Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ode to Claire on Your Sixth Birthday

My Dearest Claire,

I want to tell you a funny story...

Long before you were born, papa and I were watching a movie and the main character--a feisty, classic, beautiful, impetuous girl named Claire captured my attention.  I fell in love with her.  Later that evening, I had a dream that our family was not yet complete.  We were supposed to have an addition, a little girl named Claire.

Fast forward to a snowy, blustery cold afternoon on December 14, 2010--we were in the hospital delivering was the second to last push and I started sobbing...I mean I literally could not stop crying....not because I was in pain, but because I was afraid.

My doctor came to one side of me and papa came to the other.  She leaned down and said, "Kelly, what's wrong?  You're a pro at this...she is your third child.  What's wrong?"  With tears streaming down my face, I said, "I don't know.  I just think that something really big and amazing is coming into the world."

When you emerged, the umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck four times.  Immediately and like a lasso, the doctor freed you and you belted the most piercing screech I'd ever heard.  It was a terrifying and exhilarating feeling.

And the truth is, you've been screaming ever since. 

Even though you are a petite, blonde haired, blue eyed little girl, you are bold and powerful and you rarely take no for an answer which is why your daddy and I find ourselves beating our heads against a wall.

When you decide that you want something--whether it is a piece of banana bread, a container of chocolate milk or world peace, you are singularly focused and a have a level of determination that is unparalleled and usually means that through the sheer force of your will, it will happen.

A few months ago, you began all-day are learning to write, to read, to do more complex math problems, to negotiate with your classmates and to follow the direction of someone other than me.  And you are in your element.  A social butterfly, you flit from one friend to the next, confident and capable in your ability to lead the way on the monkey bars and to fairly trade a Gogurt for a bag of Goldfish at lunch time.

To be honest with you, we are not terribly alike.

You are hard headed, fearless, persistent, formidable and stand unfazed if someone does not like your opinion or your persona--I am far more worried about what others think of me.  And for this aspect of your character, I stand in awe.  I yearn to have the chutzpa that you do and to so freely and largely inhabit the space that you do. 

You are beautiful and brilliant and a little mean all wrapped in one tightly powerful bundle.  As you grow, which I know that much to my chagrin, you will just continue to do, may you never stray from who you are.  Be belligerent.  Stay feisty.  Keep them guessing.  Give a little grief.  But remember that in the end, love always wins and that it is more important to be kind than to be right.

Your daddy and I love you beyond words.  We couldn't imagine our family or our home without you.  The Happiest of Sixth Birthdays, Claire!  Thank you for choosing to come barreling into our lives and for the cacophony of love you bring.

To the moon and back,

love, mama

Monday, December 5, 2016

Clenching Mercy

Pivoting in short, choppy--often, incomplete motions.

Back and forth.

Left and right.

Can't forget this and that.

All of it matters.

Whatever you do, don't stop.

These snap shots have been my life for the better part of several weeks.

Some of it is has been expected and is a remembered part of this season, but a good chunk of it is new.

Managing deadlines both at home and work.  Looking down to see that both my belly and my ass have grown a little too comfortable making my jeans a little uncomfortable.  Realizing that my kid has a project due that isn't just his but involves three others and supplies and it's Sunday night.  Watching my five-year old daughter count down the days until Christmas, swearing that I'll order that thing this afternoon or carve out time to really decide what in the hell Santa is going to put under the tree.  Wondering why I took on that volunteer "opportunity" and how it is that I will have all three children in different spots at the same time? Trying to plan a meaningful graduate course terrified that the students will call me out as a fraud.

While I was doing the dishes and editing the grocery list and grabbing the towels...I heard the extraordinary writer, Mark Nepo define poetry as the unexpected utterance of the soul and the frailty of the human condition as:

And I was reminded, yet again that this deal we do is hard.  Let's not mince words.  From time to time, it fucking sucks.  A good chunk of it is spent enduring instead of standing open to the possibility of what the day brings.

So in that moment, I just stood


And breathed, a sigh of relief.

A really, really big breath.

And I closed my eyes and un-closed my fists and tried to receive whatever it is that the world had for me.

And while in the moment, I had to grin thinking that I extrapolate ad nauseam about the power of possibility and standing open to the availability of the extraordinary in the daily mundane....until it comes to me....and my life slowly turns into..."well, everything will be better once I make it to Thursday night or Sunday morning."  Meanwhile, a million moments go by and my teeth are clenched, my stomach is in knots, my mental to-do lists are cycled through repetitively and I'm just making it.  Most of the time, it's not a bad making's just a dulled engagement of what could be.

Mercy is trusting that you don't have to know.

It's the indomitable fact that you can't possibly be in control all of the time and that surrendering to what could be is the greatest form of inhabiting the moment as imperfectly and beautifully as one can.

And so this morning on my run, I released. little by little...unsure but hopeful...which I think is my mantra for the new year.

I'm done with knowing.

I'm in need of mercy and grace and the divine and the blessed possibility that comes with the great unknown.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Shared Story

I am certain that like everyone else, I should probably be sharing the ins and outs of my opinion regarding the results of the presidential election...but after five days of trying to collect them...I just can't seem to.

I remember the morning after--I'd barely gotten 3 or 4 hours of sleep and woke up to piece together peanut butter sandwiches for the kids' lunch containers, dark roast for the coffee maker, a quick shower for a work event and a blessing for my family as they headed out the door...and in those moments, there was a haze of disillusionment wondering, "how can I do this...the regular stuff...and just pretend that this big thing didn't happen?"

For some reason, as I was schlepping to and fro in the house, tired and bewildered, I remembered my grandmother.  She was extraordinary.  She was stunning on the outside and the inside.  And when I was at a loss to understand why someone had wronged me or made me feel less than or tossed me out to dry, she would reply with..."find yourselves in the same story."  It was such a painful process...but what she meant was that both the person and I were here on earth together.  We encountered each other.  We traversed the others' path.  We connected.  There was a reason.  What did I learn?  How much would I value their place in my story?  Because that was the work.  Finding common ground.

I stumbled upon this quote by the incomparable Maya Angelou moments before I found the words to say to my children as I sent them back into the world for the day

Like usual, they lined up and I put my hand on their head and said, "May God bless your mind so that it can be open and you will learn.  May God bless your ears to be a good listener, even when it is hard and all you want to do is to talk.  May God bless your mouth to speak kind words and to give thanks.  And may God bless your heart to feel love and to know that you are never alone.  I love you...."

And I reminded them that the expectation was that they would be kind to those they met, that they would do the right thing, even if others were not, and that they would do their best to make the world a better place.

And later, I'm going to teach them about finding each other in the same story...a hard lesson of recognition that we are all connected...sometimes, whether we want to be or not.  We share much common ground, if we could simply hear and be open to the other.

Until then, my wish for them and most pressingly for myself is to continue to be who I am and to revolutionize the world with acts of love, hope, and small act at a time.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

the becoming


The white iPad falls to the floor and the screen shatters.


Bang.  The bedroom door slams. Hard.

Kate yells, "Just LEAVE me alone and get out of my room!!"


The refrigerator door suffers an undeserved beating as Claire hangs on it yelling,

" said you were gonna buy yogurt?  WHERE is it?  And, why isn't my ballet leotard in the closet?"


And then the high-pitched knife murdering yelp by Sam who cries out,

"WHAT happened to MY iPad?  Kate, did you do this????"


I'm upstairs waiting for Sam to kill Kate, trying to decide if I can physically get up from my bed to actually give her a fighting chance.  It's 5pm after a day of working with 31 seven and eight year olds, ushering after school car pools, brainstorming dinner options and my feet really hurt, but not as bad as my head.

This is the reel going through my mind..."I hate them.  I love them.  I want to kill them too.  I would do anything for them.  I don't want to be a mom tonight.  I'm so blessed to be their mother.  I think if I close my eyes really, really tightly, I'll fall asleep and they will figure it out.  Rise up and make it happen."  God, it's all so exhausting.

Not long after that night, I had coffee with a friend.  I asked her if we made a mistake.  Remember when we didn't know if we'd get married or have kids or create the family we sort of desperately wanted?  What would have happened if we hadn't?  Would we be enjoying endless spa weekends, luxurious sugar scrubs, fabulous shoes, brilliant downtown condos, cashmere, sleep-in Saturdays, extraordinary careers?  I don't know, she said.  Who can know what could have been had we veered away from this path and chosen another?  It's really neither here nor there.  This is the path.

And then, I found this.

And I remembered-- because it's so easy to forget.

There are no real answers, just lots of little twists, turns and deviations along the path.

What works for one woman, one mother, one family is infinitely different from what makes sense to another.  And if we were smart, as women, we would videotape or journal or find some tangible way to chronicle where we were and where we are.  A picture or song or poem to capture the woman in our 20's, so certain and yet so yearning.  The woman in our 30's, softer, rounder, a little more tired, a little less certain of how it will all shake out.  The woman in our 40's, slowly, but surely releasing the expectations of the world and maybe even her own, ready to watch the magic of what emerges when you stop trying to force it.  Who knows what the remainder of the decades have to offer...

But what I do know is that it's hard.  It's tiring.  Sometimes, it's all consuming and drowning.  And sometimes, it's thrilling and glorious and you can't believe that you've been given all of it.  Every ounce of it.

I suppose, this is the beauty and anguish of the becoming.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cracking the Heart Wide Open

I don't know how or why or really when it began...

But for as long as I can remember talking with my children, I have consistently started our days by asking all three of them the same question,

"How are you feeling in your heart?"

Sometimes, I'm greeted with a "meh--" or "not too shabby" or "pretty good" or "uh-may-zing!" And from time-to-time, a tear stained, "really, really baaaad, mama."

As much as I've tried to modify the inquiry, no other question I've stumbled upon, seems to as accurately and quickly convey exactly what's at the core of their beings.  And so even though it sounds strange to ask, I've stuck with it.

There is such a difference between asking someone how they're doing and asking them how their heart is feeling.  It's really the comparison of the cerebral and the visceral.  Or the contrast between what we think we should say and what we can't deny.  In that moment, you're either okay or really, you're not.

Lately, I've felt overwhelmed with bursts of emotion.  Blame it on my period, hectic family schedules, the introduction of two new jobs, the election cycle, friends I've been concerned about or a pesky head cold...but whatever the source, the wobbly feeling is the same.

And when my heart feels flummoxed, I find myself turning more consistently to prayer.

My friend made me prayer bracelets to help focus my fears, hopes and cries toward a saint and to help cultivate a more tangible connection to God when the insanity of the day takes over.  When I'm feeling agitated or unsure, I roll them on my wrist and start to ground myself in what matters. And I am quickly reminded of what the great Gandhi taught

"Prayer is not asking.  It is a longing of the soul.  It is daily admission of one's weakness.  It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart."

And so it is this concept that I try to communicate to my children when they have no words for why their hearts are heavy and their burdens seem unfair or all-consuming.  When we don't know which way to go, which path to take or why we have landed in the spot we find ourselves, it is best to receive with an open heart than to try to think your way out of what may have no answers inside of your finite being.

Essentially, the journey is to crack the heart wide open so that through vulnerability, you are in the best place to receive whatever is available to make your heart whole again. And this is hard.

But the work of the heart is where the magic lies.

Not long ago, a friend came to me with the tragic news that her family member was really sick.  I didn't have the words to comfort her or the ability to problem solve her situation or the guarantee that she would be okay today, tomorrow or many moons from now.  Losing someone you desperately love changes you forever.

But I did have the ability to pray.

And that is what I have done every day, multiple times a day.

Not knowing.  Trusting.  Believing.  Hoping.

The truth is that we are all broken.  We are all in need.

Intellectually, most of the time, we don't have the answers.

But everyone has a beating heart and knows instinctively when it is filled with joy and promise or dread and disbelief.

The journey is to stay so deeply rooted in the heart, so viscerally aligned that you draw from that source instead of any other when it comes to what is important.

After all, the cry of the heart is the only true barometer of the soul.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It Starts with Me

This week was a bit of a doozy.

Between a change in work schedule, a sick kindergartner, a visit to the ENT with my sixth-grader (who shoved a paper wad into his ear and then added insult to injury by impacting it with a Q-tip), an anticipated visit from my out of state parents, working on my grad school course syllabus, and a few crucial missed items on a to-do list...I found myself saying "fuck" both with my inside and my outside voice...a lot.

And it felt good.  Really good.

Until, it didn't.

Somewhere in the debacle of wearing a headlamp and squeezing tweezers into my son's ear to capture the paper wad offender, I was agitated listening to the final presidential debate, playing in the background.

I paused.

Jesus Christ.

How did we get here?

When did it become acceptable for all of us to behave so poorly and to just expect the world to be forgiving?

When did a civil dialogue about the future leader of the free world become a free-for-all?

How did we allow this to happen?

I think that's when I realized, this isn't about them. It's about me.

It starts with the way that I cope with adversity and the choices I make to take the high road or to whine on the sidelines and cry foul play or "no fair."

It begins with my decision to accept responsibility for my actions when I've harmed another, both willingly and involuntarily.

It extends to the apology, even when it hurts to fess up and say, "I'm sorry that I've wounded and made you feel less than."

And it concludes with demonstrating concretely in my actions that my intentions are honorable and that I am willing to follow-through.

I've been so worried that my children are witnesses to the deterioration of one of the most important rights we have in our country...that I've forgotten that my husband and I are really, at the end of the day, their most important teachers. 

I'm not naive to think that the future of the country isn't in a precarious position depending upon who takes ownership of the Oval office, the House and the Senate in January....but I do believe that all too often, we abdicate responsibility and personal ownership for what we can do on our postage stamp of the world.

It's a lot.

Our voices mean a lot...not only in the voting booth.

It means a great deal in the workplace in how we treat our colleagues and how we collaborate or decimate the opinions of others.

It matters in our how we show up, even when we're tired or feeling less than.

It makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our children and how they learn to cope with what is unfair, unjust, or just plain hard in the world.

It matters, this little slice of life.

And so, I turned off the television.  That's just jibberish.  It's not worth the anxiety it produces.  I'll spend my time hugging my sixth-grader, even though, he pulled a dip shit move by shoving paper in his ear.  I'll tell my husband that I'm sorry for being ridiculous over the gutters.  I'll call my mom back even though I know what she's going to say.  I'll help Kate make her lunch even though slabbing peanut butter on another slice of bread feels like moving through quick sand.  And I'll stroke my kindergartner's hair and give her ibuprofen as she nurses a chest cold.

Because, it starts with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Up Gravel Roads

Last weekend marked my fourth year running the Market 2 Market relay--a 78-mile race from the city of Omaha to the city of Lincoln.

It's a hell of a day.

You get up early, grab your running shoes, lots of water, toilet paper (for the porta-potties), the best and worst carbs available--i.e. gazads of peanut M+Ms, kettle chips, mint Milanos, good tunes, a change of clothes and if you're in a car with me, well, your strong constitution--I like to curse and tell stories that involve the word vagina and basically, how much I smell like one post my portions of the race.

Over the course of 12 hours, 8 people jump in and out of a vehicle as they take turns running their hearts out for 3, 4, and 5 mile staged legs, while their counter parts feverishly drive to the next exchange point to tag out a new runner.

I ran three legs.

It was the second one that nearly broke me.

I only had to run 4 miles...not a big deal.

But something happened as it got closer to my time to grab the baton.  I thought I was going to throw up.  I started to sweat and make stupid jokes.  I told my teammates that they could stay in the car...I'd be okay to see myself off.  It was as though my intuition knew that this run was going to be a bitch and I, its baby.

The sun was beating down and as my partner tagged me in, I rounded the bend onto a gravel road and four miles of fucking mental discipline ensued.

Let me begin by saying that I hate back, gravel roads.  They're uneven.  Cars drive on them and relentlessly kick dust into your eyes, face, mouth and lungs.  That's when they're flat.

I was on a never-ending up hill battle with a gravel road that was winning.

Even though I meticulously customize my playlist, my songs were even letting me down.  To top it off, a mile and half in, I saw the kiss of death...fellow runners started slowing down and then walking...while phenomenal athletes were passing me by with a cavalier thumbs up and a "way to go!" cheer.  Fuck me.

Just as I began to lose faith, I turned to see a giant cornfield butted up against a crystal blue sky, and a group of cows hanging out in the distance enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon.  And it dawned on me.

Within the same day, hour, minute, moment, we're all here.  The sun, the sky, the cow, the walker, the sprinter, the grass, the trees, the corn, me...we all get to occupy the same space in the same plane simultaneously.  And while we take up room and experience all of it....we can endure it as a battle or we can sit in it and take it in for what it is, or we can transcend it and find the beauty in the blue, the cool air, the brilliant sun, the sweat, the strong legs, the gorgeousness and moment of a Saturday.

And so, I slowed down--way down.

And I looked around and gave thanks.

It was Saturday.  And I was blessed to spend the whole day seeing lots of countryside, small towns and people focused on their fitness, running with friends for lots of causes and many reasons.

This was a time of celebration and joy, even if it hurt.

In my final leg, I was running as the sun went down, watching the leaves fall from the trees, realizing that change is on the horizon and that in each moment, I have a choice as to how I receive it.

I can bemoan it, or I can accept it and find the places where it enhances me instead of threatens me.

And I can recognize that I am not alone.

We are all tagging each other on this journey...sharing a baton, encouraging through words, humor, hope, forgiveness and love....promising that even if we're scared to go on our portion, that there will be a cow or two along the path, the sun in the sky, the guy who tells you to "keep up the good work," and the belief that even if it's painful, it will end.  And you will be better for heading up the gravel road.

Moments after my leg, my fellow teammate, took this photo of me as I was scarfing down food, re-reading a note I wrote to myself as a reminder that I can do it one moment, one mile, one breath at a time.  It's one of my favorite memories from the day.  Along with the pics of the best partners a girl could ask for.  Here's to baton passing along the journey...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Being the Verb...Becoming the Noun

No one lives in her head more than me.

I have an extraordinary gift for analyzing the shit out of nearly every mountain and mole hill I encounter...real or perceived.

I create hypothetical fantasties, proverbial pro and con check lists, wish lists, back-up plans, worst case name it...I've thought it through.

If you value intellect, discourse and lunatic-laden strategy, I'm your girl.

But if you want to get shit done, well...

Listening to one of my favorite podcasts while running errands, I heard the incomparable actress, Ellen Burstyn interview the equally incomparable activist, Gloria Steinem on "Death, Sex and Money."  Both women are in their 80's, staring down an impressive amount of life lived with both hope and regret.  With no intentions to stop working and living purposefully in the world, they purported a concept that I became fixated on...

Be the verb until you become the noun.

I began to tear up on my way into Trader Joe's.

This simple example of living has unconsciously permeated the way I DO everything in my life. 

I had no idea how to be a mother and so I just started mothering.  I got up when the baby cried and nursed her.  I made sure that they had help with their homework and cheered on the football field.  I listened to piano keys bang out notes that made sense and others that were getting there.  I showed up.  Day after day.  Year over year.  Until one day, I legitimately felt like it was fair to call me a mother.  Not a perfect one--not by a long shot--but a who mothers.

Five years ago, I wanted to inhabit my body again.  I bought a pair of running shoes.  Loaded some songs on an iPod.  Borrowed a Garmin and tried to make it around the block.  I ran nearly every day seeing the sun rise, my shins catch on fire, my hips hurt, my back ache, pounds shed and my confidence restored.  I just went through a dresser drawer and decided to donate several of my race shirts.  Looking at the overflowing bag, I felt like I could call myself a runner.  Not an elite athlete--but a who runs.

At the same time, I started running, I began publicly writing a blog..."Kelly's Hot Mess."  I felt like a fraud...but I was desperate to no longer be an isolated, stay-at-home mother and to have some accountability with putting pen to paper or keystroke to the web.  Over 600 posts later, I feel like a writer.  Not a Penguin press-worthy author--but a who writes.

And so it is, that in spite of myself, the best things I have accomplished have come when I just start doing them, especially, when I have no fucking idea WHAT I'm doing.  When I listen to that tiny part of my heart that says, "just try it for five minutes...if you hate it, you can always stop, what do you have to lose?"

In the doing or the being, I get out of my head and back to my heart and my hands and my legs and slowly, bit by bit, me as the verb, eventually, becomes me as the noun--one I can claim and identify with.

As I watch my 6th, 4th and Kindergartner growing up, taking on new challenges, with far less baggage than me, I realize that this process of doing until we become is the only way that true change ever manifests itself. 

No one is ever ready...EVER.  We must stop using that language.  We need to strip it out of our vocab.  The best teachers and lessons have almost never come when we are ready.  They greet us when we least expect it, primarily because we bothered to show up and welcome them into our worlds....mole hills and mountains alike.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Thief of Joy

It's Saturday morning at 8am. 

I'm on day two of my period.

My five-year old is jumping on and off of the couch screaming that she wants cereal.

I'm half-heartedly yelling back, "go get it yourself."

There are random piles of laundry that by this point in the game are most likely an interesting composition of clean, dirty, sort of worn--could be worn again--but likely smell because they associated themselves with the stinky offenders.

Something happened downstairs with the tub and now, we have water to contend with.

My husband has already made me promise that I'll hold down the fort while he listens to the game and tackles a couple of outdoor projects that are not going to take care of themselves.

The garden is a fucking mess.  I'm serious.  Why in the Sam Hell did we think that planting watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries was a good idea? It seemed like a cute concept in the spring.

There is this one sticky spot on the kitchen floor that I'm afraid to touch and no one else seems to be bothered by it.

I'm running a 78-mile relay race a week from today and am questioning whether I'm a lunatic....maybe they'll have other geriatric runners like me that can team together and mall-walk their portion?

In January, I'm joining Creighton University as adjunct faculty in the field of conflict resolution.  I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to lead a class, but am also anxious that my sticky spots on the kitchen floor will grow and that sooner, rather than later, the city will put a "Condemned Property" sign on my front door.

Just when I think that I'm making progress, I realize that it's only a mirage.  I'm actually four steps behind...everyone else has a better body, home, bank account, five-year plan, kitchen floor, tampon jar and kindergartner who makes her own eggs and bacon while dutifully brewing an Americano for her sleeping mother.

And then, I remember this Mark Twain quote...

And I know that women across the world are lamenting who they are, what they bring and who could do it better.  And all the while, we're bit by bit stealing the bursts of joy and happiness that we singularly, individually get to experience, simply by deciding that other people do it better.

And it's a fucking crock. 

The whole lot of it.

Everyone bears sticky spots throughout their life.

Sticky spots are the rent we pay for being human and as I know best, for being crazy, busy, imperfect, loving, 'off-the-charts trying our hearts out' mamas.

And it's's more than okay.

So, please visit me, but don't expect much in the way of tidiness.  In fact, the only thing I can promise you is a smile and a really good cup of coffee. 

Friends (who don't live with me) tell me that a day will come where there will be time to clean and have space to host fancy dinner gatherings.  That time is not now.  That time is down the road when you'll be longing for this time back.

I can't imagine longing for this chaos back, but I'll trust them and try to cling to my bits of joy, even if they are sticky and relentlessly jumping on the couch.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Kelly's Hot Mess Celebrates 5-Years!

Five years ago, this week, I sat down with my computer and a strong Americano at a midtown Starbucks and wrote this:


Here I am... 



So the other morning, I walked by the mirror and realized, I'm a 36-year old wife and mother of three little ones.  I live in a white house with black shutters and a red door.  I make oatmeal and wash dishes and read lots and lots of stories and change lots and lots of diapers.  I drive kiddos to school, church, ballet, music, basketball, and their friends' houses.  I admire art work, dance moves, kind words, and gooey brownie fingers.  I shun hitting, eye-rolling, cruel words, and video games.  And late at night, when I have disposable energy, I wonder, how did I get here?

Yesterday or 14 years ago, I was reading philosophy texts, drinking beer, chatting it up with girl friends, wondering if I would get married, hoping I would get a really good job offer and firmly believing that I would never move back to Omaha, Nebraska.

I used to make fun of the women that I babysat for...they wore sweater sets from Talbots, faded pleated pants, the same pearl earrings, and drove station wagons or mini vans.  Most needed a highlight at best and some needed significant work like a lip wax or a personal trainer.  Everyone of them were so thankful to see me pull up in the driveway and after a few brief reminders encouraged me to eat anything I wanted in the house...I think they just really wanted me to come back.  They all seemed so old.  I used to giggle with my girlfriends about who had cute husbands and who had fat ones.  Which ones seemed really in love and which ones got the short-end of the stick.  Either way, I couldn't imagine that one day, someone would call me, "Mrs. so and so" and tell me that the kids would be just fine while I pulled out of the driveway.

I think it's funny that I got my master's degree in Conflict Resolution.  When I was actively practicing, I used to mediate other people's differences...i.e. Landlord/Tenant cases, Neighbor barking dog issues, Divorcing couples, Employer/Employee tensions...etc.  Now, I just seem to mediate my own internal do I evolve in this new season of my life and also retain that which I claim to be vital to my soul?

And because I've been writing in my head for the last fours year (ever since I became a full-time stay-at-home mom), I've decided to create this blog...primarily, as an outlet for me to reclaim my voice (outside of "use your inside voice") and also as an opportunity for me to connect with others who may relate.  The truth is that the dynamic between like-minded individuals is what I missed the most about writing in my journal.  And sometimes, the facebook fragments are just not enough.    So, here I am.

I'm not sure how often I'll write.  I'm not terribly concerned about being offensive or liked.  I just want to hear my voice again as I hit the key strokes.  I want to be reminded that I am here...all parts of me, not just those that care take for others.

I'm grateful for the hot mess that I find myself in most days because it reminds me that I am alive.  I may be covered in puke, exhausted from an all-night marathon with a baby, or wearing a size that I  reserved for a middle-aged woman...but I'm here.  I'm doing it.  And, honoring the journey...


I had no idea, really no idea, what it meant to author a blog.  Since that decision, I've published 617 posts--most of which revolve around the crazy making of being a stay-at-home wife, mother, runner, writer, conflict resolutioner, f-bomb dropper, inappropriate content lover, coffee and wine drinker, podcast listener who is just trying to do the next right thing.

I've shared the deaths of my grandfather and taken much too soon cousin.  I've hinted at masturbation in the sauna of a local gym.  I've chronicled my 40-pound weight loss journey and transformation into a marathoner.   I've plastered nearly every insane act that all three of my children have subjected me to from the time my oldest was six years old and my baby was 9-months old...she just went off to kindergarten.

I've talked about my deepest desire to become an author and shared pieces of my poetry and prose.  I've centered quotes on inspiration, motivation, hope, power, triumphing over the unknown, fear, and belief in the impossible.  I've showered pictures of my family, friends all while talking about the craziness of managing it all and trying to stay awake while having sex--the struggle is real.

I've shared painful posts about drunk driving, making peace with your body, learning to surrender and remembering that you're never alone.

And through all of have been there.








Believing that sharing your voice and heart with the world matters.

At a time when I've wondered whether I should continue publishing the blog, my 41-year old self says to you, if I thanked you daily, it would not be enough.

Thank you for believing in me, for inspiring me, for teaching and stretching me...for disagreeing with me and for supporting me...for encouraging me to speak about the elephant in the room...for loving my family and for watching us grow...for calling me out when I haven't posted in a while...for letting me know that even though we may never see each other, that you're still the ether, reading and connecting from afar.

Here's to five years of Kelly's Hot Mess...what a beautiful journey it's been.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Your Voice

September 21, 2016

Dear Kate,

Last night, you curled up next to me in my bed with your latest Golden Sower book, excited to do all the voices, and to introduce me to a character that you can't get enough of.

I was so--so--so tired.  I awoke at 4am, only to discover that going back to sleep was not in the cards for me, worked the day at school and then spent the evening shuffling to and from activities.

I kept my eyes open as long as I could.  I just kept looking at you and listening to you.  Your whole face stood animated, alive, engaged--up until the point when you HAD to turn to garner one more delicious bite of chocolate ice cream.  You're so, so, so beautiful.  Really.  It astounds me.  The way that you say, "Wait, mama.  This--THIS--is the best part!" and then you tell me about hugging your sister because she got really hot on the playground and how you're worried that Sam just seems to be doing homework all the time and that you'll have pizza tomorrow, so I don't have to worry about making a cold lunch and that you really liked my polka dotted dress today.

So, when I woke up and saw that you were not there and realized that I had fallen asleep during your reading, I felt like a terrible mother.  I sheepishly, made my way into your room and apologized to which you retorted, "I was trying to ask you a contextual question and your mouth was open, but your eyes were closed.  You took away my voice."

Shit. Shit. Shit.

It was late.  You were tired and hurt and I was tired and hurt and so, I didn't get to say this.

If there is one promise, aside from fostering your faith on this earth, I will never, never, never keep you from finding, speaking, and nurturing your voice.  You have my word.

There is nothing more important than discovering who you are, what you care about, your lines in the sand, the places that you will show up to and the hills that you will die on.

I know what it feels like to be a young woman who is not recognized for her voice and it is a small, humiliating place to visit.  This land of power mongers is not for you.

You, my daughter, will have the support to grow your heart and your lungs and your mindset and your tribe, so that when the time comes to go to war, you will be on the field prepared for victory.

I will never squelch your voice or your dreams or your possibilities.

I am your advocate.

I am also human and tired and stretched and learning and trying.

So, forgive me when I need to refuel.  As you'll discover, most women are still trying to nurture their voice and the things that matter to them, well into their lifetimes.  And this forty one year old mother is no different.

I love you.  I believe in you.  And I'd love a second chance at hearing your voice tell the tale tonight.  I promise to keep my eyes open.

Love, Mama xo

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dear You

Dear You,

The one who smashed "the blue car" into bits.
I hate you.

Except, I really don't.

Hate is a word that I do not allow my children to use because for day-to-day living and in most situations, hate is too strong, too deep, too wounding of a word for what it means to just live life.

But you...

you who got into a car, shit-faced out of your mind, pulled out your phone, typed your friend a text while weaving down my street at one in the morning and as the air bags deployed...blasted yourself violently into my life.

You who threw off my week, my finances, my peace of mind, my plan, and me for a loop.

All of that and I don't even know you. 

Arrested on the scene with your third DUI, the only thing I really know is that instead of hating you, I should be grateful that our reliable, humble, gracious, old Honda took the blow alone and spared my family from being inside.

I should also be grateful that you were able to walk away to jail and not to a morgue.

I should count my lucky stars that there is such a thing as insurance and family members who let you borrow their car and loan you dough, if you need it.

I should run through all of the worst case scenarios of how it could have gone down, and stand in amazement that the angels were all with us that night, protecting everyone else on the road from your careless choice.

But I feel anger.  Just for a bit.  And, then I feel sad.  And then, I feel numb.

Most everyone I relay the story to tells me that your past is an indication that you won't stop, even if you lose your license for a very long time.

But praying in that pew at mass today, I believed that maybe this was your wake-up call and mine to do better.  To pick a different path.

I'm also not a fool.  Alcoholism is real.  It's not a farce or a thing to do better at.  It's a painful addiction that can destroy lives and bring families to their knees.  But for whatever reason, I think that people can change, only if and when they want to.

So, to you...

you out there, somewhere,

that my insurance company is trying to collect my deductible from...keep it. 

Use it to get better.  Know that there is a person out there that you have wounded who doesn't hate you or feel sorry for you or wish you would get your karmic comeuppance...this person is a mom with a family and a heart and a hope that this is the last time this ever happens in your life and in mine. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Imperfect Sea legs

The best I can say is that I'm trying to get my sea legs.

Today marks the second week that my kiddos have been in school and that I've been working at the school...just two days, so you wouldn't think that it's a big deal, but well, it's been a...

I'm learning how to maintain my stamina with 31 of my favorite second graders while helping my sixth, fourth and kindergartner to acclimate to new teachers, upcoming tests, lack of sleep and a new energy that hasn't been present for several months.

In an effort to blow off some steam and just get away from it all, I went to see Bad Moms.  I know I'm late to the party, but have you seen this movie?

Sweet Mary Mother of God, I laughed my arse off.

And while waiting to get into the theater, I shit you not, a group of hooch mamas rolled in (I only say hooch because they wore clothes that I could only dream of shimmying into) and pulled out a bottle of wine they loaded into their handbags to make the movie more interesting.

I remarked on the wedding ring of one of the girls saying, "Sweet Jesus...that's gorgeous!" to which her friend said, "I know right?!!!  She's getting married and clearly that's a rock to be proud of!  Versus (and she pulls up her own hand, points to her wedding ring) THIS...Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Nothing," laughs and walks away.

I'm not gonna lie.  I peed myself a little.

While I was watching the movie, I realized that I'm exhausted by living in a space of judgement, particularly as a mom.

For fuck sake, we are all just trying to do the best that we can and knowing the amount of self deprecating thoughts that run through our heads, the last thing we need is to worry about what the PTA president thinks of us; when it is that we last showered ourselves or our kids; how many Facebook friends we have; whether our kids bring Jimmy Johns for lunch or if we dropped the f-bomb in front of them.

And so, struggling to remind myself that I'm doing okay...not perfect, but okay...I mosied up the stairs after a long day to find this by my bedside.

Flowers from Claire.  Picked out of the backyard with a note addressed to Kelly.  "I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.  You are the best mama."  Love, Claire Bear

And I lost it.  Maybe, it's all going to be okay.  Maybe, they love me in spite of me.  Maybe, they see something that I don't in me.  Maybe, I am enough.

Maybe, we're all bad moms and in admitting so, we put an end to the farce that perfectionism is possible in this mad dash to parent and to work and to clean and to love and to mess up and to disappoint even when you tried really hard not to.

Maybe, we could all just accept that it's hard and we're really lucky to get share our lives with these crazy rug rats who are probably turning into amazing human beings.

And that, imperfect sea legs are better than not trying at all.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Breaking Surface

Today in my black shorts and loud running tank and shoes, I started out in the overcast weather for an easy peasy run.  One of my favorite songs belted into my ears and my initial mistake was getting lost in the music and going out too fast…at least for the pace that I’m used to enduring mile over mile. 

Frustrated, I slowed to a jog and then finally, gave in to a walk.

Ugh, I thought, I’m getting slower and slower.  This is such bull shit.

Hitting a stretch of road demarcated by two towering trees, I decided, fuck this.  I’m kicking up my legs, feeling my quads burn, sprinting the shit out of this path, because there is an end point in sight and I have nothing to lose.

Picturing myself as Allyson Felix, the Olympic athlete in the women’s 400 meter relay, I gave it everything I had, pretending that someone was depending upon me to finish strong.  And then I stopped.  Huffing and puffing, sweat stinging my eyes, chest leaping out of my body, I stopped to look up and smiled. Jesus Christ…that felt good.

I used the remaining three miles to do the exact same work…sprinting as hard as I could for a designated distance, regaining strength and then repeating, all the way home.  It felt foreign and beautiful and a meaningful accomplishment.

Instead of negotiating whether I was a legitimate runner or not, I stopped thinking and starting running…I gave up on giving credence to the noun and decided to imperfectly be the verb.  I didn’t give myself a chance to follow-through on my credentials, I just deemed myself worthy for 30 minutes and did the work.  And it hurt, and it felt good and it was messy and uncharted and new and beautiful.

And when I arrived home, I reminded myself of this transformative Mark Nepo poem…

Breaking Surface

Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won't let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can't be done.

Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.

You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.

We are all great explorers navigating the tricky and ordinary waters of our lives, searching, celebrating, grieving, yearning, proclaiming, hoping against all hope that it means something.

Today, for me, it was a brief glimpse into a fraction of what I’m capable of.

Sometimes, two trees, a stretch of road and bright running kicks are a nice reminder.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Joy as the Metric

The past two days have brought about alarm clocks that go off at times we haven't seen in months; peanut butter sandwiches adorned with heart notes that say, "Hope you're having a great day! I love you to pieces!"; butterflies in stomachs as we assess new teachers who have different methods, specific expectations and routines that are still foreign and largely outside of our comfort zones.

This, coupled with really strong coffee, brand new shoes, painted nails and a mama who has taken a part-time job and wants to do her best for everyone...

has made for well, a little fear and wonderment about what it means to be successful.

This morning, after the kids bounded down the stairs with their backpacks and sparkly school shoes, blowing kisses, I walked into the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth and ask myself, what do I want from today...what am I hopeful for in this new season?

And the truth is, I want joy.

Plain and simple.

I'm not afraid to work hard, or to juggle commitments or to fall asleep-dead up from the feet up, but when I say my prayers, I want to give thanks for the only barometer that really matters and that is joy in my heart, happiness in my being.

It's too easy to get sucked into how much money we're making or we could be making, or how many really good working years we have left, or where we could have been, if we'd just sucked it up and kept doing the soul-numbing stuff...but when everyone is gone and you're standing over the sink, splashing cold water onto your face, welcoming in an average, ordinary, Wednesday in the middle of feels really good to use joy as your metric for success instead of your bank account.

Rounding the bend to refill my coffee cup, I found these on the corner of the table and they made me smile and tear up.

The first is a picture of Claire in her new school uniform on the first day with the sun shining, by the swings during recess.  The second is a picture of me with the reminder from Claire to not be sad, since I'll be alone during the day, now that everyone is in school full-time.

This is joy.

It's not much, but it's also everything.

And so, I beg of you.  Don't be miserable.  Don't use your neighbor's metrics for success.  Don't project the life of your co-worker onto your own.

Be present.  Right now.  Consumed fully in what you know to be true, to be real, to be the sure thing.

Find it, cling to it, nurture it...and more often than not, bask in it.

That's where the magic lies.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shifting of the Tide

This is officially the last Friday of summer.

The count down is on...we have three days left before the madness begins.  Between late nights watching the Olympics and later mornings meandering out of their bedrooms, I have no idea how all three will be out the door by 7:45am on Monday morning.

But alas...

This week has brought about a bit of a shift for all of us.

At the last minute, I made the decision to take a very part-time gig.

I'm going to be working two days a week as a teacher assistant in the classroom across the hall from my soon-to-be kindergartner.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'll be with second graders helping them to learn to read and write, grading papers and blowing whistles at recess as they giggle and run (at least that's the image I have in my mind).

Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, I'll be running, writing, jewelry selling, grocery shopping, laundrying and in general, soaking up lots of time by myself.

I've been waiting many moons for this window and now that Open House/Meet Your Teacher night is behind us, fresh bottles of glue and boxes of Crayola crayons are waiting at their desks, brand new sparkly school shoes are laid out alongside crisp uniforms and backpacks that say, Sam, Kate and Claire...I feel this crazy mix of sadness and joy.

I hope I can do it...enter into this new life stage with grace and love.  I pray that I can be diligent and mindful about really crafting time to write and that you will all be recipients of that work.  I stare at my running shoes and pray for hard runs in cool October weather that make me feel alive and grateful for this new place.  And I hope that my children will flourish all day long with teachers who stretch and love them.

And mostly, I just want to grab ahold of this time and say, thank you, after nine years, I made it...we made one died, everyone still really likes each other and looks forward to sixth grade, fourth grade, kindergarten, part-time work and new beginnings.  Here's to stumbling, screaming, working it out, jumping for joy and remembering that all good things eventually come to an end, but are often replaced by what we could have never imagined...a new normal, a shifting of the tide, a promise, a belief in you and in me that all will be better than well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Envision me

feverishly typing this out

while headphones are blaring noise into my ears

that is far preferable to the sound of my children

incessantly fighting over the "right way" to create balloon ninja balls filled with flour and water...

a Pinterest project gone semi-wrong.


It really started out as such a beautiful Tuesday.  I awoke to my alarm with no need for snoozing.  Grabbed my running shoes.  Clocked a strong run.  Came home to even stronger coffee and hope for the day.

And then, boom, the fates descended.

My husband broke the news that we needed to put a new starter in our beloved Honda.  Okay, that's fair.  It's been good to us for many, many years.

While making my way to the shower, my five-year old decided to slam the door on her sister and broke off the door knob saying, "How did that happen?"

And then, a quick trip to Target for a few minor things that turned into two bags bag of which I apparently left with the cashier that had the two things I really needed.  Fuck me.

No energy to go back, I warned all three of my children to (in no uncertain terms), please knock it the fuck off, only to discover that one of them threw a "flour ninja ball" at the other, exploding pasty shit in my living room while smooshing a macaroni noodle into my couch, as the third screamed, "Don't hit me!!!!" and the middle one said, "It wasn't super hard.  Stop being annoying and a little tattle tale."

I am hiding in the corner for the remainder of the day.

Not because I question whether I can handle it....but because sometimes, moms need really long, enduring time-outs too.

The truth is that we're tired of doing the right thing.  We're exhausted by saying the same things over and over again only to be pre-meditatingly ignored by the very beings we sacrifice our all for and well, we just don't have it in us anymore...and yes, we're well aware that it's only Tuesday.

And so, my music blares while I bake brownies that I will eat with a fork by myself in the kitchen and not share (until someone discovers them and eventually, I feel guilty enough) and I will hug them and they will hug me and we will forget that this shit was an issue.

We just need a reboot.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

June Cleaver

Two weeks from tomorrow, summer ends.

It's a bittersweet feeling for certain.

Our summer has been chock-full of traveling, swimming, garden tending, free library making,  ice cream inhaling, Lego building, sleeping way lating, sibling fighting, mama yelling, friend laughing, beautiful, chaotic, good times.

Two weeks ago, I took my brood along with my niece and nephew on an epic 1500+mile road trip by my lonesome, and so this weekend, my better half returned the favor and took the crazies on a dad's and kids camping trip.

I was elated to have the space and coveted breathing room.  I ran, cranked up the music, shaved my legs, drank too much wine and coffee, stayed in my pajamas until I felt compelled to change into yoga pants, spent time with friends and then made my way into my office.

Above my desk...I have these three mantras:

And while I was organizing Sam, Kate and Claire's school supplies into neatly arranged bags and bags within bags and labeling them with a sharpie marker and making notes to not forget socks for Claire's uniform or a ruler for Sam's pencil bag or Kate's rosary, I started to cry.

This is it.

Nine years of this full-time, stay-at-home thing is winding down.

And really, how did I get here?

My undergraduate degree is in philosophy from a liberal arts institution, my graduate degree is in conflict resolution from an even more liberal arts entity, I practically make my children wear tattoos on their arms that say, "Love is love is love is love."  I was hoping against all hope that Bernie would rise with the collective and have a fighting chance to earn the nomination.  I am incessantly advocating for the underdog.  My heart is alive and happy when inclusion and love are present for all and I'd give nothing more than to live in a world without guns (even the Nerf ones).

And so, the idea that I left my career as a mediator nearly a decade ago to make macaroni and cheese and read "Good Night Moon" and then Junie B Jones and then Harry Potter and sent my kiddos to Catholic school and carved smiles into the peanut butter sandwiches and cried at every preschool recital and religiously asked them at the breakfast table about their dreams and if they were happy in their hearts...feels like a far cry from my mantra, "Take the Risk."

As I look back, I guess I'm more like June Cleaver than Gloria Steinem...which I can promise you, I never thought would be the case.

But as the tears were flowing down my face looking at the Crayola markers lined up and the composition notebooks in a row, this was sticking out of a stack of papers wobbling on a book shelf.

It's a haiku that my son, Sam wrote many a moon ago:

It's hard to read but it says:

A Haiku for you

Mom you are so great

You get me through

Ups and downs

I love you so much!

And in that moment, I knew.  I did take a risk.  Even though I wasn't aware year over year of exactly what I was doing, I was hopeful that my 'why' mattered enough to keep trying.  And after countless tears and I'm sorry's and prayers and girl chats over wine and half marathons, I realized that I was living by design and indeed, via osmosis, I was choosing joy of a different kind.  It's the kind of joy that emerges slowly, steadily, ordinarily, quietly and now, nearly a decade later, I can say enduringly.

But it's still hard, there are days when I want to be entrenched in a protest that has nothing to do with battling my five-year old to brush her teeth or go the fuck to bed.  There are moments, when I see movements or career paths that seem exhillarating and I think, yes, I'll get my PhD in THAT and then, I quickly realize that for now, tuition dollars belong to my children.  And, that's okay.

I have a feeling that life is going to crack wide-open very soon and with it, I will too.  Finally, able to breathe and process where I am, which is a strange amalgamation of June Cleaver and Gloria Steinem wrapped in one woman, who takes unconventional risks, seeks to live by design and in spite of herself, chooses joy.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Dreaming with my Mom

This is my mom...

From time to time, when I need a good chat, she meets me at the Starbucks and for a couple of hours, we solve the problems of the world and by the time she walks out the door, I always, always feel better.

On the docket today was reinvention.  She asked what I planned to do in a few short weeks when all of my kids start back to school and I asked her what she planned to do in a few short years when retirement becomes a reality.

I want to learn a language or two.  I'd love to live in France and Hawaii.  I want to be there for families experiencing Alzheimers.  Of course, I want to spend crazy amounts of time with all of the grandchildren.  I want to dance and sing and eat chocolate and maintain an active yoga practice.  And love...I want to love lots in the world.

I want to run and sleep and eat sushi for breakfast and drink wine after my coffee.  I want to have long conversations helping someone, somewhere feel better about the spot they find themselves in.  I want to not worry anymore and to trust.  I want to write....lots of words that add up to something beautiful in the world.

Sucking down our respective caffeine selections, we promised the following:

I may not know what the future has in store, but I will always meet you for coffee and remind you that anything is possible, the world is full of second chances, you are extraordinary (because you are my mother and you are my daughter) and no matter where you go, I will carry you forever in my heart.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Hot Run

I'm not sure when it happened, and looking back, I'm thankful that I didn't realize it was transpiring, or I would have been devastated.

But somewhere in the mix of celebrating an avid, daily running regimen, I withered on the vine and my go-to practice fizzled into an occasional 2 or 3-mile jaunt, small potatoes for my repertoire.

Sick of feeling in a rut, I re-worked my play list, grabbed a loud running skirt, stupidly neglected to bring water and headed out for 6 miles in the hot sun and the high humidity.

I will grant you that there are insane mother fuckers out there who thrive on running in the heat and do quite well, that is definitively not me.  Resolute that I would not make my come back on a treadmill and resigned that it's just as hot at 7am as it is any other time of the day, I sucked it up and went out.

At first, this happened...envision being in a sauna where you keep looking down at your toes, sweat drips into your eyeballs and you just can't get a good breath.  Then, going up my first hill, I panicked, thinking, I'm going to get dehydrated (which upon reflection was probably a smart piece of intuition), but nonetheless, I was committed.

Three miles in, I sunk into the reality of the fight. The hot run is an official bitch baby.  And then this song came on...

 And I just kept pushing and believing and hoping and praying and wondering...who am I?

What can I do in this life?  Who do I want to be?

I hallucinated back to a podcast exploring the difference between knowing and following your curiosity.  We live our lives thinking that we should know exactly what makes our heart song complete with the ability to claim our passions and live our lives linearly.

When the truth is, particularly if you're middle aged, like me (God damn it, that's still so weird to write), you recognize that life is finite and guaranteed to no one and that it's okay to change course, try something new, get busy getting interested in something that sparks wonderment or intrigue.

Aside from running, writing, moving a small business forward and familying...I'm still trying to stay open to what lies on the horizon for me.  What makes me trepidatious (in a good way)?  What do I wish to infuse into my being?  Where do I crave to spend more of my time?  What if I hate it?  How will I know?

By the time I explored these topics, I was drenched.  Ridiculously so.  But I had completed the mileage and made it back to my front door, barely.

It seems to me, that curiosity is where it's at and that knowing is for the birds.  Passion is powerful...but it's often singular.  The world affords so much to sink feel, to know, to incorporate, to's to wonderment...but maybe with a little less humidity.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Ode to Kate on Your Ninth Birthday

My Dearest Kate,

Oh my goodness!  You're nine! 

A bonafide ballet twirling, piano playing, Roald Dahl reading, canvas painting, fruit and veggie eating, bird admiring, advocate for every soul under the sun.

There are no words to say how much I love you and how excited I am for where you are, smack dab in the middle of such a beautiful life.

I can't quite explain it, but from the moment of your birth, you have been elated with the world.  Happy to greet everyone you meet with a sense of wonder, purpose, hope, and giddyness for the possibilities that abound.  You have served as the inspiration for our family to live in the center of the moment, and to gobble up all of the beauty and joy that God has blessed upon us.

A few weeks ago, we took a family vacation to northern California and you took your iPad primarily to take pictures of everything that made your heart sing.  I watched you focus in on seagulls in San Francisco, Redwoods outside of Eureka, ruins in Alcatraz and interesting smiles of passer-byers. You are a natural observer, documenter and lover of the beauty in the world.

It is extraordinary to watch you read voraciously and fall in love with the characters and language as much as I did when I was your age.  Consumed in tales like The BFG, Matilda, Harry Potter, Story Thieves, The War that Saved My Life and so many others, it is a delight to compare notes and to watch you write and illustrate your own rags about dragons, heroes and girls who save the day (always, the heroines).  And now, you've embarked upon building and painting your own Free Little Library with your dad so that you can share your love of literacy with our neighborhood. 

One of my favorite projects you crafted was during the Lenten season when you decided to paint "Rocks for the Poor."  You and your sister spent hours finding the perfect stones and then carefully adorning them with color and symbols in the hopes that people would buy them as desk decoration.  In turn, you took the money and gave it to those in need because according to you, "We have so much and it's not right that others have so little."

In the fall, you are headed into fourth grade, a time that I vividly remember.  So, as you embark upon your ninth year, I want to leave you with this... the greatest gift that you can give to another is kindness and you are filled to the brim with it.  Let it pour out of you and shower upon the new girl you meet in class, the one who stumbles on the street, the friend who's not quite sure that they're doing it right, the stranger in the store or on the playground.  Because while we live in a country that seems to be monetarily wealthy, we are vastly deficient in our ability to love one another for exactly who we are without judgement or fear.

Try not to be afraid.  Be wild, free and alive.  Every moment is a new opportunity to feel, to believe, to try again, to experience all that this crazy time and space has to offer.  Never doubt that you are both able and extraordinary beyond all measure.  You have the power and the fortitude to do so, so very much.  But it's more fun and vastly more enjoyable when you take a friend along the journey.  Share your success.  Be humble in your winnings.  And know that all goodness and grace comes from God.

Forgive me if this is how I see you...

I'm not sure how we got to here...

But I do know that I'll always be right here, cheering you on as you explore, wonder, hope, imagine
and create a more beautiful and loving world.

To the moon and back, sunshine...

Happy Birthday, Kate....

Love always, Mama

Friday, July 1, 2016

Taking the Long Way Around

Our family is blessed to experience 12 full weeks of summer. 

As much as I lament the incessant fighting, diminished personal time and formidable temps...I am grateful that no one has to get up early, everyone can burn the midnight oil watching movies, reading novels or building Legos, the pool is a given, iced coffee is plentiful and Wednesday feels no different than Saturday.

It's a beautiful break not to have to supervise homework, chauffeur to and from ballet and football, make certain that uniforms are clean and ready, keep track of volunteer commitments or stay on top of field trips and special projects.  Instead, we paint, eat grilled cheese, watch the tomatoes grow, build our Free Little Library, run through the sprinkler, try to be kind to each other and count down the weeks of freedom.

Today, marks five weeks of completed summer.  We have seven left to go.

And already, I feel a shift in my children.  All three now ride their bikes or scooters together to the park and rage epic Nerf gun battles.  They can walk into a grocery store and with a mini list, along with a kids cart, grab their assigned, designated items.  They know how to operate the dishwasher and the older ones can wash their clothes.  They understand that when I yell and use certain words that the shit has officially hit the fan and they need to back the fuck down.  I can take them anywhere, including an upcoming solo-8-hour road trip, and trust that with a book and headphones, they'll do just fine. 

They are growing up.

And while they are maturing and finding their way in the world, I am wishing that the next 7-weeks would slow down, because at the end of that time, I will be a mother to an 11-year old, 6th grader, a 9-year old, 4th grader and a 5-year old, kindergartner that will be in school all day long.  And undoubtedly, I will transform.

But into what?

Do we have to cultivate change by taking on a new job?  Moving into a new house?  Going on an international vacation?  Or, could it be by carving out big blocks of time to simply "be" with me...rearranging the furniture, writing in the office, taking the extra long way around the park, writing a paper letter to a friend who I miss, cleaning the closets, sitting with my thoughts, being quiet.

I feel like any change worth its' weight comes from intentionally slowing down and making decisions based in knowing instead of reacting.  And to that end, I am grateful that the wise ones around me, have encouraged to tread lightly in this time and to not jump, but rather to be still and to listen, maybe for the first time, in a long time, to what makes my heart happy.

Their counsel is no different than what I've been doing for the last 11 years with my children, being patient as they shift knowingly and unknowingly, becoming the amazing people they are...trusting that they will jump when it's time without force, pressure or the need to have all of the answers.

Here's to taking the long way around...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

If You Were a Song

It's hard for me to productively write at home, so when it comes time to bang out something more creative than a grocery list, I try to head to a local coffee shop.

I usually find my way out the door after the kids hit the hay, maybe 8 or 9pmish.  Upon arriving, one of the things I have to force myself to do is to secure my headphones, turn up my tunes and zone into my computer screen, literally forgetting that anyone is around me.

Because I promise you, all of the whack-a-doos come out on school nights to coffee joints.

And they typically come in the form of focused students, groups of youngsters (yes, I use that word-because I am officially old compared to all of them) playing board/card games or people on bad dates.

Enter the duo seated next to me.  I have been trying all night to stop listening, but their dialogue is a  fucking train wreck and I'm desperate to find a way to sneak this sweet girl out the window in the bathroom, but she just seems way too nice to cut her losses. 

So, this is what happened.  Let me begin by saying that he's seated next to her instead of across from her. at the table..which is creepy....where's the circle of grace/personal space bubble/room for coffee breath?  Then, after initial pleasantries, he talks Ad nauseam about his last relationship but confides that as a romantic, he still holds out hope for love and hands her one of his ear buds saying, "If you were a song, this is how I see you."

I have no idea what he played, but I involuntarily snorted and then excused myself to head into the bathroom. 

Jesus Christ...does this stuff still happen?  I mean, really?  A song?  Holding out hope for love?

After giving strong consideration to walking up and pretending that I knew her, providing a possible out, I packed up.  Lord have mercy. 

I've already planned it out.  I'm going to write a book of these really pathetic dating scenarios and hand it to my daughters as a mandatory read prior to their courtship years.  Cause really, ain't no one got time for that. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I'm So Lonely

Yesterday was a hard page in the parenting books.

Almost a day that I want to forget except for the redemptive late afternoon chat with my 11-year old that changed everything.

It's been ridiculously hot in our little neck of the woods for the middle of June.  With temperatures in the upper 90's, crazy humidity and heat advisories, we've been doing what everyone else has...going to the pool.   We were super excited to have our friends join us and to beat the heat by going down water slides, lazing about with colorful noodles and eating ice cream while lathering the shit out of ourselves with sunscreen.

But yesterday, every time I turned around, Sam was just not himself.  Irritable almost borderline belligerent, I could tell that something was up, but my patience was being sucked dry by the sun.

It culminated at the cafe, when denying him a smoothie in favor of what the masses were cream, he said to me, "How dare you?!" to which I was thankful that we were in a public forum with dear friends or I would have knocked his ass out the door and let him bake.

After we said goodbye to our pool mates and everyone put on their seat belts, I proceeded to read them the riot act about entitlement and what it means to be unappreciative in a life filled with blessings.  They lost screen time, were given additional chores and had quiet time in their rooms until dinner.

As I was in the kitchen, Sam came in with tears in his eyes.  "Mom, the truth is I'm just lonely.  I mean....I'm not a kid like the girls, but I'm not a teenager...I still like dinosaurs and Harry Potter...but I kind of just want to be with my friends without you and without all of the rules. I just don't know what to do."

My heart broke and I gave him a really big hug.

I remember what it's like to be a tween...caught in the middle of younger siblings who still think it's cool to have your mom cart you around to play dates, while yearning for independence and freedom but not quite completely ready to break free.

It's a tough gig especially when you don't live on a street filled with kids your age and you have to be intentional about creating and sustaining connections, particularly in the summertime.

And to that end, we brainstormed all of the ways that he can stay in touch with his friends and all of the ways that I can back off in the process.

And the truth is...he's growing up....and he's the first born...and I don't know what I'm doing...and I'm continually assuming that I'm fucking it all up...and he's endlessly forgiving...and so am I...and it's really God damn hard to be a parent.

The goal is to help them fly and from my experience, to fly far away and have extraordinary adventures (those were always the most memorable ones for me) but every fiber of my being just wants to keep him close and talk about books, movies, and play chess and board games and snort while we laugh and hug on him.

Maybe I can find a way to do both...but man, it's a rough go.  Here's to finding the silver linings in the process.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Even So

Summer began at our house with sickness and then peddled its' way into a beautiful vacation with family in Northern California. 

It really was an extraordinary experience exploring the majestic Redwoods, witnessing the memorial of Ray's father who was lost at sea, traversing the stunning Golden Gate bridge, hiking through the freakish historical ruins of Alcatraz prison, bungee jumping at Fisherman's Wharf, laughing and reminiscing with dear friends on cable cars, eating our fill of clam chowder, sugaring up at the Jelly Belly factory, running up boulders at Tahoe all while enjoying roadside vineyards and mild temperatures.

We came home happy and exhausted.

Recouping from the time change and the travel, we awoke on Sunday morning to the horrible and unexplainable tragedy of the killing of 49 men and women at the Orlando nightclub, Pulse.

Now it is Wednesday morning and I still can't stop thinking about each of those people and the terror they must have felt seeing the man with the gun.  Some were 22 years old, others in their 30's, 40's...some made a last minute decision to go out that night, others had it planned and were laughing, dancing, singing and enjoying life.  None expected that those moments would be their last.

While perusing my Facebook feed, I stumbled upon a recent graduation speech by James Ryan, dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In his address, he gave what he believed to be the five questions we must ask to find happiness and success in life.  They are:

1.  Wait, what?
2.  I wonder, why/if?
3.  Couldn’t we at least?
4.  How can I help?
5.  What really matters?

Bonus question: And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?

All of his questions intrigued me, but the one I fixated on in light of the recent horror in Orlando, was the bonus question.

Derived from one of Raymond Carver's final writings in "The Late Fragment," he asks the most profound question...essentially, in light of everything that has happened to you in this life...all that you planned and all that you didn't...was it enough?  At the end of the line, did you love and were you loved?  Did you do your best to help make it better than when you found it?  Overall, did you live with love in your back pocket instead of regret?  Did you adore another enough to sacrifice your momentary desires? Did you appreciate what you were given even if it wasn't exactly what you had hoped for?

I'm not insinuating that the men and women trapped in the night club in Orlando had a moment to reflect on any of these thoughts...but I do think that we can.

If today was it, did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

Can you say, I did...and what did I want?  To love and to be loved.

Because if we boil it down to that, we can all do that...choose to love. 

And love is love is love is love is love.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Anticlimactic Start to Summer

I had a different idea for what today, the last day of school would look like.

In years past, our older two children would bound out of their rooms, screaming, "Last Day!" and scarf down breakfast, super excited for a half day of no homework and goodbyes to their friends.

After taking the obligatory, "You made it to the end," pictures and sending them on their way, I would take a quick shower and then head with our youngest to pick them back up.  Our walk home would entail great talk of all of our summer plans (a trip to California, loads of time in the pool, bike rides, strawberry smoothies, cherry popsicles and mindless staring at the sky).  Upon arriving home, we would trade the stroller for the car and head to our favorite ice cream spot and load waffle cones with mint chip for them and coffee for me.

But five days ago, our youngest came down with fever that never really went away and this morning, our oldest complained of an upset stomach and then, my husband was down for the count.

So, after dropping my middle one off at school.  I headed to the market to buy ingredients for chicken noodle soup and blueberry muffins--my go-to comfort food when the fam is ill.  In the check out line, the cashier began singing  Whitney Huston's, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," (not well), all the while telling me that she can't help but sing when Whitney comes on.

Upon arriving home, my son told me that he had an ant in his room.

After scoping it out, we realized that he was raising an ant brigade complete with barracks, brought on by a fucking Jolly Rancher mound that he conveniently left in the corner of his desk.

And then, my youngest found a bag of balloons and proceeded to blow them up while snotting all over herself and shoving them into my face to tie the knot on the end.

And then, my bored son helped himself to the baking soda and vinegar to conduct science experiments in the bathroom which led to the toilet rim having a gritty, cocaine-like surface on it.

And then, I's summer.


So, here's my new mantra....expectations are for the birds.  Adventure and rolling with the punches is so much better, right?!

My prayer is that all of the sickness will vacate our abode so that we can embark upon a summer of health and more fun than we can imagine.

And if that doesn't happen, I'll be into the fire water a little more than usual over the next 12-weeks and for certain singing, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."