Practicing Thanks

AustralianOutback.jpg

When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately waged a preemptive strike on the postpartum depression that flattened me after my first was born. In an attempt to keep the fear, anxiety, and despair from once again taking over my life and driving a wedge between me and my baby, I started seeing a therapist and writing in a gratitude journal.

I "journaled" periodically throughout my tween, teen, and college years, and while reading through these journals offers up a walk down memory lane, the walk is anything but pleasant – nearly all of my journal entries center around angst and heartbreak. 

The goal of a gratitude journal, however, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. In each entry, you are required to write about something – anything, big or small – for which you are thankful. Instead of dwelling on how many times you put your toddler in timeout, you focus on how thankful you are that your partner came home from work 20 minutes early to relieve you. Instead of dwelling on how you spent an entire morning cleaning someone else's bodily fluids off the bathroom floor, you focus on how thankful you are that your baby’s afternoon nap lasted just long enough for you to take a shower.

According to researchers at UC-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the benefits of practicing gratitude span nearly every aspect of life. Study results show that people who take time to notice and reflect on the good in their lives experience more positive emotions like happiness and optimism, fewer negative emotions like loneliness and isolation, and less depression. These people also sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.

Taking a moment at the end of every day to acknowledge and say thank you for a moment, experience, or person who made the day just a little bit brighter - even when the best you can come up with is "coffee" or "bedtime" - is one of the most positive coping mechanisms around.

By the grace of God, I never experienced a single symptom of postpartum depression - or even the baby blues, for that matter - after Hallie was born. I'll never know if the steps I took while pregnant or the way Hallie came into the world (Will's birth was pretty traumatic, while Hallie's birth was pretty perfect) made a difference, or if I was just given a pass the second time around. Either way, after writing throughout my pregnancy with Hallie and the first few months of her life, I was hooked on gratitude journals. Nine years later, I still keep one every November and every Lenten season.

As we embark on this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you, my fellow Mama Bears, to join me in keeping a gratitude journal. You certainly need not write in your journal every day throughout the month of November; instead try just writing every Sunday in November, or every day during the week of Thanksgiving. Whatever the case, I hope keeping a gratitude journal helps you stay strong and faithful and grateful for the simple gifts in life, just as it does me.  

#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

Jael_tuant_Sisera_01.jpg

I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

Cheers to a New Year

Making resolutions on the first day of a new calendar year never felt right to me. Other than how I (fail miserably at trying to correctly) write the date on an occasional check, little changes on January 1st. We return home after celebrating Christmas and New Year's Eve with family and pick up exactly where we left off the previous year: same grades in school for the kids, same work schedules for my husband and me, same evening activities for all four of us.

In September, however, life changes dramatically. The kids begin new grades, work with new teachers, and make new friends. My husband goes back to teaching after spending the summer working outside the classroom. I restructure my days to fit in as much work - of both the paid and volunteer varieties - as possible between the hours of 9:30am and 2:30pm. Our evenings become juggling acts, with my husband and I acting as the circus performers trying desperately not to drop our soccer, dance, swimming, disc golf, music, homework, and dinner “balls”.

To me, it makes more sense to start the New Year in September, when change comes naturally and causes me considerably less stress. It then follows that I should also implement my New Year’s Resolutions in September.

I gave this plan a try two years ago, and while I did better at keeping my resolutions than I did when I kicked them off in January, I still struggled as the months wore on. As many of you have likely experienced, the more time passes since making the resolutions, the harder it becomes to remember what they were and follow through on them.

But then, as is often the case, a fellow mama bear came to my rescue. While chitchatting over coffee a month back, she offered two resolutions-related suggestions that I expect will completely change the game for me…and for any other mama bears who aim to both set goals and achieve them.

First, choose a month in which to start. Don’t feel bound to January, or September, for that matter. I chose September because of the reasons I listed above, but you should select whichever month – winter, spring, summer, or fall – works best for you.

Second, replace the word “year” with the word “month”. That’s right – don’t set a resolution each year, set a resolution each month. With only 30 days devoted to each resolution, goals can and should be small, measureable, and empowering. Smaller goals are more attainable, which increases the chance of success. Measureable goals are more manageable, which once again increases the chance of success. And empowering goals are more inspirational, which…you guessed it…increases the chance of success.

To help get us and you started, my ingenious friend and I brainstormed a few resolutions that met her small, measureable, and empowering criteria. For an entire month:

·      Drink three full glasses of water every day.

·      Add one fruit or vegetable to every meal.

·      Lift weights/strength train twice a week.

·      Walk one mile every day.

·      On school days, wake up (and actually climb out of bed) 15 minutes prior to your children.

·      On school nights, choose a specific bedtime…and stick to it.

·      Read one chapter of a book every night.

·      Read one chapter of a book to your kids every night.

·      Hug your kids three times every day.

·      Spend 15 minutes every day in quiet meditation, reflection, or prayer.

·      Sit down for a meal as a family three times a week. (It doesn’t have to be dinner!)

·      Pay someone a compliment every day.

·      Clean out and organize one closet every week.

·      Pull out one bag’s worth of items to donate every week.

As many of us have read/heard/experienced, it takes approximately 21 days to turn a behavior into a habit. Attempting to tackle all of these resolutions at once and over the course of a full year might mean failing at half of them. But by approaching resolutions on a one-a-month basis, the small, measureable, and empowering first resolution becomes a habit – and a confidence-building victory – prior to moving on to the second resolution. Turning the second resolution into a habit leads to feeling even stronger and more determined. One resolution snowballs into the next, building momentum and helping you transition slowly but surely into the mama bear, partner, friend, and woman you want to be.

What would you like to accomplish over the next 30 days? What can you add to or subtract from or change in your daily life to become stronger, healthier, or happier? Choose your resolution, and then let’s tackle this challenge together, mama bears!

If you decide to give monthly resolutions a try, share your resolution below!

#momtheology: Grace & Skressin’, A Mom’s Travelogue (Part I)

thompsons on a plane.JPG

My family and I have been away from home for six weeks now. Mostly we’ve been relaxing, traveling, hosting friends and family at our cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

Yesterday, two weeks from returning to Iowa, felt like the perfect vacation day. Not perfect because it was without glitches, but perfect in its wholeness. Perfect because I embraced my inner mom wisdom, prepared the kids’ bag sparingly yet smartly, and most importantly, was able to go with the flow; compromising on lunch plans, nap schedules, and planned activities for the day. It has taken me almost our entire vacation to learn these skills.

In these past many weeks, I’ve messed up, learned some things the hard way, even documented a few folk wisdom gems. What I’ll share with you is that vacationing with small children involves graciousness….and skressin. They are the yin and yang of the traveling mom, for sure.

Perhaps I should define my terms. Grace, as I understand it theologically—and as it goes with library book returns—is that strand of forgiveness that can sometimes be described as undeserved. Can we give that grace to our children? Our spouses? Ourselves? As for ‘skressin’ I guess I could have just called it ‘stress’ but this is kind of my new favorite word. According to Urban Dictionary, Skressin is like stressin, but somehow being chill about it. And how can you even attempt that without grace?

So as a member of the mom crowd, and a fellow traveler on the road of life (as well as summer destinations) here’s what I’ve learned:

a)     When traveling with a recently potty-trained toddler, learn his, ahem, “rhythms.” Seek out the non-scary bathrooms…preferably without Dyson hand dryers, which basically contain the fear factor of all Disney villains combined in one awful sound. Automatic toilets are out, too. At least for us. They add to the “skress.”

b)     Buy a good stain-remover, and don’t give up. It can be tempting to throw away a tee shirt because the spaghetti or jam or both make your child’s clothes look like evidence from a Law and Order rerun, but even stain remover can be a means of grace. Soak the shirt and take a deep breath, mom. It happens to all of us.  

c)     If you are having a moment of doubt, but still wonder, “Is my suitcase overweight?” IT IS. Borrow a duffle and check a second bag. Spend the money you’ve saved, by not checking an overweight bag, on a good massage.

d)     Let go – at least temporarily - of your former self who used to bike ten miles at elevation, hike to tree line, kayak first thing in the morning. This you will return, but while your children are small, enjoy what they are able to do. Do the things that you used to roll your eyes at as a single person on vacation. Trust me. Just give into it.

e)     Lastly, as you lean into being gentle with yourself, at the risk of sometimes appearing creepy, commend other traveling parents on their small victories. You’ll see them sometimes, refereeing toddler fights over French fries, exhibiting saint-like patience in public restrooms, hauling tantrum-entranced youngsters out of national parks and museums. Applaud their efforts, however unnoticeable they may seem. Acknowledge these feats because you know what it feels like to have your own wisdom and graciousness recognized.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness, O God! (And My Hands Prepare PBJ Sandwiches)

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

 A Mom’s Daily Office

It’s nine o’clock p.m., so I wonder: what prayer of the daily office goes with putting my one-year-old to bed, for the third time?

This is the way my mind works, at least lately, as I try and groove with interruptions that are just the normal parts of mom life. I could be mad about them, and sometimes I am, but when I am able to chill and roll with it, I try to see these moments as sacred pauses, holy in and of themselves.

If I were a Benedictine nun, part of my calling would involve pausing throughout the day to pray, to sit in silence, read scripture, and worship God with my sisters. If I were a Trappist monk, maybe I’d up the ante and sleep on a cushionless board on the floor or wear a humble habit to remind me of my commitment to servitude.

But I am neither of these. I am a mom.

Even so, I am trying to see a connection between the sacred calling of the cloistered life and the blessed vocation of motherhood. When I can remain here, in this healthy and calm perspective, I engage in something the monks and nuns do: I pray the daily office.

What is it exactly?

For those in sacred orders, they rehearse the “liturgy of the hours” pausing to pray six or seven times throughout the day.

I have yet to complete the full schedule in the span of twenty-four hours, but find myself asking throughout the day—especially times of stress or challenge, but also moments of joy—"I wonder which prayer is happening right now?"

And then, thanks to the lovely internet, I look them up so I can pray with my monastic brothers and sisters even as I sit here at my own dining room table.

And because I am who I am—a millennial pastor who can’t seem to keep her fidgety fingers off social media—sometimes I tweet my prayers. Here are some examples:

(Early A.M.)          “May what is false within us

                               Before your truth give way

                               That we may live untroubled

                               With quiet hearts this day.”

                               -Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal #morningprayer

 

(Morning)              My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!

(And my hands prepare pbj sandwiches.)

#feastofascension #morning prayer

 

(Afternoon)           In the spirit of Psalm 119 & in

thanksgiving for a nap: Revive me, O God,

& restore this fridge full of decay,

too, please. #afternoonprayer

 

(Evening)               Great River Nut Brown, Psalm 91,

& Today’s Hottest Country, WLLR.

#nightprayer

 

(Dawn)                   Baby back to sleep, Psalm 51, silent house.

#dawnprayer

As a mother, life is going to include interruptions. Disturbances of sleep, for me, are the hardest. So when I have to rise at dawn to console a restless child, I also try to calm my own restless mind with prayer.

 


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

"The Talk" with Kids. Jesus Take the Wheel.

Soon after Kara Haug’s episode called Sex, God & Politics came out I found myself driving one of my teenagers home from a practice and talking about sex. The subject came up because friends of his had caught another friend of theirs masturbating. Sometimes I’m still surprised at how casually my kids tell me these things as, if I’m being honest, the thought of telling either of my parents about anyone masturbating still makes me a little vomittey. But there we were talking about masturbating which then led to me asking if his friend who has been dating a girl for a few months is sexually active which then led to talk about pressures of being his age and what the next few years might look like. I finished with the reminder that should he ever feel ready to have sex I wanted him to come to me so that we could protect him from some of the consequences of sex that he’s not quite ready for. 

What I wanted to say was, “You’re not ready! You’re not ready for any of it! Your brain is literally not even fully developed yet! If you feel like you’re ready for sex DON’T DO IT! The Bible says not to and also you’ll probably get her pregnant and also STD’s.”

That’s what I wanted to say. 

But I knew from our conversation with Kara that saying those things would only make the divide between mother and son that much bigger. I knew if I told him he wasn’t ready that when he felt ready he would never come to me because he would know I would just tell him he isn’t ready. I knew that if I told him in any way whatsoever that sex is bad and can lead to bodily harm that when he started to have any kind of physical contact with someone else and it felt good that he would no longer trust me with any matters related to sex. And I knew that more than anything, I do just want him to be safe, healthy and happy and that one day I want him to be able to have a healthy sex life with his partner. Though I know at his age so much of what he’s learning and doing is influenced by his peers I also know he is still heavily influenced by his dad and me. I could give up what influence I have to his peers but I’m not one to go quietly into the night. Ever. So I make sure to talk about these things often enough and with such casual indifference that it’s actually not altogether rare that I find myself with a child talking about masturbation or puberty or sexual desire. 

Lest you think this comes naturally to me you should know that it doesn’t. I continue to be vomittey and shaky for minutes after these conversations. I, like most of my generation, could write quite the dossier of conflicted feelings with regards to sex and sexuality. Having always identified as female I have felt our country’s insane pressures and claim to my sexuality since as far back as I can remember. The whole “lady in the street, freak in the bed situation”, was only compounded by growing up Christian so if Ludacris will allow it would sound more like, “Lady in the streets and in the bed until you’re married and then it’s freak in the bed as long as it results in a baby that you for sure keep.” It’s really no wonder that I found myself in a Wal Mart bathroom at 20-years-old finding out I was pregnant and being just as shocked as everyone else that it could’ve happened to me. 

So I don’t really know if what I’m doing is right. I’m sure I’ll find out one day in family therapy or while watching one of my kids do stand up and imitate my open sexuality conversations to the amusement of the crowd. But it won’t stop me from trying. As Kara reminded us all in the podcast episode, keeping lines of communication open with your kids is the first and biggest step to keeping them safe and giving them a strong foundation for a healthy view on sex and sexuality. 

When we were adopting, many experts told us that it was entirely likely that we wouldn’t feel love for our new child until months or even sometimes years after the adoption goes through. The oft spoken phrase in adoption is “fake it ‘til you make it.” Meaning fake the love, fake the mama adoration until it’s there for real. That’s my advice to you today. If talking about sex and sexuality with your kids feels weird and clunky just fake it ‘til you make it. The first few times will feel so totally unnatural that you’ll want to take a cold shower for hours afterwards but by the third or fifth time you’ll go to brace yourself for the awkward and find only patience, compassion and love. For yourself and for your little cherubs. 

Good luck. 
Xoxo, Tesi

Tesi Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and blogs on her own website www.tesiklipsch.com. She lives in Michigan with her husband and 5 children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10 and 10. 

Summertime, and the Livin’ Is Easy…I Hope

For years I struggled to find balance – between scheduled and unscheduled, activity and rest, work and play – during the summer months. I tried different kinds of color-coded calendars, bucket lists, and chore charts, all of which worked…about 20% of the time.

Tired of feeling defeated and disappointed in myself, last spring I decided to no longer simply survive summer with my kids. Their childhood years were racing past me in a blur, and I wanted to love summer with them…before I was all out of summers with them. I spent the entire month of May reading blogs and scouring Pinterest so that when the bell rang on the last day of school, I had a plan.

Said plan came with plenty of ups and downs, but overall, our summer went smoothly. Both kids and I rested, relaxed, had fun, learned new things, and rolled into August feeling good about ourselves and our relationships with one another. And because I imagine many of you find yourselves in a similar situation – intimidated by the summer ahead and wondering how to emerge on the other side feeling happy and fulfilled – here are a few of our tried and true ideas for making this season one you and your kids will not only remember, but cherish.

  1. Create a schedule. The summer schedule needn’t be as rigid as the school year schedule, but kids thrive when their days have at least some semblance of order to them. Approximate wake-up, bed, and meal times as well as regular lessons, classes, or camps will provide predictability, stability, and comfort.
  2. Create a calendar. Like the summer schedule, the summer calendar can be looser than the school year calendar. But creating a physical calendar on which each day’s plans have been noted is worth the time…and will prevent you having to field 100+ “what are we doing today?” questions before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee.
  3. Block off down time. After adding swimming lessons, art classes, and sports camps to the calendar, take note of where you have blocks of free time and designate them as just that – free time. Reserve a couple of mornings, afternoons, or even days each week for spontaneous fun: family day trips, outings to the movie theatre or swimming pool, or even just staying home and letting the kids run wild in the backyard.
  4.  Give them jobs. When the kids spend more time at home, they should have more responsibilities at home. Perhaps they take on an extra chore or two, or if they’re a little older, they can care for younger siblings or help out with meal planning and preparation.
  5. Keep them on track academically. Do your future self a favor and make sure your kids stay on track academically with some kind of bridge book and daily quiet reading time. When fall rolls around and you’re back to helping with homework and projects, you’ll be glad your kids won’t need to relearn anything from the previous year. And quiet reading time is good for everyone’s sanity.
  6. Bend the rules. On occasion, throw those schedules and calendars and responsibilities out the window. Skip the chores and head to the beach. Bail on the academic work and watch cartoons. Ditch dinner at the kitchen table and have an outdoor picnic or a picnic on the living room rug.
  7. Take time for yourself. Whether a quiet morning at the coffee shop, lunch with friends, or even a weekend away, periodically step away from the kids and spend some time alone or with those in your life who rejuvenate and energize you. Mama Bears can’t keep everyone and everything else running smoothly if they haven’t first shown themselves a little love.

Bonus tip #1: Don’t want to spend money? Make popsicles, visit the public library, play in the sprinkler, turn your living room into a movie theatre, set up play dates, sign up for vacation bible school, and look into Kids Bowl Free.

Bonus tip #2: Tired of your kids asking to play with their electronics? Create a checklist like this one. It only takes a week or so for kids to remember to check the list before asking, and usually they get so caught up in doing something on the list that they forget about the electronics all together!

Nothing about this list is perfect, complete, or workable for everyone (nothing every is when it comes to kids…), but knowing I have a plan in place makes this Mama Bear excited to kick off summer vacation.

Meeting Mama Bear: Liz Josie

Liz Josie is a busy, stay-at-home mom of four young kids. She’s a native of Utah, teaches piano lessons, and tries to put one foot in front of the other while managing her family. Liz recently discovered the full power of her Mama Bear.

Liz saw a local doctor give a troubling talk about the Syrian refugees crisis. He spoke about the millions of Syrian refugees who have had to flee their country with nothing. What struck Liz was how the people he spoke of her so much like herself and the people she knew: they worked, they had homes, they had prized possessions, and they didn’t ask to have to flee everything they had known. Liz left the community forum feeling overwhelmed and was unsure how she could make an impact. She was physically ill and prayed for an inspiration to propel her forward.

Liz’s former neighbor, the head of her area's Kids Against Hunger Chapter, was mentioned in the presentation for a meal packaging event that had recently sent meals to Iraq. When the two connected shortly after the presentation, Liz felt the nudge of her activated Mama Bear. She decided to take a leap of faith and put together a start-to-finish packaging event to help the refugees who weighed so heavily on her mind.

Through some connections on Facebook, Liz reached out to Helping Hands of Relief and Development (HHRD) who helped her locate a refugee camp in Lebanon that desperately needed the meals Liz knew she could deliver. HHRD let Liz know that all aid is required to be shipped in a 40-foot crate. This crate would need to be filled entirely with meals—enough to feed the entire camp for a month.

At that point, all numbers became staggering. A 40-foot crate holds 1,188 boxes. Each box holds 36 bags. Therefore, 42,768 bags would be sent. Each bag contains six meals. So while Liz was staring down potentially providing 256,608 meals to people in desperate need, she was unsure of how to make this event come together. She realized she needed to raise $70,000 to fund the project AND then find 800+ volunteers to package the food thing. Mama Bear stirred.

Liz could have stopped as she became overwhelmed by the numbers of such a giant project, but she didn’t. The more Liz thought about it, the more at peace she felt and the more compelled she was to continue. She knew these meals would help very real and very hurting people. Her mantra was simple: “FORGET YOURSELF AND GET TO WORK.” The families in these refugee camps deserve the help, the food, and the support.

In reaching out to local friends, Liz found immediate support. Even with the daunting task of fundraising, people were eager to help. A committee was formed—all moms in varying stages of parenting with kids of all ages. Each woman brought unique talents and gifts and, amazingly, everything started to come together. When a need arose, someone stepped up and the need was filled.

Liz now knows that one person can do more than they ever dream possible … but not everything. It truly takes a team to step up and accomplish big things to make a difference in the world. As Liz and her team worked, the project miraculously fell into place. Local businesses stepped in with donations for the primary fundraiser, the local museum allowed the use of their space, and the local doctor that sent Liz on this initial journey agreed to speak again.

At the end of the fundraising event, Liz, who is not prone to tears, cried freely when it was announced the group’s $70,000 goal was met. What started as a sick feeling and the question “What can I actually do to help?” led to a group of women celebrating what can happen when everyone comes together for good. While Liz’s thoughts have shifted to the packaging event to make this dream come full circle, her heart is at peace knowing that it will all come together.  Thanks to this tribe of Mama Bears, 256,608 meals will be on their way to hungry sisters and brothers in Lebanon.

For those local to the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), visit www.qcrefugeeproject.com for more information on how to volunteer for the packaging event to be held June 3, 2017. Email refugeeprojectqc@gmail.com with any questions.

Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Mama Bear Books: Graphic Novels and Mysteries

Hello again, Mama Bears!

I spend most of my time reading literary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes it’s great to take a break from that and sink your teeth into some good genre reads. Summer feels like the perfect time for a departure from the standard reads. Though I certainly don’t limit myself to these books just in the summer, I have a couple of my favorite mystery series to share with you. And I’m even more excited to share some graphic novel suggestions with you! They are a relatively new discovery for me and I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this genre. I am hoping this post will inspire you to try something that maybe you haven’t tried before. Happy reading!

Graphic Novels

March by John Lewis: This three-book series allows readers to see the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman: The life of Polish Jews during WWII, both before and after their internment. (Two-book series)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: If you don’t know anything about the revolution in Iran in the 80s and early 90s, this is a lesson to be learned.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: A memoir where Bechdel wrestles with her father’s death and secret sexuality while also coming to grips with her own sexuality.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris: This is a dark and gritty tale about a girl who imagines herself like a monster found in horror movies. She tasks herself with figuring out what really happened in the suspicious death of her neighbor, a WWII survivor. Themes include sexuality, suicide, cancer, death and poverty among other things. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. P.S. Ferris began work on this graphic novel as she recovered from paralysis caused by West Nile.

Mysteries

The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith: Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. The series starts with The Cuckoo’s Calling. I may be biased because I love J.K., but I thoroughly enjoy the character of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin.

The Flavia de Luce Series by Alan Bradley: The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is a teen girl full of spunk and a passion for chemistry who has a knack for solving mysteries. She is an absolute delight.

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

Mama Bear Books: 8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

Throughout my life, I would have always described myself as a feminist, but I didn’t read feminist works or take a women’s lit class in college. I didn’t think of it much beyond, “Yes, I believe women deserve equal opportunities to men. Being a woman does not make me lesser.”

It wasn’t until these last few years that I’ve really started to consider it more. It must have something to do with how freeing our 30s are. Then, Emma Watson (can I get a shout out for Hermione?!?) created a book club on Goodreads at the beginning of 2016 with the intention of reading and sharing feminist works. And so, my real feminist education began.

I need this education in women’s voices, not just for myself, but for my daughters AND my sons, and for my future students. With each book I read, I find myself considering new things, feeling emboldened and sometimes outraged, and also incredibly proud to be able to call myself a woman alongside these women. And I wear the label feminist with a boldness I never have before. My advice is to read We Should All Be Feminists first, and then keep going! There is so much more out there; these are just the books that resonated with me the most in my first year of feminist reading. Happy reading!

8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Pick up copies of this beautiful essay and pass it out like a feminist super hero.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Perspectives on feminism, race and pop culture. Very thought provoking.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed: A collection of letters and advice issued in the Dear Sugar column. No holds barred and delightful.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Do you want to know what life is like for women outside of the U.S.? Read this book.

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein: If you have CHILDREN between the ages of 0 and 22ish, read this book!!

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon: Love the approach this book took to her life story. She is a serious badass and my hero!

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou: A beautiful memoir about how her mother’s absence and presence so greatly affected her.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun & Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes: She beautifully gives us all permission to be ourselves!

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

Read More

Mama Bear Self Care: Make the Dream a Reality

The Dream: after the kids fall asleep, Mama Bear settles in to relax and enjoy what remains of her evening. She shuts off her computer and phone, pours herself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, takes a warm bath, and finally climbs into bed with a good book. Eventually she too drifts off to la la land, waking ready to face the day after a refreshing eight hours of slumber.

The Reality: after the kids are FINALLY in bed, Mama Bear’s work begins. She cleans up the kitchen and loads the dishwasher. She gathers dirty clothes and starts a load of laundry. She puts away toys and books and shoes. She makes lunches, packs backpacks, and sets alarm clocks. She checks and answers emails, writes a to-do list for the following day, and pops over to YouTube to see if April the giraffe has given birth yet.

Admittedly, these two scenarios fall at the far ends of the bedtime routine spectrum. But if your days and nights look anything like mine, you find yourself closer to “the reality” rather than “the dream”.

Back in February I reached my breaking point. Despite feeling exhausted, at the end of the night I couldn’t relax and fall asleep. My brain kept churning, and as a result, my hands continued to pick up my phone to jot down a note or send another message. Around the same time, I realized I hadn’t finished reading a single book since last October. I considered the possibility that these two situations were connected (that when I stopped reading as part of my bedtime routine, my schedule went haywire), and decided to attempt to make my nights more positive and restorative…with a reading challenge.

I committed myself to reading 10 pages of a book – no magazines, no online articles – every night for the entire month of March.

At first I would climb into bed at or after 11pm and begrudging read my pages before going back to my phone to wrap up the night. But as time went on and I began to lose myself in my book, 10 pages became 20 pages became 40 pages. I found myself managing my days more efficiently with the goal of lessening my evening workload and increasing the amount of time available for reading. I stopped picking up my phone for one last message. I started falling asleep more quickly once I had finished reading and sleeping more soundly throughout the night. I woke better rested and without the neck ache I had been dealing with for months. One small change to my bedtime routine dramatically impacted both how I slept and my life as a whole.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep affects our mood, energy level, and overall health and well-being. And while we know and understand sleep guidelines and recommendations, getting enough sleep – especially as Mama Bears – can be tough. We can’t do much about babies who need to eat, toddlers who have bad dreams, or preschoolers who wet the bed in the middle of the night. So instead, let’s focus on what we can control. We can exercise daily and limit caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. We can stick to a regular schedule, sleep in a comfortable bedroom (low light, low sound, cool temperature), and sleep on a comfortable mattress. We can turn off all of our electronic devices an hour before we would like to fall asleep and open a book instead. Just as we create calming, restorative bedtime routines for our kiddos, we can create calming, restorative bedtime routines for ourselves.

“Make sleep a priority…don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing everything else so you get the sleep you need.” The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation makes sense, but if completely overhauling your evening and bedtime routines feels too daunting, just make one small change. Take one stressful task off your evening to-do list, or add one relaxing activity to your bedtime routine…even if it’s just reading 10 pages of a good book every night. The benefits will eventually reveal themselves, and Mama Bears deserve every single one of them.

Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Confessions of a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Mallrat

35yrmallrat.jpg

In 1995, there was a movie. Granted, it wasn’t a great movie, but at least it was crass and juvenile. I’m talking about Mallrats. Food court debates, break ups and of course, Jay and Silent Bob doing their thing – whatever that is.

I’m not saying this movie sums up my life or anything, but lately I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. I guess you could say: I’m a thirty-five-year-old mallrat.

I blame my children. And the Midwest.

I had my first child at the tail end of a polar vortex which struck Iowa in the first part of 2014. Being hospitalized, becoming a new mother, these things already cam make you feel stir crazy. But when you can’t even go outside because, with wind chill, it’s twenty degrees below zero? You figure out some way to get out of the house.

For me, I took my tiny baby to the mall.

I prided myself on a practice I call “Exploiting the Mall.” I discovered the free coffee sample, which varies daily, at the kitchen store, I located bathroom stalls big enough to contain a mom, a baby, and a stroller, I scouted out quiet places to feed my son and I often left my shopping experience having spent ten dollars or less.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve passed on “Exploiting the Mall” to my son. We visit Build-a-Bear, which may as well be a bear museum, because we never buy anything. We ‘ride’ the trains -feeding no quarters to the mechanical amusements that go nowhere. And after these rounds, we often feast on a low-budget, shared kid’s meal of nuggets, fries, and diet lemonade in the food court.

Now I am the mother of two small children and the mall remains our routine companion. In fact, my son even recognizes it from the road. When he sees the Northwest Bank building looming at the top of Brady and Kimberly he asks, “Mom, is that the mall?” He overlooks Toys-R-Us completely, perhaps because we never go there. But he knows the mall.

I’m not entirely proud of this recognition. Perhaps at some point I will be held responsible for my son’s consumeristic leanings; his own mallrat tendencies.

This pangs me a bit. But it’s not just about shopping.

I regularly have conversations with store owners, managers and baristas.  Yes, I’ve spent enough time at the mall that I’ve made friends. I know that Jim, owner of Cotopaxi, famous for Bob Marley posters and ten cent incense sticks, lives out of state but runs his franchise from a far. I’ve met the Pastor’s son who runs the Christian coffee shop that keeps me coming back with potent espresso and ten percent off coupons. (I even got a tour of their worship space and recording studio once.) I also enjoy running into my friends from church who are mall-walkers, frequenting North Park as much as I do.

Being a mallrat is about loitering and infrequently buying things, but I’d argue it’s also about finding community. Sometimes I go to the mall to shop. But sometimes I go just so I can be around people, nodding at the other moms navigating stores with bulky diaper bags and cumbersome strollers. And in the meantime, I’ve met a few people and now we are in each other’s narratives. Funny how that happens.

When my husband and I lived in college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Fort Collins, Colorado, my mercantile wanderings took me to Mass Street and Old Town; hip districts containing shops, breweries, and bordered by bodies of water. I’m older now, I have children, and I live in Davenport, Iowa. I suppose we could go downtown to wander along the Mississippi River. I could do that, and infrequently, I do. But more likely than not, when I need to get out of the house, go for a little walk, buy some stickers, and eat a salty snack — I go to the mall


*Special thanks to Joyce Paustian who took this picture at North Park Mall and Woody Perkins who made it so closely resemble the movie poster for Mallrats.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family featured: Joe (my son), Louise (my mother in law), Bob (friend, church member, and faithful mall-walker), Andi (my daughter), John (my husband), Woody, Sarah and Matthew (friends and remarkably adventuresome collaborators).

Oh, and Danielle Parker, Owner and Stylist at Studio 714 salon who asked, “So you want me to style your hair for a blog?” But then did it anyway.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Moment: When Your CHild is Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes

DSC_0273.JPG

Kate is a full-time working mom to two young boys, is active in her church, and recently moved her family to a new home. She is dedicated and gives everything her all, so when her family was dealt a new challenge, she embraced it and handled it with grace. That's why we're sharing her Mama Bear story here.

Kate’s oldest son, Kallan, was only 4 years old when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). To say the diagnosis made Kate and her husband feel helpless is an understatement. They were unaware of how diabetes would change their lives, control their conversations, and cause endless worry.

To many of us, treatment for diabetes may be filed in our minds simply as “don’t eat too much sugar.” Sadly, that is not the case. For the uninformed mama, Kate provides this “non-medically approved” simplification:

When you eat anything with carbohydrates in it, sugar (or glucose) is created in your blood. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which helps your body turn the glucose into energy.  In T1D, the pancreas does not function, which means no insulin is made. Any time a T1D eats, they must be given insulin through either an injection (yes, a shot) or through a device called an insulin pump. 
The insulin must be carefully calculated by taking into account current blood glucose level, the time of day, and the amount of carbohydrates being consumed. Too little insulin causes your blood sugar level to stay too high and too much insulin means your blood glucose level could drop to dangerously low level – both of which cause scary side effects or even death. Just when you’ve mastered all of that, you then discover that other factors can affect your blood glucose levels such as exercise, excitement, growth spurts, illness and the type of carbohydrates you eat. 

Kate doesn’t judge other parents who aren’t as diabetes aware, as she was recently in their shoes. She recognizes the learning curve inherent when you don’t live diabetes daily like she and her family have been forced to. Kate and her husband endured a “diabetes bootcamp” after Kallan’s diagnosis and left with medical supplies, instructions, and a pediatric endocrinologist on speed dial.

What neither Kate nor her husband anticipated was how this diagnosis would make them better parents, how it would encourage more involvement in Kallan’s schooling, and how it would continually show them how fortunate they were to have wonderful family and friends.

Following the bootcamp, they arrived home to balloons, presents, and a decorated room for Kallan. Because he would be getting 4-5 finger pricks and 4 shots per day, boxes upon boxes of Band-Aids started arriving at their home addressed to Kallan – many from all over the country. This provided their first glimpse at the support that would be a part of their journey.

Kate reminds other Mama Bears that face any type of medical or unexpected challenge to look for the positives amidst the tears, frustrations, and sleepless nights. The positives could come in the form of seeing your friends and family join together to support you and your little one, seeing your now 5-year-old explain his medical care to the very impressed school nurse, or even just laughing at medical memes that you wouldn’t have even understood just a short time ago. 

Kate has learned an endless amount in the year and a half since she’s added “diabetes mom” to her resume. She now understands that it truly does take a village to parent a child with T1D and she is finding it’s worth the extra effort.

(For more information about T1D, visit the JDRF wesite HERE.)


Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Who We Are When No One's Watching

Three weeks ago we released our conversation with Esther Emery and, as we said in the episode, both Leslie and I loved her book, What Falls From the Sky, as well. It's been months since we actually recorded the interview and yet the memory of our conversation keeps popping up at the most inopportune times for me. 

Almost three years ago we moved from both of our families and friends in Iowa to relocate to Michigan. I would say the first year I relied pretty heavily on my phone for all the things. Most of those were healthy—keeping in touch with good friends, receiving updates on my nieces and nephews, keeping track of clients to make sure they were staying on their health journey, etc. But some of it was exactly what Esther talked about with us—I simply didn't know who I was without constant reinforcement from my online community. While in Iowa I had friends and family for that reinforcement, so rarely would we go a day without seeing someone who could remind me of my worth. But once we moved I found myself relying more on the strangers behind their phones and computers to give me those reinforcements. A 'like' on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter, a comment on Instagram, they were all a poor replacement for Leslie's hug or lunch with my friends, but it was enough to bridge the emotional gap for me. 

The truth is I think most of us trying to live in this online culture struggle from time to time to find that balance. Much of my work requires me to be online—I need to keep up on trends in social media and find it's the best way I can relay the messages of the companies and organizations I do marketing for...including this podcast! My current reality just isn't conducive to a year without the internet. (Nor is my inability to find any location without the help of Waze, if I'm being honest.)

But since talking with Esther I have become really aware of my time spent online. I will admit that I used to not even blink twice about thumbing through Twitter while my kids were telling me a story. Not anymore. If I'm doing something with work I'll ask them to hold the story for a second while I finish and then put the phone down or push away from the computer. I am not 100% at this, and my kids are so very good at reminding me of that, but I'm considerably better. And as I get older I know to shoot for better and not perfect. 

I also allow myself a little reflection before posting and mindlessly thumbing through posts. Before I post, I ask myself the "why?" Am I wanting to share to give hope? A bit of understanding? Just for fun? Or am I posting this because I'm feeling a little less than? These are hard questions to ask myself and even harder still to get the real answer to. It's embarrassing to admit how often I look for external validation in the online world but I have a feeling I'm not alone.

Maybe you're like me and you struggle with this. I hope that you realize that you are worthy regardless of how big or small your social media platform is. I hope you realize that whether you get 3 likes or 65,000, it doesn't actually change your value in the slightest. This feels counter-intuitive to us already, doesn't it? Even to those of us who can remember a time not so long ago that we didn't even own cell phones. But our culture changes and shifts at such a rapid pace that already it feels like who we are online is who we are. Period. That our number of followers and friends is the number one indicator as to how much value we have as a human. 

When the reality, as you know, is actually not in the followers but in the ones who would actually follow you in person. Those people who jump at the chance to help you when you need it or like you even when you're being positively unlikable. They are the ones who have seen you unfiltered, unedited, unwashed and still you take their breath away with your brains, your strength, your kindness and your beauty. These are the ones who more often reflect our worth back to us in real, tangible, sustainable ways because we know when they say they love us they love ALL of us. Not just the Facetuned (thank you sweet baby Jesus for that app), Nashville-filtered variety. Our tribe reminds us of our worth because we see theirs in the most mundane ways as well, and thank goodness for that. 

Esther found her worth sitting in the quiet on the couch, looking out her window watching the seasons change as her babes toddled close by. I often find mine during my morning meditation. The house is quiet, the screens are off and there is not a single person out there who knows what I am thinking, feeling, or looking like. I've rarely brushed my teeth, I typically have acne cream on from the night before and yet in those quiet moments first thing in the morning I'm often overcome by the realization that I am worth every single good and beautiful thing that comes to me each day...not because I've earned what's good and beautiful by being clever, hardworking or wise but because I'm me. 

I hope if you haven't that you listen back to Esther's podcast or at the very least that you are able to embrace that quite clarity that comes from moments reaching internally rather than externally. You are infinitely loved, y'all. Put down the phone, close your eyes, and bask in it. 

Tesi Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and blogs on her own website www.tesiklipsch.com. She lives in Michigan with her husband and 5 children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10 and 10. 

 

Mama Bear Self Care: Tea Time, Me Time

IMG_8445.JPG

We’ve seen the mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags bearing phrases like “I run on coffee and chaos”, “but first, coffee”, and my personal favorite, “first I drink the coffee, then I do the things”. (Confession: I am drinking a cup of coffee as I write this blog post…)

As Mama Bears, many of us wake long before our spouses, our children, and the sun, not necessarily because we love early mornings but because we know the day ahead requires us to be prepared. We stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffeemaker, and wait for that liquid gold to fill both our literal and our figurative cups. Soon we feel ready to conquer the day; from drop-offs and pick-ups to practices and lessons to homework and dinner, we know we can accomplish it all when buoyed by coffee.

Coffee has become our not-so-secret weapon in the battle for ultimate productivity, and while there is a time and a place for coffee-fueled busy, there is also a time and place to slow down.

Allow me to introduce you to the new drink in town: tea.

“If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

Consider William Gladstone’s words as you picture yourself drinking a cup of tea. You look relaxed, don’t you? Perhaps you’re sitting on your back porch on a sunny morning, feeling a light breeze on your face and listening to the birds chirp. Maybe you’re curled up in a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, reading a deliciously good book. When coffee encourages us to get moving, tea encourages us to slow down. Where coffee reminds us to tackle that lengthy to-do list, tea reminds us that less is more. Tea is not just a beverage, but a ticket to living a more balanced, peaceful life.

Unbeknownst to many, after water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world: an astounding 3 billion cups are savored daily. And when you consider the long list of health and wellness benefits associated with tea – and that it can be enjoyed hot or cold in any season – it’s no wonder tea has gained such a massive following.

At the very least, tea offers a flavorful way to stay hydrated. Tea is simple and inexpensive to brew at home, and the options are almost endless. Some prefer orthodox tea – from luscious greens to robust blacks and the full-bodied oolongs in between – while others fancy herbal teas made by infusing herbs, spices, and other plant components in hot water. Whatever the case, almost everyone can find a cup of tea to please the taste buds.

More importantly, tea is high in antioxidants, has no calories, increases metabolism, improves skin, soothes the digestive system, calms the nervous system, and boosts the immune system. Some studies have even found a connection between drinking tea and a lower occurrence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Though used medicinally elsewhere in the world for thousands of years, the health benefits of tea are only recently making headlines in the United States.

As Mama Bears, we need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families. So the next time you feel stressed, overwhelmed, tired, grumpy, or even just uninspired, brew yourself a cup of the finest solution to life’s challenges. Both your mental and physical health will thank you for the treat.

Source #1 | Source #2


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Seven Ways White Moms Can Fight Racism and Spread Love

I am going to be honest: My prejudice runs wide and deep. As a solidly middle-class, educated, cisgender white woman living in the Midwest who consumes media and actively participates in modern-day America, I’ve got a lifetime of bias and racism to contend with. I’m raising my children in a predominantly white world within a country facing systematic racism in our criminal justice system, our system of public education, and at large in our society. But here’s the thing: I want to do better.

I’d like to believe that all of us want better. And I’d like to think that as moms we yield a special power to not only improve ourselves as individuals, but to shape an entire generation into a people who are kinder and more fervent in their demand for equality and justice. Though I’m quick to remind myself that eliminating my own bias and racism will take a lifetime of intention and work and that much of the ugliness within is a symptom of the culture that all of us share, I know I am capable of great change and great compassion. But first, I have to do the uncomfortable work to learn and know better...all so that I can do better. I commit to starting here:

1. I will acknowledge my privilege. Sometimes when we hear the words “white privilege,” we hear the words “you’re white and you’re racist.” Let’s be clear: that is not the definition of white privilege. White privilege tends to be unintentional and uncomfortable to recognize, so it’s easy to take for granted. However, without acknowledging that it exists and without confronting it, the playing field in America will never be even. The first step as a white mom is to recognize my own plentiful privilege and the ways in which my children benefit from this privilege. I understand that though I am smart and hard-working, I still have white privilege. This feels uncomfortable, but naming it and owning it is the first step.

2. I will try to understand and examine my implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” It has been widely studied and the research is conclusive: We all have implicit bias...men, women, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, young, old, and, yes, even well-intentioned white moms. Know this: Implicit racial bias is not the same thing as conscious racism. People who harbor implicit biases (remember, that’s all of us!) may not think of themselves as prejudiced; in fact, they likely consider prejudice abhorrent and may not understand they have these biases. The trick is to learn about what these look like for you as an individual. What triggers my bias? Where did it come from? How can I retrain my thoughts and the ways in which I experience and interpret the world? Again, to move toward true equality, it’s up to each of us to do the the hard, internal work of uncovering our own bias and how it impacts our response to the world.

3. I will listen and learn. I’ve said it to my sons and daughter a thousand times: Learning is hard. When facing something difficult, something new, or something that might make us think deeply or work hard, our instincts are often to deflect, ignore, or refuse to try. But life will be better when we are open to learning about the world around us. How best to learn about the experiences of others? Listening to the people who own the experience. I can read articles and consume news written by people of color. I can listen to black podcasts. I can read books written by immigrants and devour articles written by women of color. This isn’t drudgery; this is an opportunity to consume amazing new material and insight.

4. I will advocate for diversity in my life. For many of us, our cities and neighborhoods are segregated to the point that you actually have to advocate for diversity in your life. You and I can do this by making it a priority to interact with people of other races, religions, and backgrounds. How? Frequent public places—municipal swimming pools, neighborhood parks, and public schools. When you place value on social diversity, you’ll look for neighborhoods and schools that reflect your priorities and you’ll take your whole life there.

5. I will teach my kids that skin color matters. We are a beautiful and diverse people and we are not blind to color. As a white mom, I will teach my kids that skin color matters—to the point of acknowledging a certain group’s history. Ultimately, through lessons of past and present, my responsibility is to teach my children that skin color should not determine life or death.

6.  I will pronounce my kids’ friends' names correctly. Thankfully, there are kids in my life that I have had to ask specifically for the pronunciation of their name. I will do this every time. By constantly mispronouncing a name or by nicknaming a child something more familiar to my tongue, I’m communicating that their identity should conform to the world I know rather than being responsive to them as a person.

7. I will amplify the voices of black and brown people. Here’s a script I will do my best to adopt: Are you in the position to put a minority or person of color in power? Do it. Read an important article written by or about a person of color? Share it. See art that you love that depicts people of color? Absorb it, hang it up in your home, and celebrate it. Notice a magazine that regularly puts people of color on their cover? Subscribe. I will also remind my white mom friends that we are powerful. Once we acknowledge that in our social circles we have a voice that other white moms will listen to, progress occurs. It’s not ideal, but as a group we have the opportunity to use our voices in order for other people to listen to voices of color. For instance, if your brown sister is speaking out and your peers don’t seem to hear her, it may be up to you to amplify her voice and her message by interpreting it for others. Unfortunately, sometimes the message of the oppressed isn’t heard until someone from the culture of power becomes a mouthpiece.

There is no doubt that prejudice impulses will take a lifetime to untangle and that the list here just scratches the surface of the journey towards becoming a woke white mom, but something that is true right now is that my capacity to love in infinite. Regardless of the complexity and nuance of being a white woman in America, I believe we all have enough compassion to share with those who struggle, those who look different, and those who come from a world that we fail to understand. In doing so, we’ll plant a seed of understanding and of solidarity. Such wisdom and guidance doesn’t just benefit people of color, it benefits all of us.

*A version of this article was published on the Quad Cities Moms' Blog. Much of this post was based on Episode 73 of the Mama Bear Dares podcast and stemmed from the conversation and research of co-hosts Leslie and Tesi.

Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.