34 Ways I Have Succeeded as a Mother

Having posted 34 Ways I Have Failed as a Mother it only feels fair (to my kids and me) to recognize that there are many ways I’ve succeeded as a mother. This is perhaps even more important than acknowledging my failures because in the typhoon season called adolescence it is easy to forget all the years of things we have done well as parents, and things they have done well as kids.

For instance, both of my children have been successfully potty trained for a number of years now (I know! I’m impressive).  They have acquired language (lots of it! Some of it colorful), and know how to safely cross the street. They can put themselves to bed! (No long drawn out bedtime ritual, no popping back out of their rooms.) They know their own address, can find their way back home from all sorts of places, know how to unlock the front door (assuming they haven’t lost the keys, but even if they did they know how to access the lock box with the extra keys).  It may seem that I am padding my list with these items but they are important, imagine if they couldn’t do them!  Imagine still wiping their bottoms. The cost alone of buying star stickers for the potty reward chart all these years could be a tuition payment.

They can both roast a chicken Thomas Keller-style, make spaghetti sauce from scratch, grill a steak and stuff a turkey.  My daughter can make beef stroganoff, my son veal picatta.  They can clean a bathroom, clean their clothes, clean out the dishwasher, steam clean the carpet (I didn’t say they do these things willingly, or cheerfully but they know how).

My daughter can drive a car!  Sure, she had four lessons with a professional but most of the rest of the time it was me in that car with her teaching her when to slow down versus speed up at a yellow light (me and God, I prayed almost continuously but we got that job done).

My son can change a tire (I’m taking credit for this because I encouraged him to take Auto at school).  Years ago he and I assembled a Green Machine from a hundred parts so he knows how to follow directions and use tools.  He knows how to tolerate frustration because we spent an hour struggling to figure out why we couldn’t get the wheel on only to figure out we were doing it backwards (that also might have been when he picked up some of that colorful language, so I get to take credit even for that).

They know how to ask for help in a store, and from a teacher.  They each have done the family grocery shopping by themselves.  They can use debit cards and have savings accounts.  They know to save at least 10% of every bit of money that comes in and they know about compounding interest. They know another percentage is for sharing. They know I give money to homeless people because I’d rather be scammed once in a while than walk by someone in need.

They know to always stop at a kids’ lemonade stand, and always buy the Girl Scout cookies.  They know how to be kind to many people (not each other, the Arabs and the Israelis could learn how to prolong a conflict from these two).

Then there is an entire list of ways in which my kids are each succeeding as people independent of anything I (or their dad) have done.  My part in that success is just noticing what they are doing on their own and not screwing it up by trying to get my grubby hands on the controls.  My daughter has a wittiness that catches me by surprise so often, it is sophisticated and hysterical and can make me even laugh at myself. My son asks to go on walks with me and explains deep philosophical theories that just astound me.  They both are so creative and curious and every age has made them more fascinating to me.

Although there are many things my kids have each learned on their own, the list of things I taught them is long. Every single thing on my list took time and effort from me (and of course, my husband has his own list, I’m not a single parent, except for baseball season, then I’m most definitely a single parent).  If, like the scouts, I had a badge for everything I have taught them over the years my sash would be too heavy to wear. Thinking about this is helpful on the days where my failures are so robustly and continuously pointed out.  On the very worst day, when my meal is criticized and my movie selection derided and my need for glasses to read anything on my phone is met with contempt, I can watch one of them come out of the bathroom, the sound of a toilet flushing behind them, and congratulate myself on not being needed in that endeavor at all.

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34 Ways I Have Failed as a Mother

Let’s be honest, there are more than 34 but the full summary would require several volumes. However, I can offer a snapshot of my failures, which fall into three categories:  Things I Forgot, Things I Did Wrong, and my favorite, My Basic Personal Flaws.  Lucky for me I have not one, but two kids who are very committed to helping me correct all these flaws.

Apparently, I forget… a lot.  I forget to keep their favorite clothes clean at all times, I forget to sign permission slips that I’ve never even seen, I forget to remind them to take PE clothes even though I will never master Even vs Odd days (oh how I love you, block schedule).  I forget that I’m not supposed to sing along to music in front of people. It’s been pointed out that I forget to season the meat, I forget I should learn how to cook ethnic food, I forget to buy good snacks.  In fact, I forget to have anything good to eat around here at all.

The trouble my forgetfulness causes is equaled only by the things I actually do wrong.  I have incensed my family by falling asleep during movies, failing to telepathically discover I am to buy 36 solo cups for today’s football dinner, by mistakenly purchasing the wrong student card for school events.  My lunches are apparently not tasty, no matter that it is challenging to make a lunch for two people who don’t eat sandwiches and prefer a hot lunch, but not the hot lunch provided by the school, those are disgusting.  It turns out that I talk too loudly into my car blue tooth speaker (I’ve been told you can hear it outside the car!).  I buy the wrong cereal and the wrong root beer.  My salmon selection is all wrong too, I have a knack for buying only the salmon that tastes fishy. I showed up too early for the JV football game. I spoke to my son in public. I pointed out a cute boy to my daughter.  Some of these border on the unforgiveable but I’m blessed to have children who have hearts big enough to still eat my boring meals and begrudgingly find a different shirt to wear when the favorite is dirty.  They’re the best.

And then there are the personal flaws.  I’m so grateful to have these pointed out so I can work on them!  Apparently I’m too restrictive, I worry too much, I have way too many rules (more than any other parent!), I am uptight.  I’ve been accused of being no fun, of not caring about my children, of not even knowing who they are.  It also turns out I care too much about hygiene, I have this weird obsession with chores, and I’m too preoccupied with being on time.  My eyesight is a continual annoyance (“you should just get Lasik surgery!  Stop always looking for a pair of glasses.”). Until I had children I didn’t even know that I don’t throw a ball well or that I run appallingly slow. All those years of dance class did not pay off, resulting as they did in embarrassing dance moves. Luckily my texting skills are such a source of entertainment.

I know I am a work in progress and I appreciate their moments of patience with me.  But I am proud of one thing, I did not fail at producing expressive kids.  Future spouses and bosses, you are welcome!

 

P.S.  I’d love to hear other mom fails in the comments!

 

The Gift of the Table

 

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Is it amazing how hard it is to get rid of a kitchen table.  A long ago Ikea purchase, it was not expensive to begin with.  It was well used enough that I painted the top to freshen it up – painted it with black chalk board paint in an uncharacteristic fit of whimsy. It turns out it doesn’t work in our new house.

And so begins the end of life journey of the table (and it’s been a journey!).

I tried to find an organization to donate it to, looked online for a group that would pick it up.  Found one, sent a picture, they gave me a quote of $250, which is more than the table cost new.

I called a couple other places, nothing easily arranged.

I finally realized I could fit it in the back of my SUV with all the seats down and drove it to Goodwill.

They didn’t want it.

They gave me address of a Salvation Army in San Jose.  Found the time to drive it there.

They didn’t want it.

I spent some time feeling a bit offended that the table we had used daily until now is so decrepit, no one else wants it.  Not even the places that take almost anything else.  They took my used pillows but not this table?

In for a dime, in for a dollar.  I was already half way to the dump so I drove the additional ten more miles with the table banging around in the back of my SUV.  I was tired of trying so hard to get rid of this table, I had a million other things to do.  But I wanted it gone.  So I end up on Guadalupe Mine Road and start winding up a hill.  And winding and up and winding and up.  Get to the top and wait in line of cars.

Waiting in line to get rid of stuff.  We are such an abundant country, we have so much stuff, that we have to wait in line and pay to get rid of it.

I am told it will cost me $55 to drop this table off.  It’s a deal.  The attendant hands me a new yellow safety vest, it’s required before you step out of your car.

So not only is it this challenging to get rid of something, it is also apparently dangerous.

He says, ‘you can recycle this, it’s all wood.  Go to the bottom of the hill, just follow the signs.’

I am relieved that it will be recycled.  I had been feeling guilty that it would just get added to the landfill, that something with life left in it will not get life. Guilty that our trash footprint might get bigger.

I pull away.

No signs.

Just dirt roads, winding around. No actual dump to be seen anywhere either.  Just hills and dusty roads.

I follow them clear to bottom.  Nothing here.

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I follow the road back up and down another hill.  Nothing there.

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I am laughing (while noticing how dusty my car is now, a definite car wash in our future).  What force of nature will not allow me to release this table?

I almost hit a family of deer.  Deer at the dump? What planet have I landed on?  This place is isolated and eerie and looks like a place you could dump a body, not a table.

I finally go back up the hill and find the recycling center (still no signs but the massive pile of wood remnants clues me in).

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I see a van with two men in it, also in spanking brand new neon vests.  I get out and say ‘this is recycling?’

They nod and gesture to the pile.

I unload the chairs first and set them by the pile.  One of the men runs over and picks it up.  “This is good!” he says.  I can tell he wants it, despite all the signs posted everywhere saying ‘No scavenging or dump privileges revoked.’ (Now there’s a punishment.)

Then he sees the table come out and gets even more excited.  I see him eyeing his van, it would definitely fit. He exchanges a look with his buddy.  They look around. We are the only people in sight. I secretly hope that they take the table and chairs and give them more life as a table and chairs, not just firewood.  I’m grateful someone still sees them as useful, feel proud for them after their humiliation at the hands of both Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

I give the guy the nod and he gives me the two fingered peace sign.

I drive away, hopeful that the exchange meant what I think it meant, that he will take the table and chairs.  And yet, the image of the table and chairs, still intact, next to a pile of nothing intact leaves me sad.

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I feel emotional and have to hunt around in my head to find out why.  I’ve been trying for weeks to get rid of that table.  I’ve driven that table too many miles already and want it gone. It doesn’t fit anywhere in our house and I’m anxious to get all the extra stuff out so that the house feels organized and clean and soothing.  There is so much extra stuff, too many books and boxes and bathroom supplies and Tupperware containers.  Our old life had too much in it.  I’m looking forward to simplifying and streamlining and hanging onto only the things we use and need.

But as I wind down the hill the pictures of our family at that table start floating by.  How I chose it for it’s exact fit in our old kitchen.  How I strapped booster seats to the chairs for the kids when they were little.  How I painted the top with black chalk board paint so they could draw on it. Watching them do homework on it, eating countless dinners on it.  There were squabbles across that table, and secrets told and manners learned (hopefully).  There was artwork composed and milkshakes spilled and board games played until their explosive ends (our family is competitive).

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That table represents a big chunk of our lives as a family, it was the place we circled around and fed our bodies and fed our souls.  And of course we have a table in the new house and of course we can do those things in other places, but it was this table that holds all the history.

And I just left it at the dump. It feels wrong, like I abandoned a family pet.

I resist the urge to turn around and go rescue it.  It’s time with us has passed.

But it stays with me, this melancholy that seems greater than the loss of a table.  In looking for the picture to go with the story I end up going through hundreds of pictures from when my kids were little and I end up pinned to my chair with an unnerving wistfulness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time looking backwards as a parent.  Too much focus on the demands of the now, too much worry about the near and far future.  But looking at these pictures of my little ones unsettles me.  Usually when I see old pictures of them I am so happy.  They are so cute!  Look at the 18 month old swinging a bat at the ball on a tee.  Look at the one year old smashing cake in her face.  But now, maybe it is the emotional upheaval of a move, maybe it is having two kids in high school, maybe it is menopausal hormones, but now the looking backwards is swamping me with nostalgia.

Two days later, I figure out why.

It is more regret than nostalgia.  More of a regret that I didn’t fully live each of those moments with my kids.  Oh sure, sometimes I did.  And I enjoyed them, no doubt.  But there were many times I was too consumed with taking care of them.  Consumed with their schedules and immunizations and play groups and sports sign ups and keeping them from running into the street.

If I could go back I would really relax into more of the moments. I would truly be present.  Clichéd but true, that living in the present moment is a richness beyond measure. I’m sad that I missed so many opportunities to just relax into those moments with them. Sit and watch them color instead of being glad they were entertained while I made dinner. Sit in the grass and watch them scrawling chalk designs on the driveway instead of cleaning the garage while I kept an eye on them (that one really gets me, that garage never got cleaned up!).  Give myself over to the moments more often.

The irony is not lost on me.  In this very moment, I’m doing it again, longing for the past instead of living in this moment.

And there are so many riches to this present. Watching movies together, walking/running together, laughing at dinner together. Riding in the car as my daughter drives. Really listening as my son tells me a story about school.

The gift of the table is that I am recommitted to living these moments. A lovely legacy given that these moments are with teenagers who are bringing their own hormonal contributions to the house (stomp!  door slam! sullen silence!).  But I want this!  I want all the intensity, I want to live the moments that are up but I also want to live the moments that are down.  Not desperately try to escape the lows but live them all together. Be present in more of the moments I have left in these last years before college takes them away.

So the table lives on as a reminder. And in my optimistic moments, I’m convinced those guys looked around, saw no one could see them, and in a blink loaded up the table and chairs before taking off in a cloud of dust. In my optimistic moments, I’m sure the table lives on.

 

 

The Last Ride of the Honda

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Dave in his 1991 Honda Accord in front of Stanford’s Sunken Diamond. June 2017.

The first car my husband Dave bought was a 1991 Honda Accord, a proud purchase of a new car to accompany a proud new job as an assistant baseball coach at Stanford. Over the years the car took him to work at Stanford, and then to work at Pepperdine as head assistant, and then for 18 years to work at UC Berkeley as head coach. At some point early in the Cal years another car was added to the family and he rotated between the new car and the Honda. There were increasingly longer spans of time when the Honda was more of a driveway adornment than a mode of transportation. And then he’d drive it to work to keep it running, the team would win, and he’d keep driving it to keep the streak alive.

That kind of superstitious behavior happened during one of the most dramatic coaching years in his life, when the Cal athletic department announced they were dropping five sports, one of which was baseball. It was announced in the fall of 2010 that after the current year, baseball would no longer exist at Cal. This was a sport with a long tradition at Cal, it started in 1892, and in 1947 the Cal baseball team won the very first baseball national championship against Yale, with a little known player named George Bush senior playing for Yale. During that supposed last season Dave joked that he was simultaneously trying to ‘run a program, save a program, and dismantle a program.’ Even as he was training players in hitting and pitching and fielding he was sending them out on recruiting trips to other schools. He wanted to make sure each one of them had a place to land but he did joke that ‘it’s like letting my wife date.’

The players who stuck around (and all but 3 did) had a fierce sense of purpose. They were going to go out in a blaze of glory. Part way through that season Dave drove the Honda to work. They won. He kept driving it. They kept winning. The car became a superstitious talisman. A symbol of not quitting, ever. Keep doing the thing that got you here, even when people say ‘here’ won’t exist after June. Keep driving the thing that got you here, even though it has over 200,000 miles on it. Sometimes that is all you have to offer when life gets challenging. Keep going. Keep doing what you know to do, sometimes just a minute at a time.

Ultimately, passionate alumni raised 10 million dollars in a matter of weeks to save the program and the baseball team played their hearts out clear to the College World Series. Dave drove his Honda to campus, flew to Omaha and was driven to TD Ameritrade park on plush buses with a police escort and cheering crowds along the way. To the surprise of nobody but Dave, while in Omaha Dave was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year. The team took a private jet back to Berkeley where the newly anointed Coach of the Year climbed in his battered Honda and drove home, the same person he was before the College World Series.

Sometimes a car is just a car, just a means of getting from point A to point B. But sometimes a car can take on greater meaning and I suspect the Honda has been this for Dave. It is a symbol of him. It is a well built, long lasting, solid machine. It has been kept in good condition by his mechanic father. It is workman-like, as is Dave, as are the family from which he comes.  Like its owner, it is modest, it does not ask for attention, it just accumulates miles and continues to do its job without fanfare.

It is perhaps an emblem of level of expectations or entitlement. Dave has never acted entitled, not one minute in the 22 years I’ve known him. He expects to work hard for everything. He does work hard for everything. Even for the things that come easy, he expects to keep working hard (which is the recipe for success if you ask Carol Dweck, she of the ‘Growth Mindset’ theories). He is a masterful coach, he is a skilled leader, he is an almost effortless speaker, so it is not that he lacks confidence, but he has never strayed far from the humble man who drives an old Accord.

And here comes his opinionated wife, someone a little more comfortable with spending (okay, a lot more comfortable with spending). Someone not attached to cars (but definitely attached to him, and wanting him to drive safely). I must have seemed insensitive to him, not respectful of what the car means. Too eager to toss out the old. For years I’ve tried to get rid of the Honda. It seems too old and rickety to me (there are no airbags, for one) but he resists. The car is in its 26th year of life, literally twice as old as our son. What will be the deciding point? What will happen for him to let go of the car? It isn’t going to be that it stops working, his dad has made sure of that. Peeling paint off the top? Nope, been like that for a couple of years. Hardened crusty upholstery? Nope. Faded everything?   Nope. Busted radio? Nope. Been replaced at least four times over the years.

So many things in life come and go. Players, in the natural order come and go. Assistants come and go. Jobs come and go. And the Honda has been there, all along, longer even than me, his wife. Maybe it is hard for him to think of it as something that comes and goes. It came, and now the ‘go’ part, well, he’s resisting it.

But lately, the car seems to have gone downhill, like a person at the end of life ready to transition. Even Dave agrees it has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of months. To me, it looks like a car that has fulfilled its mission and is waiting for permission to be done.

In June Dave was hired as the new head baseball coach at Stanford. In all the excitement of the new job his nice car, the one only five years old, picks up an odd sound in the engine so his dad takes it to work on it. Just like that, he is back to driving the Honda. And there it is. Full circle. From a young assistant coach at Stanford with his proud new car, to a not as young head coach with his loyal old car. The Honda has brought him the whole way around. It has brought him home and it is proud and now it can rest.

The Most Famous Woman in the World

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I have a very active imagination, and never more so than when I’m running.  One of my favorite scenarios is that I’m winning the NY marathon (sometimes it’s Boston). It doesn’t matter that I’m actually running slow, in my imagination I’m running so fast I’m beating the men.  I’m even beating the Kenyans and the announcers are going wild and women all over the world are jumping up and down and cheering at their TV’s and calling each other to share the great news.  Abused women are dumping their husbands on the spot they are so inspired. Oprah and Gayle are hugging and toasting me with fancy cocktails even as Oprah gives the order to get me for her next Super Soul Sunday taping or someone’s losing their job.  Nike executives are scrambling madly to find my telephone number.  They are sending representatives down to the finish line with boxes of running shoes for me, only to sadly discover when they meet my husband that I am a Born To Run devotee and am wearing a thirty year old pair of Asics.  Asics, which have been out of business for three years, decides to get back into the game and have filed a new company license by the time I hit mile twenty.

The producers of the broadcast switch out the cart carrying the camera filming me, putting their lone camerawoman on the job, knowing this story needs to be covered by another woman.  She has tears running down her face but stays laser focused on getting my image just right, even as she has a fist in the air in solidarity.  She zooms in on my face, capturing my perfect eyelashes, the ones I used extra adhesive on so they wouldn’t blow off with my flaming speed.  They have held up remarkably, but then again I’m a master at make-up, and eyelashes in particular. I did just the slightest smoky eye to go with my eyelashes and my foundation and blush are impeccably applied. When you are over fifty there is no shame in wearing make-up to exercise and I knew I was going to be on national TV today anyway. L’Oreal sends a representative as well, not knowing I’m a Clinique gal.

I’m running so smoothly it is hard to tell I’m running that fast but they keep checking my splits and I’m scorching it. Each man I pass looks at my back in horror, seeing my bouncing blond ponytail and trim, obviously female, figure. They look at each other, at the cameramen, at the race employees along the route, who let this crazy woman crash their race? The announcers are going apeshit because I am on track to be the first ever sub-two hour finisher. People have been chasing this unicorn for years and it is looking like it might be a woman who catches it first.

Every ex-boyfriend has found a TV and is watching, regretting that they ever lost me, calling all their friends and telling them they dated me.  Their current wives are getting more and more annoyed at how complimentary they are of me.

No one can believe a 53 year old woman looks that effing good and Vogue also has a representative down at the finish line to sign me up for a photo shoot. The Vogue representative gets into a hair pulling fight with the Cosmo representative.  My husband tells them not to bother, I’m headed straight to Sports Illustrated.  Swimsuit edition!

All the girls/women who have ever been mean to me in my life are busy stuffing that information into their unconscious and claiming to have been my best friend.

My dad and brother, who were golfing together, are called in from out on the course and are watching my big finish in the country club bar, which is packed with people cheering me on, high fiving my brother and dad, toasting each other and them with lots of beers.

My mom is on a cruise and someone in the bar points out to her that a woman is leading in the NY marathon and she looks and sees that it is me and starts screaming.  People call the ship’s doctor, sure she has lost her mind but they finally realize she is the mother of the most famous woman on earth and instead start buying her drinks and wanting her autograph. When she turns down the drinks (she’s not a fan of alcohol) they switch to buying her shrimp cocktails and lobsters. That doesn’t impress her either since the cruise is all you can eat, and they finally come up with the idea to bring her jewelry from the gift shop. By the time I cross the finish line she is adorned in more diamonds than Elizabeth Taylor.

My sister is at a hockey game and when the big screen switches to the unprecedented event of a woman beating the world’s fastest men in a marathon she discovers it is her sister.  Word quickly travels around the stadium and she and her family are invited down onto the ice as the entire place watches, breathless, the finish of my race. Her sons are hoisted onto the shoulders of the toothless hockey players and get rides around the ice as the place starts chanting ‘USA! USA!’ It’s like the two biggest sports miracles have merged. The Olympic track coach happens to be at the hockey game and as he watches my race he holds his heart then looks up in the air and says ‘thank you God!’ He’s sure he can get me for the Olympics and I’m the final piece in his plan to dominate the track and field events.

The footage is streamed live onto scoreboards around MLB parks and games stop to let the crowds watch the finish of the race.  All of my husband’s baseball friends and former players are blowing up his phone.  He sends out a group text ‘of course she’s winning, she’s a stud!”

The camera takes a break from my perfect eyelashes to zoom in on my “I’m STILL with Her” T-shirt and then to all the arrows pointing to ‘and her’ ‘and her’ ‘and her’ representing all the women in the world.  Women around the world cheer in solidarity. Women rock!  We rule!  We are about to beat the men in a f*#*ing marathon. Hillary Clinton makes her way down to the finish line too, but makes Bill stay home, I’m that attractive.  Even though she can see that wrinkled old Bill compares poorly to my husband, who is so handsome he will play himself in the movie about me, she’s been managing Bill a long time and knows she doesn’t have the bandwidth to pay attention to me and keep him from straying at the same time.

Donald Trump, from his solitary confinement prison cell, watches in disbelief. As part of his punishment his cell is equipped with a TV turned on 24 hours a day to MSNBC.  Donald has decompensated to the point where he is sure my race is a made up TV show designed to torture him, and that part is true, he’s tortured by it, and yet the pale monster (he is not allowed to have tanning spray in prison and now has the filmy translucence of a jellyfish) can’t look away.  His fingers twitch as if he is tweeting but there is no phone in his hands. He flings his head forward to dump his comb-over into his face, hoping to block sight of the TV but without the dye and other products it is just a couple of wisps of white with orange tips and he can still see clearly through it. He knows he should look away but he’s never been able to do even one thing he knows he should do, so he keeps watching, fingers air-tweeting.

My website crashes and my amazon self published book starts selling at a rate of a hundred books a minute.  It can’t sell out since it is digital so the numbers just keep climbing and climbing. All the publishers who turned down my books are desperately searching through their emails to see if they still have my contact information.

Someone from the Zac Brown band notices on my website that I said they are my favorite band and sends a car to the finish line with the message that I’m to be their guest at their next concert, which just happens to be that night in NY.  We can hang out with the band, and in fact, since they see that I am a dancer too, they will have me on stage with them for as many numbers as I’m willing to give them.

As I close in on the finish line I know there are no men close behind me because there is only one TV cart, and that is my girl right in front of me.  I pull off my baseball cap and let my hair blow back like I have a Beyonce fan on me.  Glam to the end.

I do it. I finish in 1:58:03, almost two minutes under two hours. I am triumphant and barely winded. The men in the race, once they finally finish, are bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath, stunned and speechless.  A couple of them are throwing up, whether from running hard or being beaten by a woman I don’t know. The world goes crazy, people run into the streets cheering. Women high five each other for the next three hours, tears running down their faces. Around the world news shows have something positive to show for once so run the highlights of me over and over. Malala lets people know she would like to meet me. The Pope sends out a congratulatory tweet. George and Amal Clooney invite me to their Italian lake house to meet the twins. Even more unbelievably, both of my teenagers hug and kiss me. In public.

I agree to appear on every TV show I like and snub the rest (so sorry Pierce Morgan, thrilled to meet you James Corden!). Diane Sawyer comes out of retirement to interview me because I’ve always loved her. That night I dance the night away on stage with the Zac Brown band and stay until morning signing an autograph for every single girl and woman at the concert.  My legs are a little sore but that was more from the dancing than the running. Without the need for sleep, and with eyelashes still perfect, I go on Kelly and Ryan because I’ve been a fan of Kelly Ripa’s forever and always thought she and I could be the next Oprah and Gayle.

 

By this time I’ve slogged my four miles in just under forty five minutes and the most famous woman in the world slips back into her secret identity as a suburban mom. Although, if you look closely, there are signs of my real super hero self –  I have a sub-two hour carpool record and my perfect eyelashes truly do stay firmly attached.

 

Hugging a Rattlesnake Will Not Turn it into a Teddy Bear

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I love reading the work of spiritual leaders and the consistent message, from Thich Nhat Hanh to Charlie Brown, is love and kindness. So I meditate every morning. I invite God’s lovingkindness into my life. I vow to be patient and kind and right up to the point my children wake up I am bursting with love and kindness. It gets a little sticky after that. They are my teachers, and I love them so much, my precious teddy bears, that I keep trying, over and over, to learn how to pass that lovingkindness along even when I have to ask, again, to please, please, please for the love of Buddha, stop leaving Otter Pop wrappers on the family room floor.

They are just younger versions of my imperfect self and we are all trying our best and there is a lot of love and goodness in each of them so I will keep imperfectly trying to teach them how to live in this civilization, or at least this family. They are still moldable, they still respond to love and the occasional phone confiscation. I demand stuff (hygiene, please!), they demand stuff (food, food, food), but the love flows in both directions. When they are not in a death match over the TV remote I really enjoy their company so it is worth the effort to help them become good people.

I’ll tell you what is not worth the effort. Most of us have probably run into someone who sucks up all our love and kindness and gives nothing back. We think we are getting something back because this person talks a slick line of love, s/he just doesn’t walk it. You can identify these people by the confusion you feel in their presence. He says he loves you and would never hurt you but your heart and gut (and maybe bank account) says the opposite. She says she respects and admires you but you always feel anxious in her presence. There actually is no love or kindness coming back at you, not by any real definition of love and kindness.

Many of us who are on this love and kindness path think if we just show this person enough love he will stop hurting us. And sometimes this is true. Sometime the love and kindness of even one person can guide a person back to the right path. But sometimes this is not true. Sometimes we pour all our love and kindness onto a person who cannot change her hurting ways. And this is where we need to realize that hugging a rattlesnake will not turn it into a teddy bear. In those situations our work is to face the fact that this is a rattlesnake for crying out loud, and put some boundaries between ourselves and that rattlesnake. Set him free into the wild or, if the person must stay in your life, put him in a cage.  From a distance, bless him on his snakey path of life, maybe give a respectful Namaste (remembering that God has a purpose for all his creatures), and then go find something truly soft and cuddly to love. Something that returns your love. Something that won’t strike and bite and leave toxin in your body when you pull it close, but instead will give you what any good teddy bear gives, warmth and love and safety. And you’ll know you have found the real deal when you wake up one day and realize there is so much love coming from your teddy bears that you don’t even mind stepping on sticky Otter Pop wrappers.

Marriage Savers and Magic Mike XXL

How do you thank someone who just gave you the gift of your own child? As in, all six years of elementary school? My friend Susan texted me the other day to say that she had just dropped off a ‘wee gift’ in my mailbox. When I opened it up I found a CD with pictures of my son and all his school buddies from Kindergarten through their just completed fifth grade. Set to music. I watched it three times in a row, reliving so many moments from his elementary school experience, things I had forgotten, things that made me laugh and then cry. The missing front teeth, the longish hair then the shortish hair. The matching Paul Frank t-shirts with a buddy. The Halloween costumes, the field trips, the goofy poses only eight year old boys can do, the half shy, half confident brink-of-maturity smiles of eleven year olds.  All that time, from Kindergarten on, Susan had been taking beautiful pictures, and keeping them in some sort of order, and then she put them all together, set to music, everyone represented, and gave us all the gift of our own children. She would probably say she was just doing something that interested her. She would be modest about her skill and her passion and most likely doesn’t realize the value of the gift she has given me.

Part of why I don’t take a lot of pictures (aside from being cataclysmically bad at it) is that I like to enjoy the moment that is happening. That’s hard to do when your face is behind a camera, when you are focusing on the focus, the centering, the zoom in or zoom out issue. Susan made that sacrifice and we all are benefiting from it. She didn’t get to live in a lot of moments so that we could have them preserved forever and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Because what she did is part of what saves my marriage. I don’t take good pictures and with someone like Susan around, I don’t have to expect my husband to take good pictures. With people like Susan (and there are more, lots more in this community) I don’t have to expect him to do all the stuff that I can’t do (the old ‘you complete me’ bullshit, can we all just agree to stop expecting our romantic partner to complete us? My work here on earth would be done if I could convince people of just that one thing). All the people in my community who do the stuff my husband doesn’t do (and sometimes I don’t do), they are the glue that keeps us together. Not just as a couple, but also as a family, and as part of this community. My book club fulfills my deep need to talk about a book I just read (making it fine that my husband isn’t much of a fiction reader). My group of boy-mom friends gives me the chance to laugh about the intensity of odor emitting from boy feet. My group of girl-mom friends helps me figure out what age girls are starting to shave their legs these days.

I’m grateful to the dads and moms who give up so much time to coach my kids, because neither my husband nor I are up to the task (he has the skills but no time, I have the time but no skills).   I’m grateful for the parents who prep the fields before every baseball game. The moms who remember to collect money for coach’s gifts. The mom who set up a google docs spreadsheet for soccer carpool (I would have no idea how to set that up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to just open it).

Thank you to everyone who has given what you have to give, it has kept my life full and satisfying, it has kept my marriage happy. You have allowed me to appreciate what my husband brings to the party without focusing on what he doesn’t. I can enjoy his humor and his affection and admire his unmatched work ethic (really, I do admire it, except when I’m tired. I feel all too mortal next to him, He Who Never Tires). I can appreciate his brilliant baseball mind, his amazing understanding of people, his kindness. I can enjoy watching him throw a baseball with my son and a football with my daughter without getting all bent out of shape that he didn’t drive carpool or read that parenting book or take me to see Magic Mike XXL (that would really be asking too much, wouldn’t it? Definitely a job for a girlfriend).

Some of us probably don’t feel like we are giving a lot to the world, at least not in a Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah kind of way. But maybe what we are giving comes so easily it doesn’t seem like a gift. Maybe just pursuing something that is interesting to you is enough. As Howard Thurman (theologian) said, “Don’t just ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Susan, my deepest thanks for doing something that makes you come alive. It was just what I needed.

 

Zen and the Art of Purse Maintenance: Goodbye Athletic Cups and Popsicle Wrappers

unpacked purse

I have had sciatica for about a year now (pain originating in my lower back and extending down my left leg to my knee). It is not debilitating and sometimes I don’t even notice it, however at other times it flares up to the point of waking me in the middle of the night. I have tried exercise (I’m a long time yoga bear and runner), no exercise (hey, worth a try), acupuncture, ibuprofen, aspirin, massage, and meditation, among other things, and yet it stubbornly lingers. Yesterday I came out of my acupuncture appointment and as I was walking to my car I shifted my purse onto my shoulder. Zing! Hello sciatica.

Aha! Had I finally zeroed in on the culprit? I had actually considered the purse problem months ago. I downsized (giving me an excuse to buy a cute new purse) and streamlined. Only the most necessary items would go in. It felt great. I felt organized and light on my feet. However in the intervening months things got added back in, quite without my noticing. I don’t want to speak for all women, but I do think some of us have a tendency to literally carry the baggage of those around us, most especially our children. Why am I carrying my son’s athletic cup?! Because he takes it off the moment he steps off the field and is too embarrassed to carry it himself. Maybe my back hurts clear down my leg because I have inadvertently taken on his, and others’, issues. I am carrying his potential embarrassment, my daughter’s hearing (batteries for her hearing aids), and any number of other insurance policies (credit cards, bandaids, Kleenex, Immodium, Advil, flossers, pens, note pads, phone charger cords).

over full purse

We all (well, most of us) accumulate. We accumulate clothes, newspapers, mail, pounds.

And we accumulate ideas. We take in beliefs of those around us (first our parents, then our peers, teachers, neighbors, then inevitably, the Kardashians) and they keep building up in our brains just like the stuff we bring into our houses or purses.

And we also accumulate pain. Just like I’ve been willing to hold other people’s stuff in my purse, I have also been willing to hold other people’s pain in my brain. This made me a good living for a while, there is an entire, honorable, profession that does this. A good therapist is not afraid of her client’s pain. We can sit with it together, we can share it, we can find a way through it. The brave clients are willing to feel this pain, look at what is causing it, make sometimes hard changes and get through it. This is a noble endeavor. And it isn’t limited to a therapist-client relationship, this is also an example of friendship at its best. This, however, is different than someone dumping his/her pain on you and running away, like shoving their sticky popsicle wrapper in your purse. “Here, I can’t handle this so I’m dumping it on you. You do something with it. Let it mess up your life with worry.” Without meaning to, sometimes we accept those sticky popsicle wrappers and let them clutter up our lives.

My brain is still wired to respond to other people’s pain, to take it in, consider it, try to ameliorate it. In many situations, this is a good thing. But like my purse full of my kids’ stuff, I may be holding on to some pain that isn’t rightfully mine, and that I can do nothing about. I had a roommate once who was in a bad relationship. And I listened to her complain about him over and over. And I worried, and I felt sad for her, and I tried to offer advice. Nothing changed. And finally I realized that every time she complained to me about it and I sympathized, it gave her enough relief that she didn’t have to actually deal with the problem with him. Once I told her that I couldn’t listen anymore, that I would talk about anything else, I would go out with her, I would support her in any other way, but that I wouldn’t talk about him, it wasn’t long until the sh*t hit the fan and they broke up. As long as I kept carrying her pain for her, she was free to do exactly nothing about it.

Which brings me back to carrying stuff for my kids. Oh how so many of us want to make our children’s lives pain free! Why? Because it hurts us when they hurt. We don’t allow them any discomfort at all, not even the (minor) embarrassment of carrying an athletic cup. Not even the (very slight) weight of carrying their own phone in their pocket, or the fear they might lose the phone. But here’s the thing, if we are not able to tolerate their embarrassment or anxiety, how will they ever learn to?

Which leads me to one of the beliefs that I had accumulated but am getting rid of. “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child.” It makes sense when you hear it but the more I thought about it, the more trouble I had believing it. In fact, I would argue that if we really love that child the best thing we can do is stay in the light. Me being sad or upset does nothing to help my child feel better, it just adds another unhappy person to the world. And my sadness makes me less able to listen to my child’s sadness because sadness brings a self-focus, it has now become about me too. It is not disloyal to be happy when someone you love is sad, you can still be compassionate and supportive and bake them homemade cookies. In fact, if you persist in what I call a stubborn faith in happiness you have a chance to bring them back to the light. Because the research has shown, over and over, that moods are contagious. A house full of unhappy moods only breeds more unhappy moods.

So I have been doing a little Spring Cleaning for my purse and my brain. I’m not sure how many people still follow the ritual of Spring Cleaning but the genius of it is its regularity. Like church once a week reminds you of God, like the JiffyLube sticker that reminds you to change your oil, the beauty of Spring Cleaning comes with the Spring part of the phrase. We forget, but our calendar can remind us to clean out. I dumped out the purse and picked up each item, one at a time, looking for the belief attached to it. Why was I carrying it? Who was I carrying it for? What would happen if I didn’t have it?

From now on, around here people will be carrying their own athletic cups and disposing of their own sticky popsicle wrappers. My job is to figure out what is reasonable for me to carry and what is not.   To purge myself of beliefs that no longer work for me. And to pursue happiness with a vengeance, because I want my contribution to the mood contagion to be more Pooh Bear, less Eeyore.

I would like to think that it won’t take me another year of back pain to remember to clean out the house and brain on a regular basis, but then again, like Pooh Bear, I am a Bear of Little Brain.

And now, I am also a Bear of Little Purse.

smaller purse

Rubber Bands Everywhere

Or the art of seeing what you need when it is right in front of you.

Current daily mantra: exercise something, write something, clean something

February 27, 2015

It’s been a very up and down week/month/year. I went for a run today, reminding me for the hundred thousandth time that running resets my brain into something suitable for human interaction (how can a brain that can successfully complete 24 years of school forget, over and over, that running is my greatest mood stabilizer?). I saw a hair twisty on the ground and was suddenly back in Chapel Hill, a little slice of heaven where I lived during my graduate school days. Come to think of it, life was very up and down there too, and not just because of the hills (it is named Chapel Hill for a reason).

In Chapel Hill I was out running one day and my brain was running even faster, doing its agitated squirrel race from one thing to the next, despairing of even one solution to the many problems I tend to dream up on a daily basis. At the time my hair was Rapunzel length down my back and I had it tied back in a pony tail. It started to rain, which experience had shown me would snarl my long thin hair into a mess (not the magnitude of a just-lied-to-congress mess, but definitely in the realm of a just-cut-it-off-rather-than-try-to-comb-it-out mess). I actually like running in the rain and if it was raining before I started I would braid the pony tail so it wouldn’t get tangled. However I was about three miles into the run when it started to rain and I cursed myself for not having a second rubber band to tie off the braid. Then I cursed myself for being such a sissy (I mean really, snarled hair has never topped the list of world problems –you don’t see Bono lobbying foreign governments to stamp out snarled hair).

I pounded along the trail for about 10 yards before I realized I had just seen a rubber band on the ground behind me. Because I was so focused on having only brought one rubber band and because I didn’t believe I would be able to make a braid while out running I didn’t even look for a rubber band. My eyes took in the rubber band but my Bear-of-Little-Brain self didn’t make sense of it because it didn’t believe I could find the answer to my problem out on the trail. I turned around and ran back and got the rubber band and braided my hair and eventually ended up at home with untangled hair. My professors at the time could have told me this was an example of selective attention. Oh wait, in fact they did. Sometimes I’m a little slow in the application.

The whole rest of the run I wondered how many times I had stepped right over the answer to a problem. How many times has my narrow vision for life prevented me from an obvious solution? It reminds me of the saying (or is it a song?) ‘standing knee deep in water and dying of thirst.’ Sometimes the thing you need is right there.

After that I started picking up the rubber bands I found lying around in the world and within months had filled two honking big nails I pounded into the wall in my closet. I stopped collecting but the clutch of rubber bands stood as a reminder to broaden my vision.

And then I moved to California, married a great guy, had children and I swear each of them came out clutching one of my cerebral lobes, turning my steel trap of a brain into sleep deprived, hormonal oatmeal. On a quick grocery store run for even more diapers (size 5 and size 2, how’s that for failing to space out the procreating) I stepped out of the car covered in spit up and amped on stress and landed in, I swear, a scattered clump of brand new rubber bands. Like, about a hundred of them. As if someone had just bought a bag and it tore open and spilled and the person didn’t even notice.

Sometimes God has to use a whole bag of rubber bands to get your attention. And there it was, the reminder that the answers might well be right under my feet. It’s not like life immediately became the soft focus fairy tale of motherhood we see in the movies but I did have a moment of remembering that I was probably standing in the water I was so thirsty for.

And I looked around and noticed I had friends and play group moms and neighbors who care about me and while life still goes up and down, it feels like there are a lot of soft places to fall. And a lot of hands helping me back up. Turns out I have a village.

But it also turns out that when it comes to life skills I have a memory like Dory in Finding Nemo (remember, those kids, now 12 and 11 years old, kept chunks of my brain as souvenirs of our first journey together). So I’m starting this blog as a way to remind myself of the stuff I know, or once knew, or knew someone who knew. A sort of guide wire out of the cave. Feel free to join me. You can start by picking up some of those rubber bands you find lying around in the world. I swear, they are everywhere.