my fear that I wasn’t living a value-fueled life. My years of study and education and professional accomplishment – what was it all worth? I’d worn yoga pants three days in a row, spent an hour researching “coffee filter snowflake projects,” and had just literally burst into tears watching Dumbo’s mama be sent to circus jail. I didn’t need a university degree for this work.

“It matters, right?” I asked my girlfriend, swallowing hard over the lump in my throat. “My kids will remember these days and that I’d made them the priority, right? That’s where the value is, right?”

She hugged me tight.

“Betsy, you don’t need to assign where your value lies,” she replied. “That idea is fickle. And false. Our value as women and mothers and human beings is inherent. We don’t need credentials or a title or even a witness to our hard work. We’re valuable. Hard stop. End of story.”

Hard stop. End of story. And the beginning of a new way of thinking.

While fear, anxiety and self-doubt threaten to rob women of our joy no matter where our work is happening, I have come to realize that our value isn’t tied up in what or even where. It’s tied up in who.

In the end, you are the valuable person doing the work, instead of a person doing valuable work.

My season at home is soon coming to an end. I’ve just accepted a new marketing position and am so looking forward to re-engaging my off-ramped professional self. I’ll be taking with me all kinds of new talent I’ve cultivated during my time at home. Multi-tasking, encouraging otherwise unwilling individuals, patience, and ninja-level coffee filter snowflake project googling skills.

And huge handfuls of humility.

I’ve learned much about how it feels to sit on both sides of the fence: Opting out and Leaning in. And whether I’m wearing yoga pants or high heels, I’m leaning in to the acceptance that our value lies simply in who we are.

I hope you see yourself in that idea, too.

Mother's Day: Triaging Craziness on the Homefront

Happy MOTHER'S DAY to all the mothers out there! Wishing you short brunch lines and coffee that you don't have to microwave! Here's the second Mother's Day post of the week. Hope you enjoy it:

MOTHER'S DAY: PART 2

Today, I'm sharing a little something I call "Triaging Craziness on the Homefront." I don't mean to minimize true medical crises with use of the word triage here. It's just that triage is the only word that succinctly describes what we do as parents minute-to-minute. And I have a feeling many of you can relate. Here's the definition for quick reference:

TRIAGE: The process of sorting victims of a battle or disaster to determine medical priority, in order to increase the number of survivors. 

A few words stand out here:

  • Victims
  • Battle
  • Disaster
  • Priority 
  • Survivors

Does this not sound like everyday mom life? How many battles do we witness daily? How many disasters unfold before our very eyes? There are always victims (not always the dueling children), and the survivors weather plenty of injuries.

However, the key word in the definition of triage, for me, is PRIORITY. Exactly how do you determine who or what gets attention first? Especially when things are going downhill? Fast.

"Triaging Craziness" is a fluid, evolving concept of what constitutes an emergency, and this is different for every family. Here's what it looks like for The Schultes. NOTE: The most serious situations are listed first, and priority descends from there. The rankings may surprise you... I know a few surprised me as I was writing it!

CODE BLACK:

Life Comes to a Screeching Halt

  • Seizures
  • G-Tube malfunctions
  • Children running into traffic
  • Children running into a parking lot
  • Children running away... anywhere
  • Screaming
  • Bleeding
  • Explosive poopie
  • Vomiting
  • Crabby hunger (Hangry)

Medical crises obviously come first. Luckily we have had very few of these recently (AMEN). Elsa's been seizure free for more than two years, and the deflation or pulling-out of her G-tube balloon is something we can generally handle without too much anxiety these days.

But running away. Oh my. This is my new worst. I simply cannot handle it. Running away = distance from me = room for negative interference = anything can happen. If there is too much physical distance between me and my babies, there's nothing I can do to help them. COMPLETELY POWERLESS. I constantly bribe my littles to stay near when we enter a parking lot. ("Fruit snacks in the car for anyone who stays with me!! Who's with me?!")

The rest of the list: Screaming before bleeding? Screaming before poopie?? Screaming before vomiting??? Not a typo. I cannot deal with any of those problems if someone is screaming. Screaming breaks me. It always wins, or at least must be addressed immediately in some fashion, for sanity's sake. Moms who can deal constructively with screaming deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here's a photo of something that COULD have been a Code Black moment. To photograph, or not to photograph? That is the question. Luckily this has never happened again!! Yet.


CODE RED:

Momma's Gonna Lose It... Time Out!

  • Sneaking outside
  • Throwing a fit
  • Biting
  • Hitting
  • Stealing toys
  • Throwing food
  • Refusing to get in the car
  • Refusing to get out of the car
  • Taking off clothes that should be on
  • Begging for a snack
  • Begging for juice
  • Begging for a show to be turned on
  • Ripping out pages of library books
  • Ripping out pages of our books
  • Jumping off of furniture
  • Regular poopie diaper

This is a long list. So many things fit into this category. These are the things that get under mom's skin because this brand of chaos breeds more chaos, and all of it prevents her from doing the things she NEEDS to do: Phone in prescription refills. Email a teacher with an important note. Empty the dishwasher. Put away clean clothes. Eat. Shower

You'll notice that poopie diaper is dead last. This means that my kids are often walking around with poop in their pants for a good while. The old adage of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" is never more true than in a home dripping with toddlers. I cannot tell you how often I think of Carol Burnett in Annie, singing this song...

Little girls, little girls, everywhere I look... I CAN SEE THEM. Little girls, little girls, night and day I eat, sleep and BREATHE them. Joking of course, but in my case, it also happens to be true!

IMPORTANT NOTE: I always remember to pray during Code Black, but I almost never remember during Code Red. I do everything in my power to "handle it." But naturally, it doesn't take long to realize that I cannot handle it - not alone. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the second I pause and pray, "God, I can't do this. I'm gonna need your help," within 2 minutes, the situation has resolved. I promise myself that I won't forget to pray - that I'll remember next time and do it first before stress builds to peak levels - but I never do. Why do we think we can do anything apart from God? Not sure, but it's a lesson God is set on teaching me!!! 


CODE GOLD:

Classic Minor Offenses (The Good Stuff)

  • Raiding your jewelry
  • Raiding your makeup
  • Raiding your purse
  • Raiding the cupboard
  • Adding "events" to your planner
  • Unmaking just-made beds
  • Stealing your phone and sending texts
  • Brutal honesty
  • Picking out 10 bedtime books
  • Watering or feeding inanimate objects 
  • Making "pee-pee milkshakes" (*see below)

This is the stuff that's perhaps a little annoying in the moment, particularly if you're trying to get out the door to church or an event. But a few hours later, you know it's true: These are the golden moments of parenthood. The snapshots of your life that you wish your mom and dad were in the room to see. The incidents that you try to quickly capture on your smart phone, or try to do justice to later in a story, but can't.

* One of our favorite stories is when Cece and Lola were scooping toilet water with their toss-and-go cups in an effort to make what they coined "pee-pee milkshakes." Of COURSE they did. Why wouldn't they, right? Sounds delicious. Just when you think you've seen it all, your kids have a way of blindsiding you with disgusting yet somehow charming and innocent antics. Just remember: This is perfect fodder for your speeches at their rehearsal dinners and weddings.

Here's a slideshow of some of our golden moments:

There's no doubt about it. Parenthood is designed to grow us. To wear us down and show us our limitations and humanity. To draw us closer in dependence on our Lord, refine our faith and build our wisdom. So when we say that kids are God's greatest gift, it's for several reasons. They are beautiful reflections of his love, and they also deepen our relationship with our Creator.

Some women are dripping with diamonds. Some women are dripping with pearls. Lucky me, lucky me. Look at what I'm dripping with... LITTLE GIRLS. 

Lucky me is right. I am extremely lucky to have been blessed with these babes. So happy and proud and honored to be their momma.

Happy Mother's Day everyone! 

Almost Mother's Day: Guest Post by Colleen Arturi

In honor of MOTHER'S DAY, there will be two blog posts this week!

  • First, a guest post from my dear friend Colleen Arturi (below)
  • And later this week, a post from me on triaging "crises" on the homefront

Hope you enjoy these great insights from Colleen, and be sure to come on back later this week for some Schulte girl comic relief! 

MOTHER'S DAY_Part 1.png

MOTHER'S DAY: PART 1

I met my friend Colleen (then Wilson, now Arturi) in 2001. We were studying abroad as part of the Missouri-London program during our junior year of college, back when Coldplay and H&M were fresh out-the-gate, and foot-and-mouth disease was running rampant across all of England - preventing us from eating beef for four months (for fear of brain-curdling side effects) and forcing us to stay inside the tour bus while driving past Stonehenge. Not tiny Stonehenge, the real one. 

Colleen and I were flatmates on Nevern Place in the Earl's Court neighborhood of London. We will never forget those days:

Our experience was the BEST: Exploring an amazing world city, walking to South Kensington for class at Imperial College, commuting via tube to media internships, traveling across England on weekly cultural excursions, and clubbing to house music like it was our job. It kinda was.

Our flat was the WORST: Trickling water pressure, a space-saving laundry machine that (in theory) both washed and dried clothes, two bedrooms for six girls, and a sick living room couch that we sat on as an absolute last resort.

Ah, the memories!! 

Today, Colleen and I both live in Chicagoland, lucky me! She is one of my best besties. Here we are celebrating her birthday at a great little sushi place in Oak Park.

Colleen is the kind of friend who goes into the trenches with you, lifts you up, and reminds you who you are, all-the-while inspiring you to dream big dreams. I love her and her family endlessly. Just can't get enough time with Colleen, her husband, Jon, and their sweet son Hobie.

I'm also super proud of Colleen for starting her own business! She is the founder of The Story Shoppe, a branding boutique for small businesses and startups. See what I mean about dreaming big? 

Colleen and I have made half-a-lifetime of memories together, but we also share a similar momma experience: Having a first-born child with special needs. I hope you enjoy this special MOTHER'S DAY week post: Colleen's warm words of advice for moms (and dads!) walking the special needs walk.

In Colleen's words: 

My son Hobie, age 18 months, was diagnosed at six weeks of age with profound unilateral hearing loss and a condition called Auditory Neuropathy. What does this mean? He is almost completely deaf in one ear. The sound he does hear in his left ear is distorted. Like radio static. To hear what this sounds like, check out this simulation.

Think about it like this: Imagine setting up your stereo system in mono, using just one speaker, with no surround sound. That’s kind of how Hobie hears.

If you are sitting right in front of him, and even up to six feet away, he can hear you very well. But if you are behind him or shouting to him from another room (“Stop pulling the dog’s tail, please!”), he might not hear you at all, or not very well. I like to joke that he’s not much different from every other child in that respect.

Here is my son at his first ABR test (Auditory Brainstem Response). The test uses a special computer to measure the way his hearing nerve responds to different sounds.

Here is my son at his first ABR test (Auditory Brainstem Response). The test uses a special computer to measure the way his hearing nerve responds to different sounds.

We don’t know a lot about what he actually hears right now, mainly because he is too young to tell us. I mean, the kid is still working on saying banana, so he can’t really be like, “Hey mom, it’s difficult for me to hear you when you ask me what I want for dinner from the kitchen.”

If your child has been diagnosed with a special need of any kind, it can be overwhelming and isolating at times, but it can also be really, really cool and inspiring at others.

Here are 7 simple things I’ve learned as a new mom (operative word being new!) to help you along the way:

1. Find Your People

One of the first things I did when my son was diagnosed with hearing loss was jump on Facebook. I actually wish the audiologist who diagnosed my son would have told me that, because it has been one of the greatest sources of information and strength out there. Parents from all over the world can connect and relate to each other’s journey.

I also was connected (through our audiologist, thank you!) to a community for kids with hearing loss called Guide by Your Side. They were very helpful in giving me the names and contact info of real parents in the area who knew specific things about what Otolaryngologists to seek out, what schools/programs could be good for my son, etc. Most had school-aged children, and it was EXTREMELY inspiring to hear stories about their kids doing things that kids with typical hearing do.

2. Therapy is Play

At our first therapy session, the developmental therapist whipped out a bag of toys. I was like, HMMM HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO MY SON’S GROWTH, LADY? Then I realized that play really is how babies and kids learn about the world. I am not sure what I was expecting -- fancy flashcards, maybe? (Yeah, I know --- what’s he going to do with flashcards but put them in his mouth and get papercuts… oops.)

There will be lots of fancy gadgets and tests and clinics on your journey, but from what I can tell, therapy sessions are meant to meet your child where he or she is. That means guiding therapy around play the child is interested in and taking cues from life to make things relevant. Also, quite awesomely, it often also means a lot of therapy can take place in your home. YAY!

3. Celebrate All the Time

We already do this naturally as parents, but it bears repeating: Marvel at every little thing they achieve. Every. Little. Thing. Whether your child is using a utensil more adeptly, or they are doing better at making eye contact, or maybe they are even mimicking you for the first time. Whatever it is, just stop to WOW over it, for yourself and for your child. Appreciate the small stuff, because well, it’s all small stuff.

4. Advocate

This is hard. I don’t know about you, but I often times have problems speaking up for myself. I am still learning how to be an advocate for my own needs, so at the beginning especially it was sometimes difficult to even know when and where I should be advocating for my son. One key thing I will have to do as he gets older is to always make sure a speaker - say at storytime -  is on his typical hearing side, so we can make sure he is hearing as much as possible.

Here in Illinois, we have a great resource called Early Intervention that will help get your child lined up with necessary therapy services from birth through three years of age. There are similar programs in most states. Please do yourself a favor and check for services in your area. And be sure to ask lots of questions of whomever you’re interacting with, as you might learn about more services that are available to you.

(Special shout out here to our therapists through Early Intervention and Child’s Voice. They have taught me so much about advocacy, hearing loss and therapies for my son!)

5. Balance Trade Offs

Winter in Chicago brings the worst stuff - slush, gray skies and germs everywhere! My son is on his fifth cold since the beginning of the year (which means I am about to start my fifth cold of the year too, amirite parents?) Recently, we learned Hobie has fluid in his ears, which could but hopefully won’t, damage long-term hearing in his good ear if it sticks around too long.

I have never given my son antibiotics but lo and behold, his otolaryngologist suggested it may help get rid of the fluid. The day this happened, I was served an article on Facebook that talked about how antibiotics can potentially affect the gut microbiome in a not great way, making it paradoxically tougher for them to fight infections in the long run. GREAT. Now I have to choose between potentially damaging my son’s hearing and potentially ruining his immunity FOREVER? Thank you, Internet for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but guilt.

It’s decisions like these that all of us parents have to face every day. Instead of thinking about these decisions as judgments on me as a parent and the good mom/bad mom complex, lately I’ve been trying to think like an economist: It’s all about tradeoffs. Because in life, there really is no such thing as the right decision. It’s about making the best decision possible with the information you have at the time. That’s it. And when you are choosing ANYTHING in life over another thing, you are simply weighing outcomes against one another. The path you choose is not inherently good or bad, it’s just a path. (Cue chill yogi chimes.)

6. Focus on the Long Game

Another parent came up to me the other day and asked “Hey - is your son’s hearing ok now?” LIKE WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT. Oh yes, dude, his deafness just poofed away!

Then I realized he was just trying to be polite and ask about my child. He really didn’t know better and wanted to earnestly ask about my kid, though *eee* it did come out kinda wrong. Raising a kid, and especially raising a kid with special needs, forces you to look at the long term. I am pretty sure the super cute activity table I bought him will not have any bearing on his success later in life. But I do know that being consistently supportive of him will help him.

So keep the long game in mind when distracted by new toys, or even new technologies, when it comes to your kiddo’s special need or needs. Yes, a new surgery may help your child, but no, it will not be the magic ticket to success. You know what will help them succeed the most? YOU. (Well, ok and them. Kiddos are totally amazing and resilient.)

7. Keep it Positive

Ignore the Haters. That’s including that itty-bitty-s*itty committee inside your head. The voice that says “You need to do more.” Maybe it’s because I was a cheerleader in a previous life, or maybe like, everyone does this in their inner monologue… But whenever I am feeling down on myself or worrying too much, I think to myself, “You are already everything your child needs.”

I like to call myself a recovering perfectionist. And I really have my son to thank for that. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but expectations and reality have a funny way of being incredibly far apart. No matter what kind of parent you are, do your best to chuck those Pintrest-y looking notions of parental perfection out the door. Real life looks sooo much different than the Internet, and it’s also sooo much more fun. Do not be too hard on yourself and celebrate those little parenting wins for yourself, too! You. Are. Amazing. (Especially if you’re a regular reader of Anitra’s blog.)

* * * 

Thank you to Anitra for being a wonderful friend since forever (college seems eons ago) and for allowing me to contribute to her fantastic website. I am so honored to know such a wonderful person, mother and thinker. I love you, woman! And if any of you moms out there have tips for special needs parents, please say so in the comments.

Colleen Arturi loves cheese and her puppies Bill Murray and Wizard, and will dance to literally any type of music. She is the founder of The Story Shoppe, a branding boutique for small businesses and startups. Learn more at www.thestoryshoppe.com.


And final note from me, Anitra here! If you are interested in reading about ways to help a special needs momma, hop over to this post HERE, which I did earlier in the year. See you again soon!