Category Archives: Parentgood/FKB

Parentgood: Golden

Today is Aquinas's golden birthday. He's 10. As cliche as it is, I still cannot believe how fast the time has flown by.

Aquinas is the person who brings me closest to understanding the mind of God. I suppose that's what parenthood is, really. Their joy is your joy, their pain your pain. You want for them so much more than you want for yourself. You both see the person they could be and love the person they are. It has been a decade, and the effect this kid has on me continues to grow.

I've documented on the site some of our hard times - his struggles to fit in with kids who aren't much like him, how a small town makes those problems seem bigger, some bullying, etc. I want so very much to take away all of the pain and hardship he faces, or be able to gift him the tools to expertly overcome those problems. But I can't do that. So instead I wanted to take a chance to document just a few good developments too, because there are so many of them, and they feel like they're very much parenting related.

Aquinas was born in D.C., and as his birthday gift Philosofette and I flew out there with him for a trip over Labor Day Weekend. It simply could not have been more perfect. The museums were a tremendous hit. We saw a play at the Kennedy Center. We hung out on the Mall at night ("This is exactly what I pictured!" he exclaimed). He met old friends of ours and their kids, and saw our beautiful old neighborhood. And most important, especially coming from a small town, he was able to broaden his perspective on the world. We know how important this is for him - especially for him, as opposed to some of his other siblings, given his experiences and personality - and being able to deliver... it feels like a real accomplishment.

Aquinas seems to have some genuine creative ability. It's a big reason why we've enrolled him in piano lessons (finally). He's somewhat hesitant towards the lessons themselves, but just in the past couple months he has started tinkering around on his own, and I think it's really growing on him. The idea that we were able to nudge him into something he could be very good at - and enjoy - is incredibly rewarding. Always the balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough. This feels like an area - at least for now - where we're succeeding in helping him to be the person he could be.

We started Lego League recently. Basically, you build a robot out of legos, and program it to complete tasks. I specifically started this league because our community members need something other than sports, and because Aquinas specifically is one of those community members. This is one of those parenting areas where I'm modelling my Dad. He was my baseball coach, and I remember him staying up late at night after work to watch videos about how to coach, and what drills to run, and things like that. I learned a ton listening to him discuss coaching philosophy, not just about coaching or baseball, but I learned about priorities. What was important wasn't winning or losing. That probably wasn't even secondary. And so when the Lego League opportunity popped up, I jumped. Aquinas can learn those things too, I hope. And hopefully find some other kids, and an activity, that he enjoys in the process.

Anyway... I'm kind of rambling, I realize. This isn't a well-thought out post with a point, other than that it seemed like a good time to share. He's our oldest - our golden child - and it's his golden birthday. What better time to celebrate?

My wish for Aquinas is to be the best person he can be, with all the success, happiness, and virtue that come from so being.

Father Knows Best — Transitions

My oldest son Francis used to be my oldest daughter Frances. Francis is 25 and lives and works in Chicago so being the parent of a trans kid is somewhat removed for me at this point but it still presents unique challenges and opportunities for learning.

One of the challenges is who do you tell and when? Even though by this point many people know Francis is now a man, not everyone does. I find that some people I have an easy time telling but some people who I have a fleeting relationship with will refer to Francis as a “she” and I find myself not correcting them. It’s really hit and miss for me and as I’ve kept this quiet on the WGOM for nearly 3 years myself, consider this Father Knows Best posting my “coming out” as a Trans Dad.

Of course having a trans kid brings other concerns as a parent. Let’s face it, not everyone is comfortable with trans people; discrimination and even violence is not uncommon. I bring it up to dates in case they are uncomfortable with it. It is a parent’s worst fear that bad things could happen to their child because of who that kid is and basically are powerless to do anything about it. Luckily nothing like this has happened to Francis (that I know of).

It is, however, pretty amazing how accepting people are. For people under 30, it’s not even an issue. My youngest refers to Francis as his brother like it’s been rolling off his tongue forever and the nieces and nephews didn’t even bat an eye. Others that I have told have been more fascinated with the process than questioning the intent. Which has been nice for me.

One thing that I have learned these past 3 years is that sexuality is definitely not M or F but is in fact on a continuum. Francis is the same person he’s always been with the same personality, sense of humor, needs and desires. In fact he exhibits some characteristics that I would consider “feminine.” But having said that, I don’t question at all his identifying as a male.

So we are all in a good place. Francis is a very happy, young person, striking out on his own in Chicago. He has a good job, been in a relationship for over 5 years, and has matured greatly these past few years, like many kids in their mid-20s do. The three of us are going backcountry hiking at Glacier National Park this coming July and I’m really looking forward to it.

Do I have any Father Knows Best advice? Probably not, each of us will have to experience the world our kids bring to us as they grow up. All I can say is your kids are their own person and it’s quite fascinating to watch them grow and experience the world on their own terms. It’s quite a ride, just make sure you have something to hold on to.

End of an Era

Last week, I closed out the Girl's 529 Account and this week, we'll be making our last ever(?!) tuition payment. We are now entering that netherworld between having "children" and becoming grandparents (with no guarantee that we will ever graduate to grandparent status).

So, what now?

Thankfully, we've been able to transition gradually, via the mostly-empty-nest, for about three years. And let me tell you, having the house to ourselves is pretty awesome. The Mrs and I can have conversations not about the kids, and we can, like we did Friday night, head up to bed at 7:30 p.m. with nobody to give us shit for being old.

Still, the "senior advisor" role takes some getting used to. When do you offer, when do you keep your damned mouth shut?

I'm like many guys, oriented toward fixing problems when I see them, rather than mere, passive availability of emotional support. I have seen my daughter struggling emotionally--with relationship issues, in particular, but also with mild mental health challenges, and found it very hard to find the right pitch. She's a brilliant, talented, highly opinionated, intensely moral, tightly-wound personality, slow to make friends but fiercely loyal when she does.

I've seen her fall in love. It was glorious. She positively shined. And I ached for her, knowing that there are tremendous risks that go with giving your heart to someone, particularly for the first time.

And I've seen that love crumble, as often happens, not-just-but-particularly with first real loves, and wondered how I could support her and give her what she needs.

I went through something vaguely similar when I was a college junior. A long-term, intense relationship died, not of my choosing (although to my long-term benefit). Picking up the pieces after is one of the signature challenges of becoming an adult. So I know that it's something that she mostly has to do herself. Knowing that doesn't make it much easier for a parent.

She comes home in two weeks for her last spring break. I get to wrap her in my arms again, maybe hold her hand on a walk, and tell her I love her. Maybe along the way, we'll get to have one of those conversations that two adults sometimes have with one another about things that matter. And then we'll send her back across the country for a last time as our dependent, before she goes out into the great, wide open.

Girl on the Run

Our kids have gone to Catholic school from K-8. Our oldest (now a senior) played travel soccer so she had some friends going into high school. Our middle child (now a sophomore) has never been to into sports. We were pretty concerned with her friend situation going into high school. Of her friend group, only a couple kids were going to the public school. We suggested (strongly) that she join some type of fall activity that started before school was in session so she could meet some people.

She ended up doing both marching band and cross country. Marching band was a given since she decided to do band and they require all members of the band to also do marching band.

We encouraged her to run during the summer but she really didn't run too much. We knew that cross country would be a pretty rude awakening for her. It started worse than we could imagine.

The first couple weeks of practice, she complained that she was so slow that she was essentially all alone out on the runs. She also didn't really know anyone else so it was a tough way to try to meet people.

After the second week, they do time trials at a park along with a breakfast for families. It's a nice way to meet the other parents and coaches. The kids had a 2-mile timed run to get an idea where everyone was at that point of the season.

The girls all went out on their run. The parents gathered around the finish line to cheer them on. The first girl came in. Then another and another. Based on what she told me, I figured she'd be last.

Finally, there was a long gap after one of the girls came in. The coaches all looked at each other and walked away with the other parents. But my kid wasn't back yet! I wasn't sure what to do. Do I start yelling, "There's one still out there!" and have all the parents and coaches come back? I'm pretty sure she'd be mortified by that. Instead, I just stood there alone at the finish line.

I waited another minute or so and then I saw her running towards me from the wrong direction. She was so far behind that she got lost. And then the coaches and teammates forgot she was out there. She jumped into my arms and was sobbing and telling me that she was going to quit cross country. I just tried to comfort her and told her she could do whatever she wanted. We went straight to the car and didn't join the team or families for breakfast.

My instinct is to try to do too much and say too much with the kids. This time I didn't say anything. I was pretty pissed at the coaches for forgetting she was out there. I don't care if she's good but the least you can do as a coach is know how many runners leave and how many come back. What if she had been hurt? I was writing the email in my mind but I have a 24-hour rule so it would never get sent. (Her coach was also my other daughter's track coach and teacher, so going full burn-the-house-down could have had some negative repercussions.)

I said nothing about what happened on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't comfort her. I didn't give her advice. I just went on like nothing happened.

Sunday night, she comes downstairs to tell us she'd gotten a text from our neighbor (and one of the top runners on the team) offering her a ride to 6 a.m. practice on Monday morning so we don't need to drive her to practice. It's amazing what just a little bit of kindness can do when someone is down. All she wanted was someone to notice she was on the team.

She went on to finish last in JV in the first 4 races of the year but improved every race. This year, she's continued to improve and is a middle-of-the-pack JV runner. She's made a couple friends on the team and plans on trying Nordic skiing this winter to stay in shape for track.

She deserves all the credit in the world. I know how tough that was for her to go through. We knew there would be some growing pains, but I couldn't have imagined what she went through and how far she's come.

I've always said my favorite thing about cross country and track is that you can compete with yourself and success is measurable. I was just glad this story had a happy ending.

Parentgood: In Defense Of Large Families

Alright, the title is a bit misleading. I don't feel any need to defend large families, or that they've been denigrated here, or anything like that. I was just trying to draw some eyeballs. And let me state at the outset that I, much like others before me, don't in any way think there is a "right way" to do families. Everyone is different, it takes all kinds, and I've no reason or desire to judge the way anyone else does it.

The last few Parentgood posts have been, in some way or another, about not-having kids. There was the having of someone else's kid, the not-going-to-have-them, and the prepping for an empty nest. All were much appreciated perspectives. So I thought maybe I'd just offer a little bit of my experience, since it's noticeably different from those previous entries. Quite obviously this isn't going to be the thing for everyone, (again, to each their own, and no one should condemn anyone's choices in this realm), but I thought maybe I could shed a little light on life in a big family.

First, I am the oldest of 13 children. So I have some insight into truly big families. Second, I have 4 kids of my own. Not exactly a big family, but certainly not a small one by the going standards. (As an aside, we'd be open to more, but that might not be the possibility we once thought it was. Doctors visits are pending, and prayers are appreciated. But not what this post is about.).

One of the things that stands out to me most about being part of a big family is that there's a certain generosity of spirit that is more or less required. The family motto is "there's always room for one more" and we really carry that out. We had 50 people at Thanksgiving dinner, and we've had bigger. There's always enough because everyone is always giving, contributing to the common cause. Indeed, my parents are the most generous people I've ever met. They are far from well off - we spent much of my youth as considerably poor - but the amount they give surpasses anyone else I've known. And I suppose that's especially true in the Biblical "widow who gave her last two coins" sense.

A more quirky aspect of the large family is that nearly everything is a large production. You can't have a get together without it being an event. You can't do an outing without it being involved. I still carry the habit of sliding to the back of a group and counting the heads of everyone in front of me. Just the role of the oldest, I guess. But with this comes a real feeling of accomplishment. Admit it: if you successfully took a dozen people to the zoo or hosted a 30 person bonfire, you'd feel pretty good about yourself. That's just a regular weekend in a huge family, so you learn some real skills, and to feel good about them.

It's also amazing to have such a wonderful support system. Whenever we need help, family is there. That's been true of little things like a couch to crash on or painting a room, and that's been true of big things, like a dentist sister who can do a root canal or planning a benefit for my nephew who was born with half a heart. That support is also amazing for dealing with the emotional baggage we all face. Grief, especially, has hit us hard these past years with a couple of deaths in the immediate family. But we're all there to help each other pull through, to provide support and comfort, and that system is amazing.

Sometimes there is a sense that with big families you don't really get to know your siblings, or that you're not as close, or, most horrible: that there is a finite amount of love to be had, so it gets spread thinner. Nothing could be further from the truth. My siblings and I all know each other really well. We're incredibly close, and, if anything, that love in the family is multiplied, not spread thin.

Finally, I want to talk about being a parent of a bigger family. I take it as an acceptable premise that a person's identity changes in some way when they become a parent for the first time. I don't know too many parents, if any, who wouldn't acknowledge that. I remember a conversation with a good friend after we both became parents for the first time, and we both expressed how much better we understood life, now that we were parents. We understood our parents, we understood love, we understood God, and so many other things in such a better way.

For me, there was a somewhat similar experience when I went from having 2 kids to having 3. Somehow, something about having a third kid, where you could no longer split them off, one to each parent, shifted my identity again. I became less of a parent and more of a family man. Yes, I am still a parent to individual children, and I have that relationship with them still, but there's a larger family sense that I'm more vividly aware of now that I have a larger brood. There are things I try to do "for the family" now, in a way maybe I only did "for Aquinas" or "for Aristotle" prior to Neitzsche's arrival. I'm more aware of the way in which the kids are interacting with each other, and how one kid's experiences are affecting the others.

Honestly, it's really cool. And really humbling. I became more of a servant when I had my third kid than I ever was before. And I like that. Now, I know it's not for everyone. But given my experience, it's something I'd recommend to those on the fence. I know I'm better for it.

Preparing for an empty nest

This post may be a bit less about parenting, and more about being a spouse.  A few years back my marriage felt the aftershocks of numerous friend couples getting divorced.  To some degree, several of these divorces were affected by some degree by "empty nest syndrome".   Like anything in our lives, preparation is so important when any life changing event happens.

I remember when "the couple who will never break up" told us they were getting a divorce.  They never mentioned empty nesting, but reading between the lines it was there.  It threw me into a panic.  I thought "What happens when our kids move out?  Will our marriage survive?"  I thought about if for a while and then approached my wife.   We have a good marriage, but do have our occasional fights.  The topic freaked my wife out.  "Why would you want to talk about a potential split?" she asked.  Once we both settled down, we talked about expectations we each have after the kids fly the coop.

Her expectations:  "We will get to spend much more time together.  We never get time together now, and it will be nice to see you much more often."

My expectations:   "Yes, I get to spend more one-on-one time with you, but I also look forward to spending more time pursuing  interests I have mostly set aside the past 15+ years.  Golfing, fishing, fast-pitch softball (old-timer league), etc."

The result of this conversation has led to a 2 year journey of exploring what our relationship will look like.  My biggest discovery is just how much my wife has poured into this family.  I took much of it for granted.   Her absolute dedication to pouring all her time, energy and attention into our family is amazing.  She has, for the most part, disconnected with many of her friends over the years.  She does have hockey mom, soccer mom friends, but only spent time with them during sporting events.   Me?  I kept many of the friendships on a thin life line.  I still found ways to visit my friends or vice versa.

I also hadn't given much thought to the depth of the mother/child bond.   I do love and adore my children, but I did not give birth to them and my wife just has a deeper need to stay connected.  I already miss my college freshman son deeply, but it is nothing compared to what my wife is going through.  It has been very hard on her not to see him every day and not to care for him every day.  With only one of two gone, I am already finding myself spending more time helping her with these feelings and doing what I can to become a better husband to her.  More than ever she needs me and I have to be there for her.  And... that leads me to what I think is the answer (at least for us) to surviving empty nest syndrome.

In my business, I have always said that adversity leads to opportunity.   If a guest at our restaurant hates the food we serve, we rush in and make it right.  Remake it, try something else, buy the meal, whatever it takes to make them happy.  Turns an unhappy guest into a customer who knows you care, who knows you stand by your product, who knows you listen and value honest feedback.  I can make that person a regular guest who will come back and sing our praises to the community.

In my marriage, the adversity of sending our children away has led me to a point where I need to be a better husband.  I need to be a better friend.  I need to go the extra mile to make her happy.  I need to listen to her as she voices her thoughts, fears, frustrations, hopes and dreams.   Yeah, I am sure I will get more time chasing my other interests, but that will be the result of building a stronger marriage.  During this tough transition,  my primary goal has to be supporting and loving my wife and helping her cope.   For her part, my wife has taken a very similar approach.  This adversity is an opportunity for us to grow closer.

Words of wisdom to those beginning, or in the middle of, the great parenting project:

I used to shake my head at couples who would get a baby sitter and go out a couple times a month as a couple or with friends.  We rarely did that as we were laser focused on our kids and their happiness.  Looking back, we should have done that more.  We should have been enjoying our relationship more.   We should have skipped some youth games and enjoyed life more.   Being a great parent is an important goal in life, but can never supersede the goal of being a great husband or wife.  Or... look at it this way:  Strong parenting is built upon a solid base of a strong and loving spousal relationship.

Not sure if this will all be helpful to all of you, but it sure has helped me to write this all down and process where our relationship is at during a challenging time.  Thank you all for the opportunity to share.

 

Father Knows Best – Not the Papa

So, eighteen months ago, one of the couples I am friends with had a child. I was 35 at the time, and while I had other friends who had children, this was the first couple in my closest group of friends to have a child. I suppose here is where I should maybe mention that he’s named after another friend and I.

J & I are child free by choice. J had never wanted children; I was petty ambivalent about it growing up. In 2010 I had a vasectomy, much to my mother’s chagrin. She assumed we would change our mind at some point I guess. I’d always told her, and continue to tell her, that we will be the cool aunt and uncle, but raising children just really isn’t for us.

In the last several months I have spent quite a bit of time with these friends and their boy, who I guess I will call Dub Z. Before he was born, my friends talked a lot about how they wanted us to be like uncles to Dub Z. I think I have hit that point in his eyes. His parents say he talks about me all the time when I am not there, and he gets real excited when I come to visit. I’ve grown pretty close to him and feel that we are good presences in each other’s lives. Even though I've never felt like fatherhood is something that I must do, I have to admit that watching him grow and change and bond with me is a really great feeling.

I've had two major realizations as a result of all this.

The first is that folks, like my mother, who wonder how or why J & I don't want kids, seem shocked that I am close with Dub Z. I don't really understand this line of thinking? Neither of us don't want children because we hate kids or something. I have pretty severe anxiety in groups of people, and being around children can definitely stress me out (they don't behave like adults so the same coping mechanisms I apply don't work!) but that doesn't mean I hate them. The things that I want out of life, personally, will be easier to obtain without children. I've been told by my mom (and others!) that this is selfish, but I think the truly selfish act would be having children that I am not fully prepared for. And I'm definitely not. But that doesn't mean that I can't go hang out with a kiddo and his parents and share my life with him a little bit. Honestly, the opportunity to instill a young boy with positive values is huge, and I want to take every advantage of that I can.

And that brings me to the second point. While spending this time with him is great, and I make every effort do so as often as I can, it has reinforced my belief that being a parent is not the right life for me. Raising kids is a ton of work! I'm pretty constantly in awe of the ways my friends have been able to adapt to parenthood. And I know that those types of adaptations are ones which I am not really capable of. For an example, Dub Z has recently started potty training, so my friends spent a lot of time checking in with him to make sure he doesn't need to poop or pee. I will literally sit at my desk until I'm in pain because I forget to go to the bathroom unless my body reminds me. I'm not sure I'd be a great teacher or example here!

With all that said, I think that our arrangement works out pretty well. I stop by basically every Saturday that I am home and we have low key hangouts together. We make a dinner plan as a group, and I try to bring over a treat for them. They get to have conversations with an adult, and they don't have to worry about me being weird or uncomfortable around Dub Z. It's not how I expected to be spending my weekends when I was younger, but it's pretty great.

Now that you've all read my ramblings, I'll ask you for a little bit of advice. I'd like to set aside a little money for Dub Z to use towards school when he graduates, and share my relative good fortune with him. I'm not super comfortable talking to his folks about it; I think they would appreciate it, but I also don't want to make them uncomfortable in some way. I also don't want to create some sort of tax burden or liability for them, especially if it impacts his ability to get financial aid. Bonds or something seem simplest but I'm open to any good ideas. I've got another 16 years to get things sorted, but I'd like to start sooner rather than later, and hopefully help get his adult life a solid start.

My wife is pregnant. It’s not mine…

…. and it’s not hers, either.  She is acting as a surrogate for someone else.  

We initially signed up to do this without knowing who the intended parent would be.  We (mostly she, but I had to some of this) signed on with an agency, expecting this would be for someone we had never met before.  But, when she started telling some of her friends about this, one said she had been in the process of looking for a surrogate, and asked if my wife would do it for her.  So, in the end, the intended parent will be someone we know, and are friends with.  That’s been nice, to get to see her excitement and anticipation grow as we get closer.  The baby mamma’s parents are also super excited; the mom is an only child, so this will likely be their only grandchild.  It’s definitely a nice feeling, knowing that all we are putting into this is going to cause such happiness for someone else.  

She’s due on November 1, so about 6 weeks left.  That means that it’s really, really obvious she is pregnant, so of course we get lots of comments from random people all the time*.   Depending on the question and the situation, my wife will often respond that the baby is not ours, which leads to reactions in two main categories:

  1. Wow, that’s so amazing!  What a gift to give someone!  You are so awesome!
  2. Wow, I could never do that because...
    1. pregnancy was awful for me, I can’t imagine doing that again for someone else
    2. it would be too much like giving up my own baby.  Won’t it be hard to birth a baby and then give it up right away?

For 2.1, my wife had very easy pregnancies for both of our kids.  And so far, everything is going fine this time.  She’s getting more and more uncomfortable, but nothing more than the usual third trimester issues (back pain, swollen legs and ankles, exhausted, sore all over, etc.).

And for 2.2, it really hasn’t been a problem for us at all.  This has never been our child, so it’s not like we are giving away our own kid.  Some of that is having no genetic connection; this was IVF, with the intended mother’s egg and donor sperm.  But I think more of it is just the mindset that it isn’t our baby.  When we started this, I was a little worried how our kids would respond to this, but they seem to completely understand that this is not our baby.  They say momma is growing a baby for someone else.  It’s kind of like babysitting, just for a long time (and internally instead of externally, but sort of alike at least).

It’s a new situation for us, but not in a bad way.  It does feel a bit weird to be dealing with a pregnancy and preparing for a birth, while not at all preparing for a baby.  It’s not like we need to be getting a room ready, or setting up a crib, or getting baby clothes, or anything else.  The intended mom is doing all that, of course, but that’s not our job.  Once the baby comes, our part of this is done.

I don’t know for sure if we’ll do it again for someone else, but that’s definitely a strong possibility, depending on how this last month and a half goes.  I know agencies are always very interested in having women with previous surrogacy experience do it again.  That way, the biggest worry the intended parent could have (that you’d run off with their kid to a state with less favorable surrogacy laws [like Michigan; if you birth a baby there, it’s legally yours] before it’s born and keep it for yourself) gets allayed a bit.

Overall, so far so good.  We’ve been very happy with it, the new intended family is super excited, and all the pains and problems my wife has had (both during the pregnancy, and the many, many hormone shots at the beginning of all this) have been as expected.  I know doing this is not something for everyone, but based on how well this has gone, I think it really is something for us.

 

*I don’t really understand why seeing a woman that appears to be pregnant makes strangers feel that they have a right to ask invasive, personal questions.  I personally don’t mind all that much, and I don’t think my wife does, either, but I’m sure there are others in different circumstances that would.

FKB: “No, I’m Not Listening”

No announcements (sorry!)

Newbish is three now. All through the terrible twos, people told us that three would be worse. Credit where it's due, these people were correct. Newbish is generally a delightful kid - courteous, caring and very, very smart. He's also strong willed as hell, and while I generally find that to be a positive (I'd rather he stand up for what he thinks than to simply follow along and do what he's told), it would be really, really nice if he would occasionally just LISTEN.

Voice raising does nothing, and positive reinforcement hasn't been particularly successful. Right now, the only way we can get him to stop in his tracks and pay attention to what we're saying is to threaten to take away something he cares a great deal about (his favorite toy or his favorite blanket usually do the trick). Otherwise, he's basically a terminator - can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with, and doesn't know pain or fear. Now, I love threatening my kid as much as the next guy, but I have to wonder if there might be a better way to accomplish this.

Every kid is obviously different, and any advice you give might end up not working, but I'd love to hear any tips or tricks you folks have used in the past to get your little ones to pay attention to the words that are coming out of your mouth for 5 seconds.

(The title is obviously a quote. If we're able to break through for a second, he's usually able to realize that he's not listening......that realization is usually fleeting)

Resilience & Self-Care

I ate a bánh mì for lunch yesterday. The first time I ate one, I was in my mid-twenties, and I instantly fell in love. A sausage bánh mì was the last thing I ate before the Poissonnier was born. Few foods make me feel as happy to be alive. At noon yesterday, taking a walk across campus to the food cart that sells them seemed like a good idea, so I invited a colleague along. We chatted as we walked — our conversation wandered across & back around his childhood experiences in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand and our shared love of food. Given the news that broke early in the afternoon, I'm glad I had that bánh mì & conversation to sustain me.

There's plenty of evidence all around us to support the observation that resilience is a crucial, but very fragile, personal resource. It can erode in an hour under the wrong conditions, and it can often be tempting to allocate the time needed to maintain resilience to other activities & duties that seem more pressing. And yet, it’s a horrible thing to be caught without when you most need it.

Over the last year, I've tried to be more mindful of my resilience. I'm not always successful. But I also realized last year that I needed to make changes, and that I needed to accept a certain amount of failure as part of maintaining my resilience.

That has meant doing some things differently. Without cutting myself off from the world, I am progressively placing greater limits on my daily exposure to certain kinds of input. I'm trying to cultivate a few habits intended to help me find a more empathetic, thoughtful way to navigate the world. I'm learning to exercise more patience; a two year old can be a very effective workout buddy some days.

At the same time, I’m not approaching this effort as one of self-improvement. I’m not claiming I’m perfect, mind you — instead, I’m trying not to get hung up on the imperfections I’m all too aware of already. Dealing with my shortcomings through a judgmental deficit model, rather than one that is more focused around care & healing, was simply creating more negative judgment, anxiety, and discontent. Piling all my personal shortcomings up beneath the pressures of family and professional life, and then dumping all the anger & resentment I feel about the direction my state, the country, & society is going, meant my reactions were becoming progressively more unhealthy and self-compounding. I’d been doing that since 2011, and it just wasn’t working anymore. Looking at the Poissonnier, I knew I didn’t want to wind up taking any of that out on her one day.

I’ll specify some of the things I’m trying in a LTE below. That’s a more appropriate place for me to contribute to that part of the conversation. What you’ve been reading is simply the best way I could think of to initiate that conversation. Over the years it’s been expressed often enough — and by plenty of us — that this place is a refuge for folks. I suspect that, for a lot of us, what happens at the WGOM is partially social, and partially (since we're all interacting at a physical remove) partially self-care.

If you feel able to share today, what are you doing for self-care? How do you know when you're doing enough, or the right way? What do you wish you could do, or do differently? Have you been able to model your efforts to attend to your self-care for others who might benefit from seeing you give yourself that attention, whether at home or in your other spheres of life?