The Power of Stories
My husband and I dream of a more minimalist life, free from the burden of clutter. With three children and a dog, the reality is a happy chaos of scattered shoes, trains, half-clothed baby dolls, and an occasional sock. Upstairs, clothing in sizes 7, 5, and 2T manage to sneak out of drawers and flood the carpet when my back is turned. Downstairs, the toy tubs overflow, as do the book bins and bookshelves. While the abundant toys and clothes are sometimes a source of frustration, the books are quite the opposite. I look at them and feel contentment. Stories connect us, and these books tell the story of my family. The best way to get to know me is through a glimpse at my bookshelves.
The Story of My Travels
The travel books on the top shelf feature England, metro Detroit, Honduras, and Washington state, all of which have been home at one point or another. My parents, my younger brother, and I moved to Michigan from England in 1986 for an intended five years. Thirty-three years later, my parents still reside in Troy. Growing up in a British household in U.S. suburbia, I became an Americanized Brit. I was raised on Marmite soldiers for breakfast and yet was surrounded by peanut butter and jelly at school. I’m a third culture kid, born in one country, raised in another, and continuing to create a new culture somewhere between the two. This identity gives me empathy for those who don’t belong, as well as an undeniable wanderlust.
Central America and Europe
My chosen profession as a teacher just so happens to provide an easy vehicle for global exploration. My first stop after finishing my student teaching internship at MSU was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I taught third grade there for a year and then returned to Michigan to catch my breath for four. In 2007, wanderlust tugged at me again. I moved back to England for two years to teach fourth grade and unexpectedly stumble upon two more parts of my identity. First, I discovered that I was more American than I’d realized (but still quite English, too). Secondly, although Prince William didn’t fall madly in love with me, as some of my friends had hoped, I did meet a more likely partner: my future husband, Dan. A fellow Brit, Dan helped anchor me to England as we moved back across the Atlantic in 2009.
Back to North America
As a permanent resident living outside the U.S., I’d faced a sticky conversation with immigration when Dan and I had visited my parents in the summer. This led me to decide to return to the U.S. to apply for citizenship. Not knowing exactly where our relationship was going, Dan and I decided to take it to North America. As a British citizen, Dan could more easily move to Canada than to the U.S. We could have opted for metro Detroit/Windsor, but we wanted more adventure. Seattle and Vancouver became our respective homes for the next year. Weekdays found me working in a school district south of Seattle. Weekends felt like a vacation as Dan and I explored one city or the other together.
I became a naturalized citizen in 2010. In the midst of an engagement, a fiance visa, an official marriage in the U.S., and a celebratory wedding in England, Dan finally joined me in Seattle. Seattle was home for over five years. Those years included the births of our first two sons. Motherhood brings me, at last, to the next shelf of books.
The Story of Motherhood
To the left sit titles, such as Celebrating the Earth Mother, that help me stay grounded when my inner goddess feels buried under uncertainty. To the right, pregnancy and parenting books share space with the journals I keep for each of my boys. None of my boys could wait to find out what this big, wide world is all about. Keats, my oldest, arrived six weeks early. Instead of joining us in a birth center, guided by midwives, his early arrival meant a hospital birth. Fortunately, Seattle’s medical and midwifery communities share a mutual respect. My midwives were able to be part of Keats’ birth. Two years later, my birth plan again went awry. Wren decided to arrive just shy of 37 weeks, again leading to a hospital delivery.
Although Dan and I had no intention of living in Michigan, we had to reevaluate our thinking when he unexpectedly received a job offer in metro Detroit in 2014. With the lure of one set of grandparents on hand and a lower cost of living, I heavy-heartedly said goodbye to a city I’d come to love. Five years after driving from Seattle with nothing more than a car full of my things, I returned with a love of good coffee and a moving van full of belongings. We arrived back in Michigan in January 2015, living with my parents for four months before moving into our own house in Ferndale. This is where Camden came into the world two years later, born at home, in water, under the watchful eyes of the moon and my midwives. Ironically, the home birth, midwifery-guided plan became a reality in Michigan, a state not reputed for its support of alternative births. The boys are now 7, 5, and 2. They’re amazing, spirited souls, and I’m at my maximum capacity for parenting and maintaining my own equilibrium. Thus, the next shelf…
The Story of Shadows and Light
This shelf is full of memoirs, mentor texts from a writing class I took a few years ago, in addition to other titles that were my company during lonely times of depression. I’ve struggled on and off with depression since college, a reality that worried me each time childbirth drew closer and the potential cloud of postpartum depression loomed. After Keats’ and Wren’s births, I struggled in private, cheerfully sharing anecdotes of my babies because I felt guilty expressing otherwise. Part of the struggle came from the pressure I put on myself to be everything to everyone and do everything right, part of it came from sleep deprivation, and part of it was just because postpartum depression can happen, and it did. When Camden arrived five years into my parenting journey, I’d learned to (mostly) embrace imperfection. I escaped postpartum depression, perhaps because of my growth, perhaps simply because PPD doesn’t always happen. I’ve managed to find a little more balance and a little more of myself in the past two years. The evidence of this is on the next shelf.
The Story of Passions and Namesakes
In my current work as a literacy specialist at a local independent school, one of my passions is having real conversations about diversity. The fourth shelf contains books from the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) group of which I’ve been a part for three years. These heavy, necessary reads, like White Fragility, are juxtaposed next to novels I’ve picked up to add levity and book-ended by a text of John Keats’ poetry.
My own Keats is subconsciously embracing his literary namesakes, John Keats and Ezra Jack Keats. Indeed, the lowest bookshelf primarily consists of the Magic Tree House books he’s now voraciously reading. Below that, on the floor, sit several tubs brimming with children’s books. Wren (named for both the bird and the architect, Sir Christopher Wren) gravitates toward informational text about dinosaurs. Camden (named for the borough of London in which Dan and I spent most of our early dating years) can often be found climbing onto my lap with a book in hand. The stories within the pages of each book connect those of us within my family as we cuddle on the couch and read together. As I reach for books higher up on the bookshelf that reflect parts of who I am, they help me connect to myself.
The Stories of Connection
While wandering and roaming across the globe, I’ve sought connections and belonging. I spent years searching for home before realizing that, for me, home is a feeling more than a place. Although my current home is in Michigan, I’ve found my village across the country and throughout the world. I’ve found that authentic stories of parenthood connect us. As I begin writing for Detroit Mom, I look forward to connecting my stories to yours.