Off Balance: Learning to embrace the fullness of life

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I love balance… a balanced budget, a balanced diet, and the challenge of practicing poise on my balance board. In our hectic culture, successful women are often asked how they manage to balance it all—work, family, marriage, success… as if they were tight-rope walkers with children dangling off one end of the balancing rod and a career hanging off the other. Precarious, intentional, trained, focused.

Cutting out the worry of imbalance

Ever since I started Sprycel 3 years ago—my targeted therapy for chronic leukemia, I’ve been a little off. I get dizzy and fatigued. My ability to be a productive and patient mommy is compromised without regular rest. My house got messier. My kids got more screen time. My social circles got smaller. But worrying about imbalance is a luxury I can barely afford. On the other hand, determination thrives in more dire conditions.

Enjoying life in the paradoxes

Maybe life is more vibrant and interconnected than each individual striving for balance. In the dizziness of regular life I’m discovering power in weakness, abundance in letting go, peace within a storm, productivity in rest. The things that throw off my serene tree-pose balance overlooking idyllic waters are what make life full–and overwhelmingly scary and delightful. The paradoxes of life are where life is found.

Seeking dynamic equilibrium in a biological system

I often toy with metaphors while lacking true expertise on a topic—like a scientific understanding homeostasis. What I do know, thank you, Britannica, is that homeostasis is a self-regulating process of a biological system needed to maintain stability. Homeostasis requires adapting to the dynamic conditions of life for optimal for survival—a dynamic equilibrium. If homeostasis is successful, life continues.

 Embracing the family goo

Somewhere along the way balance became binary.  Balancing is a solo activity with me at the center. Homeostasis, on the other hand, is where an entire biological system maintains stability in ever-changing circumstances.  Nucleoplasm is the inclusive, organic goo that sustains the central components of a biological system. When I committed to completing my Master’s degree, my whole family invested in this goal and we worked together to find a new dynamic equilibrium. Life felt far from balanced. In the fall, night classes prevented my presence at bedtime and pulled at my heartstrings. Summers, on the other hand, were severely imbalanced with excessive rollerblading and road tripping.

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My family is part of my biological goo and I’m a part of theirs.

Recently my husband traveled to Europe to lead a training seminar. The kids and I shifted our dynamics to find a temporary equilibrium that accounted for his absence. We started each day with a nutrient-rich smoothie, but by dinnertime we were eating iterations of chicken and noodles for six days straight, and embracing excessive movie watching. To survive, we opted for virtual church in the living room amidst Lego and laundry piles instead of preening for a timely arrival at a physical location. In Daddy’s absence I needed my kids to help each other in new ways.

Our imbalance provided unique opportunity for uncharted family dynamics.

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Living in the fullness of an off-balanced life

Life would have been much more safely balanced…if my husband had turned down the training opportunity; if I didn’t become a non-traditional grad student. Accomplishing goals bigger than us will mess up our predictable lives. Dynamic equilibrium involves dynamic shifts in our biological system. As a family, we all join in helping each other achieve our goals and dreams. Our built-in support goo promotes courageous joy and helps clarify our priorities—since there is a cost, and a benefit, to us all.

There are times when I heartily embrace a calm and solitary meditative balance. That stillness allows me to reflect on the fullness of life all around me. I work to embrace the embarrassment of laundry piles in the living room as a reminder of the adventure we chose to live in the moment we didn’t choose to fold laundry. Sprycel has given me the thrill of being off balance… the opportunity to set perfection free and laugh when I topple out of tree pose.  After all, I wouldn’t want to miss out on the fullness of life by settling into a balanced one.

I don’t want to miss out on the fullness of life by settling into a balanced one.

 

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Four Hidden Treasures of a Tight Budget

Thirteen years into parenthood.

Seventeen years into chronic illness and the financial toxicity that accompanies long-term effective treatment.

Twenty years into doing the work we love for a non-profit organization.

Our little family of five has discovered some shining gems of tight-budget living.

Everyone knows the challenges of a tight budget—living paycheck to paycheck, pinching pennies, staying out of the red, just trying to make ends meet… We long for our kids to be creative, intrinsically motivated, resilient, and grateful. But we can’t always afford team sports and exciting enrichment outings that build character, expand horizons, and train for success.

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And then there is the barrier of FEAR. Fear that our limited budget would leave our children deficient or lacking in this world. But when we aren’t living in fear we see the beauty in what we have.

Jesus put it this way, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

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Boredom births creativity.

Over the years our budget has given us the clarity to not overschedule our kids’ activities. They often end up staying home where they learn to play with each other, to create all kinds of masterpieces, or to arrive at a new way to use old toys.

Yes, they also fight, make messes and break things. And then we negotiate for peace and unearth lessons of responsibility, restoration, and forgiveness.

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Lacking nourishes desire.

My kids have mastered the big-brown-eyes-and-pouty-lip look. But they know it rarely gets them the shiny new thing their heart desires. What it does get them is a budget-planning meeting with Mom or Dad, a lesson in goal setting, and creative new opportunities to work hard.

Sometimes in all that, their desire dissipates. And then fortune is found in discerning the difference between fool’s gold and true treasure.

Resourcefulness is primed from deficiency.

We recently started watching MacGyver as a family. It’s cheesy. It’s 80s. And the acting is pretty flat. But the things MacGyver can do with a paperclip, a role of duct tape, and some gum are truly inspirational. Nothing like a little STEM knowledge, a life-threatening situation, and a few household items to cultivate resourcefulness.

Quite often, our resourceful attempts don’t work. Like the one cold evening when we attempted to make felt slippers with duct tape and cardboard. We found ourselves processing disappointment, learning from our mishaps, and uncovering stick-to-itiveness.

There is big joy in celebrating little things.

Most great things in life don’t come easily and we are in a prime position to teach our kids that. Our tight budget doesn’t mean we go hungry every night, but it does help us hone with precision our thrifty decision-making skills, and to savor every fancy cup of coffee as if we were imbibing with kings. When Yaya and Papou swing through town they light up my kids’ lives with a trip to the local Olive Garden. There is full on dancing in the streets.

If we let it, our monetary deficiency feeds our fear that maybe our kids won’t have all they need.  But it can also nourish contentment and enrich our lives.  Once we get past ourselves and embrace the treasure we have, we find ourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

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Home. Work. School. MOM

Stay at Home Mom. Working Mom. Homeschool Mom. Work from Home Mom.

I know a lawyer mom with a home office.

I know a homeschool mom who is a chemistry teacher.

I know a stay at home mom who spends a lot of time in her kids’ classrooms.

I know a mom who works night shifts so she can be at home when her kids are.

I know homeschool moms who don’t stay home because they take their children all over town for exciting educational experiences.

I know a working mom who taught her own kids in public school.

I am a mom who teaches homeschool kids, but not my own.

I know stay at home moms who also have successful side businesses. Does that make them working moms? Or moms who work from home?

I am a non-traditional grad student mom who stays home a lot.

And what about the mom who works part-time?

As moms we have unique narratives, but a universal connection.
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When we become mothers it changes something in us forever. It is a part of our identity.

I don’t personally know any bad moms. Or moms who don’t work hard. Or moms who don’t want what is best for their families. I know moms who are on a learning curve. I know moms who make mistakes. Who lose their patience.

I work in homeschool world. I learn in working mom world. I stay at home with my kids as much as possible. I don’t rock any one title…SAHM, WM.  But, like the other moms I know, I do what I do with purpose. There are reasons to work, reasons to learn, reasons to be at home. I want to raise healthy, well-rounded kids, leaders and influencers prepared to successfully take on the world they are growing up into. And I want to enjoy the journey while I’m on it. I’m trying to make the most of what I have and who I am.

I fall short. I lack resources. I don’t always make the right choices.

And sometimes I make great choices, but expend too much energy second-guessing them.

Our mommy to-do lists are long. Our decisions impact lives. Our dreams for our little ones are big. Our resources are tight. Our energy is limited.

Let’s lift each other up. Let’s cheer each other on towards love and good work. Let’s appreciate that motherhood is diverse and complicated and messy and amazing.

Let’s be that mom, who can affirm another right where she’s at. Let’s be the mom who can receive encouragement right where we’re at. Let’s be the mom who embraces her work with purpose. Who admits her struggles. Let’s identify the unnecessary energy drains of judgment around us, and expend life-giving resources instead.

To all the moms I know, THANK YOU.

To the working moms, the stay at home moms, the homeschool moms, the single moms, the foster moms, the step moms, the moms who’ve lost a child, the moms who advocate endlessly for their child with special needs, and the moms who don’t fit into any one category…

You inspire me. Your work, your self-confidence, your messes, your time-saving tips, your teaching tools, your introspection and your tough questions. Your wise answers. Your organizational skills. Your homemade quinoa recipes. Your tears and your honesty. Your grace, creativity, and dirty corners. The fingerprints on your walls—oh, those are my walls.  And more of your grace.

I’m so glad I know you. I’m privileged to call myself a mom alongside you.

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I Could Have a Latte: Learning to relish Simple Pleasures

the crazy edamommy

Whenever I tell my tween daughter what she ought to wear, or what she should do, her immediate reaction is to push back against my idea—not because wearing the blue sweater with the black shirt is a bad idea, but because all the possibility is taken out of it. It has become an obligation. And life is full of those.

So, when I back off the less important things by saying, “But you don’t have to do it that way, you can wear what you want,” she is then free to consider the merits of the blue sweater for what they are, rather than the way I’ve chosen to package my idea. She is free to do it differently.

In order to flip our thinking, first we must notice our thought narrative.

Meandering Through Thoughts and Oughts

This fall, I have opted to avoid rush hour traffic and leave…

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4 Lessons from a Mountaintop

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As a crazy word processor, I’m kind of an expert in utilizing metaphors, while dabbling in a variety of life-activities at novice levels…like mountain climbing.  While I am a participant observer of mountain climbing culture, my expertise is pushing a metaphor beyond its appropriate boundaries.

Linguistically speaking, every culture and sub-group has its own set of key terms and ways of doing things. Some climber culture key terms would be 14er (mountain with summit above 14,000 ft.), to summit (verb), false summit (n.), and pica (animal).

Being a novice mountain climber, I’ve learned a few things on my way to the summit of the 14er, Mount Democrat. And I’ve extracted profundity from every step.

So here are 4 lessons I learned on the climb.

1.  Keep the big picture goal in mind.

The best part about climbing a mountain is reaching the top—the glorious, magnificent top. The other great part is being able to say I did it! Past tense, did it.

Not summiting a mountain would be horrible. No matter how badly your feet hurt, keeping that greater goal in mind keeps you going. It’s what forges character, and adds thrill to your past tense story.

Mount Democrat is only 2.2 miles to the top. But it’s straight up.

In graduate school, I have officially completed 33 out of the 36 credits I need to finish my Master’s degree in Language Learning, that I began 5 years ago. All I have left is 60 pages, straight up, of my culminating Master’s Essay.

Deep breath. Stay focused on the final goal—I got this!!

2.  Expect a false summit.

When scaling 14ers, it’s important to set expectations at the top, but also to know what is, and what isn’t, the actual mountaintop. Keep in mind that when you look up at the rocky horizon and see blue sky behind it, that it’s likely NOT the top you’re aspiring too. It’s actually the place you need to get to in order to see the true summit.  If you know that a false summit is a thing, you can factor it in to your expectations of true success.

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In 2000, I attempted graduate school, but got pummeled off that mountain by my cancer diagnosis.  Daunted, but determined, in 2012 I tried again, and I’ve been plugging away ever since.  Last semester, I started my culminating Master’s Essay, but didn’t summit. Summiting is hard work. Still persisting, my MA Essay sometimes feels like an impossible feat.

3. Celebrate the baby steps.

All good mountain climbers know that the goal is to summit a 14er by noon, which means a brisk and early morning—even on a warm Labor Day weekend.  Mountain climbing is tedious. Step by step, rock by rock. Many times I wondered why I chose such an absurd and painful activity.

So the best way to forge rookie character up a rocky slope is to make baby goals and celebrate the little things. Snacks at the false summit. Catching my breath while letting the incredible scenery take it away. Cheering myself up by cheering fellow climbers on.

Eight more weeks.

I need to be at the true summit of my Essay by Thanksgiving.  Last week I danced around a draft of my bibliography. When I’m daunted by what is ahead, I think back to my Sprycel/Scholarship year and realize: I did that. I took on over-achieving, non-traditional, full-time-on-a-scholarship, nerdy language student on a new cancer medication.  Awkward.  I celebrated a lot that year—after every nap, of course.

4. Embrace where you are, so you can go further.

The greater goal, the false summit, the baby steps are all essential to any monumental accomplishment.  But it is also important to embrace where you actually are. Admit when you are winded, even when your climbing companion could go twice your pace while carrying-on cheerful conversations with strangers. Owning your weakness, thirst, or aching feet helps you adjust your baby goals so you can actually push forward.

There is always another climber—one slower than you, one who is running up their third peak that morning, one who climbs unprepared, one carrying a literal baby on her back… Own your baby goals, and appreciate the ambitions of your fellow ascending adventurers. Falsely trying to keep up with someone else’s goals doesn’t aide in success.

Kate, my cheery, more expert climber, kindred-spirit friend is not on a daily fatigue-inducing cancer treatment. But I am. She patiently sat with me when I needed to catch my breath. If I didn’t stop frequently, I wouldn’t have made it. Owning my physical weakness as a climber, and a student, is actually one of my greatest strengths—when I am weak, then I am strong.

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Having a Kate by your side is also a strategy for success. 😊

Above all, enjoy the journey.

Feel the throbbing in your feet. Let the piercing wind pierce. Stop and marvel—at the tundra and the cute little picas that thrive above tree line.  Join the fray of victors capturing memories at the top.  Eat summer sausage on Triskets, and savor how incredible a Honeycrisp apple tastes on a mountaintop.  Embrace the luxury of a pinnacle experience.

Go ahead, sit by actual snow peaks on the last days of summer, and indulge in images of merengue tufts on top of a big rock candy mountain.

I repeatedly envision myself in a graduation gown, while also not losing sight of the reality of the work it takes to get there. Big goal. Baby steps.

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Today, September 18, 2017, marks 17 years as a leukemia patient.

A cancer thriver on a super effective but fatigue-inducing cancer drug–Sprycel. Everyday. Forever. Three kids. Two literal mountain peaks. 33 graduate credits down.

My life is luxurious. The privilege of growing older with the fullness of family.  Becoming a Master in things I’m passionate about–Language Learning, Spanish, Linguistics, Teaching.  The opportunity to scale 14ers with Kate.

No turning back now, right?

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Growing up Miraculous

What do your kids understand about your chronic leukemia?

I get asked this question from time to time, which spurs me to check in on the comprehension of my little miracle people at their unique stages of development. So, summertime fun at the Coats’ household involves joining Mommy at her Cancer Doctor appointment on the 13th floor of the hospital.

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Why is Mommy going to the doctor?

Ella, 10 years old: Because she has cancer.

What is cancer?

Ella: Something bad. Bad cells in your body.

What kind of cancer does Mommy have?

Jamin, 8 years old: leu-quinoa (jokingly, a reference to creative terminology in an earlier stage of development)

What did the doctor do for Mommy?

Ella: NOTHING! They just talked. And he asked her funny doctor stuff, like about diarrhea and constipation!! (Giggles.)

What’s the best part of Mommy’s leuquinoa?

Ella and Jamin: More device time…while Mommy naps, and during her doctor appointments!!

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What’s the worst part?

Ella: Mommy gets too tired to do stuff.

…Ella and Jamin crowded into the exam room—alongside Dr. K, my husband, the Med student, and me.  My hematologist has journeyed with me through 3 challenging, yet successful pregnancies.  Today, a decade in, Dr. K. marveled at my medical miracles, as they were contentedly distracted by Hungry Shark Evolution on Ella’s iPod.

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It’s good to pause, from time to time, and wonder at the living, breathing miraculous I get to do life with. Especially now, as summertime comes to a close, and they head back to school.