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through it all


The Sunday after New Year’s I sat in church and sang an old hymn.  I was having trouble paying attention that day. I was singing without much thought to the words. I wondered where we would eat lunch. I hoped my kids would stop squirming. I was tired. I was there, but I wasn’t there.

And suddenly the lyrics caught me.

“All is well with my soul”

I noticed the word soul, but mostly I noticed what it didn’t say.
It didn’t say all is well with my health.  (or bank account, or relationships, or job or kids clean house).

We kept singing it and I kept having to admit that I want a few more promises.
I was ready to have myself a pity party that morning because a health issue had come back. I have a nerve condition that causes chronic pain in my face. Since I was having symptoms again I had done some research online, which we all know is a terrible idea. Let’s just say that the internet was not encouraging. At the time, it wasn’t bothering me too badly…but knowing that there are treatments but no cures, that it is progressive and only going to get worse had me down. Let’s just say that I would have much preferred to sing a song about God fixing everything rather than lyrics promising sorrow and trials. The chorus kept being repeated and had the nerve to remind me that my soul is what should determine my wellness. Not WebMD.

A few days later, my nerve irritation became completely debilitating. It kicked in with a force I was not expecting or ready for regardless of what I read online. The pain literally took my breath away easily a hundred times that day. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drive. I didn’t want to leave my house because the cold on my face caused electric shocks to jolt through my skull. 
I upped my dosage. I made lots of soup. I wanted to cry, but even that hurt.
I was scared.
I mean, I miss chips and salsa like a long lost lover, but I can’t imagine not talking.
I talk for a living.
I can’t imagine not laughing.
I hate that I involuntarily recoiled when my husband tried to kiss me, or my kids jump on me or a kind friend who showed up with a pot of soup leaned in for a hug.
I sat on my couch without moving my face or changing my shirt or brushing my teeth for exactly a day and half when I had run out of TV to watch.
And I realized something,  I hurt anyways.
Regardless of how much I tried to protect myself from pain — I was still having symptoms. 

Timing for this resurgence could not have been worse. It was finals at school, I had my first meeting for my graduate program and a realtor was coming to look at our house. Kids emailed me questions about grades and a few just asking if I was ok, I worried how I’d make it all the way to A&M and what kind of first impression I’d make in this condition. As usual, I never made it to worrying about the state of my messy house.

I am not great at self pity (although it doesn't stop me from occasionally trying) and know that pain wasn’t something unique to me. I had a friend planning her father’s memorial service. Another going in for a double mastectomy. Earlier in the week I had seen a teenager lying dead face down in the middle of the street.  My pain seemed little compared to those things, but it still hurt like hell.

So much of our life is spent avoiding pain. Being safe. Protecting ourselves and the ones we love. And there are times when it is wise to take unnecessary risks and to protect those that can not protect themselves. But lots of times we are just hiding. We are afraid. Of failing. Of rejection. Of what someone who probably isn’t even paying attention will think.  I decided this pain thing, it is unavoidable. We can’t hide from it. We can however, hide from joy and love and experience and all kinds of other awesome things that are not going to suddenly show up on my couch. Being human, I suppose, is all some kind of lesson in pain management. I am talking about my face, but could just as easily be talking about my heart. Recently I have done some unnecessary pain management  in that area as well. I called the doctor again.  I took more meds, but I also got off the couch. I kissed my daughter good night even though I knew it would hurt and even read her a short story (very short).  I went to work.  I answered my parents questions even though my face got so tired that eventually the nerve shut down and my entire face sagged a little to the left. (temporarily).  I made small talk at my meeting, which is usually painful enough with out any kind of condition. I cleaned the bathroom. (ok, this doesn’t require any nerve pain on my part but I still hate to clean).

I decided that just because something is painful doesn’t mean it might not be worth it.
I tried a new medicine today and it seems to be working but I am still even having to put my soup in the blender before trying to eat it. (On the plus side this may very well be the best diet ever).  I have gotten better at pushing through the pain. It doesn’t seem to paralyze me the way it did a few days ago. I have gotten better at choosing the kinds of things that are worth it.
I have gotten better at focusing on my soul rather than my pain tolerance.
or my body.
or my bank account.
or how my jeans fit.
or how messy my kitchen is.

These last few days have been possibly my most physically painful ever.
But they easily haven’t been the worst days.
I have learned how to make a dang good smoothie and some great soup.
I have laughed and smiled a few times anyways.
I have learned to choose the words I speak with a little more care. (because if it is likely to result in pain your stories suddenly get a lot shorter).

This pain will pass.
And then it will most likely come back again.
But, my soul. 
It will not be damaged. Or managed. Or protected.

It is well.


I'm going to Jackson

If you happen to stop beside me at a red light you might just get lucky to catch a free show.
I sing along in the car. In the shower. In class. Elevators. And occasionally even in the store when they are playing a good song.
Sometimes I even dance.

This is the part where I should tell you that I do NONE of these things well.
I sing off key.
I come in early.
I sometimes make up words when I do not know them.
My dancing could easily be mistaken for a seizure.

But in the car and  the shower and pretty much everywhere else you catch me singing along to the radio….
I think I sound decent.
Not great. But ok.
That is usually because my car speakers are turned up so loud that no one can hear themselves think.

Some of my friends have been trying to get us to karaoke for months now. It sounded fun and terrible to me all at the same time. Every one of my past karaoke experiences were in a packed bar with lots of drunk people who make for an easy crowd to please, plus plenty liquid courage myself and way before people carried around cell phones that could record the evidence.
This was different. 
This was a tiny room. With just 5 of my friends.
And almost completely sober.

I was eager for someone else to go first. But, I also struggle to pass up a microphone.
I butchered the hell out of some Salt N Pepa.
I felt awkward and embarrassed.
Then my husband took the microphone and was absolutely TERRIBLE.
Like one of those bad auditions on American Idol.
He finished the song and some friends who know how to carry a tune grabbed the mic and were the opposite of terrible.
But.
We all kept singing. Even when the waitress came in and could not hide the pain in her face from my voice. Or possibly my dance moves.

Something happened after few Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, Beastie Boys and Journey songs. I forgot that I was supposed to feel awkward or embarrassed. It was just fun. Shaun and I even managed to make a pretty great Johnny Cash and June Carter for the duet “Jackson”.
My stomach hurt from laughing.
My voice hurt from singing/rapping/screaming at the top of my lungs.
And we drove home thinking of all the songs we need to sing next time because there will be a next time...and seriously considered having everyone sign a waiver that no video footage would be leaked to social media!

There is something so freeing about doing something that you love even if you suck at it.
Not doing it to please or impress but because something inside just feels good to sing and dance Taylor Swift lyrics like you were born to.

Yesterday, I went to a yoga class.
Now, I love me some sweaty yoga but much like karaoke I am absolutely awful at it. 
Horrible. Terrible. No Good. Very bad.
For multiple reasons, 1) I have the upper body strength of a very weak kitten.
2) I have the flexibility of a brick and  3) It requires being quiet and wearing spandex -- neither of which I am fond of. I am pretty sure everyone else in the crowded room is wondering why the hell I can’t figure out what pose we are supposed to be in. Why my arms feel like noodles after just a few chaturangas.  Noticing that I could not touch my toes if my life depended on it. That my legs are extended as far as I can possibly get them. And praying that I will slip in the pool of sweat accumulating on my mat the next time I try to find my downward facing dog.
"Feel free to pop into a head stand", the instructor says.
Yea… sure….The only way I stand on my head is when there is someone on each side holding me up.

In other words, I was hesitant to go to this class and why I haven't been to a class in almost a year.
Mostly out of fear of  looking stupid. Of Not knowing what to do. Of falling. Of saying or wearing the wrong thing. I was afraid to be the worst one in the room. And I quite possibly was. I breathed in and out anyways. My arms felt flimsy and my legs never got very straight. I seriously doubt anyone noticed or thought all those crazy things about me because they were too busy breathing and standing on their head.

But it also felt kind of like karaoke.
In the dark.
On your mat.
Laying in your own sweat.
The instructors always end class the exact same way.
“Thank you for practicing with me”
Practicing.
Not proving.
Or competing.
Or showing up or off.
Or getting it right.
But showing up.
Trying.
Getting better.

Singing loudly.
Or breathing loudly.

Namaste.
Look out Jackson town.




and I am loving loving this T.Swift mashup

REAL Christmas letter time

I started writing REAL Christmas letters about six years as ago. As a joke, in response to all the fake and cheesy ones people send out about how perfect their lives appeared on paper. A friend and I laughed about how refreshing it would be if people wrote real Christmas letters. Confessed to filing for bankruptcy or their kids straight C report card. A place where they shared the highs, but didn't ignore the lows. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Most people don't write Christmas letters any more, and the Christmas cards themselves have even started to dwindle. These days we do not save our perfect lives for yearly updates. We post them in our Facebook status and on Instagram 365 days a year. I am just as guilty. I post pics of all the fun places I go and eat, not all the nights I am in pjs before the evening news. So now every year I try to rewind, reflect and share the highs and a few honest moments as well.  So. Here it is. The year in review. It is a little long and rambly since I haven't written in a while...so settle in.

Tess is six going on sixteen. She lost two teeth and can tie her own shoes and I already embarrass her. Sure, mostly that is when I am standing halfway out the sun roof screaming "Let it Go" in a grocery store parking lot …but….still she used to think I was cooler than Barbie. Now, not only do I have to compete with Anna and Elsa for her attention but now I have to compete with her teacher,  Mrs. Morrison. Tess started kindergarten this year and she thinks her teacher is the single greatest person on the planet. I have seen this teacher in action, and Tess just might be right. She can get my daughter to sit still, use her inside voice, raise her hand and share, which are all things I failed miserably at for the first 5 years of her life.  The thing I hate most about kinder is shockingly not the other moms, the pick up line or even one more folder to forget to sign but the 20 minutes of reading a night. Tess sounding out words in super slow motion. Stumbling through them insisting that she is right. When sometimes she isn’t even close. It is torture. And magical all at the same time. As the semester has gone on she is getting better. Finally reading. Slowly, painfully, sounding out words and butchering a good portion of them. And needing me a bit less with every word. Which is what I want and resist all at the same time. It is also a reminder at how gradual most things come. How many mistakes and stumbles and much practice goes into the process of learning. Anything. Which is a pretty good nightly 20 minute mandated reminder for the grown up girl who wants everything to come so much faster. Tess has learned all kinds things like how to add, take selfies and a ton of new big words. Tess will now tell me that it is “critical” that I pack her lunch tomorrow and that she would be “elated” if I cut off the crusts. Lord help me.  Tess is fluent in all things Frozen but can also tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Dr. Who and Star Wars. She loves to cook but still only wants to eat cheetos puffs and chicken nuggets. However, I still occasionally catch her eating her own boogers. The transition to kinder hasn't been all rainbows and purple on the color chart.  It is like she saves up all her good behavior for the school day and unleashes a tired hungry beast the second she gets in the car. I throw snacks at her, turn up the radio and pray that the falls asleep before her head spins around.


Owen is 9. Nine. And I fear the day when I have to start typing double digits by his name. He is tiny, but smart and funny but loses things faster than he can multiply. He is in robotics and math club and when I listen to him talk with other 9 year olds it is all Pokemon and Minecraft with the occasional fart reference. He knows more science than I do, but I swear can not match his own clothes if his life depended on it.  He went to summer camp for the first time…I lost sleep worrying that he'd have an asthma attack or forget to change his underwear but he came home in one piece and asked me to sign him up again. As the year goes on he has started to spend larger amount on time on combing his hair. This can only mean one thing….he no longer thinks girls have cooties. He does, however still believe in Santa Claus. Tess however, has her doubts. Fourth grade started out rough. He got his folder signed every few days and the work was a lot harder. Getting him to read any book that was not about science or captain underwear took some serious bribing but I think it has finally started to pay off.  He plays soccer and a lot of video games and still sleeps with his lights on. Currently as I type this Owen and Shaun are on their way to Taos to try out Owen’s snow legs. I’m sure he will do great on the slopes and already has the shaggy hair of a ski bum.  As for his land legs, they may be the shortest in his entire grade but I am still struggling to keep up with him.  The last time I ran a 5K with him….I chased him the entire way. Panting. Slow down. Wait up.  I have a feeling this is the way it will be from now on. My kids out ahead with me trying to catch up.


When I reflect on the year as a family….we went to the lake, to the ocean and most memorably the happiest place on Earth.  When it comes to trips my husband is in charge of the planning and getting our suitcases to actually close. I am in charge of the fun. He plans. I eat and explore my way through a new place. I insist on snow cones or dancing in the street or taking a million ridiculous pictures. I hate to miss out. He hates to not know.
We make a good team. Or for a good fight depending on how tired I am and the last time I had something to eat. This summer, we took our team to Disney.
Months. and I do not exaggerate. months before our trip he already seemed annoyed at my lack of interest in the planning. He had set up accounts and made reservations and walked our kids through video after video to see which rides they wanted to sign up for. I asked a few friends where to eat and what to do but mostly figured we’d figure it out when we got there. I braced myself for hot. sweaty. crowds and long long long lines.

I was afraid that we had build Disney up to be this amazing experience and that my kids and husband would be let down. That we would sweat and fight and my kids would just cry because they wanted everything in the million gift stores and cotton candy for dinner.
And. 
We did have some classic Disney moments.
The kind where I told my kids to hurry up. To stop whining. No, they could not have that piece of absolute crap they were selling for 18.95$ just because it glowed in the dark. That I am so glad that they LOVED riding the seven dwarfs mine train but …we were not riding it again because it had a 70 minute wait. And that 70 minutes did not come with air conditioning.
We got rained on.
We got our toes stepped on.
We lost a favorite hat on a ride, all sense of personal space, and our patience.
But. 
We also had the other classic Disney moments.
Screaming our faces off on Space Mountain.
Tess yelling the lyrics to Frozen at the sing along.
Owen battling Darth Maul.
We rode ride after ride, ate in castles and all kinds of things shaped like a mouse.
We rode trains, and trams and planes and boats.
Laughed until our stomachs hurt. 
Had snow fall from the ceiling and the sky in the middle of August.
Danced the hula, swung our napkins in the air, blew bubbles and watched fireworks night after night. Sometimes from our hotel bed with feet so sore I wasn’t sure I could stand on them for one more minute.

Once, years ago…my school had us do a Disney book study on customer service. The book told all these stories about how fanatical they were about customer service and creating an “experience”. I've heard things like how there are no mosquitos at Disney, how they touch up paint every single day. How aggressively friendly the staff is trained to be. I’m sure that was all true. I mostly didn’t notice. I did however notice when my daughter met princesses who acted like there wasn’t a line of 500 people behind us. They asked her name or twirled her around.
It was like she was the only girl there and they were in no hurry. 
That they weren’t sweating through their ballroom gown and perfect hair.
That is the magic. And it was worth every penny. 
Every last penny that we spent on mouse ears and dole whips and I might have split my pants running to ride one more roller coaster. (and in that particular sentence pants really means panties...which is one way to get an unforgettable Disney experience).

Our kids are a little bit older, independent and easier which means me and Shaun seem to have a little bit more time to ourselves. We can banish them to the other room and watch Homeland on TV and only be interrupted 23 times. Occasionally we get to run together.  We just got back from a grown up trip to Vegas….where we gambled, people watched and ate some pretty amazing waffles. With some coaching I managed to win more at BlackJack than I lost which is a casino first for me.  We also ran a half marathon while we were there. We have both run more races than we can count by now and I have kind of lost my fear of them. Shaun trained well. I moderately trained. Shaun did awesome and finished a good 15 minutes ahead of me. I wanted to cry the last 4 miles. Actually, I would have cried except that I did not have the energy or the extra fluids. After the race my feet were covered in bloody blisters and my blood sugar crashed. I went back to the hotel, ordered a pizza and Shaun went to collect his winnings while my knee swelled up like a watermelon.  My fear returned. We ran another half just last weekend. Shaun still beat me by 15 minutes, but I didn’t want to die afterwards. I just wanted a pepperoni roll and a beer.

This year we have all learned a ton.  Tess has learned to read. Owen has learned long division and how to mow the yard. Shaun learned how to be a sorcerer….and I have learned all kinds of stuff...mostly about waiting, acceptance and community. Unfortunately how to say things briefly isn't one of them. 

So much of my life feels like it is on repeat. The same. I love my job but I get easily discouraged. I want to be better at it, but it is also so easy to get sucked into a negative loop. In the past I have not really known how to combat that, who to talk to or how to go forward. Which way forward even is. How to get better and not stay stuck. I started reading books and having conversations and realizing that I was desperately hungry to have more. I applied for a doctoral program at A&M and waited for months to find out if I  would be accepted into a place and an idea I have run from for a long time. And I got in. I just registered for my first graduate courses in over a decade. The program is long and hard and so much of me is wondering if I can cut it.  I run and sometimes I hope it has to be the same. That this will be just like running a long race. Not quitting at mile 7. or 8. or 9 or 10 or when my feet literally fill with blood. I hope I have the same endurance, stubbornness and stupidity when it comes to getting a few more letters after my name.  This is a big thing for me. Going to A&M means going home rather than running away.  I went to a football game over Thanksgiving and it was the first time in almost twenty years I had stood in Kyle field wearing maroon instead of red and black. It felt weird. Like a little bit of betrayal. A little bit like coming home. And of course I could remember every single word to the songs and yells.  When I was little my favorite part of the war hymn was getting to scream at the top of my lungs “sounds like hell”. I was getting to semi-cuss loudly and publicly.  Now that phrase feels more like permission. Permission to screw up. To be imperfect and present and a part of things anyways. So I yelled it again and linked arms with my brother and a stranger next to me and begun swaying. The stadium holds over 100, 000 people and in that moment they are all linked and moving back and forth. The whole place is connected and moving. Maybe not forward but side to side is a pretty good start.

I have searched for a long time for community. And found it in bits and pieces. In people I adore here and there scattered over the metroplex and rest of the state.
But for the first time in I am not sure how long it feels closer and easier and more often than not around a table.
I have always felt like I was in the right place.
I love my street.
I love my church.
I love my school.
But I have never quite managed to find my people in any of those places.

I have great friends. The best friends. But our kids do not go to the same schools. We do not do the same things for fun. They are clearly my people. The ones I can count on. The ones that know what to say and do not require make up, small talk or a clean car. But sometimes it takes an act of God to get a date on the calendar. They have made me recognize real friendship and depth and struggle to accept anything less than that in those around me.

But the truth is I have settled. I have traded proximity for less.
I have settled for people who didn’t love me back. 
And it has left me aching.
And hustling desperately for their approval.
Which only comes in enough tiny spurts to keep me hustling for more.

I have grown so tired of the hustle, the games and rejection.
I have learned a lot about who to keep, who to pursue and who to let slip quietly away.
It has left a lot of space in my life. 
But that space has been unexpectedly filled.
I found community when I stopped trying to force it.
I found it at home with a husband that I get to spend more time with. With kids that are older and funnier and need me less everyday but still ask me to read to them or dance with them or put the damn straw in their capri sun.
I found it at work even when I was afraid of it. 
And I found it around a table.
Or a coffee pot.
Or a meeting up with old friends even if it took a month to find a date that worked.
I have found what I have been looking for.
In many ways I have found what has been there all along.

Usually once a week or more I find myself around a table. A table for three, four or often sixteen. Which can be a really long wait in a restaurant. But it is a wait that is worth it. Even when I am busy and have other things I should be doing I rarely pass up a dinner with friends. And the table is loud and often inappropriate. We pile our plates with homemade gnocchi or corn fritters from chicken express.  Easy and Hard. Things that take time and things that don’t. Lots of laughter and occasional tears. We refill plates and glasses. We talk about important things. We talked about nonsense.
We get full in every sense of the word.
Community is not rushed.
It is slow. And time consuming. And goes through a lots of bottle of Moscatto.
It lets you grade papers at a party. It lets you cancel and reschedule and wear your pajama pants if you want.. 
I like this. 
I like having people saving me seats at church.
Or to run races with.
Or to share my coffee with.
I especially love that my kids are seeing it as well. When I say we are going to dinner….now they ask what friends are coming? Whose house we are going to?  We are busier and fatter than we have every been. And my kids are learning that our tables and kitchens our lives are meant to be shared.
Our imperfect lives.
Our messy kitchen.
It sounds like hell. Like the song.
But it is exactly the opposite.


masks

If you aren unhip like me...they are supposed to be Dr. Who and his companion Rose Tyler. All that coolness was lost on me...but the ridiculous cuteness of seeing my son in a bowtie was not lost on me even a little bit.

This afternoon Tess interrupted my post Halloween nap to ask if she could eat the king sized Kit Kat that she hauled in last night by hitting the Trick-Or-Treat jackpot. I insisted that she come snuggle with me a bit before rotting all her remaining teeth. I’m not sure if it is all the costume changes in the last 24 hours but suddenly she is consumed with who she is going to be. Out of no where she tells me that she wants to be a teacher and a mommy when she grows up.

Clearly, because it looks like I have the life of luxury since I have not washed my hair or put on real pants by three in the afternoon. My heart swells a bit, thinking that she wants to be just like me even though a little bit of me hopes that she will be more. I do not crush her dreams with the fact that I have hours worth of papers to grade in my bag taunting me from the corner, but I simply brush the hair out of her face and tell her that she can be lots of things. And from the way she likes to tell people what to do and how to do it that she would make a fine teacher.

The she tells me, yes. “Just like Mrs. Morrison”. Oh those kindergarten teachers get all the love.
Then she tells me that she also wants to be an illustrator, an author, and a singer like Katy Perry.  I wince, and say, how about more like Taylor Swift.  And then says that she also wants to be a cake maker. I tell her that no matter what she wants to be she will have to practice.  Hoping to send her on her way while I got back to my nap.

Unfortunately I could not get back to sleep because she was singing loudly and banging things around in the kitchen. She wasted no time practicing.

If I had let her Tess could have gone on for another 30 minutes with another 30 things she wanted to be.
Some would be good.
Some would be outrageous.
And some would be down right impossible — like when she said she wanted to be a unicorn or marry her brother.  

None of them however were the list of things we often tell ourselves we are.
Like afraid.
Or insecure.
Or jealous.
Or not enough.

I have struggled most of my life trying to sort out who exactly I want to be when I grow up.  I keep telling myself that I am not a grown up yet.  But. The numbers keep creeping upwards and eventually I will have to stop ordering kids meals at chickfila and admit that I have more than a few gray hairs.  These days I have a better idea of what I want professionally than I ever have before, but like my six year old, that is just the beginning of who I want to be.
And I’d never tell you that I want to be any of those things in the list just above. But the truth is that I often am.
Not always.
But often enough.

There are so many traits and things that I think people just are. Or they aren’t. Brene Brown talks about practicing the habits of wholehearted people. That people are not just born brave or authentic, that those are things they practice over and over again.  And I like that idea, that these good traits are things you grow not things that you are born with or lacking. In other words, there is hope for me yet.
But the negative traits. I think maybe I still think we are stuck with those. And like body types some of us get stuck with more or less than others. Some people are just naturally thin. So maybe that means that some people are naturally secure. Or patient. Or do not love carbs like I do.

Another author I love was recently on a talk show talking about 5 traits that strong women seem to share. Glennon Melton spoke about interviewing the most successful and important women she knew and was shocked to discover that ALL of these women are jealous. Or insecure. Or afraid. Or unprepared. Or fill in the blank with whatever bad thing you want to say about yourself.  The catch is this, 
“It is just that insecure women mask it by tearing other women down, but wise women mask that insecurity by raising people up”. ( I swear I stopped and re-wound that part of the video clip at least three times).

(so that gets amazing around minute 2:15....and there are 4 more videos just like that one on you tube if you feel like watching the whole interview)

And their is something comforting in that. Not comforting like comparison.  Because those kinds of thoughts just make me feel better because someone else looks worse. But.
Comforting. Like me too.
Comforting. Like hopeful.
Comforting. Like I am not missing something that they have that I don’t.

And I know this. I know that the people I admire most are scared and sometimes wrong and probably spill their coffee down the front of their shirt sometimes too. And when I get to see it I swear it only makes me like them more. When people above me hide what they don’t know or attempt to mask insecurities by yielding power it has the exact opposite effect.

My daughter is interested in who she wants to be when she grows up. And she is only six so the world is open wide for her. I am 36. And my choices are just a bit more limited. I will never be Katy Perry. Or Taylor Swift.
And frankly I have no desire to be. But maybe like Tess, I should still be just as concerned with who I will grow up to be and what I need to keep practicing. And those things that I think keep getting in the way are pretty much in everyone’s way. So I can mask them weakly or wisely. To put others down or build them up. These aren’t just masks that people break out on Halloween but mostly the ones we wear every single day.  So I should pick a good one.

And on that note, Taylor Swift is still singing in my kitchen….and I should get out of bed and eat some of her Halloween candy while there is still some left.


winning

I have run more than my share of races. My tennis shoes have more miles on them than my parents' new car.
But. 
I still don’t really see myself as a runner.  I have friends who train for races by signing up for nutrition classes, printing off their run schedules and following them religiously. I think burbees and fartleks sound like intestinal distress, not something I want to do in a workout. I consider training making a really good playlist and getting out there and running until I want to throw up. pass out or both
Doing that a few times a week logging as many miles as my knees will take.
I carb load (read eat an entire box of girl scout cookies), drink plenty of water (read coffee) and buy expensive socks.
The end. 
Show up race day and try not to finish last. Or die.
So far this has worked for me. Although not well enough for me to start sharing my finish times.
A few months ago I had some friends sign up for a running training class. It was cheap. I had hit a wall. I figured it was a good idea even though most exercise classes stress me out, but chances were good that this would better than what I was doing. Running has mostly been something I have done solo and think that an 8 mile run would pass a lot faster with a friend. And Ira Glass doesn’t count.

I have tried running with people. But for the most part it just hasn’t worked out. They have been too fast. Or too slow. Or moved away. I either wanted to die, was worried that I’d wet my pants (again) or it just wasn't the pace I wanted. Usually it is ok. I can run far and kind of like the time to myself. My brain is always going in about 20 different directions and there is pretty much no way to stop it. But run 4-5 miles and suddenly it has focused on just one thing.  Breathing. 
And that kind of quiet is a rare and good thing. 

But in the last year I have kind of hit a wall. I had some medical stuff that put the running on hold for a while. To treat the issue I had to start taking some medicine that makes me exhausted.  I’d start running and just want to fall asleep. And I promise I wasn’t listening to sleepy folk music. Again. I’m sure it was equal parts medicine, mental block and the new love in my life: cheese fries from Rodeo Goat (almost as good as Snuffers). Regardless of the reason I have struggled to run more than 5 miles at a time for the better part of a year and I need to find a way like Taylor Swift to “shake it off”.
The answer has been to run in community.  To show up to the track and run with a group instead of trying to struggle through by myself. Let's just say I didn't win any perfect attendance or speed work awards but I hit the track more than I ever would have alone. Most nights I even found someone about my pace. Once after a tough workout I even split a nice cold bottle of Moscatto with some sweaty friends.  If that doesn't get me training harder then nothing will. (Our waitress however, might have wished we had showered first though...)

I know most people don’t understand how someone can “like” running. I always try to say that no one likes the first two miles. I spend at least 15 of the first 20 minutes of any run trying to convince myself to not quit. The trick to any long run is just to get past the first two.  And then for a while my legs just know what to do, my brain clears and everything about me feels strong. At least until my knees start to ache or I start sucking wind. And then there is something fun about pushing yourself further than you think you can. Just lately, my furthers are getting shorter and shorter.

I have run lots of races and halfs no longer intimidate me. But today I was a little nervous. After all, it has been over a year since I have ran 13.1 miles (or anything over 10). This race is in my town- meaning lots of familiar faces at the water stations and blowing past me. Not to mention my husband who had tried to “encourage me” more than once to get my long runs in.  Let’s just say I didn’t thank him for the advice. I just mumbled something about having it under control and rolled over and went back to sleep.  I am also a teensy bit competitive. I know I am not winning, but I like to beat certain people. Like the 80 year old in front of me. 

The temperature was perfect. I had plenty of gu and a pretty awesome playlist. Just as I started to get exhausted my husband and kids surprised me on the course with funny signs.  I was not on track to PR but I was pacing ahead of my goal (and last year’s time).  Until mile 9 when I hit a wall.  At this point it was very clear that I should have spent a little less time on my playlist and more time logging miles.  I considered throwing up more than once and every single bone in my feet seemed to hurt.  There was even a brief moment that I thought maybe I could call someone to pick me up and drive me back to my car.  Thankfully a) I never run with my phone b) my husband would have refused to help me quit unless I needed to go to the Emergency Room which ironically was exactly where the finish line was  and c) some well timed Meghan Trainer came up on the playlist.  The last four miles were long and hard and painful but eventually my blistered feet made it to the finish line. (Because we were all about that bass).

All along the way people cheered, high fived me, handed me water, offered me their snacks, and gave me the thumbs up.  And some of those people were on the sidelines but most were people running the race too. People faster than me. Ahead of me. People whose names I didn’t even know, encouraging me keep going. To push through. To finish. 

When I finally did, I quickly I grabbed a bottle of water and a snack. Slipped off my sneakers and walked my blistered feet in the opposite direction of my car.  For the last 2 hours and some minutes I wanted nothing more than to stop running. To go home and take a nap or at least put on yoga pants and eat some cheese fries.  Instead, I headed to the corner where some of my family and friends had been cheering, so I could do the same for friends and strangers who were still running. This was a small local race. There were few signs or rows of people. Most of the cheering section at the finish line were wearing medals around their neck. These people were tired and hurting just like me but instead of going home they were cheering on everyone else.

I know there are lots of verses in the bible about running the race. Pressing on towards the prize.  Recently my church even did an entire sermon series on it.  Which I think is kind of weird, but maybe there were not so many sports analogies to draw from in biblical times. But I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was it. This was the prize. 
Not the medals around our necks. 
But the community of people who had already been down your path encouraging you to do the same. 
To press on.

And I think that Paul got it wrong when he said that that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. This morning it seemed like we all did.


My favorite new addition to the playlist......this girl is singing my song....

sharpies

I pick things up quickly.
Usually.
Well, except for conjugating French verbs, derivatives and any type of aerobic step.
But, for the most part I am a quick learner. At least that is what my teachers used to write on notes they sent home. Right under the part that said I talked back. I could rush through my school homework while watching Full House, talking on the phone and listening to the radio.
School came easy.
Life lessons however, I mostly preferred to learn the hard way. 
Sometimes over and over again.

After a particularly trying afternoon…I finally got Tess to sit down and eat. Just as I was getting her a drink I watched her tag my kitchen table with a sharpie. She was through with the T and moving on to an E. I dropped the drink and quickly wrestled the permanent marker away from her and hid in a drawer that I suddenly considered buying a lock for. She gave me a look that seemed to say, "What is the big deal already. This is art."
I told her it was permanent and wouldn’t come off. Something about me saying it was forever seemed to sink in her little unbrushed head. You could see the panic creep over her face. She went through the four stages of getting busted.  First, I told her it doesn’t wash off and she asked me if she could try anyways. Complete denial.  She scrubbed straight through the two-ply. The quicker picker upper has nothing on a Sharpie. Her next stage was to try and limit who found out. She smiled at me sweetly and asked if we just wouldn’t tell dad. I said that I wouldn’t tell him but I was about 100% sure he would notice. Maybe not today but eventually. Third she moved on to the cover up. “Ok” she asked, “Can I just put my plate over it”.  “Well, sweets that will work for a few hours” (ok, lets be honest a few days)…"but eventually we will have to wash that plate.”  And then began stage four: a complete and total inconsolable meltdown about “how the table is ruined forever and that it is all her fault.”
“Well Tess, both of those things are true. But I don’t love you any less.”

By the time she had hit stage 2 I recognized this little pattern of hers: denial, damage control, cover up and shame.
Tess is just 6.
I am 36.
I go through pretty much the exact same steps when I screw up. First I try desperately to fix it. I pray that no one will notice or make some weak attempt to cover it up. And then I finally land on I am a horrible terrible person who really fucked up big this time and now everyone will know. In other words, some serious shame spiraling.

Tess was inconsolable over this table. And I was still pretty pissed about it too. However this is a good time to mention that this is the dining room set my father bought me for my first apartment at Sears when I was 19. It has paint stains. Glue stains. More marker stains. Wax stains. Stains I can't even begin to identify and chipped paint and loose screws. This table is literally on its last legs. If I didn’t hate allen wrenches so much I would have gone to Ikea and bought a new table ages ago.  It also happens to be parent teacher conference time at my kids' school this week and her teacher told me a similar story. How the other day, Tess made a minor mistake on a paper and was in tears. Terrible, awful inconsolable tears over accidentally using a crayon instead of a pencil. 

I am not the biggest rule follower. I am also (this might shock some of you) not perfect.
Which means I screw up lots. I am slow on the uptake for life lessons …. remember….so sometimes I even make the same dumb mistakes over and over again.  Since I am loud and a terrible liar I almost always get caught. Unlike Tess, I can keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks (at least until I get in my car) but I still hate it. I hate getting speeding tickets, being late, forgetting something important, saying things I shouldn’t and even dumb emails that tell me I forgot to turn my lights off when I went to the bathroom. I hate the ugly gnawing feeling inside that I haven’t just screwed up but that I maybe I am a screw up. That is an inner monologue I don’t want my kid to have. Even if it means graffiti on my dining room table.

Tess kept crying. Horrible red faced snot pouring down her chin crying. It is hard to punish someone who is doing a much better job punishing themselves. I tried to talk sense into her. Assure her that I was frustrated that the she drew on the table (again) but that no matter what she does or draws on or tags that I still love her. I tried to find some balance between discouraging the behavior but consoling her.
She kept crying.
She was still afraid of what her father would say when he came home.
She was afraid I was going to tell her teacher and something about this would go in the folder.
I think she was also crying a bit because she knew I had eaten the last Oreo.

Now keep in mind, just a mere 30 minutes before there had been no remorse for punching her brother or talking back to me that had ended up with her being sent to her room.
She mumbled an insincere sorry to her brother and me when I finally freed her like it was no big deal. For some reason physical violence and sass were things she felt like I could overlook but drawing on the table brought on inconsolable shame. 

So I did the only thing I could think of. 
I went back to the drawer where I had stashed the sharpie.
I called Tess back to the table, I uncapped the marker and I wrote an M next to her T.
My own initial.

She kept crying but was totally puzzled by my actions.

Remember that, I told her….
Remember the grace in me not sending you right back to your room or banning you from sharpies forever. That sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. 
Remember that I can be mad at what you’ve done but that I can never love you less.
But mostly remember …
I did it too. Now it isn’t just you.
We all screw up.
We all make mistakes.
We all do things we wish we can take back that aren’t so easily erased.
And if you forget just look at the table. 
At my initial scrawled next to yours.
You are not alone in this.

Me too Tess.
Sometimes that is the most grace anyone can give you.
Me too.

M.T.
Forever on my kitchen table currently hiding under a dirty dinner plate.


(editor’s note. Tess stopped crying and asked if she could at least finish writing the rest of her name. Or if we could paint over it. She missed the point. But she is only 6. Sometimes I think these points are mostly for slow learners like me.



birthday girl


My son was so easy as a baby. He slept through the night at 8 weeks when I went back to work. As a toddler he was active and always on the move....but a first born pleaser. He ate broccoli and would play alone with Legos for hours. (He still will).  I was sure that Shaun and I were pros at parenting. Our kid was happy, easy going and so freaking cute that we figured we should bless this planet with another set of our genes.

We could not have been more wrong. Not about blessing this planet with our genes or making the most adorbs babies around....just about being the world's best parents.  (The fact that I occasionally had to borrow diapers and wipes from complete strangers...because I couldn't be counted on to remember things like a diaper bag should have been my first clue.)

My first shot at actually giving birth was not exactly fun.  Lots of labor. Lots of pushing. Lots of blood. An epidural that only seemed to take effect on one side of my body. And eventually an emergency c-section, 17 staples across my lower abdomen and ice packs in places I shouldn't mention.
Tess on the other hand was going to be easy.
She was scheduled. I had a time to show up at the hospital. I shaved my legs and painted my toenails. I arranged for someone to watch my older child and a bag packed and ready to go. Completed my pre-op and I had even planned ahead and bought Halloween costumes and taken care of my lesson plans six weeks in advance. In other words, my mom of the year speech was already written.

And anyone who thinks that anything about a cesarian is easy is lying. Or crazy. Or has the last name Dugger.  Someone cuts your abdomen open and pulls out an actual human being, and then staples you back together. WHILE YOU ARE AWAKE.  (I could write pages on this topic...but most of it is just examples of how childbirth is a beautiful and wonderful thing that strips you of all of your dignity and makes the fact that you will not pee alone for the next five years feel like no major breach of privacy).

Let's just say that the scheduled c-section wasn't the cakewalk I had imagined. I am pretty sure that my doctor thanked me for getting my tubes tied so she would never have to do it again.
After they pull the baby out there is this moment where you hear your baby cry for the first time. You have no feeling from the waist down, but it still feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest.  You can't see past the blue sheet hanging in front of you but you know the baby is out. And you are just waiting for that initial cry. One that tells you she is ok. It is never immediate, there is a few seconds where they suck all the yuck out of their mouths and that baby has to realize it isn't swimming in amniotic fluid anymore and that they have these little things called lungs. I remember that few second delay feeling like an entire year had passed before my 8 lb 2 ounce little girl started to wail.
And she pretty much didn't stop wailing for years.

YEARS.

Even those experienced hospital nursery nurses brought her back to me because they couldn't get her to stop crying.  All. Night. Long.  Finally after about the 7th middle of the night attempt to soothe and feed her one sweet nurse suggested that maybe I give her a bottle. And I am sure that she did this at the risk of every La Leche member having the both of us tarred and feathered. Anything to take that crying sweet child back to nursery so I could sleep. Until exactly 57 minutes later when another nurse brought her back. Again.
I just kept hitting my morphine button.

I spent my first few months as a mom of two sick, tired, and googling cures for colicky babies.

In every way that Owen was easy, Tess was hard.
She didn't sleep. She refused to let ANYONE other than me hold her. She insisted on being held. ALL the time. She decided to refuse a bottle the week I went back to work. We spent years with ear infections and went through every antibiotic known to man before finally getting tubes. And a teensy bit more sleep. As a toddler (and an almost 6 year old) she would eat nothing but McDonalds chicken nuggets, cheetos and fruit snacks. It is no wonder she needed a root canal at the age of four.  She can be so sweet and caring and compassionate….but also stubborn as hell.
She never stops talking and I think that she has a vocabulary that will one day serve her well on the SATs….until I say one short little word and she looks at me like she does not comprehend.
that word of course is, “No.”

As a baby we carted Owen everywhere with us. Determined to be the kind of parents who didn’t let a baby get in the way of our social lives. (We were so naive!). We carted that carrier to restaurants and friend’s house and he slept quietly in his car seat. Our first outing with Tess was to a posh sushi place with another couple…and Tess screamed through dinner. I hid with her in the bathroom praying for the love of all things holy that she would eat and be quiet and since it was only a one-seater that no one else needed to use the restroom.  Our waitress brought us the name and phone number of a babysitter.  Speaking of babysitters, more than one told us that they weren’t sure about coming back until Tess was older (read, doesn’t scream at the top of her lungs for hours at a time). These days…Tess wins over the sitters and spends most of the time taking selfies on their phone.

On the soccer field she is a scoring machine. If there is music playing (and sometimes even when there isn’t) she is dancing. Like no one is watching. Except for the fact that she will yell, “hey watch this”.  However, the girl will cry like you are torturing puppies if you ask her to go to soccer practice or a dance class.
She says she doesn’t need to practice.
In other words. She doesn’t want to be told what to do.
Lord, where does she get this from. Surely her daddy.

I jest,  because this girl is 98% me. From her freckles to her defiance.
The 2% of Shaun comes out in some blonde hair and an affinity for Star Wars that I just do not share.  
Have you seen that Subaru commercial where the dad gives his daughter the keys? He is talking to a 16 year old but looking at a toddler. And sometimes that is exactly how I feel.  (good luck watching it without crying). Tess turns six tomorrow, but sometimes I look at her and see that baby that made me lose so much sleep but love so much. The curl of her little fingers around mine. Sometimes I see the six year old that she is gap toothed, strong willed with an infectious laugh that I can't get enough of. And sometimes I see the teenager that she will become. (which scares the bejesus out of me). And sometimes I look at her and see the most scary thing of all.
Myself.

When my son was born over 9 years ago he gave me the gift of motherhood. I learned exactly what it meant when Rob Bell said that “being a parent is what happens when your heart leaves your body and walks around outside you”.  I wasn’t sure my heart could ever love any more than it did right in that moment.
Almost exactly six years ago, my daughter taught me that your heart grows and stretches and that it indeed could. And does.
That being a parent isn’t so much about what you do right but loving as big as you can and getting by on as little sleep as possible.

When he was little, Owen was easy, quiet, independent and kind.
Tess is loud, clingy, difficult and stubborn….but still so easy to love.

happy birthday my girl.