Sunday, July 15, 2018

I Go Before You

When I look back,

I think I ran my brains out...or maybe, my heart.

I'm not sure, but for almost six years, I got up at 4:30 in the morning, and ran and ran.  I curated play lists, scouted routes--independent of anything except my kicks and ear buds, I ran through neighborhoods, parks, races, and I was happy...really happy.

Until one day, I wasn't. 

I couldn't get myself up and out...not even with really witty Instagram motivational quotations.  Instead of feeling free, I felt angry about leaving the house when it was dark.  It probably doesn't help that simultaneously, I started teaching graduate classes, cultivating my private mediation practice, and working at my kiddos' school.  Maybe, I was burned out.

And then, for some reason a few months ago, friends started asking me to run races, and instead of looking at my squishy mid section and flabby legs and politely declining, I said yes.  And now, I have four races on the books. 

In preparation for a summer race, I've been trying to run five miles every day--which is going to be the death of me.  On one walk to the park, my 11-year old daughter Kate said, "sometime, can I run with you?"  To which, I instantly responded, "absolutely!" It's kind of like the coveted talk where I dream that she asks to drink coffee or wine or write poetry with me....all of which have yet to happen.

Staring at a big hill she said, "can we practice now?  I mean, like on this, and be done at the top?"  I gulped, "sure."  Half way up, she backed off, and huffing and puffing,  I said, "do you wanna stop?"  "Naw, keep going," she screamed.

And so, I did, slow and steady up the incline.

When I got to the top, I cheered for her as she ran/walked the remainder.  I told her that she was strong and brave and that if she could do this hill, she could do anything.  Hills are hard, but rewarding.

To which she retorted, "I knew I could, because you did first."  I got big tears in my eyes. 

The following morning on a solo run, I hit a hill.  Ill prepared without water and salty sweat streaming into my eyes, I thought of Kate.  I pretended that she was behind me watching what I did, noticing how hard I wanted it.  And I promised myself that I would go before her.  I would do it, so that she would know that she could too.

There are countless shitty components of motherhood.  Discipline, back talk, hormones, incessant whining, homework, sibling fighting, entitled shenanigans, bitchy attitudes...but in the midst, you realize that someone very, very important is watching.  And that ultimately, your actions speak infinitely louder than the gibberish coming out of your mouth. 

In that moment, for a brief second, it becomes incredibly clear, that you have the opportunity to influence another more than anyone else in the world.  And you get to choose whether you'll go first and make positive change, or whether you'll squander the privilege. 

I've made my share of mistakes, but in that moment, I climbed the hill...and so did she.  And someday, she'll go before someone else, and hopefully, she'll climb, even if it's hard...I guess, especially if it's hard.

Here's to climbing...gradually, intentionally knowing the importance of going before another.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ode to Kate on Your 11th Birthday

My Dearest Kate,

Today, you are eleven.

And I am elated, sad, joy-filled, nostalgic, hopeful...and well, in awe.

I see so much within you, and quite frankly, the majesticness of it brings me to tears.  You are extraordinary. 

I've never met anyone who lives and breathes for making things.  Paint to canvas, fabric to the sewing machine, hot glue to yarn, milk/egg cartons, La Croix cans, glitter, charcoal, brushes, clay, oil are constantly creating new and inventive pieces. 

Your latest passion is to create realistic dolls and costumes.  You fashion their hair out of yarn, paint and harden their eyes in the oven, sew their costumes, and make their shoes.  This is one of my favorites...your miniature Kate doll.

When you're not painting, you're dancing or playing the piano.  In another year, you'll be primed to be on Pointe slippers in the ballet studio and taking lyrical classes.  Constantly humming a song and writing notes/words to your own pieces, you are not afraid to let your voice speak, and your body move in the world.

Just this past month, you decided that it was time to start traveling, and so with the help of your grandma, you got on a plane and spent 8 days away from home in Reno, Nevada with daddy's family.  We missed you so much, but loved that you were loving every moment of baking, crafting, and making memories.  On the last day, when asked if you were home sick, you said, "Next summer, I want to stay for a month."

Still a voracious reader, we talk about painting in Paris or baking in Tuscany or writing in Maine.  And when your little sister talks about getting married and having six babies, you say, "I don't know.  I've got a lot I want to do before I think about that."

Like dying your hair or riding millions of miles on your new bike (gears make things easier, right?) and starting your own business.

I'm not going to lie to you, Cat-uh-lone-ay, it's a bittersweet thing being your mama.  You really are the best.  You're kind and compassionate and thoughtful and wicked brilliant and beautiful and sweet and feisty and beloved...and man, I just want you to want me to braid your hair and drink chocolate milk forever. 

But, I know, that's not what you're supposed to do.  

You're supposed to meet a million amazing people, explore a thousand adventures and try on lots of different experiences.  You'll rise and you'll fall and you'll figure out who you are and what makes your heart sing.  But along the way, know that I'm here...noticing you, cheering you on, hoping beyond hope that all your dreams come true.  And when they don't, and you have to recreate your dreams, I'll remind you of the inventor you've always been, the singer who never loses the joy in her heart, and the girl who loved the other side of the country so much that she wasn't afraid to stay for a month.  And even though I'll cry when you go, I'll always hold dear the amazing, extraordinary, inspiring person you are.

I love you to the moon and back....the Happiest of 11th Birthdays,


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Ode to 43

Today, I turn 43.

I remember when we moved into our house, I heard that the sellers were in their 40's and I thought, "God, that's old.  I can't even imagine who I'll be in my 40's."

Now, with the benefit of a few decades of hard knocks, I feel like I'm just getting started.

And to that end, I'm learning to:

Make peace with the risings and the fallings.  

It never fails that when I'm on the mountain top--a string of good parenting days, meaningful time with friends and family, a welcome change in weather, forward movement in my mediation practice, an engaged class of students--the other shoe drops--my kid tells me (not verbatim, but I get the drift) that I suck, I get insanely overwhelmed by my work load, someone gets sick, a financial set back occurs, bad news arrives-- uncertainty kicks in, and I find myself remembering that this is what it means to be human.  There is no such thing as living infinitely in a place of joy or pain.  It's an extraordinary mixture of both, that is largely unpredictable and many times unexplainable.

Never underestimate the power of the hustle.

I used to think that giving up my career made me a fool.  How would I ever dive back into my field?  What would the loss of a double income mean for our family?  What was the point in amassing all of that education?  A decade later, after spending all of my 30's at home, and now teaching at a university and being back at the mediation table, I can wholeheartedly say that the best people I know are the scrappy ones.  They don't measure their worth in one long continuous line.  They take chances.  They trust their gut.  They believe in their value and they morph and shape their skill sets to prioritize the people and experiences that matter most.  They're the most interesting story tellers and the truest companions.  And for my own experience, I have to say that they bring a level of empathy, adaptability and resiliency to the table that is second to none.

Relish the paradox of living.

There was a time when I believed that having the answers defined a good life.  Now, I know differently.  Living in the uncertainty of the questions, with a willingness to course correct when your heart and intuition tell you otherwise is what it means to be present.  Non-judgemental, operating out of a space of love, not fear means that faith and trust are guiding, not a false sense of control.  Trusting that it's okay not to know...and that someday, this time of wonderment, fork in the road, will pass and eventually, you'll understand why you are, where you are, is the only way to do this life thing.

Gratitude makes life purposeful.

I used to stress over ensuring that I mailed a thank-you card within a proper window of time when someone had given a gift or done something kind.  Three kids later, I know that what matters isn't overt's the little things...sending a text when someone comes to mind, telling them that you're thinking about the upcoming thing and that you're rooting for them and that you love them.  It's noticing the unbelievable abundance of blessings that show up in buds on the trees now that it's spring time, a really strong cup of coffee before the house wakes up, the fact that your legs take you places and somehow, your heart decided to beat for you all night long while you were sleeping and that God gave you another shot at today.  Saying thank you, nearly every moment, keeps you appreciating the bounty that surrounds you.

Comparison steals joy.

I've always yearned to be someone else.  When I was younger, it was the girls who were cheerleaders or the ones who were Merit scholars.  In my twenties, it was the girls who were married.  In my thirties, it was the ones who bounced back to their pre-baby weight and lived on certain tree-lined streets and vacationed at all the right places.  Now, in my forties, I'm too tired for that.  I have a really good life.  People who love me that I get to love back.  A body that moves.  A brain that thinks interesting stuff and friends who I can lean on and laugh with.  On most days, that's enough.  On the days when I look in the mirror and see extra jiggle, I have to remind myself that it's okay and this is the price of admission to the beauty of mid-life.

Change is the only constant.

God do I hate the devil I don't know.  If it were up to me, we'd main line coffee all day, only stopping to eat sushi, drink stout, read the NY Times, listen to podcasts while we did yoga and solved the problems of the world.  I get very antsy when it comes to doing new things...but the truth is, the birthplace of creativity, hope, opportunity and true engagement happen in the spaces where we are vulnerable, with hands outstretched saying, "I don't know, but I'm willing to try." 

So, as I approach this new space...this 43rd year...I say...

Ode to 

laughter and pain

hope and despair

worry and belief

adventure and momentum.

Ode to me

and the bounty of  life,

and the change that will bring me to forks in the road.

May I rise to meet them, even in the falling.

May I live in the present, without the guarantees,

embracing the dichotomies and uncertainty.

And may I know, deep within that being me,

the real me

the 43 me

is  enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ode to everything I didn't know, when I said, I do...14 years ago

When you're standing at the altar, there's just so much that you can't know...

Like how you'll feel when you decide to give up your career to be at home...full-time...with three children.

Or, when your mammogram comes back abnormal.

Or, after a big fight, when you discover that you no longer share the same political leanings.

Or, when your nephew dies and you can't breathe.

Or, when you're not sure if your kid is being a jerk, or a natural leader.

Or, when you're tired of being the one who always notices that everyone else leaves their shit where they dropped it, and you are the only one who puts it back.

Or, when you're scared because you don't have answers, and you don't know what to pray anymore.

Or, you're feeling fat, and middle-aged, and not yourself, all the while wondering, who is this self meant to be?

Or, when you catch a glimpse, and see that he still looks really good with his shirt off.

Or, when your 6-year old is singing in her underwear, while painting a princess, and you see that he sees it too.

Or, when your 13-year old becomes a teenager and the only other human on the planet who understands how monumentally, wildly, beautifully, scary, sad, amazing that your person.

Or, when your exquisite 10-year old plays something stunning on the piano, and you go to say, "That was SO beautiful, Kate," and he's saying it at the same time.

Or, when he shows up with a latte and smiles...

You realize that you just can't know the magical jumble, sweet collection of "I'm sorry's," "God damn it's," "I love you's," "Leave me alone's," "Thank you's," "Fuck you's," "I didn't mean that's," that comprise fourteen years of a life lived together.

And to that end, I'm glad that I don't know now, and that I didn't know then, what I was saying, "yes," to...

On this day, April 17, 2018...our 14th anniversary, I say,

Ode to you

Ode to me

Ode to us

Ode to being afraid, and showing up anyway

Ode to the uncompromising decision to choose our family over everything else

Ode to your humor and my seriousness

Ode to the screaming and the misunderstandings

Ode to the ugh's and the I'm right's

Ode to the you were right's and I don't want to be mad anymore

Ode to God and to falling on your knees every morning before greeting the day

Ode to the power of love and elbow grease

Ode to today, and tomorrow, and next year, and until my last breath...

Ode to the messy, hard, grateful beyond measure life I get to share with you...

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.