Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Body of a Woman

I had just come back from a 9-mile run and was drenched.

You know that feeling when you're trying to take off clothes and you're soaked...not only is it impossible, but it's frustrating and it hurts.

Desperate for a shower, halfway through the process, I looked up into the mirror and all I could see were the parts of me that I wished weren't there.

Dimples, stretch marks, too much extra around the middle and the back side.

I don't know what it's like to be a man.  I'm raising a son, but viscerally, I really only know what it feels like to be a woman.

My earliest memories recall me being complimented for being a pretty girl.  Usually, it was connected to a dress I was wearing or a cute get up.  As I grew, I became mindful of how the girls at school were constantly aware of how they appeared to the world...particularly, when we all started getting our periods, learning to apply make-up, watching our boobs grow or not and using the word fat or skinny like it was good morning or hello.  Not only did you have to wear the right clothes...Benetton, ESPRIT, Guess, but you also had to look the part.

Later throughout highschool and college, I continued to be aware of my physical appearance.  I attributed it to the reason why my crushes picked the other girl...she was for certain, prettier.

And while girls take great notice in how cute boys doesn't seem to me that the goal of a boys life is to be noticed.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman.  She modeled in New York in the 1940's and was extraordinarily striking.  For the majority of her adult life, she was a master bridge player, read 2-3 daily newspapers voraciously, kept current on political issues, danced the shit out of the Jitterbug with anyone who could keep time and raised two beautiful children.

Toward the end of her life, we were talking about what it feels like to be a woman walking down the street who no longer gets noticed.  It's a strange feeling she remarked.  Because while we as women loathe the parts of our bodies that aren't perfect, we also find identity in them.  And when the world decides that you're no longer worthy of a second glance, well, a little part of you dies.

Rubish, I thought.

I want to be known for my brain and my heart and my humor.  Pishaw on the outward.  But when I'm really quiet with myself, I realize that's not entirely true.  Because if it was, when I was stripping out of my running clothes and caught a quick glimmer of myself, I would have been proud...bearing witness to the raw strength and tenacity of a woman who goes the distance.  Instead, all I could muster were a few gulps at seeing the flaws that in theory should be reminders of the children I bore or the chocolate I consumed to maintain sanity while raising them.

But the truth is, even as little girls, we learn that it feels good to be noticed, to be desired, to be wanted, to be complimented.  And often, before you ever open up your mouth and utter a word, it is you standing on a street corner getting ready to cross and a person across the way, taking it in.

And I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.  We are physical beings in a physical world. The danger lies in feeling like it's the only measure or the most important measure of worth...because as we all know, it has nothing to do with who you's just a small snap shot in time.

As I raise a son and two daughters, my prayer is that they will be aware of their bodies.  I don't know how you can't be.  It's an extraordinary part of who we are.  But as they look in the mirror, really look to see who they are...I pray that they will see all that their bodies do for them and for others.  It's magnificent and so much bigger and more powerful than just being's a representation of a beautiful life being lived.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Reckoning

Here's what happened...

I woke up at 4:30am, turned on the coffee machine, stumbled to find my shoes and a sports bra that smelled like barf, began making excuses why I shouldn't have to get up and run, inhaled half of a gooey, brown too smelled rancid, cued up my music and left the house.

It's dark at 5:15 in the morning and my worst fear running alone is that I'll find myself in a precarious position that I can't run away from.  Pushing my fear to the side, my legs felt heavy, my breath was irregular and my heart just wasn't in it.  But this always happens.  I have to give myself the first couple of miles before I find my groove and am grateful that I made my way to the great outdoors.

Somewhere along Happy Hollow Boulevard where there are lots of trees, a deep ravine and people that seem to pop out of nowhere walking their dogs or cycling, I got scared...or rather the dude with the big dog caught me off guard and I gasped and then started sprinting up a hill.

When I got to the top, I stopped and let the tears well up in my eyes.

I've been praying for a friend of a friend who is my age.  A 40-year old beautiful woman with 3 children of her own who has been battling cancer for a long time.  This past weekend, it looked like she may be nearing the end and really painful, heart wrenching decisions needed to be made by her family.  The text messages from my friend nearly brought me to my knees.

Why am I here able to run up a hill away from a pretend scary man and his dog and she is in a bed hooked up to a never ending line of chemo?  Her parents are watching their child die and her children are watching their mother fight for her life.  All of it is horrific, tragic, incomprehensible and defies anything that I can wrap my head around.  It just feels wrong in every way.

After I managed to get 5-miles in, I came home to a quiet house, poured the biggest cup of coffee, closed my eyes and stretched.  While feeling pain in nearly every muscle of my being, I began thinking about the ways that we reconcile where we are in our lives and the ways that we reckon to make things different.

What is good?  What is bad?  What could be better, different, enhanced?  What simply is and will probably always be?  When is it enough?

My friends often laugh because I'm the one always asking the big, philosophical, often unanswerable, unknowable questions.  I rarely find myself having a "small talk" chat with really anyone.  I can't help but get to know you...the things that really define who you are and what you care about.

It just seems to me that life is too short not to.  It also seems that life can be unfair and untenable and that if we don't reckon with ourselves what we want from it...well, day, it may be too late.

While reading, I stumbled upon this quote that we should all consider:

“I choose many voices to consider and reckon with, rather than just one to tolerate.”  T.F. Hodge

Let the questions come.  Let the wonderment arise.  Let the voices battle each other.  Let your heart ultimately guide you. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Here's to New Beginnings

I have rituals that I do before something big.

I plan.  I fret.  I hope.  I make a to-do list.  I create the ideal image in my mind.  And then, I give it a whirl.

So it was last night that I was up baking banana bread, checking the fridge to confirm we had all the ingredients for strawberry smoothies, laying out uniforms, making peanut butter sandwiches for lunches, writing notes with lots of x's and o's and saying prayers that today would be the perfect day for one little boy to start fifth grade and his sister to dive into third.

Here they are:

God I love them to pieces.

As I type this with my 4-year old Claire Bear at home painting next to me, I can't help but think about how everything is going.  Is their teacher the right fit?  Do they already have homework for tomorrow?  Did they find someone to sit next to at the lunch table?  Are they able to have two recesses because really it's absolutely gorgeous outside?  Will this year be a good one?  Ugh, I'm ridiculous I know.

But as my head hit the pillow last night, I prayed this for them:

May you meet new people and forge real, meaningful connections...the ones where you can truly be yourself, no matter what.

May you stay curious while learning about The Revolutionary War, writing in your dialogue journal and figuring out formulas and equations that are probably too advanced for me.

May you be kind and courageous...always welcoming the one on the playground who wants to be included but is afraid to ask. 

May you soar in ways that you could have never imagined before becoming more passionate and excited about topics and people and moments that make your heart sing.

May you grow a tougher skin learning to become resilient to the things that aren't fair that just hurt and where there are no answers other is what it is.

May you feel loved and safe with each step knowing that we are here to talk, to laugh with, to cry, to keep you grounded and to help you get back up again.

Below is a picture of us..what it doesn't show are the tears on the way to the coffee shop.  Gosh, we're all growing up.  Here's to new beginnings, my not-so-little ones....I love you...mama

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer, Don't Go

This is the last Friday of summer.

I have a feeling that if you asked my three children they would tell you that they'd like summer to hang on for just a little bit longer.

Even though they've visited their classrooms, met their new teachers, adorned their desks with fresh bottles of glue, laid out their cool new backpacks and made ready for their funky Converse shoes complimenting those plaid uniforms....they really just want to get back on their bikes, wade in the  pool, have one or two more friend sleepovers, stay up late and drive each other crazy.

The truth is...we had a really great summer.

Opting not to take a family vacation so as to have our house painted and make some needed home improvements...afforded us time to take epic bike rides, do gazads of fairy house building ventures at the park, loads of swimming, popsicle consuming, art, Lego, princess/dragon camps, Vacation Bible School, overnight camping trips and day trip camping at Hummel.

Starting Monday, Sam will begin fifth grade, Kate will take a shot at third and Claire will finish her last year of preschool.

And well, I feel badly saying that I think I'm ready for the school year to begin and for this mama to implement routine and a bit of time away from my not-so-littles.

And probably par for the course, I've been feeling guilty that I'm not advocating for additional weeks of summer break.  I suppose I could chalk it up to the fact that we really do get a decent summer break.  We're one of the first schools to get out and one of the last to go's a full 12 weeks of summer.  Or that, my full-on, wholly engaged, totally immersed parenting style has me tired.

And so I'm ready for apples and crunching of leaves and lots of hot coffee and crisp running weather and what I'm praying will be a winter filled with writing.

I'm grateful to you summer for everything you gave us...a much needed break from homework, loads of Vitamin D, yummy smoothies and long, lazy afternoons with our noses in books...but I think I'm ready to say goodbye.  I know it'll be short lived and that I'll be begging for you to return sooner rather than later.

But for now, here's to the start of a new beginning...a hope, a pause, a breath, a belief that all good things must come to an end in favor of the beautiful unknown.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hell Yes to the Holy Yes

We meet once a month and it's sacred.

A small group of women committed to gathering formally for a year, with a specific guide, encountering different topics each session set to specific intentions that we've thrown to the universe.

It's been six months and we're halfway through.  How can that be?

Tonight was about recommitting to the "Hell Yes" portion of our intention in the "Holy Yes" sort of way.

You know how it goes...when you first get really excited about an idea, a hope, a way of really expressing your want to scream "Hell Yes" on a mountain top.  Pumped, jazzed, full of boundless energy to give birth to this part of your being, you declare it to the world and for a while everyone joins you...mostly consumed by your giddiness and love, they celebrate and cheer you on.

And then a month, two months, three pass and soon, your idea has been peddled to all of your closest loved ones, friends, neighbors and well, it's collecting dust and you're losing steam.  You're getting tired and wonder what the fuck were you even thinking in the first place. 

That's when you get quiet, really quiet with yourself and reflect.  You scream, you cry, you bargain, you beg and then you try living the old know the way you were before you declared your personal passion to the world and all of a sudden, the comforts of the old are not quite so comforting and you're anxious because you know that you can't go back...ever.  It's out there and no matter how much you push it, your soul is begging for it to be birthed in the world.

That's when you declare a "Holy Yes" personal proclamation with yourself...alone. You recommit.  You pick it all over again...but differently...this time it's for the long haul.  No matter if it ever garners additional support, popularity or belief.  You have faith.

It's the sacred, tiny moment when you know that you are the most important person who needs to own it and as long as you do, everything will work out, exactly as it should, when it should.

The beauty of being in the room tonight was bearing witness to the personal gifts that these women are sharing with each other and the world.  It's powerful. Palpable. A huge gift.  An enormous leap of bravery.

Whatever your idea, wherever your truth resides...break free and own it, all of it, even if it's largely a lonely place possibly for a really long time.  My hunch is, my hope is, my prayer is that it's worth it.

Hell Yes to the Holy Yes.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear Sugar

While I'm doing the dishes, taking a shower, putting the groceries away, changing out laundry, folding cloth napkins, reminding myself of the daily to-do's, returning emails, I often listen to podcasts.

I have lots of favorites...The Moth, This American Life, Death, Sex & Money, Serial, Strangers, Magic Lessons and new to me and quickly climbing the charts...Dear Sugar.

Dear Sugar is a podcast co-hosted by Cheryl Strayed, best selling New York Times author of "Wild" and Steve Almond, phenomenal writer and all around amazing advice sharer.  For sometime, Cheryl Strayed was the anonymous online Dear Sugar columnist at The Rumpus.  The lost, the lonely, the confused, the broken hearted, the exhausted would write letters and she would answer them.  But not in a Dear Abby sort of style, rather in a shake the shit out of you, shatter your small minded myths and make you get very real with who you are format...all while lovingly referring to you as Sugar or Sweetpea.

Based on that column, she wrote a novel called "tiny beautiful things," and developed the Dear Sugar podcast with her friend Steve Almond.

And upon my discovery of both, I've turned into a bit of an addict.

Throughout all of the unbelievable letters they receive and the experts they bring in to help them provide really well thought out occurs to me that the hardest thing about positing change is that we're often stuck with the way we are hard wired. 

We try desperately to break out of old habits or all too familiar patterns or cyclical behaviors that tend to bring us back to the same problems only to discover that some of this hamster on a wheel behavior is who we are.

I am the oldest child.  Type A.  A bit neurotic.  A little OCD.  Not long ago, a good friend wrote to me and said in a nutshell, "Enough already.  Start writing.  And while your blog is really good and enjoyable.  We want more.  Something meaningful.  Get going."

It was an unexpected and amazing kick in the ass jolt. And for the sort of person who has to have a plan, it also felt scary and something to be back burnered.  The next day, I went for a long run, took a yoga class and my computer and went to a coffee shop and forced a 30-minute writing session that was really invigorating. 

Certain that the closet writer who lives within would "out" herself in a significant way in the world, I refused to be mired by the way it's always been done in my life.  Three years ago, I wasn't a consistent, avid runner.  Now, for the most part, I am.  A decade ago, I wasn't a parent and now my entire being is mother.  So, how do I make room in a real way to be a real writer?

I think if I were to write my own letter to Dear Sugar, it might look something like this...

Dear Sugar,

For so many reasons I admire you.  I keep Torch, Wild, tiny, beautiful things along with Truth and Beauty, Bird by Bird, The Optimist's Daughter and many others by my bedside.  I sort of pray that by some form of osmosis, you among your amazing cohort of women writing colleagues will permeate my being and give me a cool kid ticket to join the club.

I've written a blog for three years.  I pen primarily about the joys and exhaustion of mothering three children while trying to retain the parts of me that have fallen seemingly very far away making peanut butter sandwiches and sandcastles at the park. There have been some decent entries. I've connected with amazing people finding the sacred in the mundane.  In many ways, it really has been a life line during a time of isolation.

But I can't seem to let go of the nagging, won't let me be feeling that I want something different.  My go-to methods are no longer working.  I can't write chapters of a novel on the toilet with one foot on the floor and the other holding the bathroom door shut.  I can't block out the demons in my head and heart saying you're too old.  Your window is closing and it's time to lay this dream to rest.  I have one more year until all three of my children are in school full-time.  The practical thing to do would be to get a real job and to start contributing financially...not to wallow in a book that will never be published.

But still, I want it.  And so, I ask, how might you advise a girl in the midwest to get over herself and to get on with the task at hand?  How do I let go of my fear, my ego, my excuses and start carving away my passion and birthing it into this world that we share? 

Really and truly, I'm all ears.

xoxo, Kelly's Hot Mess

I'm eager to see what they'd say, but parts of me already know.  At the end of the day, much like running, I suppose, I'm just going to have to put my excuses on hold, knowing that I can always go back to them and just start writing with purpose and a reasonable deadline in mind.  Alas, it's so much easier to listen to really good podcasts and fold the laundry.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Imagination over Devices

I'm embarrassed to admit that each of my three children have an iPad.

As a household, we also have an iMac, a Macbook, two smart phones, a television and my husband's work laptop.

The only crowning achievement I can claim is that we don't have cable...but in its place, we subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.  Does it count that we frequent the library at least twice a week, the bookstore almost every other day and get the Sunday edition of The New York Times?

And so it was two days ago, I told my children that they were going to go device free for an entire week.  And in place of the primary culprit, the iPad, we were going to collectively brainstorm a list of options for utilizing their time.

Swimming, bike rides, making sand castles at the park, climbing a tree, reading a book, building Legos, painting, dragging out dress-up clothes, writing a letter to a friend, baking a treat, cooking dinner for the family, laying in the grass, looking up at the sky, dreaming about the final two weeks of summer, being that's a concept.

Today was our first day of implementation...truth be told, I'm writing this blog post in secret on the toilet praying that no one barges in as I'm trying to model limited use of gadgets as well.

But you know what, it's hard.  I'm easily distracted by so many forms of social media, podcasts, music listening and random YouTube videos (I'm secretly in love with the Voice auditions....hands down, The Voice Australia is the best, well, only slightly better than The Voice UK, which is infinitely better than the The Voice US...pathetic, I know.) Like them, I like to zone out, probably more than I should.

As I think about raising my children, I'm so afraid that they'll be bored.  But the truth is, I was bored a lot as a kid and I think it was good for me....good to make something out of nothing...good to roll around in the backyard thinking about a whole lot of nothing...good to roam on my bike with nowhere in particular to go...good to differentiate the summer from the school year without cramming every minute with something productive.

So, here we devices.  I will say that the fighting has been off-the-charts.  The whining has been a little nutty and there have been half a dozen times that I just want to send them to their rooms with the iPad.  But, at the end of the day, I think this is important for all of us.

Here's to the imagination and the beauty of boredom.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Joy Above Resentment

I'll grant you that it took an act of God to get me there this morning.  Running out the door with an apple in my mouth, water bottle dripping in my purse, yoga mat half rolled, car keys no where to be found.  FUUUCKKK...why is my life so God damned chaotic and why can't someone get ME ready to get out the door.  With moments to spare, I walked in the door a little flustered.

In retrospect, I did show up a little pissy.  It's that time of the month and I was hot and feeling fat and fine, I wasn't in my happy place.

Scanning a packed room of mats neatly adorning a circle, I found the lone spot next to him.  From the minute it began, he wouldn't stop smiling and then laughing and ugh.

The class was particularly challenging and I was in no mood for this spontaneous, joy-filled nonsense.  Come on, be a real yogi, dude...take it seriously for Christ sake.  Wipe that shit-eating grin off your face and focus on deepening the poses. 

But he didn't, every time I looked over, he was just smiling away seemingly making a mockery of it all.  And then, bent down trying to balance my legs on my elbows, I glanced and he was looking at me with big eyes as if it to say, "Good luck with that're inches away from falling on your face or your ass or both and that's pretty funny."

I fell out of the pose and started laughing which made him laugh and her laugh and all of us start wearing shit-eating grins. 

And while in shivasana (resting pose), it hit me.  We all walk around feeling the weight of the world, the stress of the day or week, the exhaustion of responsibilities, obligations, the anxieties of what has been and what is to come.  And when we harbor these things for too long, we get angry at people who seem to rise above it and recognize that all of it is laughable to an extent.  Because really nothing in life is so extraordinarily serious that it doesn't merit a good belly laugh from time to time.  And even those very tragic, heart breakingly traumatic acts that are thrust upon us have moments of joy, little bits of silver lining, ancillary blessings that we might have not experienced had we not endured the pain.

When it was over, he rolled up his mat and jetted out of the room.  I wanted to say thanks.  Thanks for helping me to recognize that joy is far more contagious than resentment.  And that no matter how hard I try to hold on to my big, important, serious life...well, someone will always come, knock me off my pompous elbows and remind me that joy, laughter and love always win.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Magic Lessons

I was standing over the cutting board in my kitchen chopping red onion and jalepenos, lamenting about the lack of engagement with my creative process.  Everything felt like inertia. 

No desire to lace up my running shoes.  No nudge to flip open the Macbook and write.  No fire in my belly.  Just "Civil Wars" playing on my phone and inflamed eyes from the veggies.

That's when a quick beep came and an instant message.

"You've got to check out this podcast.  It's as if they made it for you.  No, it's like you're the woman they're interviewing.  Believe me, it's worth your time."

My friend was directing me to Elizabeth Gilbert's (noted author of "Eat Pray Love") new podcast, "Magic Lessons" about how to ignite your soul through the creative process.

In the first episode, she interviews a full-time stay at home mother out of Michigan who has 6 and 9-year old kiddos.  A budding writer as a child, she goes on to become an English teacher and then a wife and mother and when the grind of staying at home gets to her, a lovely therapist encourages her to write a blog.  Holy fuck...this is me.

Elizabeth Gilbert's job is to help her get to the heart of her creative process woes.  It's no longer that she's struggling for time or sleep.  It's not that she needs to take more writing workshops or that she doesn't have a supportive partner.  Her procrastination resides in the fact that she's scared to collaborate with inspiration and to speak her truth in the world...and probably, more importantly, that she, very much like me, fears that investing time in her passion will in some tangible and indelible way take away something monumental from her a nutshell, she lives with resounding guilt.

Elizabeth's answer is this....

Like no other calling on the face of the earth, mothers are the most critical members of society that need to be given permission to ignite their souls.  They need to be told, in every way, that fueling their core, their being is the only way that they can be available for their families...because deprived of this...they will always resent their partners and children for fear that they've given up their soul to make them happy.

Holy shit.  Bingo.

Her response is to give yourself a window of time to do everything else in your life a little dial allow those who depend upon you to step up a create a space to write the book that the universe is begging for.

Because in the end, if you model martyrdom to your children, they will grow up to lose parts of their souls thinking that it's the "right thing to do."  But if you model making or being creative, they will grow to find the parts of themselves in the world that are inventive, creative and curious.  As mothers and primary educators of our little ones, it is a public service to model creativity and ignition of passion in the world.

Mind blown.  Heart reeling.

Guilt, fear, procrastination, insecurity, perfectionism...all of it has served as a barrier.  Now is the time to put those pieces of me on the back burner to allow the book deep inside to emerge.  We'll all be better for it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

On Writing

I was grateful this weekend that two things happened - my husband took all of our children on a Boy Scouts camping trip and I was invited to participate in a writing circle.

On the night that I was left alone, I found myself eating sushi on the couch watching a horrible movie and then baking in the kitchen listening to music.

I was contemplating everything and ruminating on what the next day would look like.

As it turned out, I walked into an amazing space, placed my breakfast contribution on the counter, poured cream into my hot cup of coffee and noticed this sign:

"Writing is hard for every last one of us...
Coal mining is harder.
Do you think miners
stand around all day
talking about how hard it is to mine
for coal.
They do not...they simply
Cheryl Strayed

Finding my place in the circle, taking it all in, I realized that the only overt thing we all had in common is that we are women.  Otherwise, as I later learned, some are wives, mothers, agency directors, corporate gurus, older, younger...all hopeful for a fire to be lit, inspiration to emerge, truth to be told and a formal opportunity to re-engage with the written word through collective wisdom.

Our facilitator began the session by asking us to take some time to describe what the following words look like:


After we spent time writing about what something like hate tastes like, we went back to our writing and circled phrases, words and images that best captured the intent or feeling behind the word and then, as quickly as we could harvest the images into a disjointed poem of sorts to read aloud.

Shaking because my words and more importantly the combination of them felt so sophomoric and weak, I decided to raise my hand and get it over with...I wanted to get me out in the open right away.

Here I sit
the gig is up
and I know it
because the metallic taste of
old coffee and cigarette ashes
never leaves, constantly churning
screaming at the sky, wanting to
shake him or me or
desperate to create something new from the
old, begging don't
leave--but I'm so cold
throw me a blanket
and elevate me to a place
where I can
breathe again.

After everyone who wanted to share did...we entered into a private 30 minute writing exercise where we independently wrote a piece on the one word that we have longed to retire and the one word we have longed to embrace.

In every way, it was exactly what I needed.  I felt free and validated and irreverent and really, more me than I've experienced in sometime.  And the beauty was that I just got the chance to write.  I didn't have to fret over where to start, I was given prompts that were meaningful and a space that buzzed with collective creativity and hope.

I like the image of the coal miner digging.  Writing like running or mothering or wifing or friending or laundrying or fill in any blank you like is simply making the choice to do it, until one day, you stumble upon something that wasn't there before...a diamond in the rough that makes all the labor worth it.