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preachers and parades.

Months ago, I sat in a pew and tried to not think about the fact that you could count on one hand the number of white congregants in the room.
And I was one of them.
 I did not want to draw attention to myself, but despite the fact that I have been to church most Sundays of my life, I had no idea what to do. When to sit, stand, pray or the lyrics to any of the songs. The rules here seemed so different than my own church, just a few miles away. Filled with people who mostly looked like me.
 A few elderly African American women were seated next to me and were kind enough to attempt to make me feel welcome and tell me what to do. At some point Eunice, in a bright purple dress, slid her arthritic hand on top of mine, squeezed and tugged me to the front to pray.
 I let her lead me, because I didn’t how else to respond, and because she seemed so genuinely glad that I was there, singing off key next to her.

 It was not lost on me, that my slight discomfort was one of choice and ended just as quickly as I got in my car and drove home. That discomfort is one most people, in that same sanctuary, probably feel all the time. I wondered how often they were one of the few people of color in a white sea. I wondered if there was anyone kind enough to take their hand, welcome them and patiently show them what to do.

 Some of my friends invited me to go to the Dallas Pride parade and join them giving out free mom hugs. Painting signs and making shirts of welcome and acceptance to a group that can often feel strained relationships with their own parents. We hoped to be stand-ins.
We pulled up in a minivan. I looked more like I belonged on a Target aisle, than in a pride parade. I had not ordered a mom hug shirt so I looked in my closet until I found some rainbow tie-dyed t-shirts in the back. We found a place along the parade route, right in front of a church that was doing it right-- giving away water and opening its doors and restrooms. The lawn was full of spectators dressed in all kinds of things and the fanciest of shoes. Music blared, drinks flowed and I quickly started to sweat through my tie-dye. Even with my long history with the Indigo girls, I still couldn’t help but feel out of place. Like I didn’t fit. And despite the fact that a guy behind me had on a blue wig, 3 inch heels and fishnets, that people were looking AT ME.
Yet, no one told me to leave, or questioned my morality, motives or even my footwear.

 Two college age looking girls to my left, hesitantly asked if it was really ok to ask for a hug. Another obnoxious guest, who had overserved herself and yelled in our ears, saw the signs and said she was likely almost the same age as us, but could really use a mom hug.
We obliged.
There were plenty of hugs. Some shy. Some sweaty. More than a few with glitter. Some people literally ran to us with open arms and hearts.
Kind of like Eunice’s open hands.

I went to a black church to learn and because I believe in unity (and for the music, duh).
I went to the parade for many of the same reasons.

In both places I realized that I, in all my privilege, was suddenly the other. Even if it was only for a few hours.
I stood out. I was uncomfortable. I wondered what people would think. I worried if it was ok to be tagged on facebook.
And I was only treated with love. Hugged a hundred times. Dragged to the altar. Welcomed and asked back by people who were not always treated as kindly by people like me. The same as me.

That discomfort is not an easy outfit to put on. But it is an excellent teacher. And the best hugger and hand-holder I know.


My annual REAL Christmas letter

(things to note...I make super cute kids, but they don't wear shoes and we don't rake our leaves...win some, lose some)

One of my favorite traditions for a decade has been to sit down and try to write a REAL Christmas letter.  Not just the highlights, but a few honest moments as well. It started as a joke with one of my friends, thinking how refreshing it be for people to share more than just their perfect lives that we are used to seeing on Facebook and Instagram. It would be way more truthful and a whole lot more entertaining.
I don’t set true New Year’s resolutions, because I know that I will eventually break them, but I always reflect this time of year and set a few goals. In this case, “few” might mean dozens. Last January, however, my only goal was to make it through the Spring semester. I had my first internship, my last true graduate class (that seems to be a lie because I keep having to turn in papers) in addition to my normal day job, two kids and a condition that can set me back for weeks at a time. I bought a calendar and used it religiously. I crammed extra hours into my work day by eating lunch while walking down the hall, during passing periods or occasionally even skipping it all together (and I am not known to miss a meal). I went to more meetings than I ever have in my life. I took notes and I did my best to listen even though I am a girl that only wants to talk. I made it through only to repeat the same thing (sans class) in the fall. This internship has in many ways engulfed my year, free time and perspective. I spent an entire year learning to be someone that I am not quite yet. I constantly felt in between who I am now and who I eventually want to be while trying to figure out who that even was. I tried to make some professional changes, such as using an iron and keeping my mouth shut (of course I am still working on both of those), but there are personal lessons in that as well. We often find ourselves in a state of becoming and it is hard and awkward and unsteady to see who we want to be but haven’t managed to figure out all the way. Getting a grade for it somehow makes it easier to pursue, ask questions, to seek and to stumble. I occasionally wish there were those formalities in my personal becoming. Permission to figure it out and learn instead of the expectations I put on myself to already be.
My husband turned forty in October. These next few months are my only season to tease him before I join him in June. The truth is that I am looking forward to it. I  have made forty out to be this decade of permission to give up expectation. To wear house shoes into Starbucks, to say no when I want and to stop buying jeans with holes in them. To stop caring about the things that I think other people care about when I doubt they are even paying attention. I know those things have very little to do with waking up some magic day a year older and suddenly wiser, so I am trying to ease into it earlier. Giving myself extra permissions and nos and certainly buying a better moisturizer.
As I tried to sort out what to write, so much of my year seems like the last. I have the same job, the same address, went on the same vacations. It sounds almost boring and disappointing at first, but there is thankfulness in that sameness. The goodness and steadiness that this year has brought me when I see so much disruption in some of my loved ones lives and the world around me. All I have to do is watch the news or check the weather and it seems like everything else has gone off the rails. I do not expect so much steadiness in the year to come and am glad for this year to catch my breath.
My husband practically lives in the garage and has taken on an entirely new scent of saw dust and spray paint. He makes amazing things that hang on my walls and are given to friends. He has been trying to sell some of them, mostly to buy new tools and pay for ER bills when he skills saws his thumb instead of the wood. His sales are slow, but I love the extra inventory to give to gift and that fact that my husband is putting himself out there in my own season of retreat. I often come home from an errand to find his car gone, and my kids tell me he has gone to the store. Great I think and text him a list of five more groceries we are running out of, turns out to my husband “going to the store” means….going to Lowes, which unfortunately, does not sell cereal or coffee. Our kids can mostly stay home alone without a sitter, which means I manage to see more of this guy and have meals alone with him even if it is just across the street because we are too tired to go North of 20, much less into Dallas.
Owen started junior high and the transition has not been the smoothest. He loses all the things, his lunch, his jacket, his homework and often his shoes. He has started taking drum lessons and praise Jesus for electric drumkits with headphones. I think he is holding out for a lead singer and guitar player before he starts booking shows. Junior high does not have a soccer team, so he has started playing tennis instead. I think he has found his sport, at least for the next two years. He medaled at his first tournament - even if I did have to tell him not to rub in the score.  In addition to his sportsmanship and organization, we are working on his grades. Despite my desire to jump in and organize his notebook every night, lay out his clothes and email his teachers when I disagree with something, we have really given him the lead and stepped back. Just like the rest of us he stumbles and forgets a deadline, but mostly he has managed to navigate all of his changes. This last six weeks he had a random acts of kindness project. We have been spending time at the food bank, picking up trash, busing tables, opening doors and returning shopping carts. It has been my favorite way to spend time with him and such a reminder of this kind almost teenager that occasionally smells funny. In addition the manager of Chick-fil-a noticed him cleaning tables and offered him a job. At least we know he has options if those grades never go up.
This summer I pressed his pediatrician to look into his growth (or lack thereof) and after X-rays, biopsies, blood work, passing out and bone scans, we came back with a positive for celiac. He has no other physical symptoms but it makes sense that he would grow so slowly if he is not absorbing nutrients properly. The great thing about celiac is the easy fix - give up gluten and be super vigilant of cross contamination. Celiac is genetic and I have always had stomach issues, so I gave up gluten with him. That is easier said than done, and my son is handling the lack of donuts much better than I am. I am still grieving my glazed friends. My son just had to write a memoir for a class, the idea of my twelve year old writing a memoir is hilarious to me. He wanted to write about a not so great kindergarten year….but fell short after only being able to remember about two sentences worth. Instead he wrote about this diagnosis and change. Other than the occasional blood work and huge fear of needles it does not seem to be that big a deal to him. To me, it feels like just one more thing to give up (or a million things if you count all the pies). They said it would take about 3-6 months for his gut to heal and hopefully then he would start growing. It has only been about two since he has been on his diet and I measured him yesterday just to see. The sharpie mark has already moved up a bit. It was a good reminder that sometimes we have to give things up to grow. Up doorframes and in our own hearts.
My Tess is having a slightly less eventful year. Last Spring her soccer team lost almost all of their games, this season they were undefeated. Same coach, same team, same fields  - sometimes all it takes is making it through one season and entering another. Off the field we are rushing off to  drama class, or choir practice, or UIL. She works on her accents and writes plays in all her free time, despite the fact that I have to bribe her to read books. She is her own person who is hardly influenced by my tastes in food, clothing or music. We almost had a knock down drag out in the clothes section of Target last week based on my shirt suggestions and she still holds firm to her dislike of cheese and guacamole (I am considering genetic testing to see if we are really related). She prays every night that she is not gluten free because cupcakes are her favorite food group. She loves horses and blue jeans but shares my love of the beach. We have finally learned how to tame her wild mane, which involves embracing the curl, rather than brushing it down. I have a feeling we will be embracing some form or another of her “curl” for the next dozen or so years. Who knew there were such life lessons in her fine locks? She is my creative child, “making”all the time, just like her daddy, with words, markers, boxes fabric  or even Q-tips (like the brand new box I purchased and hunted all over for). Some days it is hard to remember that she is nine because she feels fifteen. All of her emotion is too much and sometimes just explodes in tears or screams and I do not have a clue how to handle it.  I know well the too much, just not how to get across to a third grader that this is normal, that you will feel it your whole life. I tell her to breathe, to count to four, to cry it out, or even to go scream in her room  - just not to draw blood on your brother or yell in my face. I tried to tell her cleaning her room (or heck, even my room) would make her feel better but she didn’t buy it. We are still working on this. It is hard. What isn’t hard, having her crawl into bed and watch a movie, getting frozen yogurt, watching her score a soccer goal, hearing how smart she is and seeing how proud she is to learn something new. This girl hates to back down and she hates to be late, both of which come straight from me, just like her freckles. I think both will serve her well, but currently the refusal to back down is getting her grounded on a weekly basis. Some mornings I think we should seriously rethink the acting classes.
The highs: Owen was confirmed and baptized (all the tears). I passed my prelims (all the tears). Less pain. I had the biggest snow cone in all the land and finally found a place within a 20 mile radius that makes gluten free donuts (on Sundays, if you can get there in time).  Owen pulled off the best Halloween costume ever. Tess rocked her school performance with a leading role as a seven legged-octopus. Renting a pub bike to celebrate 40 years of my husband on this planet, even if it was ridiculously cold. Hearing some of my favorite authors and speakers and bands (even if I did wear earplugs and complain about how late it was). Less wine and more laughter.  The beach, the mountains, the lake and at least once or twice managing to hang up every single article of clothing in my house.
The lows: Since this is an “honest” Christmas letter - I will tell you that there were plenty. Just at the moment, as I reflect on the year….they are not the ones that stick. They are the ones that I have to think harder about to remember. They are the ones that I don’t plan on carrying with me into the new year so I won’t waste time typing them here.
Unlike this past year I expect very little in the new year to stay the same. As I look at 2018 and I look at 40, I look forward to giving myself even more permission, change, travel, new roles and relationships, to let go of things as I reach for new ones and to constantly outgrow myself. I expect it to be hard in all the best ways and unavoidably a few of the worst ones. This has been a good year, but there is so much more waiting for me in the next.
(look how cute and happy my kids are.....just know that my friend paid them 20$ to let her take this photo)




voice

I remember waking up the day after the election tired and stunned. When I got to work I went downstairs to make copies and make some tea and did not make it back to my classroom until right before the tardy bell rang. I have a large class, full of all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds. I had not even thought about how they would respond to the election and that since we begin school so early that I might be the first adult they saw that day. 
Immediately an African American on the front row told me that she was disappointed in our country. I teach science, not government and thought that I needed to turn the conversation as quickly as I could safely back to the objectives on the board, but I could not ignore her hurt and the rest of the quiet in the room. I told her that  regardless of what candidate she supported that this country is run by more than one person, that very soon she would be able to vote, that she had a voice. Behind her, a student that also has different color skin than me, asked with an honesty and an ache in her voice that did something to my gut, 

“But do I have a voice???”

I did not know what to say. I wanted to have a great reassuring adult answer, but all I had was a new ache.  So I did a terrible thing and moved on to the lesson, even though there was a more important one being asked of me that day.  Throughout my morning I heard my Hispanic students joke about walls and being sent back to Mexico. They joked, but there was still some fear in their laughter.
I wanted so badly to reassure them, but I did know what I could promise or offer.  My own relatives and address were not on the line.

Months later, no matter what is on CNN or Fox News or posted on social media …. I still see my 5th period class. I try to filter it through their 62 eyes.
The jokes and questions and discomfort. The ones that I know where glad about the outcome and the others who felt uncentered, unheard or afraid.
I hear the question, “but do I have a voice?” in their voice, when I read my friends’ opposing opinions, when I read a new executive order and even when I read my Bible.
They wear boots.
They wear hijabs.
They wear hand me downs.
They wear rainbow pins.
They wear clothes I can’t afford.
Some of them still struggle with the language.
And a few of them aren’t in dress code.

Until recently I have shied away from talking about politics, publicly and even privately.
I often felt confused, bored and disconnected from it.
I never imagined that I would be watching Senate sessions on you-tube. 
That I would tell my husband who used to never vote to stop watching CNN and go do something about it. And that he would.
That I would paint posters.
That I would march.
That I would call senators and write letters.
That I would be explaining immigration polices and the electoral college to my elementary age children.
And that I am not the only one.
I have seen so many people who usually just post pictures of their cute kids or pretty food on Facebook and instagram, post articles and petitions.
That people on both the right and left would do all they can to promote public education. (keep doing it!!)
That many people disagree and that sometimes even a few do it with class and while seeking understanding.
I have learned that I think differently than some of my friends….and yet we can still be friends.
I have learned that there are all kinds of ways to have a voice. And that to really be heard that voice should be followed with action. And spoken in love.
That there are all kinds of voices.
And that everyone.
EVERYONE should have one.
This is, in fact, what democracy looks like.

So to my fifth period class,
I didn’t tell you that I snuck into my storeroom as soon as I could to wipe tears away.
I didn’t know how to answer your questions on November 9.
But I do now.
Yes, my students, my own children, my friends, immigrants and neighbors, Badlands National Park Twitter guy, people I agree with and even to the people I do not:
You have a voice. 

USE IT.



( I can not tell you how much that picture made my heart swell.)





different

Someone recently sent me a meme about tattoos. I reminded them that I have over half a dozen, although none in such obvious places as the picture. I thought about it while I washed my hair, and how once my hair was also purple, and what kind of memes could be found about that. And also, my nose was pierced. Other than the first two tattoos, none of these were things I did in my youth. All were in my thirties.


Currently my hair is a plain brown in a sensible cut. My tattoos all easily hidden with most clothing and only my ears are pierced. As this decade closes I have made efforts to dress more professionally, drink less, stay on top of the laundry although I still refuse to make my bed and talk at an appropriate volume level. Yet, I only looked back on my purple-haired days with longing rather than regret.


See, I used to do those things to be different.  


Sometimes I’d feel just a little trapped by my suburban life although perfect, felt a little too predictable. I felt like I was going to lose myself in Starbucks cups, Target bags and privilege. Other times I just wanted to feel different. I didn’t know how, so I’d at least find a way to mark it. I’d mark it on my wrist or the top of my foot with a symbol to remind me. I’d go buy a box of just a tad too red hair dye and hope that looking different would be the same as feeling it.


In either case, I was no different than before...I just had some new ink or a bad dye job.


I’m glad for every permanent mark, I have and I’ve learned that hair always grows back as you are not who you want to be. Marks, be it tattoos or scars, always tell a story. This I know. I can’t promise to never get another tattoo or always keep my hair close to my natural color, but I will tell you that I feel very differently about wanting to be different. I don’t need to feel that way anymore.


People who want so desperately to be different, never really have been.
When you actually are, all you want to feel is just like everyone else.


At least that has been the case for me.


A year and some months ago I remember feeling isolated in so many ways. I don’t know anyone in real life who has the diagnosis I have and could have really used a friend to sit down and have coffee with an ask a million questions to. I hurt physically and emotionally in ways I never had before. All I wanted was for someone to relate. I felt different and isolated in the worst way because I actually was.


My differences were actually easier than most because for the most part no could spot them on the outside. No one could judge me for them. No one could kick me out of church or deny my rights. I found groups of people like me online. It is no cup of coffee or hug, but occasionally I have a forum to ask questions to or just scroll through when I feel pain.


Growing up there is a such a tension between wanting to be different, but not so different that we weren’t like everyone else. Wanting to be you, but wanting to fit in. To still have a place. To still feel accepted and included.  Teenagers constantly walk in this tension. I guess I took a little longer to grow up than most. I don’t mind. You have to be at least 18 to get a tattoo anyways. And I probably needed to be at least 30 to be able to afford it.

Not always, but for a long time now, I have made an effort to love people who are different than me. To include them. To march for them. To learn from them. I actually prefer it and the more I listen the more I realize how un-different we are.  I’m pretty boring and can use all the perspective I can get. I still think it is a place where I fail all the time. I want so desperately to be different, but am sometimes afraid of it. Afraid of what to say. Or do. Or doing it wrong. That it will rub off on me.
Afraid that other people will judge me as different as well.


God, I hope they do.

Even if my hair is brown.

the annual REAL christmas letter

One of my favorite traditions for almost a decade has been to sit down and try to write a REAL Christmas letter.  Not just the highlights, but a few honest moments as well. It started as a joke with one of my friends, thinking how refreshing it be for people to share more than just their perfect lives that we are used to seeing on Facebook and Instagram. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Now, every year I look forward to sitting down and reflecting on what I have learned, what is still a struggle, what is funny and of course the things that still make my heart want to burst in the best and worst ways. I even tried to reflect that in my Christmas card this year (well....the ones I was together enough to get out). The front is a tight shot of my family looking oh so cute on the couch....but zoom out and ...well. Truth. Laundry to hang, empty cups and of course...pajamas. It is meant to be funny, but there is also some perspective here. We usually only see just a little bit. I am tempted to compare, just like everyone else, but there is usually more to the scene. This is my attempt to zoom out just a bit.


As much as my personal life changed in 2015 -- moving, starting grad school and surgery, this year stayed the same. Same house, same job, same school, same meds. The biggest decision my family seemed to make was whether or not Tess would get bangs. The world around us may not have followed suit - it seemed to be a year of violence and a shocking election. Humanity, or at least social media, somehow showed both its worst and best. I have decided to choose the best even when the news does not always show it. I suppose my year looked a little like that. Pain that resurfaced again in the Spring, this time without the hope of surgery. In the past I have always worked hard to push through and on and anyways. This little strategy seemed to stop working for me. I needed a new one. So, I started listening, resting and giving in. I take my meds, I mostly don’t do the things I am not supposed to do and I get plenty of rest. Miraculously, most days I am back on my game. I have tried to apply these same lessons to other places in my life. The idea that physical pain works much like the heart version. It is managed so much better when we listen to it, give it room and feel it when  we would rather ignore it. It is such a damn inconvenience, but still better than being flattened.


My graduate school work is still going strong. People keep asking me when I will be finished. When they can finally call me doctor. So let me clarify for everyone, I have forever left. This program is no joke and a finish line is hard to see. I have no idea when my weekends will be back to being my own and when I will help my husband do laundry again, but there will be at least two or three more of these yearly letters in between. I am loving like the things I am learning, as long as you don’t make me cite that in proper APA fashion.


These little people of mine keep growing, learning new things and losing things and losing teeth. I slipped earlier this year and Tess overheard me on the phone telling a friend how I forgot to put money under Owen’s pillow. I am sure Owen has known for years, but Tess was surprised to hear the news. I felt like a mom failure for a minute, but it has worked out quite nicely ever since. I just hand over a few dollars and we call it a day. Santa, she is not quite ready to give up on and I will try to let them hold onto as much magic as I can. I will keep those lies coming, as long as she thinks she has to stay off the naughty list.


I have always wanted to live a big and loud life, but this year I have moved towards a smaller one. (As for volume, I still only have one setting). I haven’t given up on dreams or anything like that, I have just learned that I have to do less. And by less I mean I can’t cook dinner grade papers, check my own kids’ homework, meet friends for coffee, write a 20 page paper, hang out with my family and binge watch The Crown on Netflix. Each year I seem to have to make more choices. Say more Nos. Let things narrow.  There is some mourning in that. I still secretly hate the fact that I have to walk instead of run, but walking has its advantages too -- like good conversation along the way. The narrowing is a loss, but I am choosing more intentionally and healthier when I really still want to choose all of it. This means I should know when to stop or turn back or that I will have to find that little voice inside that governs all the things. The one that I have been telling to shut up for decades and decades. My knees might sound 38, but that voice just isn’t quite there yet. It is getting louder though. Many of my text messages go unanswered. I go to bed early. I wake up early. Instead of dozens of people...many days I only  want just a few, some days only the three I share an address with. Don’t worry, I can still find that loud obnoxious version of me and bring her out for special occasions….but the rest of the time, this girl is going to be in bed before 10 o’clock. (ok 9:30...especially on a school night).


A few weeks ago I went on a whirlwind girls trip to NYC (thanks Rhonda!). I spent a weekend in the cold watching ice skaters, standing on top of skyscrapers, eating hot dogs from carts, riding around Central Park and having every hair on my body stand up when they hit the right notes on Broadway. My summer I found hope on the beach, floated the Comal and tasted as much wine as I could in Fredricksburg. So obviously my slightly smaller life is still overflowing and only boring when I want it to be. I mean there are some days you should never get out of your pjs (it is very possible that today might be one of those days!).


This is my yearly review, but I am not the only one in the story. Tess changes clothes, future careers and looks by the minute. She is quiet at school and more than makes up for that volume at home. She constantly has to be reminded to shower, brush her teeth and sleep in actual pajamas rather than the clothes she wore that day. She quit dance but is still playing soccer. I am begging this girl to take piano or violin or anything musical, but all she wants is to make things and ride horses.  Give her a few boxes and a roll of tape and she will have built herself a new bedroom downstairs. I suggested that maybe she make a cardboard horse…..She makes great grades, has won awards at school but I still have to battle her nightly to do her homework. Her room is a disaster and she would eat Easy Mac every night for dinner if I let her. (sometimes I do). But she is kind and fierce and trying to find her way in the world. I let her. Sometimes in overhauls, sometimes in sequins, rarely with hair that looks like it has been brushed.

It is a miracle that my husband is letting my son (the one just like him) see 2017. He loses everything. EVERYTHING. His homework, his gym clothes, money and all electronics. The more expensive it is --the faster he loses it. He is only in the sixth grade but some days it feels like he is older, mostly because he marches up stairs and only comes down only when I yell for him the fourth time. But he still looks so small and young and I can count all his freckles, embarrass him and make him laugh at inappropriate jokes. Recently he marched downstairs for church wearing plaid shorts, a long-sleeved striped shirt, both so wrinkled that they were barely recognizable. I told him to rethink the wardrobe choice. He responded by telling me that he was “unlucky” today. Stumped, I had him elaborate. He explained that when deciding what to wear each day he just grabs two things from his closet and hopes they go together, some days he is lucky and some days he is not. He wears them either way and likely doesn’t know the difference. Lord, help him.  He doesn’t have a clue what he wants for Christmas and I am sure it is because he thinks he is too old to ask for Legos, but I know for certain he isn’t too old to actually play with them. If he is, someone please tell my husband. He is getting old enough to pull away and talk to his parents less. I am trying to make sure I listen when he does, which means I hear way more about video games than I ever wanted to know. This is a complete foreign language to me, so I pray there is a special place in heaven for moms who can tell you all the Pokemon. (ok, Pokemon Go is pretty fun and I suspect responsible for me losing a few pounds this summer….I mean those eggs don’t hatch themselves). And have I mentioned that this forgetful, mismatched almost tween may not have the best fashion sense, but he opens doors for women, has a thankful heart and can flip a water bottle with the best of them. I, on the other hand have banned water bottles from my house in 2017.

Shaun has put the running on hold and these days only runs to Lowes. Nightly. He has more new tools and ideas than I can keep up with. He spends his night scribbling designs on graph paper and making things in the garage. He has taught my kids how to do the dirty work (sanding and staining). He has made some amazing things, some of which are for sale. What else he has made, like every year, is this family work. He does more than his share of dishes and laundry, and the worst job of getting kids up and off to school since my school starts most days before the sun comes up. When he is out of town, I have to make sure they don't miss the bus, eat breakfast and don’t wear pajamas to school. It is exhausting. I need a nap after Tess tells me how to do a ponytail thirteen times and eventually does it herself, and trust me everyone can tell she did it herself. This year marked 15 years of marriage for us, and we celebrated with a return trip to Boston. We spent our honeymoon there, where I spent most of it puking from food poisoning...which is not exactly the honeymoon anyone dreams of. Round two was much better and puke free. We had dated for what felt like ever before getting married, but we were still strangers who had no idea how to share a room much less a life back then. Fifteen years later, we know how to share a life, just not the covers.

Despite the fact that I have not written many words publicly this year, it has still been my most reflective one ever. In some ways that has been hard, but it has shown me hope, thankfulness and progress. I’m thinking those are things we could all use more of heading in to 2017.






break a leg


I do the math on my hand. This is my 5th end of the year dance recital and you think by now I’d know to remember to pack hair spray and snacks. Someone hands my daughter a bag of chips and I want to hug her. I want to tell her that I am not a total failure, that we did not lose the wristbands, we wore the right color tights and that I do at least have a few bobby pins in my pocket. I can not handle the crazy that is backstage. It is a whirlwind of squealing girls in sequins, lycra and tulle. Moms wielding curling hours and more eye makeup than the entire MAC counter, I start to sweat in my ponytail. I quickly look away as an entire row of dancers peel off EVERYTHING for a quick costume change. I was not made for this. I unashamedly let an eight-year-old I have never met teach me how to get my daughter’s hair in place and I make the fastest exit I can.

We sit in the balcony. Where we have been for hours. Dance recital day is all consuming. Rehersal, hair and finding the right tights. My kids are number 41 and 46 in a very long program. I joke with my husband and ask if anyone would mind if we had a pizza delivered. He watches soccer silently on his phone. I watch the stage, despite my discomfort backstage, I like the music and the art that someone has gone into to show me what it looks like. Song after song. I hear it differently because now I can see it. 

My son is up first. Yep, you read that right - my nerf gun shooting, goal scoring, video game addicted son takes the stage in what is usually only his sister’s dance recital. His hat is to the side, his Jordans laced up, his pants I swear — I wore in the early 90s. Well, I just wanted to wear them — but I wore boring Jordache instead. Kriss Kross starts to tell them to jump. And he does. How high - he almost hits the sky. And my heart has that familiar swell. The one where I think it is trying to bust out of my chest and down my cheeks in pride. I watched him at dress rehearsal just two days ago. Catching errors and uncertainty, eager to get home and take care of all the things I needed to do, but on stage, all I see is my kid out there kicking ass in front of an absolutely packed auditorium. They strut off the stage and the crowd claps louder than usual because these have been the first boys they have seen all day.

A few acts later, my girl in her sequins prances out. Like my son, I saw her dance in costume so recently, but it is a different thing entirely on this huge stage. Under the lights. A few counts in she practically does the splits. The splits. How in the….When did she learn that? I must have been watching it through the lens of my phone rather than with my big teary eyes the other day. We miss a lot like that. All this. The hours in my seat of a program that seems to never end and the million bobby pins. I’d do it again, for that feeling of watching my kids out there.

Tess has told me week after week that she is done with dance. That she wants to quit. WHY DID I EVEN SIGN HER UP, she whines. I remind her, sometimes at the same volume, that it is because she asked me to. I remind her that she told me assuredly at the recital last year that she wanted to do it again. I tell her each week as we struggle with tights and finding the other damn jazz shoe that this is what she signed up for and we are not quitting until after the show. Secretly I wish she would. It is not cheap and I’d love one less thing to chauffeur her to and from. 

At dress rehearsal, I see that my daughter, usually short and focused, is put on the front and that now she is in the back. I see her with new skills but less confidence and timing than the other girls. I want her to do well of course, but I tell her as we put on these tights for maybe the last time what I want her to do today. I don’t tell her the usual before recital things. Smile, watch your line, have fun, break a leg. Instead, I talk too much.  I tell her how proud it makes me watch her do brave things. How nervous I’d be in front of all those people, but that she has done it so many times before. I tell her to go out there and be brave. I tell her to stop looking around at the people around her. To just do her thing as best she can. I ask her what would happen if she wasn’t there? She looks at me funny. She might want to skip practice, but she never ever wants to skip recital day. I ask her again, what would it look like if you weren’t in your spot. She gets the question and tells me that there would be an empty hole. Yes, Tess. When we don’t show up, when we aren’t brave….that sometimes it leaves an empty space. A Tess shaped space. That they need her out there. That it won’t be nearly as good if she isn’t there. That that isn’t true just for dance recitals. I tell her it is true at school. I tell her it is true on the soccer field. I tell her it is the absolute most true right in our family.
I tell her that she is needed.
I tell her that she is important.
I tell her that she is brave.
And since I can’t tell her what I am really thinking - to go out there and kick some ass, I tell her what everyone else does.

I tell her to break a leg.



fourth

No one would ever mistake me for a dance mom.  Most men these days can do a better bun than me and I can’t tell the difference between a leotard and a swimsuit. Tess has been in dance for over four years now and I’d still rather vacuum than help her put on tights (which is saying ALOT). Her debut was at a Junior League Christmas shopping event where they had squeezed a stage in the corner and invited local dance studios to perform while women shopped for all things Santa and rhinestone. Tess was barely out of pull ups. I didn’t want to start her that young, but….if she heard music ….she danced.  In the aisle at the grocery store. In restaurants, she would “perform” while waiters dodged her dancing between tables. Occasionally she even got applause. The check-out clerks at Target would tell me, the table next to us eating would tell me and even my parents told me, “Get that girl in dance”. So finally I bought the tiniest of ballet slippers and the most annoying tap shoes and signed her up. Her class only had a few members, because only an insane person would put a three-year-old in dance.  While lining up for her Christmas debut I learned that one girl in her class was sick, and the other had a death in the family. That was it. Her class had three members and quickly her trio had fallen to a solo act. I was so nervous for her. I wondered what she would do when she walked out on the now seemingly huge stage. Alone. In front of all these people and the music started. My plan was this,  If she panicked or froze I’d climb up there with her and go through the motions. If any of you have seen me dance -- you know that this would be entertaining for all, but not for the right reasons.  Instead my girl got up there. Looked wide eyed and nervously into the crowd -- and nailed it.  I had made my way to the front, ready to rush the stage if necessary and instead I ended up weeping like the three year old.
Tess is older now. She almost has enough hair for a bun, but I think this is her last season to dance (at least according to her). I don’t weep at recitals anymore (except maybe because they are soooooo long), but today as I walked out of her elementary school I felt the same feeling. My heart in my stomach. Love and pride bursting me wide open.  Her school does an oratorical contest at the end of the year. Each year a single student is chosen from each class to compete. In front of the whole entire school, a bunch of parents who always get the good seats because they aren’t rushing from the middle of third period, and the most scary --- a panel of serious looking judges.  For the last year I have found my seat in the back of the cafeteria, once for Owen and the last two years for Tess. My son is quiet and shy and so I was surprised that he was chosen. I asked him to practice and he wouldn’t even read his poem to me, but he got on the stage and said it in front of hundreds of people. Again my heart swelled and nearly broke me open. He took last place, but it is one of my favorite trophies. Last year Tess was so tiny, only a kindergartener and I wasn’t sure if she would crack. She shook a little and rushed her poem, but the thought of grown up me speaking in front of that many people makes my knees wobble. Today she was even better, a little quiet but more confident. She took 3rd place, which sounds impressive - but the truth is that is next to last. Still I felt that same feeling as I walked back to my car. It felt just like every time my son stood at bat and I prayed he didn’t strike out. Every time they spoke at a school play. How I feel everytime my son runs across a finish line in a race, especially now that I can’t run with him. How I felt when he said a speech in a library full of parents as Ross Perot. He kept going even when his fake ear started to fall off. When their teachers have read kind words about my students at awards breakfasts where few are chosen. Those words have always meant more than any certificate or trophy.
They are older, they have changed so much and so quickly, but my heart feels the exact same. Like part of it is walking around on the outside of my chest. (like the Elizabeth Stone quote).

 It is awards season at the schools my children attend and my own. I will rush over between classes. Hug them and tell them I am proud of them. I will take a picture of them with their certificate. But the truth is my heart doesn’t feel the same rush. It doesn’t want to bust as each kid, mine included, receives a certificate. Getting an award, just like everyone else, doesn’t quite mean the same thing. My heart wouldn’t have felt any less proud if my kids had taken home 1st place trophies instead of 3rd or 4th. I realized that I am most proud of my kids when they do hard scary things. Things that require work, kindness or knocking knees.  When they have the opportunity to fail. When they are brave, despite a panel of judges or roomful of peers or suddenly find themselves alone. In ballet slippers, soccer cleats or church shoes. Rarely do kids get awards for being brave. These days most awards are handed out for performance or participation. Sometimes the best kind of trophies or certificates look more like 4th place than 1st place.