Share. Be Yourself.

Posted on July 15, 2018

We closed on the house on my birthday. I remember how Sean and I swam in the lake, diving down until our lungs burned and shooting back to the surface laughing. Inside, we ran our hands along the spiral staircase railing and watched the reflection of the sun off the water dancing across the ceiling.

The open living room drenched in morning sun

“It’s ours,” we said in shock.

A wooden swim platform in the middle of a lake with the fading color of sunset in the background.

The house was a place in Vermont with a too dreamy-to-be-believed sleeping loft for the girls, multiple decks, and a waterfront that the girls could swim and kayak in, plus a woodstove and a firepit to feed my love of fire making year round.  It was less than 50 minutes from our house but felt like a world away.

Our world.

A cedar dock with two Adirondack chairs.

We’d been married ten years, the girls were 11, 9, and 7. It felt as if we were suspended in a moment of ripeness, we had a bit of a nest egg, happy marriage, and three daughters who enjoyed being together as a family. It was the moment to reach for the dream.

A mountainous Vermont landscape reflected in Lake St. Catherine.

The sky and surface of the water call and answer.

It has been everything we hoped for and more. I’ve spent countless nights at the bottom of the ladder to the loft listening to Sean and the girls sing. I’ve raced outside with coffee to watch every last second of the sunrise and slipped under a cozy throw to take the sunset like dessert. Sean and I poured ourselves into the house to make it special, but it’s the time we spent there, our focus on each other and on our family that made it the dearest to us. It brought out new sides (and talents) in us all. Finely helped Sean build a deck!

Finley and her dad work on a deck construction project.

Double duty: firewood storage below + kid hang out above.

The girls created worlds, playing American Ninja Warrior along the rungs beneath the dock, transplanting moss for fairy gardens, and creating rules to live and love by.

The girls handprinted a sign reading: Rules—Have fun, be kind, share, be yourself

Rules: Have Fun, Be Kind, Share, Be Yourself

This summer I feel a bit of autumn in the air. Barely visible tethers begin to pull us in different directions. I can even feel the guilt and confusion as the way it’s always been, becomes less what we all want. Our getaway is happening more at bedtime or on the edges of busy days. Lessons, rehearsals, alone time, meetings, and adventures stretch us ever thinner.

Three girls work on a puzzle in afternoon light.

We’re going to follow the rule and share. We’re putting our idyllic, slice of Vermont on the market. It’s time for someone else to feel the elixir of Vermont air and the embrace of this special place. Meanwhile, we are going to have our forever home be a little bigger. The girls will have more space, collectively we’ll have more room, and we’ll treasure the time having fun and being ourselves.

If you know someone who has always dreamed of a place to retreat or revel, they may find this to be just the thing.

 

Have a look.

Trees explode in colors of gold and crimson as autumn arrives on Lake St. Catherine.

 

Why don’t we take a walk?

Posted on June 14, 2018

The other day I heard a ping on my phone. Sean had texted me a photo of Finley and me from a wedding. I immediately remembered the moment, she’d been invited to be a flower girl, but in the church, she was overwhelmed by the enormity of the event. I don’t mean by the people or even the grandeur of the church, it was her dawning that this was a significant life event.

I held her in my arms and told her how much the bride loved her and how good she would do walking with the flowers. She kept saying, “I’m just a little afraid.” Since then I have carved out times to hold her when she isn’t scared and ways to be ready when she is.

Lately, her favorite thing has been to walk with me. It brings me cascading joy, wave after wave of, “This is amazing. Why don’t I do this more?” I can’t answer it. Runs with Briar, walks with Ave, they refill my cup every time. Yet time and again I defer what is good for us and what expands our joy.

I think the idea of doing things without structure is wonderful, but so often unsustainable. Life can be a blur and then you look up and your husband is saying, “We only have five more summers of Briar at home.” Which is why I love what Marathon Kids is doing. It’s called the FREE summer Walk and Talk challenge.

Marathon Kids is partnering with the TODAY Parenting team to connect as many families as possible with the Walk and Talk Challenge. Teachers in schools across the country are using social-emotional learning tools (SEL) to help raise kinder, more empathetic, more positive kids with fewer instances of depression and stress. SEL can improve achievement, and it also increases positive behaviors such as kindness, sharing, and empathy; and improves attitudes toward school to reach more families, was created with that SEL connection in mind. The program is absolutely FREE and will help keep your kids active and engaged with you all summer!

When you register online, you’ll receive a link to two resources:

  1. A set of conversation topics created by family physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa.    Each topic – 26 in all – matches up with a mile of walking or running.
  2. AND a special mileage log to track your progress.

After 26(.2) miles, you will have completed the equivalent of a full marathon, and have gotten to know each other a little better in the process. The best part is it’s just the right amount of structure to keep you going, but not so much that you can’t just be yourselves.

The topics cover a broad range, from health, education, and friendship, up through knock-knock jokes and dreams of travel. Dr. Gilboa wrote starter questions for each topic, which are appropriate for the youngest child all the way into the college years.

The people at Marathon Kids got me up early for a run back at the conference I attended in May. The energy, purpose, and friendliness is something I can get behind. I am so happy to be partnering with them (and with my girls) on this program. I hope you’ll consider signing up for this. It’s hard to regret taking a walk with your kid.

All are welcome to register for free here: MarathonKids.org/WalkandTalk

Writing For Good and For Myself

Posted on May 23, 2018

On Writing

My writing, like many others things, gets wedged between parenting, working, and trying not to neglect my marriage. It takes a backseat to fretting, battling pet hair, and unsubscribing from email lists. Writing is and has always been, the activity that takes me to my best place. I wish I could understand why it is so routine to postpone what I know I need.

When I write I become more than I am, stretching how I think and how I love, leaving me with what I can only describe as increased power. It can be like hand-to-hand combat as my fingers move across the keyboard and my mind halts them. I’ve gotten better at fighting my weaker self, overcoming doubt and climbing out of word ruts.

Getting There

It’s been a few weeks now since the Mom2.0 Summit. This was the third year I attended. It’s a sublime experience with show-stopping keynotes, generous sponsors, roll-up-your-sleeves sessions, and permission to bring to center all that goes along with writing. The girls and Sean rally to make it easier for me to leave and sweet to come home, the same is true for the team at Trampoline.

A welcome home banner and my daughter after a writing conference

Another parent told me early on that kids learn how to feel safe by being reminded that we come back.

I spend time with other women who are working within a similar wedge—multiple jobs, the division of labor (physical and emotional), writer’s block, and wondering about the what and how of what comes next. There is time and license to stare off into space or working out to the point of collapse for a total reset. It’s a boldly selfish act and I threaten not to do it each year because of the shame associated with wanting something for myself.

Standing with three other bloggers on the red carpet dressed up for the Iris Awards for writing

Mom 2 Summit 2018 Red Carpet

Move Into Yourself

This year’s conference was particularly significant to me because it represented a shift. Last year I wrote a post for Planned Parenthood. It followed conversations I have had at home with the girls about what it means to be cisgender, white girls and women—what we cannot take for granted, the divide between what is fair and what men get away with, and also how much power we can wield by using our voices. The post was nominated for Best Sponsored Content at the Iris Awards. I’d won the previous year in the category of Best Writing, so it seemed unlikely to me that lighting would strike twice. Still, I hoped it would.

A packed ballroom at the Iris Awards at #Mom2Summit

The view from the stage at the Iris Awards

The Iris Awards were held in a beautiful ballroom in the Langham Pasadena on a gorgeous Friday as the sun began to set. The event began after dinner; the lights came down and Laura Harrison Mayes and Carrie Pacini took the stage to kick things off in a wave of sparkle and euphoria. They introduced the MC, Taye Diggs, to great applause and fanfare. I waited backstage to present the first award of the night with Jennifer Borget.

 

Standing backstage with Taye Diggs after presenting the Best Writing Award

An added perk of being a presenter was hanging out with Taye Diggs backstage

Later I hooked my arm around the back of the chair. The metal was cold against my underarm, which felt good. The fabric of my dress settled around my legs as I leaned toward the stage and took a breath. The awards ceremony was halfway through and my category was coming soon. I wanted to be ready to not hear my name and to be able to clap and cheer for the other name that would be called.

Don’t Kill Your Joy

Brené Brown talks about foreboding joy, which is the idea that in moments of profound happiness or contentment we dress rehearse the tragedy or event, which will eventually squelch our joy. I was still buzzing with the adrenaline of having presented, the funny sensation of reading from a teleprompter, the people in the room jumping in and out of focus, and the vicarious elation with each winner’s joy. It felt good and yet, I was picking away at the joy.

A part of me felt like I should be ashamed to want to win, I’m not sure why. I tried to lie to convince myself that it didn’t matter, but it did. Then as I turned and let the metal press into my sternum I decided to give myself to the feelings. Does denying them or being ashamed make them any less real?

I thought back to how it felt to write the post. I worried as I wrote about not being clinical enough or driven by statistics or backed up by familiarity with legislation. I took my own story, cased as it is in privilege, and wrote in the way I always have—unselfconsciously and passionately.

 

Three images, a toddle, a teenager, and a mother with three daughters

The time between baby girl and mom is so short.

The familiar photos from the Planned Parenthood post flashed on the screen as award show orchestral music played—me as a toddler, as a middle schooler, and then with the girls. My mouth turned upward in a smile. It was time, whatever happened, I was going to keep writing.

Believe in What You Do

I watched Wendi Aarons open the envelope on stage and smile. Then I heard her say my name and I sat up, pushing away from the cool chair and standing up to walk to the microphone. I was in the company of all the parts of me—mom, wife, daughter, writer, employer, teenager, college student, little girl.

 

Standing at the mic under spotlights with goosebumps on my arms at Mom2 Summit accepting an award for sponsored writing

There were no tears as I accepted the award. I wanted to be deliberate with my words and with my consciousness at the moment.

 

Feel this.
Build on it.
Remember it.
Believe it.

 

I Never Wanted #MeToo But We Need It

Posted on May 9, 2018

I walked toward the office and tried to make sense of my emotions. I was able to smirk at the irony of the “Cosby Found Guilty” alert coming as I made my way across a parking lot where I feel unsafe. There is always a man smoking outside who leers at me, slowly taking in every inch of my body. It is an uncontested fact that my body is a visual buffet for men to sample on the street. When I say my body, I mean it for all women, we are involuntary dishes at a feast of insatiable appetites. It doesn’t matter what we wear. It doesn’t matter the time of day.

Black and white image of the shadow of a woman's body

The truth is sometimes it doesn’t bother me. I feel the looks and regard them as fruit flies or dust motes, nothing to do but wait for them to clear. It just is. Then other times my hands clench and I have to bite back the impulse to scream, “Stop looking at me you disgusting fuck. Move your eyes, this is my body. I am not here for you,” but I know better. I know, even today, that I would be the one considered to be in the wrong.

“Did he touch you?”

“No.”

“Did he verbally threaten you in any way?”

“No.”

“Can you explain how you were in danger?”

“No.”

“Do you think it’s possible you are overreacting?”

“No.”

“We can’t help you if you don’t have proof.”

The proof is in the way his eyes track my body, it’s in the way he steps slightly in my direction and holds my gaze, it’s in the way he won’t look away. It’s in the way he claims a kind of ownership over my body.

The threat is in the way that you never believe me.

The pervasiveness of men taking what they want from women runs from school campuses and medical examining rooms, to the Attorney General’s office and beyond. There are men who enjoy making us feel afraid, taunting us boldly with how little we can do, how we won’t be believed.

You Can Say #NotAllMen , But You Need to Recognize There Are Still Bad Men

 

Scary story of man purposefully scaring teenage girl by following her and staring to close to her body.

Image from Babe.net

I replayed the years I spent sprawled on the living room floor watching the Cosby Show with my family. I thought of the white cassette tape with the blurry black type that held Cosby’s stand-up routine. I think it was called “My Two Daughters.”

I loved Bill Cosby. I thought about the black families who loved him and needed his celebrity in a way I can’t know. I was so angry with him and I was angry with our country for finally believing his accusers. Why did it have to be a black man?

“Aren’t you happy? Isn’t that great?”

Umm, yes. Yes. But also no.

The marbled fury and regret move, but they don’t disappear.

If only I hadn’t gone there. If only I’d fought harder.

I wanted to join the chorus of voices on Twitter, but I couldn’t. I’ve been candid about my personal history with rape and assault. I’ve been vocal about rape culture and women’s rights, but I deleted tweet after tweet. All I managed was, “Thank you to the jury.”

There Will Always Be a Need for #MeToo

I allowed myself to sit with my conflict—until women came forward to defend Tom Brokaw. Character references for people accused of assault aren’t helpful. They are mechanisms for making people uncomfortable with the idea that someone they love or respect could do something awful feel better. They disallow the reality that people who do terrible things can also do decent things. When you defend the character of someone accused of something, what you actually do is say that how you feel and what you believe is more important than the person who had a different experience.

The things being said about Tom Brokaw are allegations at this point, another ‘he said she said’ to add to the history books. His 4 am letter of defense is more of the same:

“I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half-century of journalism and citizenship.”

A half-century of journalism and citizenship doesn’t mean that you can do anything that you want. The thing so many of us struggle with is that you can be accomplished, decent, and moral and still do things that deviate from that. You can make wonderful comedy and also leave a wake of despair. You can hold the highest office in our country and help the disenfranchised and still take advantage. You can be brilliant and evil.

The unpleasant truth is that justice is not always going to feel good, as a result, we have to temper our expectations—of ourselves, those who’ve been hurt, and those who’ve done the harm.

Verdicts aren’t going to undo hurt.

It isn’t just Bill and Tom, Eric, Charlie, Louis—there will be more, there will always be more. Please try to take the time to figure out what you want to say and how you feel, because a knee-jerk, “That isn’t the man I know” or “I never saw evidence of that” isn’t really about the issue at hand.

 

It’s about you and sometimes the thing you need to do is think about someone else.

Time Breaks & Starts Over

Posted on April 18, 2018

“Promise we’ll have another fort at the next house?” the girls asked. It was 2010 and we were moving to fit our growing family. Two years before we’d built a play structure for them, adapting it mid-way through as, the then-toddler, Avery broke her leg and needed larger stairs.

Avery, age 2, and her purple cast. Briar hiding behind the canopy.

“Sure, we’ll build another one,” we said. The girls gave the fort a fond farewell and whispered that they hoped the next family would enjoy it.

The new house had a deep wooded lot and we decided to build the structure into the ring of trees. It took a lot of tinkering and reconfiguring as we anchored 4x4s into pine trees. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be safe.” The girls stayed close as we planned it, suggesting additions along the way.

“How about if you make a kind of ladder for us?” they asked. Sean found birch trunks and made a ladder of sorts.

 

“Can it have a slide?”

“And a climbing wall like before?”

“Oooh, swings. And could it have walls?”

It took us the better part of the summer, but we got it done. Briar immediately climbed along the outside of the railings and I realized this tree house was going to be different from the first. Finley was no longer a baby, Avery was more kid than toddler, and Briar was going into first grade.

The girls would gather dolls, tools, walkie-talkies and blankets and stop in the kitchen, “Hey mom, could you bring a snack plate out for us?” I’d coined the “snack plate” phrase one day when I realized that the Pirate Booty wasn’t going to stretch far enough for the girls to each have a serving. I put half a dozen types of crackers and assorted bits of fruit on a platter. Scarcity turned on its ear to options.

I loved watching them parade across the grass and toward the tree house. Finley would sometimes drop things and have to rearrange her arms. Eventually, she used a picnic basket or a briefcase to carry her things to the fort. They’d disappear for hours to play. There were windows through which I could see them moving and I’d watch from the kitchen. The idea that childhood rushes by had taken root in my heart and each time they played together it felt like time slowed. It was a fortress, but growing up happens no matter how you build.

Finley said to me the other day, “The shirt grew out of me.” She wasn’t ready to be done with the shirt, but she knew it didn’t fit any longer. I wish I could be as pragmatic, outgrowing still makes me choke up, even as I know it’s what we are all working toward.

Birthdays filled the yard with sounds, the backdrop of the fort and trees always drawing exclaims and “Let’s go!” from their friends. One summer night I added strings of solar lights and then gasped aloud when they began to twinkle the following night.

“It worked!”

The girls dashed outside to look and later that night we spread quilts out to sprawl next to one another as we watched bats swoop for bugs in the fading evening light. We played summer right into fall, gathering for campfires beneath the trees as the night air grew cooler. Then came winter—snowy slide rides, playing beneath the decks to weather the storm.

I’d pour my coffee looking toward the treehouse. The move had been good for us. This yard embraced us and gave us eight years of playing and loving. We’d outgrown our house, just as we’ve begun to outgrown this house.

When we returned from spring break two weeks ago our beloved treehouse was changed. Finley came to me. “Mom, I need to show you something in the backyard.”

“What is it,” I asked. She had a strange look on her face. “Is it something dead?”

She took a breath and put one finger to the side of her mouth, “Well, it was never really alive, but it’s definitely dead now.”

I stood up and we walked out toward the treehouse.

“Do you see how the curtain is blowing out?” She asked watching my face.

Then I saw it. A pine tree had snapped during a windstorm and fallen onto the fort, shearing off the backside of it. Two of the windows shattered, two did not.

Once again Fin was matter of fact. “We need to clean it up,” she said. “Can I help you?” I was still trying to process how it could be gone and how I was going to manage my broken heart.

“Sure, kiddo,” Sean said. She spent hours with us cleaning. Happy to be a part of it and gleefully picking up pieces and toys, “I remember this! Can we save this?”

We took truck loads of lumber to the dump and made plans to preserve the parts that had not been crushed. “The swings can stay, we can move the slide over here, and redeck that section,” Sean said gesturing toward what remained.

This is what I am learning about childhood, time, and life—it breaks in unexpected ways, meets you in the outgrowing, and reveals new ways in which you can adapt and continue to love.

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