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NOTES FROM THE FIELD

musings from a modern homemaker

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Blog posts : "Family"

Living through change

August 10, 2015

This week, I'm honored to introduce my first guest contributor, Alex. Although we now live on different sides of the country, Alex has been a dear friend of mine for nearly two decades. She has a positive outlook on the challenges encountered when transitioning to different phases in life. Here, Alex writes on the subject of "change" and offers helpful advice that anyone can apply to her own life. Thank you, Alex, for sharing your story with us! 

On June 5, 2015 I found myself locking the front door to another home, while watching the movers leave with our household goods. A new adventure for the Larratt family had begun again.

During my marriage to my husband, 20+ years and counting, we have moved 12 times. Yes, 12 times in 20 years of marriage. Russ is a retired Naval Aviator and we were fortunate enough to live the adventure of Navy life. With this great adventure came different challenges. The consistent challenge among military families is change. Change, however, isn't exclusive to military families. Change is rarely easy, but I have learned that change is a great thing. I do believe, if you are not changing, you are not growing.

The summer is coming to an end. Changes are in the air; military families have PCS'd (permanent change of station), others have moved to new cities for new jobs, and others are preparing to send children off to school.

There are a few things I have done to help make changes in our family easier.

EMBRACE

Whether you like it or not, change does happen. The sooner you embrace it, the better equipped you are to handle the change. With every move we have made, I put a smile on my face and looked at the move as a huge opportunity for myself and my family. Moving blessed us with another opportunity to live in a new town/state, an opportunity to live in a new house, and of course, an opportunity to meet and make new friends. I could literally drive from the west coast to the east coast and find a friend at every stop. When you learn to view change as an opportunity for growth, it has a very powerful effect on your life.

REINVENT

As a Navy spouse I had the opportunity to reinvent myself - necessity is the mother of (re)invention! I am a Registered Dental Hygienist, currently licensed in three states. I have lived in nine states, so I think you can guess that I was not always able to practice dental hygiene. Thus, my reinvention. How exciting is the opportunity to reinvent yourself? Take a step back and think about your passions, or think about what scares you. Go ahead, step outside of your comfort zone and reinvent yourself. I have been a personal trainer, and independent consultant for a clothing line, and the copy editor at a local newspaper. I loved each of these jobs, and learned so much from them - not to mention the lifelong relationships which were made. Without change, I would never have had the opportunity to take a risk and step outside of my comfort zone.

EXPLORE

It does not matter if your change is a move, new job, children back to school, or even an empty nest, go out and explore. Obviously, moving to a new area gives you many reasons to explore. But, what if you have never moved? I was born in New York and lived there until I was 11. My Dad was tired of New York winters and we moved to the Promised Land...Florida, where I lived the rest of my childhood. There are many places in both New York and Florida that I have not visited, mostly because they were places in my backyard - I would always have time to visit. Time slips away and you don't visit these places. Stop! Get out and explore. There is always something new to see and something new to learn, even in the town in which you have lived your whole life. Explore the opportunity.

Steve Jobs said, "If today were your last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you're doing?" If you ask that question everyday for a week and the answer is no - make a change. Our lives are short and we were put on this earth to live! Embrace that change!

Alex is a forty-something Registered Dental Hygienist, wife, and mother of three. She is originally from Long Island, New York, and moved to Crystal River,  Florida at the age of 11. She has lived in all four corners of the U.S. and a few places in between. She now calls Coronado, California her home.

Alex loves to read, travel, workout and cook. She also admits that she likes to watch television! She doesn't Keep up with the Kardashians, but she knows what the Housewives are doing. She is an early riser and has been since day one. She says that, in the quiet of the morning, she reflects on how lucky she is to have a wonderful husband by her side, great children and extended family, and some of the best friends a girl could ever need!

When asked to contribute to the blog, Alex graciously obliged. She said that she has many things running through her brain on a daily basis and figured that, if it's going on in her brain, chances are it is in someone else's as well. I think she's right and am thrilled that she has enthusiastically agreed to be a part of our "Notes from the Field" community!

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Sharing My Story; Finding My Niche

August 4, 2015

When I decided to begin this blog project, I read as much as I could about the process. Honestly, it all feels a bit strange to me - although I'm drawn to telling stories, I can't say that my life is particularly interesting or that anyone would benefit from what I have to say. Yet, somehow, despite that realization, I remain inspired to share some of my experiences. Even if doing so won't help a large audience of readers, I think that reflecting upon my life, organizing my thoughts and putting them down on virtual paper can still serve a couple of purposes. First, the process itself might be cathartic - requiring me to think (and rethink) how I'll present the information, which in turn may help to put those parts of my life into perspective. I might find the lesson in something I may have initially perceived as an injustice or a regrettable mistake. Secondly, in the years to come, these blog entries could be a journal of sorts for my children. The stories may provide them with insight into aspects of their childhood that might help them to better understand their mom (and possibly themselves) as they grow into adults and parents.

I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm going to be making public some of the most personal parts of my life. I'm learning that writing a blog is an exercise in vulnerability. There is something humbling about putting my thoughts, fears, joys and mistakes out there for anyone to see and evaluate. I'm aware that, not only will the stories themselves be analyzed, my writing itself will be, too. I'm neither an eloquent nor a concise writer - so I apologize in advance to anyone who cringes at my grammatical and literary imperfections - but I have come to terms with those realities and am hopeful that the benefits of this blog will outweigh the personal risks.

When researching the elements of successful blogging, I learned that one of the first steps is to determine one's audience. This makes sense, right? In order to deliver meaningful content, I should establish precisely to whom I'm speaking. I kept hitting a mental wall every time I tried to pinpoint this crucial element in order to begin. Who is my audience, exactly? I knew I wanted to focus on my experiences as a homemaker, so it seemed logical to determine that fellow homemakers would be my audience. Yet, somehow, it didn't seem personally authentic to me and I wasn't sure why.

After pondering this question for months, I had an epiphany. I was visiting a close friend and a family member who, at first glance, have very little in common with each other besides being devoted mothers whom I dearly love. One is a stay-at-home mom who lives on a shoe string budget and the other one holds a lucrative, influential position with a major international company and spends several weeks of the year away from home on business travel.

During my separate visits with each woman, I sensed something in both of them that resembled an uneasiness I'm now finding difficult to put into words. While both have lives very different from the other, they each projected a similar sense of inadequacy - they felt they weren't doing enough for their kids; that they were somehow missing the mark when it came to being the best mothers and individuals they could possibly be. As I paid closer attention, I discovered for the first time that these women had more in common with one another than I had ever before realized. Although one is whom you might call the "homemaker", the other woman (albeit differently) is equally involved with her children and interested in what I would describe as the "making of her home." Both shared a proportionate amount of uncertainty over their capabilities as a mom and both aspired to learn and do more as women and citizens in general.

Aha! The epiphany! The reason I was finding it so difficult to determine my audience was because I kept thinking I had to choose between two worlds. I had been focusing on my definition of "homemaker" as a stay-at-home mom. And, while I had many thoughts on the subject (and years of experience under my belt upon which to draw) it somehow only felt like part of the story. When I imagined writing to that audience of women, I felt like I was leaving an important group out of the picture - a part of myself, essentially - the women to whom I could also relate because I had been in their shoes, too. It was at that moment that I understood it would be just as important to include in my audience the other "homemakers" - mothers who work outside of the home but who still return to the nest and struggle with their own share of challenges as they do their best to care for their families and homes.

To help you better understand why I struggled with defining my audience, I think it's important to formally introduce myself by telling you my story. This is where it starts to get a little uncomfortable for me because I must pull back the curtains of my private life so you can have a glimpse of where I've been and how I landed in the present moment.

THE EARLY YEARS

As unusual as it may sound, I stumbled upon my role as a stay-at-home mom. What I mean is that I hadn't ever consciously intended to be one. I knew I wanted to get married and have children one day, but I hadn't actually envisioned a scenario where I would stay at home in lieu of having a career. When I went to college, I had very specific goals in mind. After graduation, I was going to enter the world of public policy and legislation. I felt energized in the world of politics, latching on at an early age to the concept that each person really can influence the direction of policy at the grass-roots level. I worked on a presidential campaign while in college and organized my university's first Young Republicans' club. THIS was my niche! I was comfortable with public speaking and, as my friends and family will tell you, I have never been shy about expressing my opinion. I'm still learning the art of not saying everything I think, and, when speaking, to deliver my ideas in a diplomatic way (diplomacy really IS an art and I look up to those who have mastered this critical skill!) I was so comfortable in the world of politics because I am passionate about ideas and communicating them. While I don't think I'd make a good politician myself (that lack-of-diplomacy thing) I thoroughly enjoyed the political process and intended to focus my career on it in some capacity. I was fortunate enough to get a job in my chosen field immediately after graduating from college and soaked up every glorious moment of it.

BECOMING A STAY-AT-HOME MOM

Fast-forward life a few years ahead to where I met and married the father of my three children. He was a career military guy who graduated from one of the academies. Anyone who knows anything about being married to a military person will tell you that, depending upon the non-military spouse's occupation, it can be difficult for that spouse to retain a career. I knew going into my marriage that it would not be possible for me to develop and manage a career in public policy if I were going to be moving every few years. After all, a career in politics is dependent upon creating and building relationships. That simply can't be done (or done well) with the constant moving. Full disclosure: I was completely fine with this. I was very happy to get married and to have the military adventure. A career was secondary to me at that point in time, when compared to the possibility of starting a family. While I accepted that having a career in my chosen field would be virtually impossible with all of the moving, I had always assumed that I would still work in some type of job to "do my part." Both of my parents had worked while I was a child so I didn't think about doing anything differently while raising my own children.

After marrying and moving to our first duty station across the country, I found a job in a doctor's office as a receptionist. While I wouldn't describe it as my "dream job", I enjoyed the work. Six months after getting married, I became pregnant with our first child. I'll never forget the conversation I had with my then-husband as I approached my due date. While returning home from my job, I wondered aloud what kind of maternity leave I would be granted. I was trying to decide whether I should work until I went into labor, or whether I should take time off a week or two before my due date in order to rest up before delivery. (How naive I was to think that a week or two of "rest" would sufficiently prepare me for the arrival of my first baby!) I also was contemplating the length of time I would stay home with the new baby before returning to my job. I asked my then-husband for his opinion. He said he thought I should stay home until our child turned 18. Although I was caught off-guard by his answer, I shouldn't have been surprised. His mother stayed at home when he was a child and, probably, like me having notions of my own childhood experiences, he figured that his child would have an upbringing similar to his.

Although it hadn't originally been an option in my mind, (and I am embarrassed to admit how late in the game we had the conversation on the subject), I was thrilled to have the opportunity to stay at home and raise my child. I find it interesting that we often are only able to see the future possibilities of our lives from the perspectives of our past. In other words, I knew that many women forgo the working world in exchange for staying home with their children. However, since it hadn't been a personal experience of my own, nor an experience I had seen of anyone close to me, I hadn't considered it as an option for myself. 

So, just like that, I became a stay-at-home mother. I left my job at the doctor's office and delivered my daughter a few weeks later. From the first moment that I saw my sweet baby's dimpled cheeks, I was in love! I embraced my new life as a mom and dove head-first into everything that went with it. I made my share of mistakes along the way, but I cherished my new life as the unexpected homemaker for the next decade, giving birth to two more children along the way, and never looking back.

ENTERING THE WORKING MOM'S WORLD

Life can get messy sometimes; my husband and I divorced after 12 years together and I became a single mother. My children and I moved across the country, back to my hometown, and I started to rebuild. Having been out of the workforce for over a decade, I needed to reassess my career potential. Based on my undergraduate courses and some new education courses I began, I chose to pursue teaching secondary-level social studies. A teaching position would more closely match my work schedule with my children's school schedule, and the social studies content would bring me nostalgically closer to the early years of my career, prior to having kids.

For the next ten years, I taught high school social studies while also doing my best to meet the demands of raising a family and making a home. I really enjoyed my teaching job. It certainly wasn't perfect, and I wasn't a perfect teacher, but I thrived in the environment where I could be challenged to create engaging lessons, I could interact with other professionals and students, and I could learn and grow in my career. 

GOING ANOTHER ROUND AS A STAY-AT-HOME MOM

During my teaching years, I met and eventually married my husband, Jimmy. He has three biological children: a six-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old son, and a son who devastatingly passed away at two months old. He also has a 15-year-old step-son (whom he has raised since infancy) from his former wife's previous relationship. Jimmy's two children live with us, along with my three. His step-son visits us on weekends and on extended school holidays.

Once we knew that we wanted to get married, we did our best to merge our children and lives into one family unit while simultaneously working our full-time jobs. Blending a family has its own set of challenges. Combine those challenges with the discovery that one of those children would require additional assistance with his learning and social delays, as well as the fact that both of us had professions with inflexible job hours and demands. There were many aspects to the two-income arrangement that worked well, but ultimately there were more compelling reasons for why we needed to take a step back and reprioritize our lives. We decided that it would be best for our family if I stayed at home. We struggled with the financial uncertainty a one-income household would bring, but we knew it was important for the new family we were creating to take a leap of faith and focus our resources in a different way.

I am entering into my third year as a stay-at-home mom. In this span of time, my husband and I have seen incredible growth in our children and in our collective family unit - not only the obvious physical signs of the passing years, but also emotional and spiritual growth. Like a sapling, our newly blended family is successfully taking root into the rich soil of the new life we are creating together. It is not a life that would be perfect for many, but it is a life that is perfect for us. We still have a lot of work to do, but we know we are on a path that is right for us.

MY NICHE

So, I have come full-circle in determining exactly who my audience should be. While homemakers remain my focus, I have been able to more authentically define "homemaker" in a way that allows me to feel as if I am writing from the perspective of my whole self. To me, a "homemaker" is not only the stay-at-home mom; she is every mom. It is my hope that I can offer views from both worlds and help bring to light the notion that our lives are more similar than they are different.   

xo Carey

Our family

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