Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ode to Sam on Your 13th Birthday

Dear Sam,

The day came.

And now, you are a teenager.

You tell me, that you don't feel older, that it's just another day, but not for me.

Today, is the day that I look at you with so much love, extraordinary amounts of admiration and a heart bursting with hope...that you won't be able to imagine, until you have a child of your own.

You are my first.  Which means that you're the first kid to become a teen in our abode.

Look at you...

I mean, seriously, look at you.  You're incredible.

You and I are now officially, the same height: five feet, eight inches tall.  You have perfectly white, straight teeth (not without some gnashing of them during the braces phase), a gorgeous smile, big bright, curious, blue eyes (that refuse to wear contacts, glasses for you until the end), and a heart that is always, always looking out for the underdog.

And a brain.  Holy cow, Sam.  You're wicked smart.  This year alone in seventh grade saw you placing in the school Spelling Bee to take you to the big Catholic schools one on Saturday.  You made it to the Geography Bee.  You got an Honorable Mention at the Science Fair.  And even though it's not your favorite, and kills you to wake up at o'dark thirty, you're soaring through advanced math.

You are still a voracious reader, in love with science much so, that you created your own Dramatic Interpretation speech piece, focused on the pros and perils of a world ruled by immortality.

And years later, you are still a boy scout.  So much so, that you have some kind of sub degree mummy sleeping bag, camping stove, hiking boots, geared up back pack craziness for winter outings, and hopes of completing your Eagle Scout (which is really freaking hard).

You take your faith seriously.  You are an altar server and even though it can be nerve wracking or scary to serve mass in front of the whole school, at a wedding, or even on Christmas, you do so with grace, and ask me how I liked the homily.

You know me, from time to time, I drop the f-bomb and say, it's okay, you can say it if you want.  To which you reply, "That's not why you send me to a good Catholic school," and then, you tell me that you're known among the middle school boys as the kid who doesn't cuss or make fun of others.  That fills me with a level of love that I can't describe.

On most days, if given the choice, you'd be at home or with friends playing Magic the Gathering or Dungeons and Dragons.  You like strategy games and fun that includes other people, no matter who they are or their ability.

And even though your sisters bug you, and you know that you'll never have a brother, you are good to them, in between the interrogation/beat-up sessions.  You help Kate (10) with her homework, when she's feeling overwhelmed, and you let Claire (7) win at your video game or play the piano with you.

Aw man, Sam.  You're growing up and I don't have words for it, because I've never done this before.

I've never been a mom to a teenager. And so, part of me wants you to stop, so that we can just keep playing board games and eating ice cream and joking around...while another part of me wants you out of the house so I don't have to keep reminding you to brush your teeth, put on deodorant, flush the toilet, hang up the wet towels in the bathroom, throw away the candy wrappers off your bed and put your shoes in the bucket.

They said it would happen.  The days would be long and the years would be short.  We're half way done with seventh grade, only one more year of middle school and then, you're off to more independence than you can imagine in high school and college.

So, before you go, here's what I want you to know.

I am so unbelievably, wildly, insanely, off-the-charts proud of who you are as a person.  You are kind.  Period.  And that is how I know that Jesus is alive in the world.  You have unequivocally decided that it is more important to sit with the kid who doesn't have a friend than it is to be popular.  You're not interested in making a million friends.  You just want to be one, to the one, who doesn't have one.  Thank you for teaching me the value of that.

You are strong.  I am certain that you inherited this moral fortitude from your father.  You know who you are and what you stand for.  Keep that near and dear to your heart.  When the chips are down, don't cave.  Stand firm in what you know to be true.  Your belief in God.  What is right.  And, the high road.  You can't go wrong.

You're learning this, as I think every teenager is...but here it is...take the time to put in the work.  When you commit to a person, a team or a project, make your name count for something.  Even if you don't want to or you don't know what you're doing, keep trying until you do.  Don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves.  In the end, it will be worth it.

Never stop trusting in the power of your faith when times and people are uncertain.  When in doubt, fall to your knees.  Thank God for what you've been given (which, man alive, is so much, my son) and thank God for what you can not see today, but trust will bear fruit tomorrow.  Gratitude and hope.  Two powerful gifts.

Finally, when you are in doubt, and you will be, if I am not with you, re-read this.  And if I am, call me and I will remind you of your worth and your capability and the promise of your life.

You are extraordinary, Sam.  I am so, so blessed to call you my son.

Happy 13th Birthday,

Love, Mama

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


"The divine spark in my soul honors the divine in yours."

Seventeen days into the new year and I can count how many times I've laced up my running shoes to pound the pavement or go round and round on the treadmill.

Sure, sure.

I could blame it on the stomach flu, the arctic fucking tundra that has given us two snow days, the pitch black mornings, the new course I'm teaching, the busyness of my three children...but really, honestly, truly...

I haven't wanted to.

I keep trading my sneakers for my Mala beads and mat and find myself in the yoga studio instead.

I don't know why. 

Frequently, when I arrive, I'm agitated.  I wonder if spending 60 or 90-minutes will be worth it.  I stress when I slip my socks off to share my calloused feet, pull my roomy shirt overhead to expose my winter white grandma arms and secure my Downward-Facing Dog--only to remember that oh yeah--I can't make my heels touch the ground or properly Chaturanga.

But I keep going.  And often, while I'm there, it's not fast enough or hard enough.  Those are reminders that my body does miss the adrenaline, heart pumping, sweat drenching feeling that running gives.  Sometimes, the instructor tells me too much about my body and I can't understand why my sit bones can't just sit wherever they land.  And then, there's often the gorgeous girl who came out of the womb as a California Malibu yogi and I am transported back to my reflection in the mirror...a middle aged, midwestern mama who is soft and often, insecure and yet, here I am.

I feel the strongest when I sweep my arms up and over my head, into prayer position, eyes closed, breath in and out, mind cleared of clutter {for the briefest of brief} moments and I see {not in the mirror} the woman I know myself to be.

Bright, brilliant, beautiful.

And in that moment, it dawns on me that my mantra for this space {certainly, we're far past New Year's resolutions}, but maybe just for the space of today and at least tomorrow, is:


Because that's what I want...the chance for my heart to be open to the possibility of what can and will feel more alive and that I can be free of all the tricks my mind plays like who I'm not or where I lack.

I'm still resolute to getting my running shoes back where they belong and my playlist revamped, but I'm also committed to lots of Namaste in the new year.  It just feels really good.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Reach Just a Little...Higher

"The greatest danger for
most of us is not that our
aim is too high and we
miss it, but that it is too
low and we reach it."

--Michelangelo Buonarroti

My children are far brighter than I am.  It's not an exaggeration.  

They are engaging far more challenging math equations than I ever did as a 7th grader...
reading interesting material more voraciously than I do today...
re-purposing all kinds of shit into doll clothes, textured prints, canvas paintings, and Harry Potter cloakes with infinite detail and consideration...
and they bake, yummy scones, homemade cinnamon rolls, chocolate cake and apple pie.

And to their credit, I expect a lot, particularly spiritually and academically.

I demand a heart of service and a mind that is expanded to its full potential.  Because really, at the end of the day, those are their only two jobs.  Be kind to those you encounter.  Give back.  And, stay infinitely curious, while you apply yourself rigorously.

Like me, my oldest is a little lazy.

He likes to take the slow road to the races.

Procrastination is far more fun than adhering to a plan.  He's used to pulling it out in the 11th hour and getting the gold star.

And also like me, he tends to be a perfectionist.  He won't go for it, unless he's going to nail it.  And many times, I have to encourage him (and vicariously myself) to set the bar higher, because he struggles to believe in his potential.

But the problem is that when we set the bar to where we know we can go, we never see where we might soar to, even when, especially when, we fail.

And so, it was with the gnashing of the teeth that I told my son to go back to the drawing board with his homework writing.  "With all of the love in my heart, I'm telling you that you can do better.  Spend more time.  Give thought to what you're trying to convey.  Provide the reader with examples they can see or feel.  Don't be afraid to put your voice on the paper."

We want so much for our children.  Often, more than we want for ourselves.  But this encounter reminded me that we can all stand to reach just a little higher, for the good of our own being and the world at large. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

I Don't Know

In a fit of hysteria, my youngest came bounding up the stairs and demanded, "Where is my sketch pad?"

Exasperatedly, I replied, "I don't know."

That's when she said, "Yes, you do.  You just had it."

And I realized that I harbor so much shit in my brain, it's astounding, really. 

Groceries in the fridge, groceries needed.  Field trip forms.  Homework assignments.  Projects on the horizon.  Class syllabi.  Students who are managing and those who are not.  Birthdays.  Thank yous.  Electric bills.  Oil change appointments.  Speech team practices and competitions.  When to pick up my parents from the airport.  Haircuts.  Lunch account balances.  Clothes in the washer.  Socks that need to be put away.  Ballet winter break dates.  Piano lessons. 

Sometimes, being the keeper of all of that craziness makes me feel important, in high demand, wanted, needed, purposeful.

And then other times, mostly at the same times, it makes me really, really tired.

And that's when I want to say and think we all should say, "I don't know."

Or, better yet, "Go figure it out yourself."  Not exclusively to our family members, but also to our colleagues, our neighbors, and the ones we volunteer with.

How wonderful would it be to just be bored.  To not be filled with a bunch of who, what, where, when and why's, but rather space, to just dream and wonder and not know a whole lot of anything.  It sounds like peace.

Being "in the know" is mighty nice, but it's also excrutiatingly exhausting and does not make one a martyr.  It just makes you mostly scatter brained.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Derailed, Temporarily

I woke up to the stomach flu.

And to the visceral reality that I was down for the day.

In case you haven't succumbed to the shit-tay bug in sometime, let me remind you that it wreaks a suckage you conveniently forgot about since the last time you fell victim.

You lay in your bed, dehydrated, looking at the wall, lamenting the million things you could be doing, bemoaning why even reading or watching movies hurts.  Realizing this isn't a freebie.  Today, you're paying a price.


And then, hot.

You close your eyes and remind yourself that this is the last day of Christmas break and that your kids have THINGS that need to get done before tomorrow morning at 7am.

You stand in gratitude for a husband who takes the day off of work to keep the home fires burning and the buttered toast at bay.

And then it hits you, ah yes, it's officially January 2nd and there is no way that you will be running anywhere on the second day of the new year, except to the toilet.

Is this a sign?  Are you fucked?  Time to throw in the towel?

One big God fucking damn it will have to suffice and then, you roll over to weather the storm.

And, in some respects, I'm glad this came now.  It reminds me that life is real.  Much of it is out of our control.  But gentle or sometimes explosive, violent intestinal episodes remind us that in order to carry out our promises, we have to be willing to adapt, to stand firm, and to trust that this is a temporary derailment, at best.

And so, to the negative temperatures I say, pack up, we're done with you.  To the yuck gut bomb that lives inside me, I cry out, "vacate."  And to my heart and mind that are resolute to take good care of me this new year, I say, "fear not."  This too shall pass.

Monday, January 1, 2018

To Commit

On New Year's Eve, my twelve-year old son, Sam and I had a dialogue about resolutions.

He pondered,

"Why do people drive themselves crazy resolving to do something that they're not really going to carry out?"

"This is indeed the question," I replied.  "I guess, they view the start of the year as a new opportunity.  A time to try again or to begin something that they want to change in their lives."

"Yeah, but, if they really meant it, they wouldn't need to wait until tomorrow.  They'd just do it," he retorted.

And then, we talked about the difference between committing to something and just doing it when you feel like it.  I told him that when you make a real commitment, you've put your word, your integrity, your pledge behind it.  And your word needs to stand for something.  This is why we make a commitment to a marriage or a job or being a parent or doing a science paper or participating on a speech team.  Committing to another person or activity means that you'll show up, even when, sometimes, especially when, you don't want to or you don't feel like it.

He explained that many of his commitments are involuntary.  He never asked to memorize 26 countries of the Middle East by Friday.  He preferred to label that an obligation with an expectation of doing well versus a commitment.  I told him that as a member of the family, he had an internal commitment to be a strong student and to try his best.  And that ultimately, studying for his Geography test over break, even though it was involuntarily forced upon him, would create a habit of discipline and follow-through that would serve him well.

He said, "Do you always want to run?"

"Hell no...especially when it's cold or I'm tired or my legs hurt or I'm mad or I'm sick of my play list or I just don't have it in me or I have 5 million other things that would be way more fun get it," I said.

Commitment is about doing it regardless of feeling.

Which in and of itself is a bitch.  But we also recognize over the long haul that most of our commitments have served us well.  They've honed, refined, sharpened us in ways we didn't appreciate in the moment, but are grateful for now.

Here's to the commitments we're making in 2018, may we reflect on the back breaking frustration, knowing that the work, day over day, made us better.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Dash

Over Christmas break,

in between hosting family gatherings, catering to the uninvited stomach flu, making pots of chicken noodle soup, pans of banana bread and steaming cups of coffee, I couldn't get a movie line out of my head.

"There are two dates on your tombstone that friends and family will notice, but it's the dash between that counts."


For some, New Year's Eve is a time to get wildly inebriated.  They celebrate the year that was and raise a glass or several to what will be in the upcoming year, filled with so much hope and possibility.

For others, it's a time to be nestled at home, standing in gratitude for what was and wonderment at what the new year will bring.

For many, the resolution is to to lose least 10 pounds.  They buy work out wear, new running shoes, a smart watch, and tell their friends that they will meet them at the gym, come hell or high water.

Some say that they'll call their mom more and vow to spend less time at the office and more quality moments with their kids.  They won't miss another game.  They'll really listen, even when there's so much to do.

It's also a time to get rid of shit in your closet or desk fill Goodwill bags with jeans that aren't ever going to make it over your hips and sweaters that you can't bring yourself to wear.

I've been all of these resolvers at one time and many times, all at once.  So, while I was listening to the kettle boil in my kitchen, I thought about how I wanted to feel at the end of 2018, instead of exclusively what I wanted to do.

And the truth is, I want my dash to be filled with peace and purpose.


2017 brought dash marks that came too early for people that I really, really loved.  It brought me sadness and frustration and fear and uncertainty.  It made me mindful that mortality is real and that life is not a dress rehearsal.  It taught me to say "I love you" and to forgive because tomorrow is not a guarantee.  And still, I wrestle with whether there are real lessons learned or if it's just part of the "suckage" of life.

And I guess, some years are like that.  Times that you are just ready to leave behind.

But while there is no number, as of yet, on the right side of my dash, I wonder, what 2018 will bring?  When it delivers joy, will I celebrate?  When it hands me heartache, will I trust that God is still present?  And when it hints at possibility, will I be open?

It is this last question that I am most intrigued by.  How will I be available to what the future holds?   Will I strong arm the unknown and say, "No, that doesn't feel comfortable or knowable or imaginable or doable?"  Or, will I let it take up residence for a bit and give it a chance?  Will I automatically reject what it has to offer or how much work it will take to get there?  And when the idea or the feeling comes, will I believe that I am worthy of embarking upon it?

Everyone has a birth date.  And a death date.

And a dash.

It's the dash that counts.  No matter how short or long between.

How do you want this part of the dash to mean?  And at this time next year, will you look in the mirror and say, I let myself go for it.  I won some.  I lost others.  But I believed that it was worth it.