But My Friends Like Me

Well I did it. I went on my first job interview since 1999. I had one after that but it was more of a brainstorming session on a beach in Nantucket with two friends when we conceptualized Peter Blair Accessories. Doesn’t feel like that should count, even though I learned more about small business at Peter Blair than anywhere else. To prepare for today, I printed out my updated resume, using regular computer paper rather than creamy 24 pound stock which seems stuffy and outdated. (I wonder if people actually print resumes anymore or just email them.) I selected two writing samples and  brainstormed story ideas. I googled my interviewer to see what sort of topics I could hook him on; everyone loves to talk about themselves after all. I did my homework, asking Scott Mason of the Tar Heel Traveler his advice. David Crabtree the WRAL news anchor gave me an encouraging pep talk and opened the door for this meeting. I got the kids to VBS and met a friend at the pool to swim a mile. I felt taking a step towards my training goal -a half ironman in October- would give me confidence for this other big step in a new direction. Two people assured me I would knock him dead. My friend Allison even said my dress selection said “I don’t want to be forgotten.”

The lobby was vacant, the receptionist desk protected by a window and empty chair. It felt like the corporate version of a ghost town. A sign said dial extension 4040 to speak to a human. I knew it was a bad omen.  My contact quickly came out and gave a friendly smile and handshake as he walked me back to his glorified cubical. I looked around at the people we passed on the way to his office. They looked as if they needed babysitters to be there. Everyone frantically typing away on a computer, looking busy if not engaged. There was no verve but it’s absence may have been caused by the monotone battleship gray interior and fluorescent lighting as much as a lack of inspiration.

I “made myself comfortable” across the desk from my new firing-squad/friend and we talked. He told me how news was a tough business for anyone (especially as old as you is what I heard) It requires long hours, holiday sacrifices, the ability to do all levels of production from script writing to editing to production and even camera work. I admitted feeling silly providing a resume with no experience in the field I was interviewing for. He told me I might as well rip it up and realize I was competing with 21 year olds who probably had more experience than I did, working on a college newspaper. When I asked if he was telling me I was too old he said no, but it’s a long road without any guarantee at the end. I think he began to feel guilty for being such a pessimist, not asking me one thing about myself. He should have said, you have a real face for radio. He is not looking for a 41 year old wanting to finally follow her dream. He doesn’t care I am smart, or accomplished in other things, or did really really well at the one time I got to be a color commentator on a sports show. I guess this was more for me than for him.

Twenty five minutes later I was done. I swung the door open as graciously as I could, said thank you for your time, and headed to the minivan as quickly as possible. I hoped he did not see my car, fearing it would only secure his opinion of a Mom trying to find her next calling. Luckily I made it to the car before bursting into tears. I am not sure what I expected: Robert Redford to discover a diamond in the rough like Michelle Pfeiffer in Up Close? I mean who tries to break into tv at 41?  Thoughts of self doubt and loathing swirled in my mind. Why didn’t I find a mentor in an interesting field and run with it when I had all the time in the world? Why wasn’t I a better decision maker when I was young? Why didn’t I pay my dues, suck it up, climb the corporate ladder? Why can’t I win the lottery?

I have never submitted my writing to a publisher for fear my trump card will be trumped. If my writing is rejected than I don’t know what my secret dream could be. It used to look like chatting with Oprah or Katie Couric about my great american novel. But I haven’t written it yet and both anchors will be dead if not retired by the time I start the process. Maybe I could find a political angle and get on the Rachel Maddow show. She is a year younger than I am and broke into tv in 2005. Who cares she had a radio career beforehand and a Rhodes scholarship? This sports tv thing felt like a calling, something my whole life has been working towards without ever being in the field. I tried not to get “political” when we talked about the all male 6 person sports staff or the plan for covering more girls sports now that Wake County has agreed to work harder to comply with Title IX, the 41 year old FEDERAL LAW requiring gender equity in sports. But the ideas were futile. It felt like I was stuck in the worst blind date imaginable (which by the way did you see an eharmony customer just won a $900,000 lawsuit for contracting herpes while “dating” a fellow customer-next blog topic thank you!)

Here’s the juggernaut: I feel like I am at my best ever. My windy life path with stints as a teacher, a brand builder, tie guru, missionary, Mom, ref, and exercise instructor seem to be coming to a pinnacle. I can speak in a microphone, multitask, solve problems, and accomplish things in double time of my 30 year old self.  I have enough confidence to hold my own and enough wisdom to laugh at my many faults. So what if my time is not the same as your time?

I do have some good news. I have always been negatively motivated. My lacrosse coach used to tell me all the things I did wrong and I would get angry and do them right just to prove my -well her- point. My conversations with God go something like: you can make me fall in love and marry a minister but you cannot make me be a cliched preacher’s wife. I think it’s the little sister in me who constantly tries to keep up. Or maybe it’s my inner- rebel or the way my Mom raised my brother and me to be risk takers. After about 15 minutes of crying, and the help of a very consoling preacher,  I hatched my own idea. I will do my sports features as part of Notyourpreacherswife. I want to give female athletes a voice -probably because I hear a bit of myself in them. All I have to do is…well…everything. Story ideas, writing, filming, interviewing, editing, posting, advertising. No big whoop. I guess you have to do it all to have it all. Well I do anyway. If you have any story ideas, send them my way. Who knows, I may realize this dream afterall.

Embrace Your Star

There has been a lot of talk recently about two things. The first is quite flattering but not global in nature (yet) and that is my lack of blogging. It seems summer vacation with three kids and two jobs does not allow much in the way of time to think let alone write. Back in May I wished I could hire a personal assistant and driver to figure out what end-of-school event, party, poetry contest, thank you volunteer lunch, recital, performance, field day bonanza I was supposed to be at and what I was supposed to bring. I threatened to make tshirts that said end of school put the MAY in Mayhem. Now I am on a witch hunt for whoever came up with the saying “lazy, hazy days of summer.” If you have ever been to a swim meet or helped out with Vacation Bible School you know this is saying is an oxymoron on the scale of “sleeping like a baby” or “it’s a dog’s life”. I have yet to find a Mom who has not looked jealously at the sleeping mutt -satisfied with a quick scratch behind the ear and leftover sandwich crusts- and longed to change places.
The second is the story of Karen Klein, the New York bus monitor and grandmother of 8 who was bullied by teenagers. I have not read much of the story, don’t really need to. It is an age old tale of people being mean to someone who is perceived as an easy target, weak, somehow valued as less. Why didn’t anyone else on Karen Klein’s bus speak up? Some have, with financial donations, to the tune of $618,000 – a sum so large that what started as a vacation stipend from internet supporters has turned into a potential early retirement fund. At the heart of the matter for me is how intertwined we all are. At some point or another, we have all been the victim and the bully. I am not saying we have taken a turn making fun of the fat kid on the bus -maybe we just contributed through silence. But more importantly we are all related to the story because we are all broken and lonely in some way. Our hurt, our soul holes -as Glennon Melton of Momastery blog fame calls it- create dark vacuums sucking light and energy out of others. Unless these holes are filled with light and love.
I escaped childhood and puberty relatively unscathed except for an incident in 4th grade I remember so vividly I can tell you what I was wearing. It was recess on a beautiful spring day in New Jersey. I was wearing my favorite London Fog khaki skirt and sleeveless green lacoste shirt purchased at the factory store in Redding, PA the previous summer. We were playing kickball and two boys were picking teams. Being a good kicker I felt confident I would be picked early on, once all the boys had been selected. As we stood in line, one of the girls leaned over me to talk to a girl on my other side. She said: ” Melanie will never be picked because she has arms that look like a boy.” Already self conscious about the hair on my arms (and barely thankful it was blonde) I asked what they meant. The said your muscles look too big when you put your hands in your pockets with that shirt. Luckily I got picked before I started to cry and I never had to formulate a comeback. In truth, they were right. My arms were strong. They still are. They helped me be a college athlete, carry 3 babies uphill and down dale, and cook and write and hug. Last week the barista at Starbucks held up the line to have a conversation about my arms; this time to compliment me on how beautiful and toned they are. As I smiled and said thank you, it brought me straight back to 1979 and Rumson, NJ and I secretly stuck my tongue out at the 2 girls whose faces I have forgotten but whose words still stick.
The picture above of a girl on the bus was shown to me yesterday. It is of Hanna Hall, the little girl who plays Jenny in Forrest Gump. I remember seeing the movie in 1994 and thinking she was beautiful -both inside and out. When Forrest is being ridiculed on the bus, she is the only one to offer him a seat next to her. Not an overly friendly invitation, she says: “You can sit here if you want.” Which of course he does and they go on to be just like “peas and carrots,” one of the most famous lines of the decade. The movie goes on to show just how broken Jenny is by abuse and loneliness. Perhaps her familiarity with these feelings is what spurs her to speak up against the bullies. The picture below is of my middle daughter, Anna. The two are so similar in looks, the Hall photo even tricked my 6 year old. She said: “I don’t have a dress like that and when did I ride a bus with a brown seat?” This has all come within two days of Anna’s friend Mimi Kirkland being selected for a movie role and showing up in UsWeekly (http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/pic-julianne-hough-debuts-short-blonde-do-on-safe-haven-set-2012226). Flutters of fame and movie stardom have riddled the house in the form of  giggly excitement as well as threatful parenting. I have caught myself saying, well if you ever want to be in a movie, you have to stop arguing with your sister-follow directions-brush your teeth-look people in the eye-read 50 pages a night-do swim team without complaining etc. Which in reality have nothing and everything to do with getting what you want. And it brought me back to one of my favorite friend quotes from Becky: “I just realized at age 32 that I won’t be famous unless I open fire on a McDonald’s near the LA Freeway.” Fame is a funny thing. Those who have it don’t want it and those who want it can’t have it.  Or maybe it is on a different scale than we are thinking.
We are all famous to someone because we are in community -virtual, social, spiritual, actual -whether we want to be or not. A facebook page alone connects us to about a bagillion people. We have made a difference in somebody’s life, probably for the good and the bad. On the bus in our silence and in our offering of a seat.  We are also known to God. Your dreams, your hurts, your bullies, your inner superstar. You are the most famous you there is. Embrace your star and let it shine.

Bass Ackwards

This is not a picture of me. And while the hair color looks somewhat like my mother’s, it is not a picture of her either. The young boys are not related to me. The woman of color in the background is not kin to me. The lady to the left in the ill-fitting suit does not share my blood. We did not bake a wedding cake. My family is not celebrating today.  For most of the day, I have gone about my “business” enjoying the freedom of a calm day. I taught an exercise class this morning at 6 am. I packed lunches, made beds (not really but I should have) walked the dog, ate breakfast, and showered. I dropped my kids off in their classrooms and sat chatting with friends in the gymnasium. I videoed my kindergartener singing about her first year in school and welcoming the soon to be new students. My oldest daughter sat on my lap as we spotted friends across the room and on the stage. I stopped at a friend’s house to admire her poison ivy and empathize with her pain. I met a friend to watch professional tennis and eat lunch. All in all in the 9 hours I have been awake and interacting in the world have been enjoyable and fluffy. And I feel a bit guilty about it, particularly today. Yesterday, the state where I live, North Carolina got 15% of the registered population to vote. Of that minority, 60% voted to doubly re-define that marriage is between one man and one woman.Not sure what that does to divorcees or widows but I am sure that will be revealed somewhere down the road. I think if we look to Leviticus (which is frequently sited as the source of this type of “law”) I think the widows are banished and the divorcees stoned…to death I mean.

According to my math, the people who chose Amendment One are less than 1% of the people living in North Carolina. People simply did not show up. That is depressing. Isn’t 99% of life showing up?  Alas, we are left with a disgraceful mess that -when grouped with the Wake County Public School board fiasco- has me embarrassed to live in this state. To be honest, it is what I thought about North Carolina before I moved here. It is what I thought before I made many, many friends here whom I love. Before I saw the beautiful beaches, cool mountains, or Redneck hockey (The Hurricanes). My experience has taught me even though there are low talkers here, what they have to say is often worth slowing down and listening intently enough to hear the stories. I have come to love hearing “ink pin” instead of “pen” because natives do not say Es and Is differently. I love the state I live in -but I am free to do that. People have welcomed me despite my northern pace and outspoken style. But I wonder if all that would go away if I were gay. I know many will defend their stance with biblical scripture or phrases like “I love the sinner, hate the sin” or “everyone is entitled to their opinion”. But I just don’t buy it. The only way I can explain how I feel is to use this analogy: “There is a new amendment on the books -all people 5’3″ and under are not allowed to marry.” That leaves me out of luck because I am the way God made me…short. But it doesn’t make me anything else. It does not make me love my children less or my partner more. It does not make me further from God or less necessary of Salvation. It does not make me a sinner. What does is not treating people -all people- as my equal. Like Amendment One does.

I wonder how many people who voted for Amendment One think they know a gay person. I believe it is a very dangerous practice to judge others based on one “fact” or characteristic about them.  Many of my non-believing friends think religion is a crutch…and a corrupt one at that. But I don’t think they have spent a lot of time with church goers proving their hypothesis.  I am fighting my own instinct to judge the people in this picture as naive bigots. If we have to be judged at all it should be by our actions. The ones that are mentioned in the Bible over and over and over again. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. Loving our God with all our heart.  Won’t they know we are Christians by our love …like the song says?

I disagree with Amendment One for many reasons. The most important being the need for separation of church and state. But I am also tired of having my God put in a small box and having people hide their prejudices behind it. I believe the only things which will matter in the end are how much we loved one another. And that is harder to do today because of Amendment One.

See It, Do It

My friend told me of an email she received from her neighbor last week. This friend happens to be one of the kindest and most intuitive people I know, 2 qualities sure to top the list of anyone you have to live near. The email from her next door “friend” said something along the lines of: ” your kids toys are kind of cluttered and making our shared public space look messy, could you please pick them up?” She handled it with more grace and humor (with some help from her husband) than I have in my entire body. My response would have been to pull out all the Christmas and Easter decorations and plant them firmly in the front yard with some sort of sound contraption that got triggered by motion sensors. My good friend Dick used to say, if you throw a rock, I’m gonna throw a bolder. Good thing he and I doesn’t live in a glass house.

What is wrong with people, women in particular, and who has time for this crap? I am not talking about a ’67 gilappi propped up on cinder block stilts here. If I could guess, my friend’s 2 small children were playing outside with balls and bats and toys and were called in to dinner, leaving everything exactly where they stopped playing. Maybe it sat there for two days, causing the neighbor to rotate her steering wheel extra hard to get around some of the equipment. So what? In college lacrosse we had an expression: See it, Do it. If we started complaining about a teammate not hussling enough, we tried to run faster ourselves. If no one was coming back on defense or cutting to the ball or setting picks, the quickest way to solve the problem was to start doing it yourself. If nothing else, it stepped up your level of play which can be contagious.

My questions is this: what happened to the benefit of the doubt? Was there any concern my friend may be having a crazy week, a goldfish die or a dog escape, or just extra meetings and activities to shuttle to and fro? Was there any wonder if something really was going wrong in my friend’s life? We are getting to that age when someone you have not heard from in a long time calls and you wonder before picking up the phone,  I hope everyone is ok. Did the neighbor weigh the positives of a clean yard versus the negatives of tension between someone you live 2o feet from?  I doubt it. We have forgotten about the benefit of the doubt. We have starting moving too quickly for grace.

So I got the idea to gather some stupid emails we have sent or received to make us all laugh at each other.

1. Neighbor complaining about toys in your driveway. (See above)

2. A neighbor petitioned the city, unbeknownst to my friend, to have a No Parking sign placed in my friend’s yard because “when y’all have friends over who park in the street it is just too hard for me to get out of my driveway.” Really? You have no better cause to contact your local government?

3. A neighbor flipped because we had a bike shed built that was not up to code; we put it 3 feet too close to the property line. I have no problem making the changes, we were not trying to cheat the law (I save that for the dog leash) or ruin their view of the driveway. But to contact the city, even after we said we would make the changes our builder already got from the city, and threaten us with comments like “are you threatening me,”  has made the grass look less green on the other side.

3. I responded to a tennis team email saying I could play and then pestered the captain, lamenting how hard I was working to find a babysitter with all my other stuff. 3 days later she chuckled, telling me I was never in the lineup to start with.

4. Room parents. There are tons of entries for this category. Over Christmas, I received an email listing the names of who had donated -and who had not- to the teacher Christmas gift. Needless to say, I had not gotten around to writing my check but as I bitterly stewed about being called out, I began to think of those who had not contributed not because of spaciness (see #3) but because they could not afford to.

I would love to read yours. I am sure there are plenty for fodder.

This is the age of specialization and individuality and these can be fabulous advancements. We don’t have to watch shows we don’t want to, or commercials in the programs we do choose. We don’t have to answer the phone if we don’t like who is calling. ( I guess we always had this option it just felt like more of a crap shoot, not knowing who was on the other end.) We can be more efficient, more targeted. No more one size fits all. But with that, we have thrown tolerance out the window put tolerance on the shelf. And grace has taken a backseat.

 I am thankful God has not entered this technology age. I fear She would screen my calls or fast forward over my life, thinking it was a re-run of last week -same mistakes, same response. Sometimes it seems God is the only one on my side. I am not hearing the voice very clearly now but that means I don’t feel it yelling at me either. I am the one who sees my faults. I have neighbors -sometimes the whole world- pointing out mistakes too. I wonder what would happen if we brought grace back, to the forefront. I challenge you this week -after sending me your ludicrous requests from others- to put grace first. If you know better, do better (props Ash!). We all could use a break, and if you couldn’t, step up because your neighbor probably does.

Stop the Gerbil Wheel

It has been a strange time lately. I keep looking for a cosmic reason -full moon, heavy air pressure, stars not aligned. In all seriousness I have been in my own tipping point of sorts, taking back some of my life from my family. Until I wrote those words, I wasn’t able to articulate the change but indeed I am becoming more independent again. I am entering the working world -albeit in a part-time and very scattered way. I am reffing lacrosse, volunteering in my church and school, planning summer lacrosse camps, and becoming a pure barre instructor. If you watch the Amazing Race, you may be in touch with what my life looks like. Here is a sample from yesterday:

6 at 6: Run six miles with my sanity group at 6 am./7:15 -8:15: Endless list of prodding and packing to get 3 girls ready for picture day and school/8:15 -9: Meeting for elementary school fundraiser/9:30 – 11:30: Tennis match (I lost which I hate)/12 -2: Pick up #3 and #1 (who called home sick) /run errands to return forgotten charity poster/grocery store to pick up supplies for birthday party tomorrow afternoon and charity event tomorrow night/2:45 meet 3rd grade running club at school/3 -4 run with 9 year olds, get interviewed by news, find missing child who was indeed not missing but got picked up by his mother who decided not to check him out. (It was not a fun exercise to come up with the words: Mrs. Stone? Yes Hi I am the parent who was supposed to be keeping your child safe along the greenway for the past hour and even though 7 of us have been looking for him for 15 minutes, we can’t find him. By any chance do you know where he is? Oh really, you picked him up  and didn’t tell anyone because he just ran to the car and that seemed easier? Oh ok, we will take the same amount of effort next week and if he accidentally falls into the creek we will just keep going well because we have followed procedures for keeping the kids safe all the other weeks but this just seemed easier. Bye bye!) /4:15-8:30 drive across town to referee two lacrosse games one of which included 7 yellow cards and 3 time stopping injuries. /8:45 grocery store again to pick up forgotten items for party/9 snuggle with girls still awake waiting for Mommy, frost and decorate cake, make mac n cheese for 30,peel & slice carrots (because if you buys those stupid little ones you are missing the flavor of a carrot and supporting genetically modified food and my policy is to never buy mini carrots or pre-shredded cheese because they have no flavor and these two items are the cause for the American economy flailing./fall asleep watching March Madness at 11:30/Woken up by 4 year old at 4:15 ready for scintillating conversation./6 Start all over.

Yep it makes me tired too but I love it. I think it is better all around. I am thankful my husband is rising to the occasion and helping out with carpool and kid coverage and all the other rotating matrixes. I keep repeating this prayer and hope it sinks in. Besides there is plenty of time to sleep when I get old.

May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and to small for anything but love.

You may have seen this on my blog before. What I had never seen is the second half of the prayer:

so, may god take your minds and think through them; may god take your lips and speak through them; may god take your hearts and set them on fire.

It got me thinking if I am the voice or face or spirit of God, not because I am perfect but because I am here on this earth and just as capable as anyone else, then I may not be doing my “job as messenger” so well. If I am the voice of God with this crazyass schedule, then God would probably have to start using text edits like LOL and TTYL and stuff like that to communicate because who has time to write a full word anymore? And shorthand quickly starts to sound like speaking in tongues or a bunch of mumbo jumbo. It  gets pretty hard for anyone to understand.

I am not in a slow down phases of life. It feels like someone is going to contact me tomorrow about teachers gifts…and they will be meaning Christmas ones for next year. Warp speed, multi-tasking, supersized schedule, fall in to bed at 8:30 speed. I have always like it better that way but I am not sure it’s better for anyone around me. Which makes me think of a new joke:

Why did the chicken cross the road? She was looking for her head that got cut off in the rush!

I am a Doer, a problem solver, a Martha. That is probably not going to change, don’t really want it to. But I hope that in this busy-ness, I don’t lose sight of hearing God’s voice…and sharing it with the world, in long hand.

In the Middle of a Muddle

It has been a long night. Maybe it has been a long week. The preacher and I have spent the last hour hopping back and forth from the beds of our two older girls. At this point I would welcome the throw up bug, the one where your child is so weak they lay in your arms as you feed gatorade and motrin into their sore little bodies. Instead we have been trying to calm each girl off the ledge of sibling rivalry and well, insanity. It happened somewhere in the great abyss of the upstairs, an argument over which movie to watch. Obviously, as the laws of the jungle state, survival of the fittest. Since the oldest mastered netflix first, her movie got watched. Not one to be a shrinking violet, Anna has taught herself the technology as well but can never seem to get her hands on the remote. She feels anger, outrage even, and swindled. She is at the mercy of a gatekeeper, one who is capable and a bit bossy.

First came the “reporting” from both sides, objective of course if you think the Fox News channel simply provides facts. It arrived in the kitchen where the grown ups were finishing a balanced and home-cooked meal of baked chicken and mashed potatoes. I was feeling good, successful of my day’s accomplishments. I ran with a friend this morning and solved our world’s problems as the sun rose. I passed two exams for my lacrosse referee job and pure barre instructor certification. I went to the elementary school and helped 125 kids in the running club train for our upcoming 5k. We ran two miles which is a lot. There was not a lot of joy or freedom or “I need this” going on in their heads. Mostly they thought of why they needed to walk. But it is a start and I felt good for motivating my herd without getting frustrated. And I had a meal to share with our neighbors one whose spouse had to work late and the other who was feeling under the weather.

But once the neighbors left, the sheer hate came and it poured from their mouths like venom through a snake bite. We were beyond a teaching moment or talking it out or finding a solution or even apologizing. It simply had to end. Cheyney had long since fallen asleep on the sofa and been carried to bed. She is blissfully unaware of the role she played in our family tonight. But according to Anna she is partly to blame. “The baby who gets everything because she is cute and she cries!”  “And Coco gets everything because she is smart and the oldest!” “And I am stuck in the middle with nothing!” Oh how my heart breaks. It is textbook behavior and yet no one has a solution for me yet.

Anna’s latest phrase has been “I wish I had a car so I could run myself over. I hate my life”. She is 6. What is it going to be when she is 16? I told her I loved her anyway. I listened, hugged, touched, loved, snuggled, and cried. I prayed. None of it worked. I remember her newborn days when she would wail like her fingernails were being ripped. It wasn’t reflux or colic or sickness. It was discomfort. We would have her sleep on her back swaddled/unswaddled or in her carseat or on her stomach (forgive me Lord and pediatrician) or in the swing. Mostly she slept on someone else’s stomach for the first six months of her life. And while I would wake 97 times during the 3 hour window only to have my neck stuck in a 45 degree angle to the right, I did it. During those newborn days we would do anything to make her happy.

I wish the fix was so easy today. I wish I could take her pain and make it mine, trade a few hours of sleep  for a crick in the neck that could be ironed at the chiropractor. I would bear it, gladly. Because taking on a child’s ache is nothing compared to watching one suffer and not knowing how to make it go away. As a parent you feel it double: as a memory of your own childhood hurts and as a parent wondering where it went wrong.

I can only imagine what puberty will be like: boyfriends, cliques, broken hearts, self image, outfits, tryouts, who got to drive the car more this week and such. There are a million minefields I am not even aware of yet. If ever there was a perfect setup for Lent, my kids provided it tonight. No matter how hard I work or how much I love them or how cushy of a bubble I provide, these three miracles are people in the real world and this place often forgets that. We forget we are created perfectly and loved unconditionally. I know my girls cannot understand I love them each in their own way  because -and in spite- of their decisions. I love them equally but very differently. This is how God must love each of us right? Fiercely and with conviction, even though sometimes it feels like God loves the people with the easy lives more.

I closed the door to Anna’s room tonight feeling like a failure. How on earth am I going to keep this wonderful creature safe long enough to learn nobody can take away who she is and how much I love her? Tomorrow will come, there will be swollen eyes and headaches from crying. There will be new chances to show love and feel comfort and start over. May angels visit her dreams and mine tonight.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30


A Cloudy Day

The blog has been blank for a while but my mind has not. It has been spinning with to-do lists and reminders, ideas and questions. Big and small: did I drop that present off for the birthday party we attended last month or have I just misplaced it? Did  I sign up for all these roles in the school fundraiser or just speak too much in the meeting?  How are my girls report cards good when they appear to be utterly bored in class, learning to walk the halls silently rather than be ignited by a new idea? Can we risk thinking big for our women’s event at church and then make it good enough to pay for our speaker? Will I be inspired by this woman or jealous I have some of her talents and have not found a way to have them discovered? What is wrong with me? Why does my mood match the weather today, cold and dreary and quiet? I was supposed to be in Denver this weekend to become certified as a pure barre instructor. While the schedule was a bit daunting with it’s 8 hours of lifting, toning, and burning, all at altitude, I was looking forward to the challenge. I had even laid off the wine for two weeks in preparation. Well that might still have been recovery from the 40th birthday beach blowout two weeks ago. But as one of my fellow celebrators said, “40 is the new 21” and that says it all, no need for details in print. My college roommate lives in Denver and I have not seen Dr. Leslie since her wedding 9 years ago. She hates her birthday but Friday was her 40th and I was going to be part of the celebration  until the first major blizzard of the year had to spoil all the fun. So maybe I am more bummed out than I am aware. And I am anxious about trying to schedule another weekend away with three kids and a man who works Sundays.

I didn’t use to think of myself as anxious person but I guess I am. The dictionary defines anxiety as: mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune. I would edit the danger part of my definition; I am pretty willing to try anything risky at least once. But misfortune? I worry I am living it. I think about the choices I make today as being the wrong ones for the future. I fret  I am not making the hard choices because, well, they are too hard right now and thus I will miss out in the end. I think about the times I have spoken to my child in frustration -can’t you see I am too busy making you dinner to see the cool project you made with blocks-and worry this is all they will remember of their childhood. Shouty Crackers Mom.  I have uneasiness about becoming a constant complainer rather than someone who sees a better way of doing things AND chooses that way with kindness.

What has me most anxious right now is an email I received this week. At church, we have a parenting class led by a pediatrician and early childhood educator. Parents sit in a circle and ask questions about our children that seem to have exhausted all the resources of what appear to be otherwise sane, capable people. I have learned a million good tips in there, the greatest of which is the idea of sharing our stories and laughing with one another about raising our kids. The email came from our leader asking me to speak to the group about what we do in our home to raise our children in a Christian way.

Talk about a punch to the face. I am not sure what the question even asks. I know for sure my  reaction is to say I am not qualified to respond.  When I stop and ponder what I could come up with, I am sure it won’t measure up to what people want to hear from their minister’s wife. The honest thing would be to say our Christian spirit is so sucked dry by the work of the church, their is not much left for our children. But that would be to cruel. Or honest. Or weak.  We made an advent wreath once and lighted the candles at Sunday night dinner. But it quickly became a test to see who would remember to light the candle and build a memory for our kids. When I discovered the responsibility laid solely with me, I resented it. And thus decided to chuck it out the window. We have bedtime routine: dinner, baths, stories, prayers, snuggling. I believe ending the day in a warm safe place filled with love is Godlike.

I don’t have a ritual or philosophy or text to tell people: this is our key. I am not sure I am even comfortable with the idea of people looking towards me or my children as an example for ideas about how to live life. To be honest, I feel lost and alone much of the time. I feel far away from God, by choice, unfortunately. It seems church sucks away the Holy Spirit we should be welcoming in to our home.

What I do do is teach my children to be kind. And strong. And honest. And smart. And independent. None of these sound Christian. And yet, when I look at my girls I find what is coming out looks more like witness, truth, and real. Perhaps that is where God intervenes. To mold the clay. What I teach my girls does not seem inherently Christian but it feels right to me. Be you. God loves you and created you perfectly. And even though the world and your choices will tell you otherwise, you are enough. You have been more than that, to me, since the day you were born.

I learned a new prayer last year and I am obsessed with it. It is on the “about” part of my blog but I am going to put it here to make sure my readers see it. It is by Reverend William Sloane Coffin, junior.

May God give you the grace to never sell yourself short, the grace to risk something big for something good, and the grace to know the world is now too dangerous for anything but the truth and too small for anything but love.

That is what I want my girls to know. It is what I need to remind myself of everyday. And it is what I am put on earth to practice. Oh and don’t forget to brush your teeth and love your sisters.


There is an old man who lives in our neighborhood. He and his wife moved to their small home when the area was first growing, back in the 1940s. I am not sure their house has had much done to it since then but I try to imagine what it would be like to live in the same place, with the same person, for over 60 years. I imagine there is a pathway of gray on the hardwood floors where the finish has worn off.  Steps from the bed to the bathroom to the kitchen sink and coffee pot, marking a lifetime of routine and living. There is a crack in the molding on the outside and the house could use some sprucing up but I can hear the conversation now: why fix it up when this house will be torn down by the next owners anyway? Families now need great rooms and whirlpool tubs and  kitchens fit for a five star hotel: 6 burner -12,000 btu -stove tops, a double oven, and all in stainless steel finish thank you very much. The only changes to the house come each fall when political candidate signs are staked in the front yard around the eternal blue sign with a dove stating “war is not the answer”.  I used to wish they would fix the place up a bit, help the appeal of the neighborhood and improve the all-important resale value. But now I find myself loving their disregard for outwardly appearances, either from lack of desire, priority, funds, or awareness. The wife is gone now, died a few years back and was honored by the garden club she helped start. They planted a tree in our park and put a plaque underneath it. Tributes like this make me love our neighborhood. We are a community and the tree, for me, represents what it means to live in proximity to others: we know who you are, we acknowledge you matter and we are thankful for sharing your life with us.

My girls bus stop is on the corner of our street, caddy-corner from where the recluse widower lives. I have not seen him in a while but another neighbor assures me he is still there. It was a late spring day last year when it all began. The baby and I were waiting for the bus, standing in the street and trying to count the leaves on the forsythia bush which had just bloomed a magnificent yellow gold. I heard a loud knock and turned from the bush to the old man’s house. I saw two teenage boys snickering as they hid behind a tree and peeked out from behind to see if the old man managed to get to the door, only to have no one there. After about 40 seconds, the man opened the door, peered out, and saw no one. He picked up a newspaper or flyer or some paper lying on the front porch and closed the door. The teens proceeded to do this 3 more times, laughing harder each time at the old man’s gulibility. I was fuming.

I wouldn’t call myself so much a whistle blower as someone who speaks her mind. Remember I don’t like leash laws or speed limits so I am not necessarily a rule follower. But this was an attack on an individual, a human. Perhaps it was because my own grandmother, age 95, was still living in her own home and answering her own door when someone knocked. Or maybe it was because these boys reminded me of my first job out of college, teaching at a boarding school, where many of the students reminded me more of the cartoon characters Beavis & Butthead than actual human beings whom some parent loved. But I could not help myself in “speaking” to these two. Because while they were hidden from the man and his house which they ding-dong-ditched, they were in plain eyesight to me. So I said something along the lines of come on guys, find something better to do…this guy could break his hip while trying to get the door and never recover. Okay so maybe I went to far there but I wanted them to know you don’t do this in a community.

As the words came out of my mouth I knew I was digging my own grave. I could almost see the wheels turning in their heads about when they could turn their wrath to my home. It was not hard to distinguish our house from the others since we have various lawn ornaments -otherwise known as toys not put away- strewn around the front yard. On any given day, one may find: bikes, chalk, scooters, a pogo stick, lemonade stand, jumprope, picnic leftovers, or kids hanging from the tree. The very next day the knocking began. It would alarm my dog who started to bark and then wake my sleeping baby who would not go back for the rest of her nap and be grumpy from the disturbance at 2:50 until her bed time. This went on for 4 days until I decided to go after them. I was sitting in the dining room reading my mail in my tennis clothes and sneakers when the 5th knock happened. I jumped up and chased the two boys out of my driveway. They dashed across the street and down into the park, thinking they would lose me. What woman in her right mind would leave a now awake baby alone in her crib? I was getting closer until they decided to cut through the creek at which point I yelled: ‘You are messing with the wrong Mom. I will get you!” What I should of said was “please come disturb my family whenever you are bored.”

I read an article which described a growing trend of stay at home mothers turned private investigators. It was a good point: we have disguises (children tagging along), do not appear strange if glued to the cell phone (we are anyway) and have a network of stealth and quick fellow informants. The Fallon Park Caper is proof in point. I called my neighbor Laura about this incident immediately and she happened to be driving at the other end of the park. She ID one of the boys, knew where he lived, drove by the house, gave me his address which I looked up on the property value website and called his parents. It was gratifying to get to  the bottom of this until I talked to the mother who explained I had no idea how hard it is to keep track of teenagers with cellphones and a small house. In one call I was able to see I was on my own. Surprisingly, a group of about 9 boys came and apologized. It was a touching moment for me, I had stood up for myself, the boys saw the error of their ways, and we were all going to be the better for it.  Justice had indeed prevailed. Silly me.

The knocking took a two week hiatus and then began again. This time I was prepared. When the banging came, I quietly snuck out of the house and went around the park in the opposite direction. I could see the two culprits high-fiving one another as they sauntered down the road. I jogged silently (see the marathon post if necessary), gaining ground until I was within arms distance of them. I grabbed one backpack, pulled it to the ground and said: “What the #%@$ is your problem?!?” They were shocked, scared, and stuttering. They lied about where they went to school and lived and promised they would never do it again. I told them their word meant nothing to me. They apologized once before and it meant nothing since they did it again. I knew this talk wasn’t going to help my cause but I wanted to be on record -with them and with myself-that I wasn’t going to accept this as just another thing that happens when “boys will be boys”.

We haven’t been ding-dong-ditched in about six months. Maybe they got jobs or a girlfriend or a life. They did knock once last week when Greg was home and he chased them too. This was a welcome shift, as he too had snickered at my tenacity last spring and was concerned I screamed curse words in their faces. So I guess it should come as no surprise on Friday the 13th -an early release day from school- we were egged. In broad daylight. I know I know it is a right of passage. I just wish they did it among themselves -like someone in their school-but I made this bed and I am willing to lie in it. As my fingers froze in the vinegar and water mixture the computer recommended for removing egg from painted brick, I tried to find the lesson in the madness. At least now they were bothering my house and not the elderly, frail neighbor’s. But I also started thinking I could use this for one of those conversation during the teen years when I have to say over and over and over “I know everyone else is doing it but you are not allowed”. I will remind my girls of the knocking and the egging of their childhood and how it was scary (or maybe it was the crazed look on my face when I chase the knockers they fear but whatever) and wrong.  I hope my girls know if they don’t have the courage or strength or influence to stop doing something they know is harmful, then at least they have the sense to walk away (not that I always did but that is another story). If one person’s simple fun or entertainment was at the expense of someone else, it is NOT okay. Eggs, words, minor property damage, drinking and driving, prank calls, gossip, u name it. Ellen DeGeneres once said she never made fun of others in her humor because it isn’t funny to make someone else feel bad. I love the community idea behind her stance. We affect one another to varying degrees. We all matter. I wonder if I will wake up tomorrow morning to toilet paper in my trees. It wouldn’t be the first time, probably not the last either.

A Different Sort of Holiday

The crisp air cleared my lungs like a slap across the face. It felt good to inhale the burning chill as it cleared  the webbed strands of endless holiday malaise. Sugar, wine, nuts, bourbon, bread, baked goods, all cheeses melted. Over endulgement in most aspects of life. Don’t get me wrong. I believe “to everything there is a season” and have no problem enjoying the fat of the year. But I needed to clear my head as much as my palate and running packs that unique double whammy. As I set out on the familiar winding blacktop near my house, it felt as though life was settling back to normal. Decorations were down except for the tree, house guests had returned to their towns and cubicles, and the last cycle of towels and sheets were whirling in the washer I had to purchase on December 27. I could almost see the back of the refrigerator.

For our oldest daughter it was a different kind of Christmas. At age 8, she has surpassed the need for pink plastic and television gimmicks and requested two very grown-up gifts: a microscope and a Nook. The excitement of viewing each new specimen under the lens is still childlike in it’s wonder of discovery. But the way she cares for the machine and the seriousness of her science experiments is  foreshadowing of afternoons in a high school chemistry lab. And at least 4 times over the past few days, I have found her curled up on the sofa, ankles tucked under her backside, as she loses herself in the words of a book amidst all the chaos of conversations and television shows and games and snacks. Our middle one too is beginning to tiptoe on the maturity bridge asking just yesterday why the ads for toys on tv make things look so cool but once in your house they are not. Rather than feeling profound disappointment, she simply wondered why. There was not disgruntlement in her voice but more a curiosity as to the reasoning behind making something appear cooler than it is.

I think we adults spend a lot of time keeping up cool appearances, marketing ourselves if you will. It is cliche to talk about it at the holidays and yet year in and year out I see people, myself included, try to maintain an image that is lovable or smart or popular or rich or happy or together or whatever your demon in the closet says it is. The problem is, it is hard to do this much past a 30 second tv spot. Once the toy is home and out of the box so is the dirty little secret: outwardly things are never as enticing as they appeared to be at first glimpse.

My friend Kemp died on December 21, suddenly and in a tragic way. He was one of those people who did not keep up appearances. He was kind and good and filled with wonder and zest and love. He made me feel like a better person for spending time with him. Once he came by to drop off our daughter after a sleepover. In a sequence of events fitting of a Macaulay Culkin movie, I got locked out of the house with 2 girls and the baby trapped inside napping. Greg was out of town and all our spare keys were awol. Kemp stayed with us until a way in was found. As if he had all the time in the world and no better place to be. He told funny stories of being locked out of various places in his life and laughed easily with an infecting glint in his eye making this worried mother laugh at it all . More recently I had bumped into Kemp at a bike shop with my new racing gift and we shared the excitement of triathlon training. Before I returned home from the store, there was an email in my inbox with a list of upcoming events, training schedules and encouraging words. Each time we parted or passed each other on the greenway, I would smile and tell my running buddies I am going to spend more time with Kemp. But I didn’t. And now, I can’t, not with him. But I can spend more time with real people, like him.

The evening of Kemp’s death, I was driving Coco to a birthday party. We had not told her yet, knowing she too had loved spending time with him. He is the father of her dear friend and each time Coco returned home, there was some anecdote about Mr. Reece. “He took us bike riding or made his famous spaghetti or let us stay up until 10 watching a movie and drinking soda”. There are not many adults children have relationships with but Mr. Reece was one of them. As we drove out Glenwood Avenue past the strip malls cheaply lighted for the holidays and pedaling wares promising to bring happiness, Coco piped up. Her teacher had advised the students  to do something kind for someone else during the break. Finally a realistic and time-worthy holiday homework assignment! Coco began to throw out ideas like packing bags for backpack buddies at church or getting an angel off the giving tree. I quietly said we would find something to do, full well knowing the project of caring for her friend who had just lost her Dad would be the first big assignment of her little life.

As Greg and I quietly told her the news the next morning, her response was quiet and unexpected. In short, she gave us the cold shoulder which led me to fret she will face big news on her own in life and hide it inside. I guess I wanted her to burst into tears as I did when I heard the news and let me stroke her hair and cry along side her. But grief rarely goes as we expect. She went on about her day, seeming un-phased. An hour later she came to me and asked if we could go for a bike ride. We got on our helmets and set off down the 2 mile path she had biked with Annie and her Dad. I knew this was Coco’s way of processing. She was doing something she had done with Mr. Reece, to show it wasn’t a dream, or fake, or a false advertisement. Her memories were real and good and alive.

2012 starts in 36 hours. Make a memory. Bring something to life. Be where you are.

Recipe for Success

In my email inbox today I received two recipes. One was for a kale and goji berry salad topped with lemon juice and hemp seeds. It boasted kale as the new lettuce but instructed I cut the green into ribbons as kale is tough to chew. It was sent by acquaintences of mine who are twin sisters living in Mill Valley and publishing cookbooks while they tour the country as guest chefs. Places like Blackberry Farm and other locales I long to visit and nourish my soul.

I like the idea of being healthy and topping my greens with a citric dressing. Afterall, the time for stealing candy-out-of-the-mouths-of-babes comes in three days. But I would be in denial if I didn’t admit part of my desire to try this recipe wasn’t tied to wanting to try the life. On a basic level, I sometimes correlate specific details with broader themes. Eating kale = weekend at a fancy foodie resort.

The other recipe I received was from Paula Dean and it shockingly did not start with two sticks of butter. However it went downhill from there, requiring 4 containers of cream cheese and half a stick of said dairy lard. 

My kids love this kind of stuff and at Halloween it seems appropriate to play with food by turing it into monsters and such. This recipe would have been perfect for the Techet-Merriman-Jones Halloween extravaganza we used to have. In the early years, my friends and I would have fabulous kid parties:costumes, snacks, adult beverages, prizes, and  games. One year we uped it to a snow-cone machine and inflatable slide. I would spend hours making spider cupcakes, having to special order shiny black sugar and shoelace licorice a month in advance. Back then miraculously seems like a simpler time already and I wonder if my youngest knows her mother is different than the one of her older sisters. So far, Cheyney has not even put her costume on. She prefers to wear street clothes and channel her inner Snow White since the costume is too itchy. I am fine with that because, even though I don’t approve of giving treats to those who do not partake in festive attire, thus far I have not had a tule halloween. I used to stand at the preschool parade, beaming with pride, as my green-faced witch, wonder woman, and bat girl stood out in a midst of princesses bedazzled in silver and pink netting. The high heeled shoes were hard to walk in and the getups looked so uncomfortable. But my girl-powered superheroes could strut their stuff and confidence with ease based on the choices they had made. The right decisions for my family seemed so easy back then. 

Now we seem to be at a cross roads. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander so to speak. The choices seem endless with each direction having both plusses and minuses. Do we continue to contribute to our 401k and our blissful retirement even though the stock market looks more like a yo-yo? Is dental insurance really cost effective or should we sock  money away in case a freakish oral surgery is necessary? Do we want China to succeed for the global economy or will the Empire and it’s way of life take us over? Droid or Iphone? Cable or Dish? Trick or Treat? Low carb or low fat? Well the whole food category in general: which is better organic or local; grazing 94 small meals a day or fasting one day a week so our overburdened colons get a break; an aspirin or glass of red wine a day; kale or cream cheese (that one is a little obvious). It is so overcrowded, I often come home from the grocery store with the wrong supplies. Last year I bought sodium free pickles which basically substitute as limp, wet, flavorless cucumbers. While my Mom was visiting she bought Trix cereal thinking she was buying Fruity Kix (24 grams of sugar per serving between the two). And my friend Ashley lamented there are ELEVEN kinds of Cheerios now available, not to mention the store brand versions of the General Mills classic. We seem to spend so much brain power and time on the minutia we hardly have anything left for, well, anything.

For me it has been hard, often doubting my choices and then flipflopping and redirecting only to question myself again. Mother vs woman vs wife. Domestic servant vs spread-to-thin career person. Security vs freedom. Sleep vs exercise. Public vs private. Heads or tales. Part of the confusion comes with all the choices. And part of the problem comes with so many answers. How I live affects more than just me. It affects my husband and our girls, and our friends, and our church, and our families and even our dog. So we live in compromise. And flux. And doubt. And “do-overs”. I would like to live with a little more faith. How do we know what we are doing is right? Is it a moral compass or what feels good and are those two always in opposition? My mother once told me: “you can have it all, just not at one time”. How poignant those words feel right now. Maybe I will make the kale salad for my dinner and serve my kids the cheese ball goblin as a halloween treat. Perhaps we will have a taste of each others and be happy with our own choices.

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