We sat together, sipping coffee. She asked how I took my coffee and I replied, “Usually black.” She told me she was the same. Back home, they grew and roasted their own coffee, which she would drink black. But here … We smiled and rolled our eyes toward the cream-filled mugs.
We talked about family and I asked her if she had plans to go back to Ethiopia to see her mom. She said, “No.” Last year, her father had been brutally killed, their house burned down, and her mother and siblings went into hiding. Now, they’re able to talk on the phone sometimes, but it’s hard. She doesn’t want to go there; they can’t come here.
When I signed up to be a tutor for the family literacy program at my daughter’s school, I hadn’t anticipated these stories. Stories of leaving children behind; of worrying about policies impacting their families here. Stories of loss and hope and struggle; the reality of living as an immigrant or refugee in America.
My first thought was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about. My life seemed easy, privileged and unreal compared with my fellow moms. Who was I to feel tired or annoyed with my kids? Who was I to question my next steps or identity as a stay-at-home mom? These women were working multiple jobs! They really knew what stress and work-life balance (or imbalance) looks like!
But that’s not fair – not to them or to me. I’m learning to stop and listen, but not to let the stories of others overwhelm my own journey. Maybe I don’t have to decide to move my family to another country, but I do have to make small decisions that will impact our future.
We decided to move into one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our city, intentionally wanting to raise our daughters with people who believe differently than us and who are from different backgrounds.
We intentionally decided that our family will make choices so that one of us can stay home with our girls during these little years.
Thank God I don’t have to be as gutsy as so many moms around the world. I’ll never have to choose between the safety of my children and leaving my parents behind. I’ll never have to face daily obstacles because of decisions I made for my family.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not gutsy. My privilege means I have other opportunities to be bold and brave. I have the capacity to stretch out of my comfort zone – whether by volunteering at school or inviting a mom at the playground to MOPS; whether by researching donation centers as I cull my girls’ outgrown clothes or by listening to the nudge of creativity to make space for writing. I’m learning that these choices and opportunities are valuable and important, too.
It’s hard to step outside of routines or comfort zones, but I am always so encouraged when I do. Here are a few ideas for small but powerful ways to expand our own gutsiness.
Ask your school where the greatest need is or seek overlooked volunteer opportunities.
There’s always an unpopular place to volunteer – whether in the lunchroom or helping kids in homework club. Maybe the adult language program needs someone. Maybe there’s a night program that would better fit your family’s schedule. Ask at the front desk; look for signs around the hallways and consider volunteering beyond your child’s classroom.
Research organizations that best use outgrown items.
Sometimes the Goodwill or Arc are the easiest, but if you have time Google something like “WeeCycle.” This organization takes baby items and then sorts and donates them to other nonprofits who have the greatest need – from support for teenage moms to homeless shelters. I like the idea of our gently used items finding the best home possible.
Carry MOPS cards in your purse or back pocket.
I’m great at talking with other moms at the park, but I am terrible at actually inviting them to our MOPS group. Our group created small business cards with our location and meeting time and now, I can pull one out and offer it to my fellow moms. Having a tangible object to offer takes out some of that initial awkwardness.
However it plays out, I’m remembering that being gutsy sometimes means really big and hard decisions, like moving to a new country or learning a new language. But often, it looks like listening, making a new friend, and remembering that we’re all in this mothering thing together.
Annie Rim lives in Colorado where she plays with her two daughters, hikes with her husband, and writes about life and faith at annierim.wordpress.com. She has taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom.