40

scan-2i’m writing this at the actual time i was born 40 years ago: 3:11am. one of my kiddos woke up around 2 and read three books, listened to some music, turned the big light on, and then came to get me around 2:30. after trying to convince her this is not a good wake-up time i am now up. so i tiptoed into the room where i can hear the peaceful rhythm of our dog snoring and begin to think of what i want you to know on this final post of the birthday countdown to forty.

i am officially at the age where all of the parts are beginning to try to lie down even when standing. skin is wrinkling. a tummy that has played the accordion for years while hosting the beginning stages of life has decided to be more of a pillow for the beginning of a good nap than a rock or pack of any number. my hands look like they have seen and held more than they bargained for. my feet have clocked many miles; some on pleasant paths ushering me somewhere better than i imagined and some paths darker and more hazardous then i thought i had the strength to travel.

in the next few years i will be targeted for anti-aging products, being told there is still hope even though we are starting with such a canvas as this. instead of changing my diet, workout regime, and skin routine here is what i am changing: the lens through which i see myself. the lines around my eyes are there because i smile huge and often. i laugh so hard my belly hurts and i smile at as many people i can as i pass them. i have these lines because i have sought to see people and brighten their day and because laughing is one of my very favorite things to do. these signs of aging are often times signs of a life well lived.

my belly was a home to four children, three of whom i had the honor of meeting and the privilege of raising. there are not many things that can stretch to 3 or 4 times it’s size and then be able to hide all signs of the journey. my girls love to lay on my belly because it is so “soft” and “squishy” and it’s a good spot to settle in. they like to snuggle there, tell me about their day there, and through reading a book be taken into a whole new world, all right there at the place where they began. i am letting go of the desire to appear as if these moments didn’t happen, both the initial ones where i created space for new life and the following ones where we comfortably enjoyed the life that’s been given.

my hands have shot more baskets than i can count. they have written more words in more journals than a healthy-sized basement should be expected to hold. they have held hands, washed dishes, and wiped hineys like a boss. these hands have held life new and old, and placed on a forehead hold a more accurate reading than the most advanced thermometer. they’ve held books written thousands of years ago and seen what fades as a fad of the times and what can never be taken away. these hands have saved my tinies from running into the street when a ball got away from the game, wrapped boo-boos in the very best character band aids and wiped tears from the boo-boos that go too deep for neosporin. these hands have comforted, held, healed, encouraged, loved, and they are well worn. i am proud of all these hands have been through.

my feet have kept me on the path when it is not the one i would have chosen. my feet have crunched through the leaves that signal the fall decor can come out and cocoa and cider can pour in abundance. they have walked along beaches and had soft sand squish between toes, playing in waves that refresh us in a way only their salty strength can. i have learned to walk, run, fall and get back up, all with this same pair of feet. i can get a pedicure till the cows come home, but these feet are the ones that have clocked the miles of life and felt the weight of the journey. i could have kept them home and dressed them up in the finest stiletto to be admired by all, but i wouldn’t have seen much, traveled far, or learned what i was intended to grasp to help those around me.

maybe the victory should be not in smoother skin, firmer abs, and well nourished skin, but in joy, comfort, strength, and the beauty of the signs of a life well-lived. i see you and i feel the peaks and valleys with you. it’s my conclusion that the signs of aging are magical, beautiful, and worth every nook and cranny.

so congrats on getting through the final countdown with me. i am so glad we have had this time together and whether you are approaching 40, 80 or 25 know that this day you are walking in now is making you who you will be tomorrow and for the rest of your life. don’t try to reverse the signs of aging, but instead work this day and every one that follows to embrace life and delight in the lessons learned.

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Grab You A Penny

we have a very favorite book store and can be seen there on many days. my girls walk in, go to their sections, and read/look through books. They discover new characters, possible adventures, and superhero get-ups that they would like to replicate at home. it is fantastic and everyone leaves happy. well, almost everyone. i have a three year old so everyone who isn’t an ad for “how to lose your junk in under two seconds at the mention of anything other than ice cream or running around naked” leaves happy.

upon leaving the book store we pass by a cool fountain and the girls turn quickly and hope beyond hope that i have returned something at costco recently so they will have beautiful, glorious, shiny coins to throw into the fountain, which will increase the chances of favorable outcomes for their fabulous wishes. it has become somewhat consistent now that we stop, wish, throw our coins, and delight in the possibilities ahead.

last time my oldest stopped and said mommy where’s your penny? i smiled big, digging in my purse so i could participate in the magic. we turned backwards, closed our eyes and made our wishes. we then counted to three and threw those coins over our shoulders,  waiting for the transformation to begin.img_2253

mc’s question to me got me thinking. i never get a coin for myself and make my wish and so i miss out on the possibility. one time mc used her coin to wish for really good cake at the birthday party she was on her way to attend and shazam shazoom they had her favorite dessert instead of cake at all. #nailedit. the eager expectation and wonder that comes over my littles as they wait to see the contrast of life before and after the wish is a joy in and of itself. why would i choose to miss out on this?

i understand that i am the adult in the scenario and i’m not trying to become the tooth fairy and grant people unicorns upon the mere mention of them. we do not share our wishes with one another so that we do not try to make them come true. i only knew mc’s because after it came to fruition she shared the victory. but for you and i, what do we lose out on by failing to dream, failing to wish for something remarkable, failing to grab a penny and ante up? i do not think the magical fountain is going to alter the course of my life, but where is the harm in pausing in life and participating in the wonder?

i think that adulthood is a lot of things, but most of them are serious and responsible and important- dare i say vital to do for the health, safety, and enjoyment of those you watch over. but i think where the beauty rests like a glass of pink lemonade on a porch swing amidst a beautiful day with a nice breeze is in the grabbing hold and drinking deep. i want to dream and help those around me dream of what it is to grow in beauty and adventure. maybe you are to start a business, maybe you are to care for a neighbor who you know is lonely, maybe you are to be a traveling children’s book reader and have storytime in your neighborhood for kids who are left without much to look forward to in the summer. i’m not going to make your dream for you, but i will pause and graciously ask… where’s your penny?

my hope and wish today is that you will dig in your bag or pocket and find the shiniest coin you have and you will pause from the activity, from the producing, from the striving for success and approval long enough to see the longing in your heart and nurture it.

Ready?

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Pass Me The Wrench

every mother has a tool belt filled with tricks of the trade that can switch her children from singing “everybody hurts” to “walkin’ on sunshine.” sometimes we gaze at each other’s tool belts and wish we had the tool our neighbor has, but who knows if her tool would even work on your kids. this tool belt is tricky because sometimes you find just the right tool and then you figure out that you have forgotten how to use it.

what you learn as your kids get older (and by the logical laws of nature you too are getting older- see how i tried to cushion that blow with science) is that at times the old tools don’t work and you need to expand your repertoire. and if you have more than one child than you know two minutes after they’re born that each kid requires different tools. what worked with one cannot work with the next because that junk was written on the walls of the womb, “i call hot cocoa and coloring as a happy place. find your own, sis. ps it’s really cold out here brace yourself.”

img_1021when asked what she’d like to be when she’s grown up, my oldest will now answer to be a pop singer. if the older “wiser” human in this scenario asks for a back-up profession in case that one doesn’t pan out, she answers without skipping a beat that she’d like to be a professional dancer. she is like a fish in water when she is on a stage. MC’s happy place is when she has composed a song, dance, play, or “presentation” and she gets to perform and we are watching not only with both eyes but our whole body, with zero attention given to phones. this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to a good solid hour, but for my first little cherub, the one who made me a mom, she wants to see you seeing her and delight in your response to what she has created.

img_0282now Hazel is different in that her assumption is that you should be watching her as well as listening to a steady stream of words about all the things at all times. this means you turning and giving her full attention is simply the world returning to what it was created to be. So although she is quite happy to have you watch her in all of her splendor, what she most desires is “snuggle time.” we learned at a fairly early age that if hazel basil was acting sour it could very well mean that she needed a snuggle. i would say “oh my, it seems like your snuggle tank might be running low. do you need a hug?” and she would say yes and we would snuggle for a good long while and then smiles and laughter would resume and the world would breathe a collective sigh of contentment.

img_0430i’m going to be honest here, i am not yet sure what nora may’s tool is yet. i am still in the research phase of this particular project and, even as i try to avoid having my kids cope with food, right now the evidence points to the most effective tool being a doughnut. nora may loves to laugh, she likes to read books with you and her blanket, and she loves outings to marbles (the local kids museum) and the library, but i have not yet discovered what her happy place is. she is at most peace when everybody is home and can hang out together so it may just be quality time together. who knows?

the assumption is that as a mom you will know exactly what is needed for each and every particular kiddo in your bouquet of awesome and that you will know it from the get go. i think this is a bunch of malarky. when you really like someone you watch them and you collect their data. their likes and dislikes, what makes them smile, laugh, and cry, and you seek to meet them there. i really like my kids and my intention is to help them discover the intricate ways they have been created and help guide them towards what makes them most themselves.

as i turn forty on tuesday something i know in my heart of hearts is that i need help raising these three beautiful ladies. let’s share our ideas of what tools work best. they will change as they grow older and maybe you’ve survived the phase i’m entering with flying colors. would you sit with me and help me have an educated guess as to what lies ahead? instead of saying “this parenting way is best and if you choose differently you hate all children ever created” let’s give honesty a go and say “each kid is sooo different and different things work with different kids, but here’s something that worked with one of mine.”

who wins if you’ve figured out the magic formula? you’ve only figured it out for your tiny group of humans and [spoiler alert] they are different than my tiny group of humans. my hope and prayer is that you get the tools you need for the kids you have and are honest about the challenges that come even with the right tools. let’s care for each other on this journey. help moms in the data collection phase and do not give tips unless asked AND you actually know the kids of who you are speaking to. you have to know both that someone is looking for input and that they know the kids we are trying to care for. this means the drive-by-judge-their-parenting-feel-better-about-how-much-awesomer-you-are-at-this-gig-than-they-are scenario is blasted right out of the water and we can all join hands and fight for our kids together.

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We Do Not Hit

at the end of a parent-teacher conference they ask if you have any questions and let you go on your merry way, but not this time. as i picked up my packet of sample writings and percentage score summaries letting me know where my kid lies within the national average, the teacher said she wanted to talk to me about something that happened on the playground. apparently hazel was playing with one of her favorites and a boy came up and hit her friend in the face really hard. as soon as the teacher told me this i remembered a conversation hazel and i had in the car one day after pick-up where she told me a boy had hit a girl in the face so hard she had started bleeding. this was where the story ended when hazel told it.

the teacher went on to say at that after the girl had been punched in the face, hazel stepped up, got between them, and said in no uncertain terms, “WE DO NOT HIT.” the teacher was telling me that she swooped in before my little hazel got clocked and that it might be in my best interest to explain to my sweet girl where she goes to school. the elementary school my kids go to is amazing. it is one of the most diverse, enthusiastic and caring group of students and teachers i have seen. it is an academically-gifted magnet school, which means families drive out of the their way to send their kids there, and it’s also a title one school, which means that 40% of the children are on free or reduced lunch. being mean or nice certainly isn’t based on economics. some kids have been exposed to crime and violence which may have given them a different view on hitting.

img_7095as i processed what hazel had done and all of the possible outcomes i felt one thing more than all of the others. i felt pride. hazel gets scared about way more than the average bear.she can see the danger in more things than most. let me be clear here, i think that hazel knew that what she did was not the safest option for her. this teacher wanted me to explain to hazel that if she stood up for someone while they were taking a hit that it could turn on her and she might take a blow. this is wise and true, and i should sit down and make sure that she knows that is a very real possibility. but i would never tell my sweet girl to change what she did.

fear is an awful decision-making partner. it has stolen more joy from me over the years than i care to admit. it has made me flee risk and possibility for “safety” and “lack of perceived failure.” in this ten-day lead up to my 40th birthday i’m sharing things most important to me and lessons i’ve learned, and this might be a chart topper (feel free to read it in the voice of Casey Kasem). this is it: nothing will change for the better without someone who’s not getting hit stepping up and standing between the one doing harm and the one being harmed. it’s the lesson of history, it’s the lesson of our collective human experience, and the lesson of our individual stories.

standing between the one doing harm and the one being harmed does so many beautiful things at once but my favorite is that it quenches the thirst to say that the one being hit is just being too sensitive or feels that they are entitled to more than they deserve or is just being unreasonable. in one fell swoop it says “this person is being hurt and they should not be hit because as a people we do not hit. it does no good. it does harm.” in order to make this change, though, the people watching have to turn into the people engaging.

so for today i want to say don’t walk with your head down trying to avoid pain. look up and see those around you. don’t let people get pounded in the face and just watch. there is a time to comfort and silently be there with someone who’s had harm done to them, but there is also a time to channel your inner hazel and get up in the face of someone who has already proven to be dangerous and say, “you will not do that again while i am here. she is not alone. i am standing up to you.” it will take more than one. while it would break my heart if hazel had been punched in the face that day, i hope that one of her friends would have then stepped up between her and this boy and said in no uncertain terms, “WE DO NOT HIT.”

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It’s 20 Minutes Either Way

i recall a moment several weeks back with hazel, the middle cherub, as i watched her hold her violin like it was a guitar, stare at me with eyes that scream, “how you like me now” and pluck the same string over and over and over and over again. when i say “ummm hazel?” she yells “whaaaaat i am practicing like you asked.” it is usually at this point that i would point out that her teacher gave her this homework and not me, or that she will not get better unless she actually practices with some sort of intention to improve, but at this point all i had in my arsenal was…

“it’s 20 minutes either way babe. you can sit there like that and pluck that one string like a champ and not get any better, or you can show up, do the work, and improve. in the end it is your choice.”

then i walked out. and i did not carry with me the burden of her getting a star on her practice chart for 100 minutes a week of good focused practice. i did not wonder if my $35 a month investment per violin would be better spent on something different or whether she would continue on in this particular musical field. i just let that be it for the day. 

since then that statement–“it’s 20 minutes either way”– has messed with me. at times i feel like just dialing something in with the bare minimum effort required. at other times i’m present without really being engaged and since then in those moments bam! on the jumbotron in my head i read “it’s 20 minutes either way.” one of the lessons that came with growing up and seeing myself as i truly am is that i now have less of a temptation to try and be everything to everyone. on the other hand, if i have committed, if i have said that i will show up and do the work, then i can play the part or actually engage.

hazel can sit the violin across her belly and pretend it is a one-stringed guitar till the cows come home and if there is ever a song written that just has that one string plucked incessantly she will totally nail it. but if ever she is asked how long she took violin and then asked to share her gift, disappointment would abound on all parties involved because what a waste. she was there for 20 minutes a day and she was holding the violin and it wouldn’t always sound good but over time it would begin to sound better and better and music would flow and she would get a grasp of the beauty of the language of music that can at times speak things that no words have been allocated to express. and she would be able to communicate in this language that everyone, everywhere can understand and embrace and delight in.

you do not have to say yes to everything that is asked of you. but if you have said yes to something that has been asked, then it is a shame to say yes with your mouth and no with your life. it’s 20 minutes either way. show up. embrace whatever it is that you have devoted yourself to, whether that be a violin and bow or a calling to heal the broken. if you have said here when roll call has been run through then may you affirm that declaration as you walk with integrity through each of your own 20 minutes that makes up these days we’ve been given.

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Active Wear

last january i decided to start working out again, but not for poundage loss or for bathing suits to be fit into. instead, i decided i was going to keep my eye on the prize of what it meant to be healthy. the goal was three times a week because if i only got there two that would still be encouraging and coincidentally two more times a week than i had been going.

i decided to work my way up to thirty minutes on the treadmill over a course of months so at first i walked for ten minutes on the treadmill. then the next week i walked 5 minutes and ran 5 minutes and then walked five minutes. i know it’s really getting exciting now, eh? i added 5 minutes to the run each week and if i felt that where i was last week was still really challenging then i stayed there till i felt good about that amount. and now i have reached my goal of walking 5 minutes, running 30 and walking 5. now i am trying to increase my speed so that i could run 3 miles in the 30 minutes. it is fun and exciting and gratifying to shoot for something and see progress made. i can’t say i remember to weigh myself much and i sure do still love ice cream and late night bowls of cereal, but when i wake up mon, wed, and friday i get in my active wear because that’s the days i go to the gym.

after reaching the inital goal of 30 minutes on the treadmill i decided to take a monday toning class because let’s start the week off right whoop whoop. “go ahead and grab a mat, a ball, and high, medium, and low weights you feel good about” was the greeting we received. the only problem being i had no idea what weights to choose or how to even keep the ball from rolling into my neighbor’s very picturesque lunges and i began to think about whether or not to simply walk out as if i forgot to fill my water bottle and never return.

i stayed and tried everything. i could do most things and was encouraged… right up until they started to do crunches on top of the bosu. the bosu is like someone stole the toupee off of an excercise ball and if you do anything on it then you strengthen your core (or so i was led to believe). the instructor said “go ahead and put your back on the center of the bosu and then simply lift your legs and put your hands behind your head.” after making this statement she immediately stood up and walked towards me. now usually when an instructor walks over to give you tips they push their mic to the top of their head so everyone doesn’t hear your biznazz. in this case that step was skipped altogether. 

she kept saying things like “could you do it like this, well try this because what you are doing is ALL WRONG.” “you are going to kill your neck.” “no that would make you kill your back.” as the silent pause between songs was lingering far too long she said (still speaking into the mic), “well, work on the right form because even if you can only hold it for a second it is better than what you were doing.”

mmmmmmmmmmk thanks. in my pride i was like, “one second? one second!” you couldn’t have said “even if you can only hold it a short while or with correct form shorter is still more beneficial than a lengthened incorrect form.” nope. hey there doo-doo if you think you could get up on this exercise tupe for one second it would be better than the ridiculousness you have shown us thus far.

but that’s the thing. i didn’t know what i was doing. and one second was actually challenging at that point. eventually, just like the running goal, one second would be a breeze as i became stronger and healthier and as my muscles woke up and remembered what they were made for. but for now a second was a good goal.

what dream can you pursue for one second today? maybe next week you will add five minutes to that second. but for now get one pure moment where you don’t shoot your ideas down before they even get to see if they can fly. get up on that tupe and stick it. and then tomorrow get in your active wear once again and pursue it a little deeper, a little longer because maybe one second of truth and risk is better than what we were doing.

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Boo Boos Words Can’t Heal

my oldest daughter and i are reading the book Wonder. in it there is a teacher i like a lot who writes things on the board for the students to think or write about. the one i have basically embroidered into my parenting is “if you have the choice between being right or being kind, be kind.”

this is really pertinent as we try to raise these three beautiful girls who i believe in my heart of hearts were made by love and for love. i get the opportunity to mold sweet hearts and minds and to teach them how to dance to joan jett, take a photograph, bake a mean pound cake, make a 3 pointer on the little tykes basketball hoop and cry with someone who is hurting. but i am supposed to mold them, not break them. it has been my experience with recent events that those who are sticking to being right have done the most damage and those who have chosen to be kind have done the most good. 

Photo by amarisphoto.com

while in college i took a class called “belief and ethics after the holocaust.” the teacher came in shortly after the students, put his yarmulke on his head, whispered a short prayer and then greeted us warmly. this man changed my life because the 19 year old evangelical Christian who was sure there was a good answer for most things if i was able to learn them was changed into someone who had a deep (dare i say beautiful?) faith that saw people, hearts, and reality not as something to explain correctly, but as something to embrace and when possible heal.

any time i tried to take the easy way out of a difficult question he would ask me if i could give that answer in the face of a burning child or to a wife who watched her husband be brutally killed. initially this made me flat out uncomfortable but eventually i saw what he was trying to help me discover. the answer is not what they needed. explaining why this is happening in our country does not actually get us a step closer to healing. you need to honor the pain, by not trying to explain how it came to be or your best guess as to how to exit it, but by sitting with those hurting and letting them know they are not alone.

the largest book of any class i took in college was one of the 7 or 8 books for this class and it was a collection of writings, art, and music that came out of the holocaust. i honored the pain these people suffered by sitting with them and taking in their experience, listening to what it felt like to be that afraid, that hunted, and the paralyzing confusion that settles in when you realize the people who could stand up for you have chosen to remain seated. to sit with someone’s story and listen and learn and honor the struggle is one of life’s greatest gifts.

it is not just a gift to the “them” but a gift to you. when you are able to sit with someone who is, at best, limping through pain that is simultaneously overwhelming and deep you are saying “it matters”. you are reminding them that they are not alone in the fight and that you see them. the problem with explaining to someone in pain how they got into this mess is that they can’t hear you over the pain. they are not helped by your “rightness”. So you leave feeling puffed up and they leave feeling left alone in the struggle and justified in concluding that they are unseen.

look, i love to be right. after a 10th grade debate assignment my teacher told me to become a lawyer and never look back. what i have learned in my almost 40 years of life is that to sit alone and be right and affect no one, and bring no hope, comfort, or love is to lose. you can be right and lose. tame the tongue, sit with someone and listen. seek to understand instead of be understood.

if you are a Christian then i believe we shoot for two things: rejoice with those who rejoice. mourn with those who mourn. and for those who claim to live in him must walk as Jesus did. if you can labor to do these two things kindness will grow, hope will spring forth, and love will saturate the roots that hold us together. any time i discuss any controversial subject with my girls i open with one question: who has been made by God?
answer: everyone. let’s remember that as we talk today.

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