Gratitude

It’s been a little while since I have written. I apologize, as the beginning of the school year is upon us, and so much of my attention has been diverted. But as I sit here and reflect upon the past few weeks, the thoughts that circle around my mind have one common theme: gratitude. I’m am truly humbled and grateful for the life I have. I feel blessed in every sense of the word for the multitude of opportunities and people that surround us. 

First and foremost, I am grateful for my three children. As much as each day of raising them can be stressful and overwhelming, the fact that I get to even be called “Mommy” makes my heart overflow with thanks. I teach them right and wrong, manners, facts about the world and my interpretation of what being a good human embodies. But the reality remains that each and every day, they teach me more about the world than anyone ever can. They represent love in its purest form and for that reason alone, I am grateful.

As summer vacation came to a close, I have had several people ask me if I’m sad to go back to work. The answer without question is “no.” What do I have to be sad about? I get to spend each day working with children, helping families, loving the kids who need it the most. And I do this while being able to be home with my children when they are off of school. I have a career that allows me to have every weekend and holiday off. School is out a week for Thanksgiving, three weeks around Christmas, a week in the spring and a whole two months in the summer. And honestly, the amount I make is enough to sustain a decent quality of life for me and my kids. So what else do I need? I love everything there is about my job, even on the difficult days, and for that I’m grateful.

Years ago when I was in an abusive marriage, the blessings in my life were obscured. The everyday routine was full of so much darkness that nothing seemed beautiful. Recently, as Southern California has been engulfed in flames, the ash and smoke from the fires tainted the beauty of the day. The air was gray, the ground seemed orange and it was difficult to see the landmarks ahead of us. It reminded me of the emotions I felt when I was married. At that point in my life, it felt like there was an inferno around me daily. It wasn’t until I stood on my own two feet, put out the flames and washed away the soot, did I finally reveal all the blessings that I never realized I had. I’m grateful for my strength.

I no longer live with the idea that my life’s lessons belongs to me. They don’t. I have made a vow that I will proceed in all aspects of my life with the intention to share my blessings with those around me. I am convinced that sharing what I have learned and gained over the years, will not only help increase my blessings, but also for those of others. My prayer for the world is that each person be able to reach the level of gratitude that I live in and surpass it. For maybe that is the key for peace and happiness for all.

Daniel 2:23

Bye-Bye Summer

And just like that my summer vacation comes to an end. Tomorrow is the first day of my 2018-2019 school year (Kids start on August 8.). This was the first summer in 6 years I actually had a break. And it was just what I needed. I got to check a lot off of my To-Do list; started eating healthier, spent lots of time with the kids and even got to go on a vacation. 

Years ago, before I even had kids, I knew I wanted to work in education. Initially, I thought the only way I could do that was to become a teacher. As I ended my teaching credential program, I realized that wasn’t enough for me. Don’t get me wrong, I think teachers have the hardest job out there. I value each and every one of them. There is a selflessness in teaching that cannot be compared to any job out there. But for me, I knew my impact on education needed to go beyond the classroom. School psychology was the route I chose. 

Today, I’m grateful and proud of the work that I do. Not only do I get to work with students who struggle the most, but I also get to work with teachers, administrators and so many other professionals who make education for students possible. And a major perk of this is that I also get to enjoy two months of time at home with my kids. 

I knew education was the “industry” for me because it would allow me to use my brain and skills, be around children, yet still be able to be home with my kids during their time off. This summer was the first time I was able to reap the benefit of this. 

Our family grew so much together this summer. We spent time learning, playing and making our house feel like a home. There were so many projects that had been left untouched due to various reasons. However, this year, I focused on us growing to love our home. We furnished it more (thanks to some friends). We picked out decorative items together and spent lots of time enjoying the peace and tranquility of home. There’s a lot to be done still, but overall, we really have been able to finally feel like this place is ours.

Spiritually, I have grown tremendously in the past two months. My vision for myself and the purpose that God has for me has been revealed. I’m working on putting in the work and tying the loose ends of making that purpose and dream become reality. Writing this blog has allowed me to share stories and break chains of bitterness and  unforgiveness  that were weighing heavily upon my heart. Thank you all for your support through the process and continuing to encourage me to share my story with you. 

It was so appropriate that as the end of summer comes about and the new school year begins, the message at church today was about escaping our limitations. This powerful message leads my heart to continue to not only live with kindness and compassion towards others, but to remember the same for myself. I am worthy of all the greatness I desire. I am worthy of achieving the goals I have put on the back-burner. I am worthy of living the life that brings me true happiness. And so are you. Let’s grow together. 

Grocery Shopping

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For most of us, whether we are single or married, motherhood has its challenges. One of the biggest ones is a simple one: grocery shopping. Often we make a list to remember all the things we need and also to try our best to stay focused on buying only the things we have on our list. Recently, due to the delivery services and apps available, some of us don’t even need to venture out of our home to do our family’s shopping. The extra money we spend on the fees is worth the convenience.

Today, I decided to use grocery shopping as an outing. We got back from our vacation yesterday and we were low on food. As always, I reminded the kids to use the restroom, get changed and be ready to leave the house.

Off to the grocery store we went. We went a little bit further out of our way since I had another errand to run at the other side of town. As I was driving down the freeway, I looked back and realized Baron had failed to buckle himself in. For a split second, I contemplated just continuing to drive, but my mommy conscience got a hold of me, so we had to pull off the freeway so I could buckle him in properly. 

We finally got to the grocery store. Wilhelmina was in charge of the list. But of course as we walked in, she started to scream because she had left the list in the car. Again, I was overtaken by mom guilt, and back to the car we walked for the list that contained about 10 items. 

Please keep in mind that crossing a busy grocery store parking lot is quite a chore. Making sure each child is secure, not running, and keeping an eye out for cars is so stressful. I think we have it down to a science, but still it’s not something I want to do any more than I need to. 

Finally, we had our cart. And the bickering began. “I wanna push the cart.” “No, you pushed it the last time. It’s my turn.” And then the tears. Why must there always be tears? After a scolding and a “Only Mommy is going to push the cart,” our shopping began. 

We were almost done in the produce section, when Cortland muttered those words that no parent wants to hear in public: “Mommy, I have to go poop.” Oh dear! First, we had to ask an employee where the restrooms were located. Thankfully, it’s a newer grocery store and we didn’t have to go to the back through the swinging doors and the stock room. For some reason, that always creeped me out. 

We left the cart outside and walked into the restroom. I probably said, “Don’t touch that,” about 75 times. Cortland used the restroom, we all had to wash our hands and out we went. Where was our cart? Our cart was missing! Are you kidding me? I asked one of the cashiers and no one knew. Someone took our cart. 

Back to the produce aisle we went with a new cart. We were almost done shopping. Our cart definitely had way more than the 10 items on the list. It didn’t matter, we just needed to be done. As we walked through the freezer section, Baron started screaming and crying. “I peed in my pants!!” Seriously??? What in the world is going on today? At this point, there was no more Mom guilt left. I told him he had to wait until we were done. 

We threw in the last couple of items and checked out. We all went to the restroom again. But of course, since I had packed the car for our vacation recently, I had taken out our emergency clothes bag. Luckily, I had an extra pair of underwear for Baron in my purse. He rode home Flintstone style. 

The second errand was never completed. Grocery delivery services, you have my 10% service fee forever! 

The Race Issue

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One of the things that has become a big concern for me since I became a single mom is that I’m raising children who don’t look like me.  They are three, little people who are mixed Armenian and Black. Whatever your political viewpoints are, there’s one thing in today’s world that is undeniable: outright racism has become a part of our society. There are many who will argue that racism has always been there and that the media is now sensationalizing it. I will partly agree. However, for a mom of kids who are growing up in this society, it’s now more than apparent, that I have a task far greater than what I imagined. Raising black kids to become what the world will see as black adults is something I’m not sure I can do on my own. How do I prepare them for racism, injustice and prejudice that they will more than likely face? How do I ensure that they will know how to handle these moments with dignity, pride and self-respect? 

About 2 years ago, I was getting the kids ready to take a shower. Cortland came to me and said, “Mommy, I really need to take a shower. I need to scrub my skin with soap because my skin is dirty and I need to get it clean so it’s white like yours.” I stood there with my jaw down to the floor. How do I even begin to address this issue with a 4-year-old? I reassured Cortland that his skin was beautiful and perfect the way that it was. I explained that because his dad is Black, his skin is darker. It doesn’t mean that he is dirty. Cortland told me that it was a child at school who told him to wash the dirt.

On a side note: The parents of this child are far from being racist. I am certain they are not the type to speak negatively about black people. If anything, I think they would defend my children in a split second if they knew they were being harassed because of the color of their skin. So let’s not blame this family. To me, it’s a sign that my children stand out in our community simply because of their skin color.

Then, there was a time, an older white man implied I should lynch my children while we waited for a seat at a family restaurant. My kids were being a little rowdy, but so were the other white children waiting for a table.

These situations, though, were a reminder to me that even when my children earn the highest of honors, receive the greatest of awards and accomplish the best of achievements, they will always be seen differently. They’ll be referred to as the “black kid” or the “mixed kid” or possibly even, a more derogatory term. They will be identified more by the color of their skin, than by the people they become. 

So how do I, a woman of Armenian descent, prepare them for this? How do I teach them that despite those labels, they are viewed perfectly in God’s eyes? How do I explain that sometimes they will have to work a little harder and a little smarter to obtain their goals? How do I reassure them that they have a responsibility to stay peaceful when individuals around them may be hostile, simply because of the color of their skin? 

While they are still children, I teach them to obey and respect the law and rules. I give them lessons on how law enforcement officers are there to serve and protect. But what happens when they are pulled over for driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood, and the law enforcement officers are not willing to listen and understand? How do I, as their mother, teach them the nuisances of being Black in America, when I, myself, have no clue? 

I owe it to my children to be honest with them about the world. How do I touch on this subject without breaking their little hearts? This is where I humble myself as a parent and accept that I don’t have those answers. This is why I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise my children with diversity around them. This is why I am willing to accept help and guidance from those around me who can help answer these questions for them. This is one of the reasons I know I can’t raise my kids alone. I need my village: my village of people from all walks of life, all levels of wealth, all colors of skin and shapes of eyes and languages spoken. In the end, I hope my children can look back on their past and can appreciate that they were brought up in a home that was welcoming and loving to all. I hope they recognize that their worth comes from what they give to the world, rather than how the world sees them. I hope. And I pray. 

Wilhelmina

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It was mid-July. My summer vacation was half-way over. We had celebrated Cortland’s first birthday. I was enjoying the time at home with my little family. The time I was pregnant with Wilhelmina was the happiest time in our marriage. We were closer than we had ever been. Arguments and threats were a thing of the past. It really seemed like there was hope and a bright future for us. 

My step-children were over a lot. They spent a lot of their summer with us. And honestly, I didn’t mind it at all. Cortland always had someone to occupy him and I was enjoying my pregnancy, while I watched him learn to walk and explore his little world. 

It was a Wednesday morning. I went to use the restroom and noticed that I was bleeding heavily. I immediately informed my husband and we both agreed that I needed to be seen by a doctor. I called their office and they told me to check into the Labor and Delivery unit. Since we had a house full of children, I drove the 20 minutes through Silver Lake and Hollywood and walked into the Emergency Room at Kaiser Los Angeles. I was placed in a wheel chair and pushed through to Labor and Delivery. 

The doctors quickly examined me and did an ultrasound. The good news was the baby was moving and had a heartbeat. The bad news, I was almost fully dilated. I was 27 weeks and 2 days along in my pregnancy. The following week would be the start of my 3rd trimester. As soon as I heard the news, I called my husband. He was concerned and worried. He wondered when I would be able to return home. The doctors informed me I would be going no where until I delivered the baby. I would be confined to the bed in the hospital. I wouldn’t be able to even walk to use the restroom. The baby could be delivered at any moment or it might be another 3 months. They just couldn’t say. 

The next phone call was to my mother. It was one of the hardest phone calls to her I ever had to make. Especially since, during that week she had been dealing with another major family crisis. My mother, clearly devastated, agreed to come watch the kids so my husband could come join me in the hospital. 

The doctors pumped me with steroids to quickly develop the baby’s lungs and magnesium to help prevent other complications. The magnesium made me feel gross, nauseous and loopy. 

The doctors informed me that if I went into active labor, they would rush me into having an emergency C-section. The baby was breech and natural delivery would not be an option. 

As I remained in that hospital bed, I thought about Cortland and how much he probably missed me. I worried about my unborn daughter. Unfortunately, I knew too much about the impacts of prematurity and was already pre-planning for the services and help she would need to live a normal life. I was scared. The most scared I have ever felt in my life were in those hours. 

My husband left to go home that night. I laid in my bed and cried. One of the amazing nurses gave me hugs and reassured me that we were in good hands. Here I was alone again in a hospital bed. 

The next day my mom came to visit. She stayed with me all day. Later in the day, my best friend and her daughter drove over an hour and came to visit too. They helped keep my mind off of all the stress. The made me laugh and giggle. While we all visited, the baby suddenly became very active. You could see her move in my belly. It felt like she was doing somersaults. My mom decided to stay with me that night. 

At about 5 am the next morning, I started to feel uneasiness. There was some significant cramping. The nurses checked the monitors and immediately called the doctor. I was in active labor. The doctors decided to do an ultrasound before preparing for a C-section.

A miracle had occurred. The night before, the baby had turned and was head down. No C-section was necessary. I immediately reached for my phone to call my husband. He was asleep and his phone was off. Suddenly, in the midst of pain and worry about delivering a premature baby, I became angry! How dare he turn his phone off? I thought to myself, “Who does that? Who turns their phone off when their wife is in the hospital with pregnancy complications?” I wanted him there, but after about 35 minutes of repeated phone calls, I no longer cared. I was irate, hurt, scared and disgusted. At some point, he woke up and answered his phone.

An anesthesiologist came in to give me an epidural. But the epidural only took to my right side. So the pain on the left side felt even more intense. He tried the epidural again. Suddenly, there was a room full of, what felt like a thousand people, waiting for me to deliver the baby.  It was loud from the noise of all the chatter and equipment. I tried to stay focused on just delivering my baby. I was alone. There was a strange nurse who was holding my hand through my labor. My husband didn’t make it in time. 

At 6:45 am, after two quick pushes, my shining star, Wilhelmina was born. I expected to hear nothing from her, but I heard her cry. At 27 weeks gestation, this little 1 pound, 12 ounce baby cried. It was the most beautiful noise I had ever heard. The doctor brought her to me, let me give her a quick kiss and she was immediately taken to the NICU. 

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About 5 minutes after she was taken out of the room, my husband came in. I almost wanted to tell him to just turn around and leave. But I was too exhausted to fight.

Wilhelmina stayed in the hospital for about 2 months. Driving home and leaving her there made me want to throw up. If I could just stay with her. It was impossible though. I also had a baby at home who needed his mommy. 

The NICU had very strict rules. No children under 5 would be able to visit. It wouldn’t be possible to take Cortland in to see her. 

Two weeks after delivering Wilhelmina, I made the decision to return to work. Staying home made no sense. I couldn’t leave Cortland all day so I wouldn’t be able to visit with Wilhelmina either. It made more sense for me to use my time off to spend with her when she came home. But I was sickened by the thought she would be an hour away from me in the NICU. My husband never went to see her in the hospital on his own. I had to be with him for him to go. Our baby stayed in that cold hospital alone. 

For two months, I woke up every morning at 6 am. I packed Cortland up and took him to daycare and commuted to Riverside from Downtown LA to work until 3 pm. Then I returned home. Some days my husband wanted to visit Wilhelmina. So one of us would go in with her and the other would push Cortland around in his stroller in the hospital hallway. Other days, I would drop Cortland off at home, get him fed and ready for bed, then head off to the hospital alone. There were days that I wouldn’t get home until 11 pm. I was a walking zombie for those two months. I often think back and wonder how I did it. My only answer is: by the grace and mercy of God. There was not a day I did not visit Wilhelmina. No matter how exhausted I was, I drove the 20 minutes and walked the 5 minutes from the parking garage to her room. 

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Wilhelmina was born for early for a few reasons: 1) The doctors said she was born to save her own life. The placenta was partially abrupted and her umbilical cord was tied in a knot. 2) She was born so Baron could join our family. I became pregnant with him before she was due to be born. 

Today, Wilhelmina Star is a tiny girl, with a big name. She is smart, feisty and sassy. There’s not a thing wrong with her. She loves to sing and dance all day. She loves playing with her dolls and can occupy herself for hours. She bosses her brothers around and they follow her commands. She finds comfort in sucking her thumb and rubbing her nose with her index finger. She is kind and humble. She has big hair and knows she is a beautiful inside and out. She reminds me daily of the importance of being goofy and carefree. She’s helpful and will always figure out a way of getting what she wants. This quote by William Shakespeare captures the essence of my Wilhelmina: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

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Happy 5th mBirthday, my Wilhelmina Star! Go show the world what you’re made of!

Loneliness

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There is a loneliness so profound, I’m having trouble even beginning to describe it. It’s not a loneliness of the heart or mind. It’s one of the soul. It transcends most human understanding. It’s in this deep place that I hope no one else can ever experience. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in a month or two. It’s a culmination of years of decision-making alone, wiping tears alone, tending to illness alone, eating alone, attending events alone, etc. And sadly, I have to admit that it’s somehow become a part of my every day struggle. 

I’ve recently realized how lonely I feel. It’s become the single most difficult part of single parenthood. While my kids were younger, tasks were difficult. Buckling and unbuckling them into car seats, getting them ready for school everyday, feeding them, changing their diapers, wiping their butts, building their toys seemed like monumental projects. But recently as they have become more independent, which I have become eternally grateful for, I also have to face the fact that being alone is now a new normal that I have to accept. It’s now this state of mind that has become the daunting roadblock to overcome. 

Realize that there is no task, no decision, no event that I do not do alone. The simple and mundane to the difficult and challenging are always completed without any help. I don’t want to discount the countless offers of helping me. I appreciate each and every single one of them. Yet, the reality is that as much as offers of watching the kids for me are undeniably appreciated, caring for my kids for a few hours doesn’t take away the pain of the loneliness I described. The moments of making a decision of where to place my couch or what sport will benefit and match my child’s personality. It’s the utter silence and lack of adult conversation at the end of the night that results in this melancholy.

Will having a partner help? Yes, probably. But navigating the dating scene is, in and of itself, a stressful undertaking. I’m not even sure if my heart and mind are ready for that level of commitment. 

My purpose of sharing this is also not to get offers of evening conversation or help in decision-making. But rather, a glimpse into the reality of what single motherhood looks and feels like. I’m not looking to commiserate with others or even throw a pity-party for myself. I just want to bring light to the issue. As a psychologist and educator, one of my important platforms is the issue of mental health. I want to be transparent in my discussion of this journey. I want to be able to share not only the struggles of the past, but also, those of the present. 

Will I overcome this obstacle? Of course I will. I seek help through prayer and daily devotion to God. He will carry me through this, just as He has carried me through every other battle and weakness. Whether lonely, alone, surrounded by a thousand or even one single person, I will always stay focused on the most important goal I have: to raise my children to be loving, caring, intelligent, wise, generous, independent citizens. And I promise to do it with a smile on my face. This is my battle to fight and they deserve a mom they can remember as happy and full of life.

Every ounce of me thanks the Lord above for the blessings I have been given. I’m so truly grateful for the community of friends and family who support us, love us, invite us and share their love with us. We will make it through because we are stronger than any obstacle in our way. 

And to those who struggle with loneliness, push through, despite it. Love, even when you don’t feel like loving. Laugh, when all you want to do is cry. Cheer yourself on, especially when there’s no one else to do it for you. Dance, even when you don’t have a partner. And most importantly, remember your reputation is not defined by your circumstances, but rather how you chose to handle them. 

Diamond

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The reality is he never loved me. He only loved that I loved him. He never realized the gem of a woman he was gifted. I was a sparkling diamond and all he saw was a washed up rock. I often contemplated why. I wondered how someone could be so blind to not want an educated, dedicated, intelligent woman who would be willing to swim through every wave with him. 

Then it dawned on me. You can hand a person the rarest, most precious diamond in the world, but if they’re not accustomed to diamonds, they don’t feel they’re worthy of diamonds. They’ll just kick it in the corner and let it collect dust. 

But here’s the beautiful thing about diamonds. They continue to shine even if they’re pushed to the side. They always remain diamonds. To break them, to corrupt them, doesn’t suddenly change their state. They remain diamonds. 

He tried to hurt me. He called me names and told me I was unworthy. I was a first year school psychologist. I was trying to set a name for myself at work. I would work late and bring home reports to write to stay caught up with my cases. He would tell me, “You’re so lazy. You will never get hired for next year. I could be a better psychologist. You think you’re special because you’re getting a doctorate? Bring work home again, and I’ll have you swallowing your teeth.” At some point the threats over my life were so scary, I wrote a letter and stuffed it in my work bag. In the letter, I wrote all his information. His name, social security number and address and whatever other information I knew about him were included. I hoped to leave clues behind in case he succeeded in carrying out his threats. I also wrote a letter to my family apologizing to them for the agony I put them through. 

At that point in time, I had no idea how I would escape his wrath. I didn’t realize I was in the hands of a narcissist. Prayers were what got me through. I wasn’t sure if God was listening, and at the time I wasn’t even sure if He existed. But it was my only escape. He didn’t believe in God. At some point, he decided that he wanted to be a Scientologist. I even gave Scientology a chance. I thought if I believed what he did, then maybe, just maybe it would be enough for him to change his ways. But as soon as the Scientologists realized I was a psychologist, they didn’t want me to be a part of them. This was even more of a reason for him to continuously denounce me. I was no good for anyone. 

So, I just continued to pray the only way I knew: the Lord’s prayer in Armenian. “Hayr mer, vor hergeens yes…” I would say it in the shower. I would say it when he slept and I pretended to be asleep. When he was in his episodes, I’d say it to myself as he berated and threatened me. I’d say it on my drive home from work. At some point, it worked. God knew, like He always knows, exactly what I needed. God gave me the wisdom to realize that I deserved better. 

God reminded me that I was a diamond and needed to shine. He gave me the courage to walk away with nothing except my clothes and my kids. I took the essentials and left everything else behind. Some of the most precious memories of my kids were left behind. But it didn’t matter, I would finally be free. I was no longer a prisoner in my own home. I didn’t want to have any reminder of him. I wanted to start new and finally show the world the diamond I was born to be. 

Today I shine and I refuse to ever be treated like anything other than the gem I am. My purpose: bring light to others who have forgotten they too were born to be diamonds.