Life

book review, the school for good mothers. jessamine chan

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS – BOOK REVIEW

Author : Jessamine Chan

First published : 2022

Okay, this book was difficult to read. As a mother and as a woman, I found myself gasping, cringing, feeling sad and heartbroken, feeling angry and frustrated. I experienced disbelief and a whole lot of other emotions that caught me by surprise. I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up this book but what I found was definitely not it.

This book was also on Barack Obama’s favourite book list for 2022.

Without giving too much away, I’ll provide a short summary.

Frida Liu is a young mother accused of neglecting and abandoning her young child. She is then sent to a school which is meant to retrain ‘bad mothers’ into becoming the best and most attentive mothers in human existence. (I’m being a bit sarcastic here and once you read the book, especially if you are a mother, I’m sure you will understand why.)

The training and exercises these mothers at the school go through are something else; I found myself frowning and saying “huh?” on many occasions while reading.

‘I am a bad mother but I am learning to be good’

the school for good mothers, book review
An excerpt from the book.

There is so much I can say and want to say about how this book made me feel; when I got to the last chapter, I was in tears.

In a way this book highlights the unrealistic expectations society has when it comes to mothers. Don’t get me wrong, motherhood and children are a gift for women who want it, but it’s a very difficult journey to be on.

In the book, mothers are expected to always be aware of everything around them, never turn their eyes away from their children for a second, be able to soothe their babies by using the correct language and words and physical affection, be able to effectively comfort their children and provide quick, healthy meals and stimulate their minds all the while not losing their own heads.

In a nutshell; it’s a lot.

The thing is, mothers can do all the above but unlike the children in the book, we are not robots. We need a break and we are not always emotionally available for our children or spouses or partners. We won’t always cook healthy dinners and sometimes we want to shut down and be left alone and that is perfectly normal and should be acceptable.

Our own kids are 6 and 8 years old now; they have an abundance of energy which I don’t. There is always something that needs to be done. Laundry needs to be washed and folded and packed away, school lunches need to be made, shopping needs to be done, toys have to be picked up and put away, children need to be disciplined. All the while you are trying to think of the 20 things you need to remember, you are thinking about work, you are checking the time, you are trying to engage in conversations, you are trying to be a good wife and then you need to remember to take care of yourself; have a bath, drink your coffee, fall asleep.

You will fall short somewhere.

We were never made to be perfect.

adult, mother, daughter

The guilt and pressure mothers are put under is also a prominent theme in this book; not only by society but by family and surprisingly other mothers too. The pressure can become so crippling, that it becomes life-threatening.

As a mom myself, I’ve been judged, criticized, told what I’m doing wrong, what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. I’ve also compared myself to other moms and it made me feel like the worst person in the world. I’ve been told to plan ahead, prepare dinners, clothing, activities, grocery lists, an endless number of things that I am meant to remember and take care off. Being a parent is difficult but there’s a different kind of hardship that comes with motherhood. Sometimes it’s unrealistic and you have homes where there are two parents and both contribute equally but I think as women, we tend to put ourselves under pressure and that pressure is amplified when you become a mom. Especially when you have a full-time job, a side hustle, a marriage, children. When you do catch your breath long enough to tick something off your to-do list, it feels like a miracle, that’s if you remembered to write your to-do list!

Yes, I know. It sounds like I am venting and maybe I am a little. Reading this book might unlock feelings on the inside of you, that you never even thought you had. Some of those feelings you might not be ready to face.

Something else which stands out for me in this novel is how different the ‘bad fathers’ are treated at the school, which I will call, ‘parenting rehab facility’

The differences are like night and day, which again angered me a little because moms are not always extended the grace which they deserve.

I think the overwhelming message in this book is how one small mistake can change your entire life. The book is about a mother who needs to make decisions which are painful and difficult but she makes them and she doesn’t always make the right ones.

It’s also about regret and how it can hold you back but its also about forgiveness; forgiving others but also forgiving yourself for mistakes you made when you didn’t know better.

All in all, it was an amazing read. I could probably write pages and pages of analysis but I want you to experience this book and make sense of it on your own.

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PIECES OF ME

we are shaped by our experiences but we can choose how to live out those experiences. We choose how to live, we choose whether we give up or go on. We choose to forgive.

life demands of you to be intentional; intentional about your actions, your energy, your focus, your thoughts and emotions.

It hasn’t been easy but it has been fulfilling

love is one of the most if not the most powerful source of hope we have on this earth

Its not just okay to live as your authentic self, its absolutely necessary.

do not fear.
do not tremble.
do not question or second guess

These hard, tiring and busy days won’t last.

Your ability to nurture, love, care and encourage is God-given.

break out of the mould you created for yourself with all the things you thought you knew

I hope you relinquish all expectations
you had of yourself for this next season and simply enjoy being alive.

Even if it fails, at least you know that you tried.

We all have a place in our minds where we wish to go, things we want to do and places we want to see but if I’ve learned anything, these last few years, is that you won’t get there if you don’t get moving.

It’s a beautiful day. The dog dreams. I breathe

Better to have a moment of awkwardness than to have a lifetime of regret.

But I see how you carry on.

I see how you carry others.

I see how you love,

I see how you pray.

I see you and I love what I see.

It’s a road not travelled at all.
A sad and painful place where the rivers
are made out of tears.
Very lonely. Very heartbreaking.

Very beautiful indeed.

My faith saved me.
It saves me still.

regret always comes too late.

You are more valuable than you know and you have so much more power than you realise

One hurt does not fix another

I want to be that brave person again

I’m a weary wife.

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WRITING ABOUT NOT WRITING

The 11th of October. That’s the last time I wrote a blog post and in all honesty, I didn’t write it from scratch, it was a recycled post from years ago but still, that was the last time you saw anything from Words In Verse. I’ve been battling to write; I’m not sure if the battle stems from laziness, tiredness, busyness or a lack of creativity and ideas but I haven’t written in a long time. The problem is I want to write. I need to write. There are many times I find myself seeing something or hearing something and I want to turn it into a story or I want to write about it and explore it from my own perspective but I don’t. I let it slip away from me and disappear. And if you’re a writer, you know that once you have an idea, you better write it down because once it disappears, you won’t get it back.

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So here I am, writing about not being able to write. Funny thing is, I love writing. I love reading as well but I haven’t done much of that either lately. Writing and reading go hand in hand; if you’re not reading, its almost impossible to write. I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things. I also want to reevaluate what I write about. I remember about two years ago when I had my very first WIV blog (which is now gone) the blog posts I wrote were raw and honest and relatable to many people. I felt fearless when I wrote and published my posts and I felt fulfilled when someone would tell me how they felt reading what I wrote. I knew I was fulfilling my purpose, my calling and my ministry.

My husband will tell you I have a ton of unfinished stories that I started writing (one or two are done) but which I either stopped working on and refuse to touch again. He has been my biggest supporter; always telling me to finish my books and get it published and telling me what a great writer I am and there are moments when I believe him; when I read some of the stuff I’ve written and I think ‘Woah, okay, I’m pretty good at this’ in a non- arrogant way of course, but then there are those moments, which come more often than the former, where imposter syndrome creeps in and destroys all the confidence and belief I had in myself. Once that is destroyed, it’s really difficult to get it back.

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Another reason I think I’ve been afraid to write is because of the content I want to publish. I want to be that brave person again that tells honest stories; I write from experience and we all know experiences are not always comfortable; for yourself or for others to share in or experience and I know when I write certain things, a lot of people might frown upon it and I think that has also been a huge block for me.

But I don’t want it to be anymore. I want to write. I need to write and I need to share. I always say to my husband or to people I interact with, you never know who needs hear your story and who will be inspired, encouraged or motivated by it. We all go through difficult experiences and I believe that if we choose to share our experiences, in whichever way we choose to do so, it will help someone else. I’m not suggesting we save the whole world but touching one person, might save another.

So here I am, putting my struggles out there ; of being a writer who has been unable to write and I’m hoping that by doing this and by sharing this, that it will help me be brave enough to start writing again and to start sharing again; despite the fear of being judged or criticized or not believing in myself.

The truth is, I need to see for myself where this journey will take me; this journey of writing and sharing and exposing myself to a world I have yet to discover. In the end, we will never know we are good at something and we will never know the impact we have, if we don’t at least give it our best shot.

Son, day of the girl child

TO MY SON ON THE DAY OF THE GIRL CHILD

Throughout your life you will probably hear phrases such as,

A woman brought you into this world and she can take out of it

You don’t lay your hands on a woman

Be respectful toward women

I can give you a whole list of things that you will hear but I will let you be surprised and experience it as you grow up.

All those things are correct, you never ever touch a woman in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable.

You never cross a line that has clearly been set out for you.

You do not hunger after a woman’s body as if she is something to eat.

You do not say things that will kill a woman’s confidence or shatter her character.

You never do.

Do not intentionally break hearts or lead a woman on.

There is no pride or glory in breaking a woman’s heart.

It only brings you shame.

If you do not love her, tell her.

Leave her with the truth rather than loving her with a lie.

Never assume that you are always right and never make a woman feel ashamed for what she is feeling or thinking.

Make her feel comfortable enough to express herself to you and make an effort to understand her instead of admonishing her.

You need integrity and compassion and the ability to love unconditionally and you need to have respect for everyone around you.

In order to respect anyone else, man or woman, you first need to have respect for yourself.

If you don’t have a certain standard to which you hold yourself then how you treat others will be a clear reflection of that and then that would mean that I have failed you as a mother,

And I, my dear boy, am not planning on failing.

I want you to be a man that loves woman but loves them in a pure manner.

Love how they are nurturing and caring.

Love how versatile they are.

Love and respect their intellect and be a man that provides a safe space for them to unearth their potential.

Love how they make you feel on the inside, how they make you fall in love.

Be a student of women and find out what makes them tick without ticking them off.

Pray for women and pray that you gain the knowledge and wisdom on how to treat them as a good man should.

Love your sister unconditionally and protect her with your life.
Son, sister, day of the girl child
Mason and his sister, Morgan.

Fight for the causes of women and always be available when one needs you but never let any woman take advantage of your heart or your kindness.

Your heart will most likely be broken by a few girls in your lifetime and that cannot be stopped but never use that as an excuse to hurt another woman in return.

One hurt does not fix another.

Love is all there is and love is all that matters.

A woman is not your possession, you do not own the person you love.

A woman is a free spirit that will come into your life to teach and to be taught.

She will make you fall in love with life and she will enhance your vision for your own life.

She will make you want to succeed and she will push you until you do.

You cannot be a man without having had a woman touch your life.

My son,

Please remember, women brought you up,

Me,

Your grandmothers,

Your great-grandmothers,

Your aunts,

Your school teachers,

Your sister.

You have been surrounded by beautiful women all your life and you will continue to be for the rest of it.

Be sure to treat every girl or woman you ever come across with the highest level of esteem and admiration because at the end of the day if it wasn’t for the fighting and equally loving spirit of all the women in your life, you would not be who you are today.

Be an example to the many men who will follow you throughout your life and be part of a generation of men that will never again take a woman by force, break her spirit or leave her blue-eyed and crying.

Son, father and son, day of the girl child
Mason and his dad.

I beg of you baby, be different.

Be strong.

Be secure in your faith.

Be humble.

Be dependable.

Be honest.

Be brave.

Be loving and compassionate.

But most importantly, be forgiving.

Do not let the hardships in life stop you from finding the beauty and romance that there surely is and sharing it with everyone you meet.

I hold you to these standards because I know and I believe you have it in you.

Female nurses healed you back to health when you were too weak to stand on your own two feet.

A female pastor dedicated you to the church.

Female doctors delivered you from my womb.

You are not above a woman.

She stands next to you, not under your feet.

I can only give you these guidelines but it is up to you to decide what kind of man you are going to be and maybe someday, what kind of man you are going to raise.

I know you are young now but someday you will understand this.

And if you don’t understand,

Ask a woman.

Son, mother and son, day of the girl child
Mason and I.
3d model, world, earth-2894038.jpg

HERITAGE DAY AS A COLOURED PERSON

I’ve written about this topic before on a previous blog platform under the same title but I feel like I need to revive it. In all honesty, I dislike Heritage Day. I remember when I was in school and this particular day came around, we would be told to wear our Heritage clothes and bring cultural foods and speak about our heritage. I never knew what to do. I don’t really know my heritage. All I know is my mother was born in Namibia and I think my father was born in the Eastern Cape (I’m really not sure about that )

Now I am in the position where my kids are going through the same thing. My daughter, who is now in Grade 2, celebrated Heritage Day at her school the other day and they were told to wear cultural or traditional clothing that is synonymous with her heritage. She went to school in pants and a t-shirt and a hoodie. She came home that day and told me how beautiful her friends looked in their African attire and how her friends are Zulu or Sepedi and the like. I felt defeated.

We are Coloured; we are considered a mixed race but the only problem is, I’m not sure, in fact, I have no idea which races fall into that mixed bag of culture and heritage. I know next to nothing of my father’s family or his heritage and sadly my mother is late so I can’t even ask her anything about hers.

diversity, people, group-5541062.jpg

Maybe the reason I dislike this day so much is because I personally don’t know anything about my own history. I wish I had had more conversations with my mother about my maternal side but alas, regret always comes too late.

I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe its time we as a family start building our own heritage.

My son on the other hand was also asked to bring a picture to school to discuss his heritage. We drew him the South African flag, he also drew a sun and a bowl of fruit and the earth. When he was done, I realised culture is what we observe. My son sees the sun in the sky, he sees the earth and he sees food and he knows he belongs somewhere. All the other technicalities of where we come from doesn’t really matter, at least not right now. My son then asked my husband what his heritage is and my husband replied, ‘Your heritage is South African’

That was the same response his father gave him when he was a little boy and had to dress up or participate in Heritage Day.

I don’t want my children to feel as if they don’t belong anywhere. I want them to know they can fit in everywhere if that’s what they wanted. That’s how I felt when I was in school; I felt embarrassed because while everyone else wore traditional clothing and spoke of their traditions and food and culture, I wanted the earth to swallow me whole or at least be invisible for the day.

My husband has similar stories and so do a lot of other Coloured people I’ve spoken to about this topic.

One the other hand, there is beauty in being ‘mixed race’; you are a cacophony of colours and sounds; you are a kaleidoscope of memories and history and you are a part of everyone you come across and you leave a part of yourself wherever you are.

I completely understand that its important to know who you are, to know about the people who came before us and to know where our bloodline leads. I am not dismissing that at all but maybe, if like me, you don’t know much about your ancestry, we can just start building our own cultures and create our own traditions and heritage.

I’ve made the decision to tell my children that our heritage is simply being human. If we start there, we can see that we are all actually a part of the same culture.

A day in the sun

A DAY IN THE SUN

Sitting outside feeling pressed, smelling the dog next to me.
The sun’s heat warms my skin.
Hearing bird songs and little insects all around me.
It’s hard to pinpoint in which direction it’s coming from.
There’s a helicopter somewhere, flying overhead,
the sound of it starts or far, then it comes closer and closer until I can almost feel the vibrations on my skin.
I see the dog out of the corner of my eye, vigorously scratching himself. I’m hot right beneath the sun.
I take off the pink cardigan and immediately feel a chill. The dog lies down on his side, baking. His white fur looks almost golden brown.
A car whizzes past. A bird chirps in the distance. The sun is hot.
I look up and squint.
I’m still feeling pressed.
It’s a beautiful day. The dog dreams. I breathe

timelapse photography of white train

MISSING THE TRAIN

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES IS LIKE MISSING THE TRAIN

I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities of late. It reminds me of the feeling of missing the train, you are so close and you just make it through the turnstiles but you are just not in time. You do that run-walk, hoping against all hope that by some one in a million chance that the train will wait for you. But you know very well, that will not be happening.

You know that the train only stops for a minute and then it’s gone.

Much like opportunity and effort.

You do just enough to get close enough but you don’t push through to the final test. You know how desperately you want chance or that opportunity but you are unwilling to run the race to the end; its either too hard or you just don’t have faith and you don’t believe that you can do it. In fact, maybe some part of you believes you don’t deserve it. So you don’t go all out, you just do enough to say, ‘I tried’ and then live your life always wondering what would have happened if I just took the risk? if I just went all out on this, what would have happened ? What is on the other side of this fear and hesitation?

GETTING ON THE TRAIN TAKES BRAVERY

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced that. I’m not sure if it’s because of imposter syndrome or fear, maybe a bit of both but I always find myself thinking about all the opportunities I’ve missed because I wasn’t brave enough to step into that opportunity that was wide open in front of me.

Something else I’ve realised is, that we always need to be ready for any opportunity. Poor planning is my Achilles’ heel. It’s a really bad habit and because of my poor planning, I’m never prepared for opportunities when they arise. There have been times when I’ve been blessed despite this weakness and things worked out for my good. However, most times, I end up missing the train and I have to wait again and that wait, my friends, is long.

shallow focus photography of railway during sunset
Photo by Albin Berlin on Pexels.com

WE ARE ALL AFTER OPPORTUNITIES

Some of us will just do more to get it. Have you ever waited for the train on the platform, you hear it come along and then all of a sudden, everyone standing there with you, waiting for the same train, gets ready to get on the train. Others have been waiting and ready since they arrived, then there are those who are still sitting, on their phones and not seeing what’s coming and then there are those, who are running down the stairs, trying to make it, knowing they are late but again, hoping that they will get a chance to get on the train. Often those people, only get a glimpse of the train as it leaves the platform.

What I’ve experienced when I wait for the train is when that train arrives, people will push you aside to get onto that train, they want the best seats or simply a chance to sit and be comfortable. Those people don’t wait for the passengers to get off before they get on, they get on the train while others are disembarking. They don’t care who gets squished or stepped on, they simply want their opportunity to get onto that train and if you’re not quick enough and sometimes not aggressive enough, you will be left behind.

man in gray and black stripes shirt in train station looking towards train door
Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

REACHING YOUR DESTINATION

The truth of the matter is that once you do get on the train, whether you’re sitting or standing, there is always a view and you are well on your way to your destination. We all have a place in our minds where we wish to go, things we want to do and places we want to see but if I’ve learned anything, these last few years, is that you won’t get there if you don’t get moving. And if you take a minute to lift your eyes of your phone and take a look around you, you might find that your opportunity is on that train.

It’s all about the journey, right?

photo of woman standing inside train holding on metal rail while looking outside
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com
man in gray shirt looking at city buildings

CORRECTION IS HUMBLING

I wasn’t ready to lose my mother when she died in 2020. I was 28 years old; still figuring things out, finding my feet, unbeknownst to her; hiding and finding comfort in her bosom. Even at the age of 28-years old, I was very much a child. Today at 30, in many respects, I still am.

God knew I was not ready to lose my mother. He knew and still knows that I needed correction, discipline, and sometimes those things only come through tragedy. God had other plans. He thrust me into this place where I find myself today, being shaped and molded and, at times, scolded by other strong women.

I’ve realised I took advantage of the role my mother had in my life. I fought her a lot; especially as I grew older. I was hardly ever willing to learn from her because as we know, young children and young adults ‘know everything’. A wall was built between us which, until the day she died, could not be penetrated. I think I will always live with that regret.

So here I am now; finding myself in a place where I am being humbled through correction. Internally and externally. It’s a convicting feeling.

It’s painful to be honest. It forces you to break out of the mould you created for yourself with all the things you thought you knew. It brings you face-to-face with yourself and that is not necessarily a comfortable experience. In fact, it can be downright excruciating and frustrating. At times you find yourself biting your lip and digging in your nails, just so that you don’t scream out in agony.

No one wants to be told when they’re doing something wrong but we don’t always see that correction, if done right, is almost always done in love.

Help and correction won’t always come freely though. The hard part comes when you have to ask for it. When you have to admit that you need help, that’s when the walls really start to come down.

I have been battling with my season of correction; it’s been extremely frustrating at times. Other days, I take it on the chin, I humble myself and say thank you, I needed that. Other days, I roll my eyes and think to myself, ‘I already knew that’

Not only have I been receiving correction from people around me, God has also been working in me and with me. Reminding me when to hold my tongue, helping me to keep a lid on my complaints, opening my eyes to see people the way He sees them, teaching me to be patient, helping me understand that my journey is not that of my husband’s or my colleagues or anyone in my inner circle.

When I think about correction or being shown the error of your ways, I think of it in terms of when you know better, you do better. You change when you are corrected, you can decide to become better or refuse the change and stay the same. Its all about your attitude when you are in the process of receiving correction; you can stand back and roll your eyes and stay in your ‘I know this already’ mindset or you can pay attention, take notes and humble yourself to those who are trying to show you a better way or different way.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT CORRECTION

pink pencil on open bible page and pink
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Here are a few verses from the Bible that speak on correction. There are many more but these are the ones that stood out for me.

Hebrews 12:11

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Proverbs 12: 1

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 15:32

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

Proverbs 8:33

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

Hebrews 12:10-11

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

You might not see it now but when you look back in a couple of months or years; you’ll notice that you have better habits, you do things in a different way than before. You do better because you know better. It’s hard to see the finish line when you’re still in the early stages of the race but you need to know, the finish line is there.

That’s where I find myself now in life; being corrected, almost on a daily basis and its hard but I know sooner or later I will appreciate the correction. I will appreciate the molding and shaping because it has made me a better person.

I started this post of by speaking about my mother. Reason being that I wish I had been more open to my mother’s correction. I wish I had listened to her more, asked her more questions because now I realise I need her more than I ever thought I would. Now that I’m in this place of becoming, I need my mother and I need her to reassure me or guide me when I make a decision. I need her to make me laugh when I’m feeling frustrated or show me her feisty and fierce character when I feel uncertain. I needed her then and I need her now.

WHEN YOU’RE THE ONE DOING THE CORRECTING

two people sitting on pallet on beach and talking
Photo by Anna Shevchuk on Pexels.com

Sometimes you will find yourself doing the correcting and I’d like you to think about the following when you’re in that position:

  1. Correction come with patience just as learning comes with patience.
  2. Correcting someone can’t be done with aggression. Not everyone responds well to being spoken down to; in fact I don’t think anyone does.
  3. Correction can’t be done with arrogance; you as the person trying to teach another are also still learning in the process.

back view photo of a woman in black sleeveless top carrying a toddler

MAMA, YOU MATTER.

You have such an important role as a wife and a mother.

Your ability to nurture, love, care and encourage is God-given.

The role of a husband and father is just as important but it’s often the wife and mother that is either heavily criticised. She is expected to fulfill all these other roles; friend, sister, businesswoman. As a woman, you are often expected to break ceilings and still be able to take care of yourself, look good, provide for your family, and do a multitude of other things.

It can get tiring. It can make you feel empty and sometimes it makes you feel as if you are not enough even when you are doing all these things.

You are the person your family depends on; your advice, your patience, your presence. Everything you do for those you care about, matters.

Don’t ever think it doesn’t.

I know you get tired and frustrated. I know at times you want to throw in the towel but your role as a woman, wife, and mother is so important, so needed and so wanted.

Your family functions because of you. They thrive because you create an atmosphere and a space for them to do so.

They draw power from you. You are a pillar of strength placed in your family by God and no one can fulfill that role better than you.

body of water at daytime

THESE HARD DAYS WON’T LAST

These hard, tiring and busy days won’t last.

Some day you will look back and know that all the hard work and time spent was worth it.

You won’t always feel tired.

You won’t always have questions because you’ll understand that the answers don’t really matter.

The time you thought you lost will be caught up in memories and nostalgic laughter.

You will look back and know that you were never alone; not in your darkest valley or even atop your highest and brightest peaks.

Your sighs will turn into songs, your sorrows into shouts of joy.

Your frustrations will turn into feelings of freedom and your exhaustion will disappear behind the excitement.

It will all be worth it.

You might not see it now but you will.

The tides are turning and the winds are changing.