It is July, which means an inevitable camp post. I can close my eyes and hear the Loma Linda screen doors slam.  I can smell the river water mixed with vinegar ear drops.  I can feel the cut of the grate of the catwalk on my bare feet and the uncomfortable way the sheet always slips off in the night and you wake up stuck to your mattress.  These days I am way too old for camp but apparently it has found some way to infiltrate all my senses and my heart. Permanently.

I could not wait to send my kids.

I want him to have the same crazy memories and nicknames and stories about scraped knees, bathing suits ripped on the rapids, raccoons eating contraband snacks but mostly feeling like the summer was mine.  For three weeks in July I left my parent’s world behind for an unairconditioned dorm, sub par food and not nearly enough showers for the number of girls who needed them. In return I had thirty new roommates, inside jokes, new tan lines, a fully packed caboodle and a sense of who I was on my own.  Even more memorable than my summers spent as a camper were the ones where I donned a staff shirt.  All the fun of camp, except this time I got nights off, to ride the truck up the hill and break into the dining hall when I needed a midnight snack. 

Those summers drained me the way only loving well can.  I took my job seriously. Sort of.  I mean I loved my campers and didn’t want any of them to sneak out, get hurt or do anything illegal.  Mostly my goal was to show them a good time. To throw dance parties in the alcove, to ambush other dorms with water guns and toilet paper. To run things that didn’t quite belong up the flag pole and occasionally share my heart in the circle of girls at devotionals that almost ended with someone playing a song and no less than a half a dozen girls in Micheal W. Smith tears. As I grew a little older, I focused just a more on the heart than the fun.  I shared my doubts and my faith and loved them as best I could….and then I turned the lobby into a slip and slide or helped short sheet someone’s bed.  

Maturity has never been my biggest attribute.

This past week, I drug my own footlocker out of the attic. Emptied it of all the mixed tapes, letters and beanie babies and started filling it with athletic shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits.  I had fought with my husband for years to send my son to camp and he finally caved. Just one week at a camp relatively close by.  My husband worried about his asthma, his swimming abilities, his introvertedness, how small he is and I just worried that he might never change into any of these clean pairs of tiny little boxers I was folding neatly into his trunk.

Yesterday we drove east to drop him off.  Counselors were ready, cheering and welcoming at the gates. My son was nervous in the back seat. Tess spied and horse and immediately starting asking if she could stay too.

And suddenly it got real.

We unloaded his footlocker. Dropped off packages and inhalers and nailed the swim test. It was like some scene from Lord of the Flies. Boys were flying on giant swings, playing gaga ball, putt putt and basketball.  The parking lot was clearing out, Owen wanted to try out the swing and it was clearly getting time for anyone over the age of 21 to disappear.  And suddenly my memories of being a camper and a counselor were drowned out by the fact that now I am a mom.  The girl who helped us unload our footlocker told her our counselor’s name was Mullet.  I spied him on the basketball court and very uncooly interrupted the game to introduce my son. I quickly mentioned his inhaler and that it was his first time here.What I really wanted to say was..... This is my son.  My kid. Guard him. Protect him. He might get scared at night. Don’t let the other kids tease him. He is sometimes hesitant to try new things, but if you are patient and push him a little he will do it.  He is funny and smart but if he has been in the grass he will need to take a shower at night or he won’t be able to breathe.  Like him.  Pretend to be interested in Pokeman. Compliment him. Laugh at his jokes even when they don’t make sense. Remind him to brush his teeth and please please just keep him alive until Saturday.

But I didn’t say those things. I hugged him hard. (my son, not his counselor) and walked back to the car and drove the two hours back home in an unusual quiet convincing myself that Mullet sounded like a perfectly responsible name.

About midnight I was wishing for a full bottle of Xanex. And I am not usually an anxious girl. But I pictured all kind of horrible scenarios. I prayed and hoped he was having an amazing time because I was not sure I’d survive the week.  And if you know me that is crazy talk. I usually don’t worry ENOUGH about my kids, I hardly recognized this girl tossing and turning all night.  I wondered if parents of my campers had felt the same way when they dropped off their kids.

I thought about the difference I suddenly saw in my students when my son finally went to kindergarten.  You see, I love what I do and my content and take it seriously. I want to teach well.  But, when I packed my sons lunch that first day and sent him on his way I prayed mostly for a teacher who would like him, love on and encourage him more than what she actually taught him. My job and my students suddenly looked different.

As a counselor I wanted my kids to have a memorable summer. As a teacher I wanted my students to learn my content, but as a mom I want my son safe and loved.

People mostly refer to God as a father. And if you force me to pick a pronoun…I usually even use He, but…In my restless state last night….while praying and wondering if it was too late to take another Tylonal PM I thought that maybe God as a mother might be the more powerful image.

I mean no one ever mentions “Papa Bear”…it is the “Momma Bear” you have to look out for. It is a love that is fierce and protective. The momma bears who send their kids out into the world. To kindergarten, or camp or college and lose sleep worrying if they will have someone to eat lunch with. If they can tie their shoes or if they will remember to separate their lights from their darks when they do laundry.
A constant tension between loving them ferociously and still wanting them to be who they are supposed to be and have their own experiences.  

And it is so hard. My son is only 9.
He is tiny. He has bad asthma. He is afraid of the dark.
I want to keep him close and safe and most of all alive.
But I also want him to fly down ziplines, bellyslide through the mud and take a few trail rides.

I’m not sure how God the father would handle this, probably with a little more sleep than I seemed to be getting.   But I think I have a better picture of God the mother. The mother God, who loves ferociously and protectively and still finds a way to let go. A God who gives choice and experience and lets us become whoever it is we are meant to be. And one who loses sleep and pursues us when we start to become who we shouldn’t.

My son is hopefully making his own memories this week. That he finds God the father and God the mother in the woods of East Texas.  And also that he doesn’t lose his inhaler and remembers to change his underwear at least once.

for what it's worth

I woke up the day after my birthday and knew.
For months I’ve been wondering what I need to do next, or what to be when I grow up or what happens now. But that morning, with the smile lines and gray hairs showing through, looking every bit of another year older, I knew. 

So before putting on real clothes I began searching for graduate programs.
Which is a little bit silly because I already have a graduate degree.
But I figured everyone now has a Masters, I might as well have 2.

I applied to one school before my kids even got out of bed. I was looking at signing up for the GRE and trying to pick a program. I texted, emailed, called and made appointments with an advisor.

But it wasn’t really what I was looking for.

The next day, I did a little more research and stumbled upon a program that was more me.
Unfortunately it will take a whole lot longer to complete and people would get to call me doctor if I got in. I applied to my second school in as many days. One I have gotten into before but thought that never in a million years would I actually go to. I tried not to think about how much I was dropping in application fees, I sent more emails and asked more questions and seriously wondered if I had lost my mind.

A few told me that I had, but the ones closest to me where not surprised. They were actually relieved that I was looking into the longer rather than shorter paths.

Getting in wasn’t something I worried about. I have a solid resume and get at least a dozen emails a day asking me to apply to some kind of graduate program or another. I figured anyone would be happy to take my money. Until suddenly the director of my dream program emails me back and lets me know that I would be a perfect candidate, but that she should warn me that it is very competitive. That only 45% or so of applicants get in.
In other words, I better bring my A game.

I send my transcripts. I start filling out my application and asking people to be my references and now I am starting to sweat.

“What if I don’t get in?”

And this is no normal application. It requires several writing samples (which by sample they mean several pages each) with original ideas and the ideas of others. And to be sure to site my sources. I am being graded on grammar and citations.
Grammar! This can not end well for me.

Again, I hear the refrain of “What if I don’t get in?”  play through my head.

I download and read a half dozen books that aren’t my usual summer reading. I start watching keynotes and Ted Talks from experts on topics that I am going to write about.  I spend most of my drive to the beach answering the writing sample questions. I type for hours as my husband drives. Pages and pages of reflection while my son asks over and over “when are we going to get there?”

And when I finish I feel really good. Like I usually do when I get my thoughts out.
I feel like I nailed it and they will be stupid not to let me in and I do not crack open my computer the entire rest of the trip.  I can edit when I get home.

So this is a good time to tell you that I do not edit. I usually give something a quick skim and capitalize a few letters. Maybe even drop a few “to be” verbs if I am feeling extra ambitions and hit publish or send.  I love to write. But that is where I stop. Apparently there is a whole lot of work that goes into editing.  Like weeks worth of work and it is a lot more than just cleaning up some bad grammar and correcting the words that I misspelled.  It is all the extra work that takes something good and makes it better. This is the kind of boring effort that I usually don't put into anything. Not just my writing.

Most of my samples were too long. I was working on word/character limits and I needed to make them fit into the neat 1000 word text boxes that I was provided.  They needed a clear thesis and not just some rant where I actually figure out what I am saying 723 words in. I wrote. And rewrote. I emailed it out to English teachers and I made their suggested corrections. I read more. I scoured blogs and watched keynote addresses.  I had friends help me. I sought out people smarter than me. I deleted. I moved things around.  I even watched a boring youtube video on how to correctly do APA citations. And I struggled. Less with the writing and more with myself. The more I looked at my words the less good I felt about them. The more I started to hear,  “What if I don’t get in?” in my head as I trimmed and cited and rearranged.  The more I put in to this, the more I had to lose.

Yesterday afternoon I finally clicked on submit. 
A little text box popped up asking me if I was sure I was finished. That I would not be able to make any changes.
And I hesitantly clicked OK.

I leaned back into the couch and waited for the huge wave of relief and accomplishment to hit me. The cheesy mom voice telling me that I had given it my best and that should feel good about it. No matter what some review committee decides. 

That feeling never came.
Instead I fought some crazy urge to cry. 
Of laying it all out there. Truly my best efforts and having to wait four months for someone to tell me if it is good enough.
If I am good enough.

I sat there on the couch for a long time. Frozen. Watching really bad TV. Trying to convince myself that this isn’t what it is all about. 

In or Out. 
Yes or No.

My validation is not going to ever come in the form of an acceptance letter.
My worth is not going change if I am rejected.
Even if my best is not good enough that I still am.

And part of me thinks I should just type those last 3 lines over and over until they really sink in.

Three years ago I submitted a piece of writing to be published. The topic was on worth. 
That essay is far too private to ever go here. It is honest and raw and I think some of my best work. At first, the publisher loved it. Raved and said was perfect for the collection.  
In the end it was left out.  Rejected.  And I felt like I had been too.
I haven’t submitted a single thing since then to anyone.

I tell my kids all the time to try their best. That I don’t care if they score or win or make perfect grades. That I care more about their effort and not giving up.  And suddenly I wonder if I have been making that sound too easy. Giving our best at anything or to anyone is incredibly vulnerable.  It takes away all excuses and all layers of protection.  It takes away every single bit of control.  

This morning, I am back on my couch. The books and laptops have been put away and I am left with things like trust. Humility. And a handful of verses on where worth really comes from.  There is still a long time to wait.  My application may be finished, but apparently I still have a lot of things to learn.

ready for battle

My son appeared in the doorway decked out in his uniform and shinguards. His hair flopped in his face and asked, “Dad, who am I battling today?”
Me and my husband both laughed a little and I made a mental note to do a better job of limiting his video game time. 
He looked confused and asked another question, “It is a game right?”
My husband finally responded and said, “I don’t know Owen, I haven’t looked a the schedule yet. And this isn’t Pokemon, just ask who you are playing against.”

He was completely satisfied by this answer, however, I was not going to let a moment for complete cheesiness pass me by. I decided to impart a life lesson on my son which he absolutely did not want.

I told him that he was in fact battling someone today. In that really cute almost too big uniform with socks that went well over his knees.
So again he asked who?
I told him he was battling himself.
He looked at me like I was crazy, which by age nine is a look he has had a lot of time perfecting. I can not imagine what the teenage years have in store for me. I told him that regardless of what team he played against, he was trying to be better than he was the week before. He was battling to try his hardest. Play at his best. Keep going when he was tired and to get back up when he is knocked down. (Which is often). I told him that he can not always control the scoreboard, or the calls, or the opponent, but that he can always do his best to win the battle. 
Even if it means losing the game.

My son is the littlest. 
On his team. 
In his grade.
Of his friends.
He isn’t just little. He is tiny. 
Less than the 2nd percentile for height and weight.
In College Station they have a name for fans who don’t stand up at the game. Who try to leave early when the scoreboard doesn’t look promising. They call these fans two percenters.  For my son, he is a different kind of two percenter. One that I have a whole lot more respect for. The kind that has to take twice as many steps to keep up. That is much more easily knocked down. The kind of faces opponents who literally are twice his size.
That kind of two perecenter might feel like he is going into battle every game.
But I watch him game after game….get back up.
Then run over to the sideline and take a puff on his inhaler.

(start praying for his junior high years now...and FYI …urban dictionary has an additional definition for the phrase two percenter… so you might want to be careful how you use it…don’t say you weren’t warned).

My daughter just finished her first year on the soccer field. This past season she scored in every game. Sometimes four or five goals in a game. Her team was undefeated. I cheered and hoped that I remembered to bring snack on my assigned Saturday.
She learned a little bit about the game, and I learned that as girly and prissy as she can be…
that she grit in her after all.
However, she only knows what it feels like to win.
My son’s team lost every single game.  They lost every single game last season too.
Man, I hated to see those kids look defeated every week.
I still cheered from the sidelines, hoped I remembered snack and prayed my husband wouldn’t yell too loudly. And when they scored (which was usually by my son...and still incredibly rare) the sidelines cheered like they had just won the World Cup.
My son learned something incredibly important.
That losing really sucks but it isn’t the worst thing.
Quitting. Not trying. Not showing up. Those are worse things.
We all like to win, but failure is a much better teacher than success.
It still sucks though.

The last few weeks the US has exploded with World Cup fever.  I am an ex soccer player and fan, but am not quite as devoted as my husband who regularly watches games on Telemundo. I’d also rather spend my Saturday mornings running or drinking coffee than getting up early to watch the English Premier League in any language.  For the World Cup, however, I have been happy to force myself to watch all those really hot fit guys sweat it out for 90 minutes on the pitch. You know, just to make my husband happy.  It also helps that they like to take their shirts off. The US team lost while my family watched from the nosebleeds at Cowboys stadium, because Jerry Jones has the biggest TV of anyone that I know. My daughter just wanted popcorn, and pretzels and cupcakes. My son spent the first 80 or so minutes playing a game on my phone.  But he watched in desperation during the second overtime as the US failed to put another one in the net.  When they finally blew the whistle 121 minutes later…he looked up at me asking if they really lost.
Yes. They really lost.
Just look at your father over there crying in the bleachers.
But the battle. That is a different story.

Then again, maybe a girl wearing red and blue face paint is hard to take seriously.

So, who are you battling today??

free fallin

Sometimes when you are loud and obnoxious and wiling to look like a fool on a regular basis people forget that you are still afraid of things. That you are just as insecure as they are. That you still get embarrassed and petrified and your feelings hurt.

I don’t get it. I’ve had multiple people tell me how un-insecure I am. 
How I will say or do anything.
And I have to tell them that I am just as afraid as the next girl. 
And there are plenty of things that make me run away or want to wet my pants. 

Most are facing hard things like emotions, rejection or failure.
But. Let’s start with the easy stuff.

I have a few big fears.
One is snakes  (and bears or anything that could try to eat me or poison me in the woods). And I am 100% serious. And I have run-ins with both snakes and bears almost every year. 
I can hike forever. Despite being super extroverted,  I enjoy the idea of getting lost in the woods alone. I like to spot deer and elk and chipmunks and anything furry that doesn’t eat meat (or at least humans). I convince my husband to pack the gorp and follow me down the trail, but when he starts to venture off on his own, or wants to stop and fish….I insist that I can see him. So he can hear when a mountain lion or bear decides to make me their lunch. And snakes are even worse. My brother briefly had one as a pet. I also  realize that most of the ones I run into will be non venomous. Fear and rational thoughts are not usually found in the same sentence.  My father in law just teasing about a water moccasin at the lake was enough to make me fly out of the water and onto the dock. 
Growing up we’d find copperheads coiled up in the garage or laundry room. One even took up residence on my bike seat. That bike and the copperhead on it both got shot to pieces. And I wasn't even the least bit sad.
I know the chances of me getting eaten by a bear or bitten by a snake are smaller than me using the vacuum this month…slim to none.....but they are still there.
I lace up my hiking boots and swim in the lake anyways.
This year we have traded in the mountains for a long lake weekend.
Meaning, I do not have to worry about bears this year....just the snakes.

My next biggest irrational fear is heights. I think I still have nightmares about the high dive at the racquet club. My husband loves to ski, and I don’t mind snowplowing my way down the mountain…but the ride up petrifies me. There are NO seat belts on a ski lift. And sometimes it stops right in the middle and you sit there and shake in your chair. I’m pretty sure my knees knocking make our particular chair shake even more. I usually pass the time on the lift marking points where if I’d fall from that I’d likely survive or at least places where I’d hopefully die quickly.  At least in the winter the ground and giant rocks are covered in what looks like nice soft white snow….but I have been up these same lifts in the summer and they are even scarier. I am not one to pass up an experience or try something new so I often find myself looking down from such great heights despite my fear. 
I ride roller coasters. I walk across suspension bridges. I zipline. I fly every chance I get. I just sometimes do it with my eyes closed. 

This weekend we were at a national park with a very deep swimming hole and cliff diving. I have jumped off cliffs in Mexico and as soon as I saw the kids lining up to jump I figured I’d end up there as well.  My stomach was in my throat before I even slipped off my flip flops. 
My kids are not natural risk takers. I don’t want them to be fearless, but I also do not want them to live afraid. I think bravery is something that you have to practice and figured this might be the opportune time to show them that. Plus, did I mention I hate to miss out. I hate letting fear win. I hate the idea of not doing something fun just because I am scared.  My sister-in-law immediately shed her shorts and swam straight over to the cliffs. I tried to get my bearings and check out the rest of the lake. I figured I’d work my way up to it.  She quickly joined the teenage boys and plunged off the top before I’d even gotten my feet wet.

I cussed because now I figured I really had to do it.
One thing I hate more than letting fear win is being outdone.

She gave me a few pointers and I swam out to the rocks. I kept trying to tell myself that this was much lower than the high dive. That I had done scarier things before.  I have jumped off bridges, ropes courses, high dives and cliffs.

Obstacle #1, getting myself onto the rocks.  I have the upper body strength of a kitten. A very weak kitten. I can pull myself out of the swimming pool, but algae covered rocks is a different story.  I knew my family was watching on the other side of the water as I tried and failed to shimmy myself up no less than a half dozen times. It did not help that teenage boy after teenage boy buoyed themselves up with about as much effort as lifting a cotton ball right beside me. After many failed attempts and promises to myself to start doing pushups.....I managed to beach myself onto the slab of rock.

Obstacle #2, getting to the top.  My hometown high dive and the cliffs in Mexico had something these did not. A ladder.  I started to climb the rocks which is no easy task when you have the biceps of a kitten. One that hasn’t been hanging in there for a while. I swear there must have been a direct relationship between how many inches high I went and the amount my knees were shaking.  My feet and hands were still slick and I kept sliding back down. I tried to psyche myself up the whole time. Noting how I had watched at least 20 kids jump and so far not one of them had died or even required a care flight. I tried to tell myself how good it would feel to jump even though I was petrified. I wondered what my in-laws or the rest of the moms would think if I shouted the f-word on my decent. I kept climbing and slipping and shaking.

One of my favorite books (download or order it right now if you haven’t read it or at least read the chapter I am referring to for free on Amazon) is Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir...of Sorts by ― Ian Morgan Cron
And he tells a similar story about letting his kids jump off of a similar cliff called “The Forty” . When I think about doing scary things I often remember that chapter.  In it he says this:

“There is a big difference in life between a jump and a fall. A jump is about courage and faith, something the world is in short supply of these days. A fall is, well, a fall.”

(read the whole part here…and it is SO WORTH IT )

That story of the Forty kept running through my head as I made slow slippery progress on the rocks.

And I wanted to jump, because I seem to fall all the time.  But jumping is on purpose. Thinking that chances of landing safely are good, but not guaranteed. Doing it even though it is scary and hard and unsure. Jumping is thrilling, partly because of the risk.  People say they fall in love.
And I doubt them. You don’t fall you jump. At least in most healthy relationships.
Except for maybe Taylor Swift, but at least you can get a good song out of it.
Falling is reckless and stupid. And I have done it over and over again. 
And landed on my ass every. single. time.
Jumping occasionally lands me in the exact same spot but somehow it feels good anyways.
Even the parts that hurt or knock the wind out of you.

I kept climbing.
I kept slipping.
My husband was on the banks waiting with a camera.
I grew more petrified by the second.
I got a few more feet up and started slipping again. Despite the half dozen boys Spiderman-ing it up the cliff I did not think I could go another inch.
The only problem was that I had gotten high enough and the rocks were steep enough that I was not sure how to get back down either. 
I was left with some crappy options.
a) keep going up and jump.
b) potentially slip and fall over the edge. 
c) embarassingly make my way back down on my belly which might also end in option b.

I have spent my life falling. And was not about to fall when I wanted to jump.  I am usually more afraid of looking like a chicken than whatever it is that I am actually afraid of. However this time pride did not win out.
I compromised a bit and went down just a few feet to a slightly lower, less impressive ledge. (possibly the ledge that the girls and kids who hadn’t quite hit puberty were jumping from). There was nothing impressive about my jump.  Teens kept pummeling themselves off rocks well above me as I closed my eyes and threw myself into the cold deep water below. And it still seemed like a long way down. I didn’t yell any obscenities. I am not sure I really even enjoyed the fall. 
But I still jumped. 

Falling isn’t the fun part. 
We think it is because we aren’t in control.
But falling is scary.
Jumping is even more scary because you chose to do it.
The good part is being able to say you jumped.
The fun part is letting yourself feel brave.
There are no bragging rights in a fall.

I emerged gasping out of the water only slightly embarrassed at my abbreviated plunge.
Of course I had thrown myself over the edge so fast my husband had missed the photographic proof.  My adrenaline rush and escalated pulse was more than enough proof enough for me and I felt no need to do it again just for the sake of Instagram.

I let my kids swim for a bit longer and explored the rest of the lake. Before slipping my shoes back on and hiking back to the car, I watched as teenage boy after teenage boy (and yes….pretty much it was only teenage boys) threw themselves over the edge. They jockeyed for the highest points. Some did backflips. Some from my own lower ledge. 
But they all jumped.
I watched fear leap over the edge at least thirty more times before we hiked back up to the car.
And I’d like to think that I left a little of my own fear back on the cliffs as well.

On our way back to the car I was still flying a little high on adrenaline and the beauty of the day. I was busy feeling brave until a long green snake slithered across the road. My son tried to chase it down while I sprinted the rest of the way to to car.

an easy to follow summer bucket list

Yesterday I got a text around 8 am from a friend asking if we were back and town and what we were up to that day.
That is not the norm.
Normally by 8:00 am on a weekday I am wearing something that I had to iron (or at least should have been ironed),  already finished my second cup (and last cup) of coffee and am wrapping up my first period class. There are no thoughts to entertaining myself or my own children…just praying that I remembered to sign my son’s homework folder and hoping I can find where I set my copies.

But this is summer so the rules change. I put down my book for a minute to read her text in my pjs while wondering if it was ok to let my daughter wear the same clothes she had worn the day before and also slept in. I texted back immediately that were free and that I was up for doing something. And by something I told her I meant sitting on her couch and drinking her coffee doing nothing. I didn’t shower despite the fact that I’d run the night before and hoped she’d appreciation the clean t-shirt and spritz of perfume I put on for her benefit and headed out the door. And even though this girl is usually so together and accessorized she looked every bit of June that I did when she let us in.  She brewed coffee and we caught up for a bit before I finally told her please for the love of all things holy to go and put on a bra. 
She complied and I’m pretty sure that is the most productive thing either of us did all day.

We got a new puppy in January…and he is the cutest most needy thing ever.  Well, besides my two biological children. And I figure I have a lot in common with this new member of our family. I do not get so excited that I pee when I meet someone new ( but almost) or eat every stuffed animal in the house ( I figure he is just helping us simplify and as long as he doesn’t chew up an American Girl doll or my nice running socks we are ok). However, when I am bored or have too much time on my hands….I often end up getting myself into trouble. (like the dog). I just turned 36 this week and you’d think that I would outgrow it…but not so much. So last week at the first hint of summer I took out one of my favorite composition notebooks and wrote down 10 things I wanted to do daily this summer to keep me out of trouble and make good use of my time.  I did this last year and it kept the laundry from piling up and me motivated. And it is such a good list. Things like pray, do 100 sit ups, learn something, laundry, give something away and have actual quality conversations with everyone in my family.  And I’ll keep that list around….but…

There are all these summer bucket lists that I keep seeing on facebook.  The kind that could make even Martha Stewart feel inadequate. I even had my kids write their own at dinner the other night. It involved a lot of swimming, pokemon and snowcones. (Done. Done. and Done). But I also have seen the how to give your kids a 70s summer floating around and I am not going to lie….I want both.

I want my kids to have new and amazing experiences and I want to clean out my closets, write lessons plans, figure out what I want to be when I grow up, eat dinner at the table every night, write a book, hang out with homeless people, lose 20 lbs, grow spiritually, make memories with my family, see everyone and everything.  And I did just apply to graduate school yesterday (ok, so maybe I was a teensy bit productive …but I swear I did not shower or put away so much as a single mismatched sock.) Some of those things will happen. Some won’t. And in August…no matter how many lists I write I will look at my calendar and say where did the summer go and why didn’t I do half the things I wanted to.  Maybe I should rethink the list.

So after my first shower in three days I decided to write my own modified bucket list:

1. Sleep past 8 am. Sounds easy, but after 10 months of waking up a 5 am this is a serious challenge.
2.  A  challenge that I should be able to meet by staying up past 10:30. On. A. School. Night.
3.   I teach highschool, but sometimes it feels like junior high.  Attempt to stay out of junior high.
4.   Have the women who work at the donut shop in my neighborhood….start asking if I want my regular.
5.   If you are what you eat, then I’d like to become waffle fries, really thin pizza and pie. Preferably from Pie Emporium…but I’m not really all that picky.
6   Fully embrace gluten. and carbs. I’m pretty sure all the hate they have gotten the last few years that they need some extra love. I can supply that extra love.
7.  Run the bottoms off my brand new sneakers. (see #4-#6)
8.  Burn my tongue on a s’more. This will happen anyways…I might as well add it to the list so I can feel accomplished.
9. Read more than LaVar Burton.
10. Watch the second season of Orange is the New Black in less than week.
11. Watch all of True Detective and take recommendations for what new show I should binge watch. Or….rewatch all 6 seasons of Gilmore Girls and tell Owen that if he had been a girl he would have been named Rori.
12. Strictly enforce nap time. For myself. Not my kids.
13.  Keep my car clean enough so that it doesn’t look like there is a family of 12 living out of it.
14. Shower and change clothes as infrequently as possible. This goes for my kids too. (laundry problem solved).
15. Invest in a pair of pajama jeans.
16. Teach Tess how to work the microwave so she can make her own Easy Mac and popcorn. 
17. Get rid of all the metal in my house (see #16).
18.  Teach shaun how to braid and do a ponytail before school starts. (forget teaching Tess to count past twelve-teen…Shaun is the only one home getting my kids ready for school, her teacher can teach her to count but someone will have to do her hair if she is going to survive kinder).
19.  Learn all the lyrics to all of the following: Ice Ice Baby, Redneck Girl, Baby Got Back, and We Didn’t Start the Fire. 
20.  Hit the beach and lake as often as I can.
21. Try to apply sunscreen all over and evenly rather than just the big white handprint I ended up with on my back last year.
22. Since I will apparently be spending a lot of time in a swimsuit, try to remember to shave my legs more than once a week.
23. Spend quality time with my kids. And my couch.
24.  Create the perfect road trip playlist. (road trips are a given)
25. Not get another speeding ticket. This will take most of my effort and prayer over the next 8 weeks.
26. Delete all the embarrassing pictures from my phone. Learn how to delete them from the cloud. (I am pretty sure that is IMPOSSIBLE).
27. Not back my car into anything.
28. End hunger and establish world peace ( I was feeling like this list might be a bit selfish and lazy this should redeem me….)

I could probably keep going on with this nonsense….but I’m sure you get the idea…and I think that any list with more than 4 things on it is a bit lofty anyways. What can I say I have always been an overachiever.

If you see me driving around town. The chances are good that my windows will be rolled down, I probably need to shower...and this song will be blaring.....sing along...or remind me to slow down.

teams and bad tan lines

Some of my friends are into their 3rd week of summer. I haven't even made it to my third day. Yesterday was my first official non-duty day...and I spent it hanging out with my favorite new 9 year old.
Today. I went back to work.
So much for getting the summers off.
I went to a workshop where different administrators did mini Ted Talks on education.
I listened intently to the first speaker ....but then apparently my attention span was already on summer break and I began to drift and I tried to process some of what was said and 
two old posts below that kept coming to mind.

The first speaker really tried to draw out the why of what we do...and how most corporations really nail the what and the how but don't always sell the why. (watch some Simon Sinek)
I also think that our whys are often attached to a who.
A who that encouraged us, or maybe even a who who said we couldn't or shouldn't. (My why has both) And more importantly the whose who we get to be. (and suddenly I feel like Dr. Seuss). I have struggled with the "why" question and especially the "what next" question for the last year or so....and have decided that the answers are related.
As I tried to listen to the remaining speakers I kept coming back to this post I wrote a few years ago about getting the order wrong. My list wasn't What, How, Why...
....but I think maybe in someways it answers the same questions.  I originally wrote  it in 2011....but I felt like re-reading it again today.

The Spirit of the Game
In  the attic is a yellow pinstriped shirt with a front pocket. In which I kept a little black wallet with a red and yellow card. I have long since lost my line flags, but still have and occasional wear the knee high black socks with the tell-tale white stripes across the top. 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to ref. Soccer. And I was pretty bad at it and mostly only reffed 12 and under games or college intermurals. But I had the uniform and the whistle and my very own stopwatch and the power to make a break a game for a team.

And they don’t give just anyone that yellow shirt (actually anyone can buy one), but you have to take a class and pass a test to earn your badge. Or get official jobs. And there are forms to fill out with every game. And you get an awful knee tan. And everyone pretty much hates you. The only plus was a decent workout and some cash in your hand at the end of the day.

My days reffing taught me a few things: 
That the angles on the field and the ones on the sidelines are not the same. 
When you can’t see how kicked it out it is always best to call it in favor of whatever side you are closest to. 
Not to hesitate or waver on your call – do it fast and with confidence even if you don’t have a clue.
That it isn’t cool to yell at your kid. But it is really cool to yell at the dad who is yelling at his kid.
That it is really fun to give someone a card.
That almost every spectator thinks they know what off sides is, but almost none of them really do.
That it hurts bad, to get hit in the back of the head with the ball. 
That extra time is discretional.
That sometimes I could run off the field faster than any of the players if I thought there was going to be trouble.
That no one likes a team that runs up the score.
That there are lot of rules to keep straight and weird what if scenarios, but more importantly than any that I found in my 37 page manual was something called “spirit of the game”.

Because in soccer there are lots of clear cut rules. But there is also lots of interpretation and discretion. There is also something called advantage. Unlike basketball, if a player is fouled, but the fouled team is in good position possibly to score you don't stop the game for the penalty. You let the fouled team play on.  Sometimes you don’t call a bad throw in or an accidental handball or a flop. If a ref stopped the game for every teensy violation – soccer games would take forever and be almost as slow to watch as baseball. A bad ref makes too many calls and impedes the flow of the game OR not doesn’t make enough calls and let the teams get out of hand. And as a player you know within the first 10 minutes of the game how rough the ref is going to let things get. Too rough and people get hurt. The rules are there for a reason. For players protection.  A good ref knows when to make a call and most importantly when not to. And makes good decisions all based on the “spirit of the game”. Because whether it is a professional team out there on the pitch or the cutest five year old I know. It is still a game.

And I teach school. We have a giant handbook full of rules. And they are all there for a reason. Most of them I even understand and agree with. But sometimes we have to remember why we are here. And it isn't listed in any code of conduct. And not everyone sees it this way. There are plenty of people in my building who are strict rule followers. Some of my best friends are. They insist that consistency is key and that you have to show your kids that you mean business. And that you follow the rule in every situation and scenario regardless of the situation.

But I don’t really care about meaning business. 
I care about teaching them. And I just care about them period. 
So occasionally, I ignore a rule in the spirit of the game. 
I give them the advantage.
And I don’t think I should have to apologize or defend this. 
I worry about them first, then my content, and then the rules. And a lot of teachers go in the opposite order.
And maybe they have higher test scores than me. So be it.

And a lot of Christians look at the bible the same way.
Rules first, content second, and then getting down to loving last.
Which I'm pretty sure isn't the order it should go in. 

And I’m pretty sure I made more than my share of bad calls on the soccer field, and maybe I should bust a few more kids for ids or tardies or cell phones.
And I think that rules are important. In games. In schools. In society. And even in within our faith. 
But. They were never meant to come first.
Maybe not even second.

Ironically the speaker today was a pretty big rule follower...but I think maybe she would agree.

And the rest wasn't the topic of any talk.....just a theme that keeps showing up in my world. I posted this years ago...but...keeps creeping back in.  Maybe I am a slow learner...

Saturdays are spent hauling lawn chairs and water bottles. Watching from the sidelines. Cheering and chatting with the other moms as my kids run up and down the soccer field. Or on the couch grading papers while my college team has another average year on the football field. My husband follows even more teams, he TiVos premier leaugue soccer, MLS, baseball and any other sport that they will show on TV.
We support our local teams, our college team and more than occasionally the underdog.

We all want someone to root for. And someone to root for us.

Even better than cheering on your favorite team is being a part of one.  Up until my senior year of high school – I suited up for the tennis team. But tennis is really an individual sport. Even if you are wearing matching windpants. Occasionally I played doubles – but two is more of a duo –not so much a team. Senior year, title IX, and my school started a girls soccer team. No one had ever heard of Mia Hamm even though she had already won her first world cup. My team was not winning any world cups, and barely won any games. But I remember my first real game. Beneath the lights. Spread out on the field.  Losing 10 to 1 or something equally awful but with matching double french braids, new jerseys and gum tattoos and thinking this was different. This is how it felt to be on a team. And I liked it better. Even getting our ass kicked and sucking wind.

Teams are not limited to who we root for or what jersey we wear. They find us or we find them at work or church or your neighborhood everyday. We form alliances worthy of Survivor. And sometimes even seemingly the most mature work/church/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-group environments could put junior high girls to shame. And to some degree they can be good. People to vent to, or make copies for you or watch your class while you run to the restroom. People who don’t think you are crazy when you ask a question at Bible study or don’t laugh when you fall asleep in the pick up line. These people are on your team. You can count on them. And that is a good feeling. It is one of my favorite things about being married. Knowing that at least one other person is always on my team. Unless of course we are playing a board game or a quick set of tennis and then I am most definitely trying to beat him.

But sometimes people try to put you on the opposing team or force you to pick a side. I’ve had people make assumptions that surely I am on their team. They assume I vote the same way, hate who they hate and hold the same grudges they do. When I am not even sure I want to play the same game. It makes me tired and sad and confused. Like maybe I should be on their team, even though it isn’t a game I want to play. And I can’t help but think we have picked the wrong opponent. Maybe it is just easier to try and beat someone else, than to try to win.

There is a story in book of Joshua, crazy old testament stuff.  A weird plan to take down an enemy where he was outnumbered with a far fetched strategy involving marching around the city a few times and blowing a horn. That's it. That was the entire plane and then right before go time a sword bearing angel shows up. Joshua lays a pretty big question on him,  “Are you ready for us or for our enemies?”

In other words –Are you sending me in to get slaughtered? Will you take care of me?
Should I trust you? Are you who you say you are? Are you good?

Are you even on my team? Or you on my enemies?

 And God’s messenger answered with a shocker. He didn’t say “of course I am on your side Joshua" or “Trust me”. Or “We are going to slaughter them.” Or “I have your back” or even “let’s get rid of those awful Isrealites”.

Instead he said this.

I doubt that is the reassurance Josh was hoping for. 
Joshua asks whose side he is on, and God's messenger says neither. Right before he was supposed to put his crazy plan into action. Instead he said simply that he was here. And to take off his shoes because the place was now holy. (Joshua5:14)

Maybe God doesn’t pick teams.
Instead he shows up.
And that is more than enough.
Maybe Joshua didn’t ask the right question.
Maybe his question should have been directed at himself.
“Who am I for?”

And that tiny shift in perspective changes everything.

And. I still have to remind myself of those questions...
"Why?" and  "Who am I for?" 

But first.....a long overdue summer break.

And my favorite Ted Talk of all time. (I tried to be cool and find some obscure Ted Talk to throw out here...but....this one kills me every. single. time.)

 and in the name of vulnerability...

the graduate

Yesterday I made a terrible error in judgement.
Huge. One I should have known better.
I went to Party City to pick up some things for my son’s birthday party on our town’s Graduation day.
The line was longer than the wait for the women's bathroom at an Indigo Girls concert. 

Eventually I had all plates and cups and party crap I needed and got into line. 
Years later, I made it to the front and the checkout guy asked what the occasion was, if I was in on any of this graduation hoopla. I told him that the Pokemon trading cards were for my son’s 9th birthday party…NOT…high school graduation. And I pray that my he has outgrown this Pokemon thing by then if he EVER wants to kiss a girl that is not a robot. But then quickly added that I was going to attend graduation later that night. I told him that I teach high school and get to graduate every year. He laughed appropriately but I was only partly kidding.

Every year I walk on stage and sit with hundreds of graduates nervously pulling on their tassels, praying not to trip as they walk across the stage and trying to blow up a beach ball or slip on their shades with out me noticing.
And every year I get listen to speech after speech encouraging them to move on. To go forth. To make a difference. To do something. It is cliche. The speeches are all filled with quotes and inspirational stories. Some blow me away. Some I pray will wrap it up fast.

I listen and I remember sitting in their seats in G. Rollie White Coliseum trying to spot my friends and family in that giant crowd. Then, I also worried about not tripping across the stage. How my hair looked. Where I was going afterwards. As in the after graduation party, not my future.  It would be another few months before I packed up my Taurus and drove it 7 hours north and west. To an empty dorm with a potluck room mate.  This life where I knew no one. My bulletin boards, tiny closet and my now empty gas tank. All of us waiting to be filled up with something new. My dad showed the RAs card tricks while I died from humiliation and hoped that this new girl that I was going to share a closet with would like me ok. Or at least tolerate my James Dean posters and superior musical tastes. And not tell anyone that I occasionally snore.

Back then I did not listen to the speakers, or if I did I can't remember what was said.
I did not listen then, so I try to listen now. Year after year of quotes and jokes.
I can barely remember the girl I was. Sitting in the second to the last row. But I am sure that someone stood on the stage and tried to tell her to go forth and make something of her self.

That was almost 20 years ago, and I’m still working on the “making something of myself” part but I did go. And it has been one of the best decisions I ever made. 
My siblings and many of my friends all stayed in town and went to A&M.  
I went to a college that required a 2 connection flight to get home rather than a drive across town. I had no friends and only a few acquaintances in this dusty West Texas town that smelled on most days of cow shit. Where the wind always blew and it actually snowed in the wintertime.

My new roommate brought a microwave and TV, and also from home a boyfriend who lived in the adjoining boys dorm across the lobby. Which meant I never saw her.  She would not become my new BFF like I’d hoped and we certainly wouldn’t have matching comforters.
For the first semester some nights I’d heat up ramen in my dorm room because I didn’t have anyone to sit in the dining hall with and I wasn’t quite brave enough to eat alone.
Remembering that just a few short months before I’d sat in my folding chair and I had been the girl with good grades. With the honors stole. With the Varsity letters. With the scholarships. And with the yearbook full of signatures and pictures.
Here, all I had was a bag cell phone. A major I was uncertain of and a thick binder full of CDs.
….and ramen.

The first semester was lonely. The boyfriend I had left behind had not called. This was a world pre-face time, pre-instagram and even pre-facebook. My dorm room did not have internet and I had to go to the basement of the library to check emails. I’d have them printed out on the slowest dot matrix printer in the universe just so I could read them later instead of studying or watching episodes of friends on my roommate’s TV that was the size of a shoebox. I struggled to find enough quarters to do my laundry, to go to my 8 am classes, and to remember where I parked my car.  My first semester was full of bad decisions. Something I had never seen in my life — a C on my transcript. Boys I shouldn’t have kissed. Parties and football games. I joined teams and clubs and organizations. I went almost anywhere I was invited. To church or out dancing or to get a tattoo. Eventually I ate way less ramen. Instead I sat in the hallway until 2 am talking and eating slices of pizza, I stole bathrobes from the showers down the hall. I made friends who I had no history with, who didn't  even know my last name and it was then I finally started to realize who I could be.

Because I came alone,  I came without anyone remembering that I won the science fair.
or who I’d gone to Homecoming with.
or any of the embarrassing scenarios I could type out here (and there are hundreds to choose from).
There was no reputation to live up or down.
There were no parents near by to make decisions for me.
To gain or lose approval from.
There was just all this empty space (and trust me Lubbock is full of empty space) to figure out who I was.

I’m still figuring it out.

Last night I sat I also sat in the second to the last row of graduates, but I am far from the same girl. Back then quite possibly the best advice any commencement speaker could have given the 17 year old version of me would be to not wash my whites with my reds and to not sign up for 8 am classes. But maybe these speeches and ceremonies are not just for graduates.
We all occasionally need to be reminded of the freedom to move on and go forth and take the next step and fail just as much as all graduates sitting on the stage next to me.  Maybe we need to hear it even more at 30 than 18. and 40. and 50. and I hope I am still starting over and struggling at 80.

It should be no surprise that one of my favorite commencement addresses ever is by Conan O Brien who says this: 
"I've dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed. Your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Because success is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way.

"I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.

"So, that's what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over."

So just like I told the cashier at Party City.
I graduate every year.

I don’t wear a graduation robe, but I still seek that permission.
To go.
To do something.
and to fail.
To keep figuring it out.
To be more of who I’d like to be and less of who people expect me to be.
And I don’t need to turn my tassel or drive North to do that.

In the almost 20 years since my graduation I am thankful for a few things:
That there was NO such thing as social media when I was in college, meaning most of my bad decisions are undocumented and not publicly displayed. That my husband mostly does the laundry and doesn’t get mad when his socks end up pink. That we almost never have Ramen for dinner .
and especially this...
   That the story is never over.

Congratulations Class of 2014 and every other year before that.

(on  a slightly related note...a few years ago I wrote a letter to my 16 year old self...