Category Archives: perspective

Living In The Moment

One of the things I love doing on my Facebook page is asking a basic question of the group, one that I know will elicit a lot of responses, and hopefully starting a (often important, and needed) conversation.  Even before I read through all the responses – and please know that I do, very carefully, read through all of the responses – your enthusiasm in joining the conversation tells me two things:  1) That we all want to be heard… that we all have questions, and struggles, and things to share, and that platforms like blogs and Facebook groups still serve a real purpose, and 2) That we’re all in this together.  I think that one of the most helpful things to know (not just with parenting, but with life) is that we are not alone.  That someone, somewhere, is out there who gets it.  Who understands how we feel.  Who knows what it’s like to be facing what we face.  It’s a powerful thing, and one I don’t take for granted.

Most recently, I asked,

What is one thing that you struggle with as a parent? Something that you know you want to do differently (such as less yelling, more patience, etc) but that you are having trouble implementing?

I got an overwhelming response, both in numbers and in sheer honesty and vulnerability.  So thank you.  I very quickly realized that what was meant to be a one-off blog post really needed to become a regular series.  Because I don’t care how good of a mom you are:  We all struggle with something. 

The thing that stood out to me the most in my first read-through of the comments was the one that’s been my own personal struggle since… well, forever:  Being present.  Being in the moment.  It’s something that I’ve thought about, and learned about, and written about, many many times in the 20 years that I’ve been a parent.  Tegan (who’s 9 at the time of this writing, and is teaching me a whole new set of parenting truths after her three brothers) has been instrumental in showing me of the importance of living in the moment.

But still, I have to remind myself.  Still, I have to practice.

And I’m not alone.

Just a few of my fellow like-minded parents:

Stopping, breathing, and taking in the moment.  Appreciating their age, abilities and achievements without being frustrated by lesser things.  ~ Bea L

Really struggling with patience these days.  ~ Jess F

Being more present with my kids and not giving in to frustration. ~ Rebecca P

Slowing down and enjoying the moments. I always seem to be going and trying to clean, get dishes or laundry done and I tend to e short with my kids and not fully engage in play or conversation. ~ Stefanie S

Being impatient and not being able to just be present with them.  Working on it.  Getting better, but it is hard.  ~ Karen E

I have spent the entire last year working on my mental health, and a huge, huge part of that work was learning to live in the moment.  Our brains (or at least my brain) always want to be solving problems, and thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or the thing that’s coming up next week, or the thing that happened 6 months ago.  When you’re not truly living in the moment, you’re either living in the past, or in the future.  And in the past and in the future, there’s always a problem to solve.  It’s exhausting.

So all the typical “live in the moment” advice – Breathe;  Count to ten.;  Look around and ground yourself by appreciating the sights and sounds and smells;  Don’t sweat the small stuff –  While it’s all well and good, it wasn’t until I learned the problem-solving piece that I felt like I really understood what I needed to do, and what I needed to remember.

In the moment, in this moment, there is no problem to solve.

And it sounds simplistic, and easy to argue:  Of course there are problems.  We don’t have enough money.  The car’s in the shop.  The kids are always fighting.  The 2 year old’s sick.  The 4 year old’s having a tantrum.  I have to make dinner and make lunches for tomorrow and get my son to football and my daughter to karate and there’s the thing at church and it’s all just SO MUCH. 

Yes.  Sure.   I get it.  I get it.

But right now, right now as you read these words, there are no problems to solve.  It’s okay to give yourself (and your brain!  Your poor, overworked brain) a break.  It’s okay to breathe and NOT WORRY about how you handled that last problem, or how you’re going to handle the next one.  It’s okay to truly and deeply and fully live right now, and give yourself permission to rest…. to rest in the moment, to rest in the presence of your child, to rest in the presence of yourself.

Right now, in the moment, there is no problem to solve.

That one piece of truth, heard in the right place and the right time, was probably one of the single best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received… not just for life in general, but for my parenting as well.  And I still have to remind myself – often – but I’m getting better.

Right now, there is no problem to solve.

And my shoulders relax, and I’m able to exhale, and my weary soul feels a welcome sense of relief.  I don’t have to figure it all out right now.  And then, in that moment, I can be the mom I know I can be.  The mom I know I should be.  And when I miss the mark (and I do sometimes miss the mark, because I’m human)? Then I have the next moment.  And then the one after that.

One day, one moment, at a time.

And it sounds kinda hokey, and a little woo-woo (and I hate woo-woo) … but it helps.  So much.

You have permission to rest.

Hug your kid, smell the flowers, jump in the mud puddle.  Right now, there is no problem to solve.


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Filed under mental health, mindful parenting, not sweating the small stuff, parenting, perspective, self care

My Dear Daughter, Your Value Doesn’t Change With What You’re Wearing

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The following was recently passed around Facebook.  (Emphasis at the end is my own.) The author is unknown:

A girl bought an iPad, when her father saw it, He asked her “What was the 1st thing you did when you bought it?

“I put an anti-scratch sticker on the screen and bought a cover for the iPad” she replied.

“Did someone force you to do so?” “No” “Don’t you think it’s an insult to the manufacturer?” “No dad! In fact they even recommend using
a cover for the iPad” “Did you cover it because it was cheap & ugly?”

“Actually, I covered it because I didn’t want it to get damage and decrease in value.”
“When you put the cover on, didn’t it reduce the iPad’s beauty?”

“I think it looks better and it is worth it for the protection it gives my iPad.”

The father looked lovingly at his daughter and said, “Yet if I had asked you to cover your body which is much more precious than the iPad, would you have readily agreed???” She was
mute…..

Indecent dressing and exposure of your body reduces your value and respect.


May God guide us all.

My first reaction was one of disgust.  As my eyes scanned the comments looking for other people who felt the same way I did, I was just met with “Amen”s and “How true!”s.  More disgust.  Had we read the same thing?  The tome that reduced a girl’s body to a physical object?  One that lost its value if it wasn’t clothed in a certain fashion?  One that wasn’t worthy of respect if it wasn’t properly covered up?  I think the thing that bothered me most of all (“bothered” isn’t even the right word… it creeped me right out) was that the father “looked lovingly at his daughter,” before he gave his edict to cover up, like she’d covered up the iPad.  Misogyny and control aren’t love.

Ultimately, reading things like this makes me so overwhelmingly sad.  Sad because they illustrate how far we still need to go.

Sad because they remind me of the prevalent thinking of girls being somehow “less than.”

Sad because they only cheer on the patriarchal society that sees to it that the men get to dictate what women should or should not wear… or do… or think.

Sad because it speaks to the larger issue of a world that somehow simultaneously heralds women as nothing more than sex objects, and disparages them for said sexuality at the same time… calling them whores.  Or loose.  Or easy.

Sad because this is exactly the kind of teaching that leaves girls feeling devalued and worthless, like they don’t deserve love.  They’re nothing more than their bodies, right?  So if they showed too much skin, or looked too attractive, or God forbid engaged in premarital sexual activity… who would want them?  (Many abstinence-only trainings go so far as to compare girls who’ve lost their virginity to used chewing gum.)

Sad because it contributes to a culture of victim blaming that leaves the 1 in 4 women who will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime feeling ashamed, as though it were somehow their fault.

At the time of this writing, my daughter is only eight.  But I fear for her future if this is the kind of thing that people aspire to teach their daughters, and pass on to their sons.  Is this really the message we want to send to today’s young girls? That they’re nothing more than a body?  A body that must be properly covered lest it “lose its value”?

My message for my daughter is very different.   At the end of the day – away from the white noise of society, and the church, and advertising, and television, and social media, and politics – this is what I want my daughter to know:

You, my dear daughter, are amazing.

You are strong, and kind, and creative, and intelligent, and funny.  You have a big, beautiful, giving heart.  You make people laugh. You take care of those around you.  I don’t doubt for a second that you can achieve absolutely anything that you put your mind to.

I hope you know how incredible you are.  I hope you know how much you have to offer.  I hope you know that your value, your worth as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a human soul… it’s infinite.  The world is a better place just because you are in it.

At some point in time, society is going to try to reduce you to just your body, but you don’t have to listen!  I need you to know that you are so much more than your body.  Your body is just a physical place to house your beautiful soul.

I don’t mean to diminish it though, because your body is pretty freaking amazing too!  It lets you run, and jump on the trampoline, and pump yourself high on the swings.  It lets you swim like a mermaid, and give fierce hugs, and bake cookies with your brother.  My hope is that you are kind to your body: That you will treat it well, and feed it good foods, and give it plenty of exercise.  Not for me!, and not to reach some aesthetic ideal, and certainly not for society, but for YOU, so you can keep it healthy and strong so you can do all the things you want it to do.  I hope you take your body on grand adventures.  I hope you build and create things with your hands, I hope you aren’t afraid to get dirty, I hope you use your skills and your time to help others.  Maybe one day you’ll climb to the top of a mountain, or ski down one instead. Maybe your body will one day give birth to a baby, or carry you onto a plane to go adopt one.

Yes, your body will take you to amazing places.  It is is going to grow, and hurt, and heal, and love, and fight.

One day you’ll feel the thrill of a first romantic kiss, and the physical ache in your heart at a romance gone wrong.

It seems grossly superficial and irrelevant to even think about how you are clothed (really, in the grand scheme of things, what on earth does it matter?) but sooner or later someone’s going to make you think that it’s important, and I want you to know this:  I hope you dress in a way that makes you feel beautiful and comfortable and confident.  I hope you dress in a way that reflects you.  I hope you dress in whatever makes you feel best able to grab life by the horns and leave your own unique, indelible mark.  The one that says, “I was here.  And I mattered.”

You will change lives just by existing.  I know, because you’ve already changed mine, and you’re not even nine years old.

And the thing is, no matter what you’re wearing, no matter how much you weigh, no matter what your hair or your face or your body looks like, you STILL HAVE JUST AS MUCH VALUE.

Because your value?  Your worth?  That’s inside of you, and no one can take it away.


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Filed under acceptance, parenting, perspective, respect, self image, Uncategorized

New Years and Fresh Starts

Snow is so romantic when you haven't seen it for awhile!

Snow is so romantic when you haven’t seen it for awhile!

2015 wasn’t my most favorite year.

There were some big stressors. There was physical pain. There were chronic medical issues. There were dozens of appointments and tests and procedures that accompanied said medical issues. There was depression, its good friend anxiety, and their frequent cohort insomnia.

And of course – absolutely – 2015 had its lovely moments too. It did. But overall, it kind of… well, it bit.

So it was with huge amounts of relief and gratefulness that I welcomed in the new year.

And I realize that it’s kind of silly: The number on the calendar doesn’t change anything. Every day is a new start, if you choose to look at it that way. But the same part of me that will forever be inspired by the mere thought of brand new Trapper Keepers and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils in the fall, will also always be school-girl excited at the official start of another trip around the sun… especially when it comes on the heels of a less-than-stellar year.

So far, 2016 has been good to me!

Last week, I returned from a little five day mini-vacation visiting friends in Michigan. I almost didn’t go. Not because I didn’t want to go (I did, desperately), but because it just felt like it all might be too much, and that the timing might be all wrong. See above about pain and anxiety, et al.

I am so glad I went!  It turns out the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and it was a lovely way to usher in the new year.

For five days, I got to hit the “reset” button, and focus on nothing but visiting and playing and chatting and being, all with a good friend by my side.

I went to a henna party.

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I like this dream catcher so much, I think I may need to get one as an actual tattoo someday…

I got a new piercing.

I saw my favorite alt rock band on the planet.

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That guitarist in the hat? I gave birth to him.

I drank a lot of Captain and Cokes.

I took a gorgeous walk through the Michigan snow (on my birthday, no less!).


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A word about snow and cold, if I may. I don’t miss it, but I miss the IDEA of it. I miss how beautiful it makes everything look, I miss the crispness, I miss its energy, I miss how alive it makes you feel. It was lovely to visit (especially on my birthday; how cool is that??) and it was lovely to ditch the heavy layers once I landed back in Phoenix.

And now, back home, real life beckons.  Yesterday, I took the 11 year old to the doctor for a sports injury.  Today I go to the dentist for what I’m positive will result in a root canal.  Nothing has changed and yet…. everything has changed, because I got a much-needed break, and with it a new perspective.  I’m genuinely excited for the rest of 2016, whatever it may bring.

TL:DR When your life has gone offline, sometimes stepping away for a few days helps.  A lot. Snowstorms and rock bands optional.

P.S.  My website is going to be down for a few days while I give it a face lift.  Thanks for being awesome and patient.


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Filed under about me, New Years, perspective

Do-Overs

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I’m not personally really big on video games, but my kids are all passionate players of video games of all kinds. One of the things I like about video games is that the game is never truly over.  If you’re killed, you’ve often got another life in your queue.  Even if you’ve used up all your lives, you get that sad “Womp womp womp” music, and the words “Game Over” flash on the screen, it’s still just a matter of re-starting the game,  Sure, you might have to start over from the beginning, but you’re never really done.

In Star Stable, one of the games I play with the seven year old, your horse never dies.  It gets sad if you don’t feed it and brush it often enough…. but it always forgives you once you start taking better care of it.  And you can fall off of cliffs (something I do a lot, because apparently I’m as clumsy in pixelated-horse-rider form as I am in real life, walking-down-the-street form), but it just results in a whinny and a little pop-up message that says you’ve “taken a dangerous fall, but your horse has miraculously survived.”   Then it spawns you and your horse back to the top of the cliff, no worse for the wear.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because for the past month or so, my real life has been way off-line. I’ve been fighting off some sort of virus for what feels like forever, one that’s so persistent I’m still coughing a good four weeks after it all started.   I’ve gotten completely out of my normal routine.  I haven’t been sleeping. Housework has piled up, projects have piled up, emails have piled up.   This past weekend, I was so distracted that I did something I never do and flaked out on something I promised I’d help someone with.  Just straight-up forgot about it. And even though I apologized, I’m still heavy with the guilt of having let someone I care about down.  I feel stressed out and frustrated, but beyond that I feel a disproportionate sense of…. failure. Perfectionism kicks in, and I feel like I’ve been failing on all fronts.  And when that happens, I have a tendency to get depressed and defeatist, which of course only exacerbates the problem.  I literally start to feel like I’ll never get back in my groove, even though I know intellectually that that’s not the case.

So, I’ve decided I need to start giving myself more grace, and treating life like a video game. Yeah, there will be times I’ll get off track, get lost, use up all my energy pellets, fall off the cliff. But it doesn’t mean it’s time to quit the game.  It’s just time to re-group, that’s all.  And to give it a positive spin, it’s the best opportunity to re-establish goals, adjust priorities, and assess what sort of prize you’re actually pursuing,  It’s a chance to return your focus to where it needs to be, and not let it be complicated by the pesky little distractions of the game.

I’ve been reading a lot about meditation lately, and one thing that I find really interesting is that most people mistakenly think that the real work of meditation is emptying your mind of all thoughts, when really the opposite is true.  Your meditation muscle is flexed when all the random, fleeting, unhelpful thoughts do come…. and you gently and persistently (and over and over and over again) return your thoughts to peace and quiet, or to God, or to your mantra.  It’s something that gets easier over time, but it needs to be practiced, to be sure.

That’s where I am right now.  I’ve fallen off the cliff and I’ve gotten distracted by the proverbial fly buzzing in the yoga practitioner’s ear.  IT’S OKAY.  It’s just time to re-focus.  To get ready to re-start.  To gently accept the negative thoughts, but then let them go.  To breathe deeply, to shake off the insecurities, and trust….. trust that it’s okay to be human,  trust that there’s nothing wrong with having to start over, trust that starting over just means another chance to get it right.

Trust that if you just hang tight, your horse will re-spawn to the top of the cliff, and you’ll be off and riding again.


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Saying No to Say Yes

unnamed It’s a week and a half before Christmas, which is always…. tricky.

I adore Christmas.  Love it.  Love the spirit. Love giving presents. Love the lights. Love the food. Love the Christmas cookies. Love hanging out with my family.

But it can be so BUSY, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stressful.  Exhausting. The exact opposite of what you’d want a holiday season to be.

This year I was well on my way to the latter.  I haven’t been sleeping, I’m still smack in the middle of my recovery and rehab, I’m still in daily pain, the house has once again gotten away from me.

And there are gifts to wrap!  Plans to make! Events to attend!

There’s a six year old, looking to her mom with love and expectation and wonderment, trusting that I’ll make the season magical and fun and exciting.

I literally couldn’t “do Christmas” at the speed I was going, and take care of all my other responsibilities, and focus on my recovery, and make things nice for the kids, and maintain any level of sanity.  

So, I started saying no.

The first thing I said no to was Christmas cards, even though we do them every year.  The pictures, the designing, the addressing, the stamping.  And you know what?  The earth is going to keep spinning even if all my relatives and friends don’t get a smiley picture of the McGrails to hang on their wall for two weeks before they recycle it.

Then I said no to a writing project, one I’d actually really wanted to do, but that carried a deadline of ten days before Christmas.

I said no to adding 237 new cookies to my repertoire this year.

I said no to causing myself physical pain by making the house reach some magical level of cleanliness before we have guests.  They’ll deal.

I said no to feeling like I needed to answer all my emails, or respond to everyone’s questions, or to fulfill anyone else’s expectations.  Yesterday morning, I got up and cleaned out my email box with one big (what I’d like to think was polite) response along the lines of, “I’ll get to this after the new year.”

I said no to doing, deciding, or thinking about anything that isn’t a priority right now.

And those “no”s freed me.

Those “no”s mean that I can say YES to my girl, and to my family, who shouldn’t have to pay the price for me not being able to say no when it’s needed.

YES to a lazy day at the zoo.

YES to paper snowflakes.

YES to a movie and popcorn first thing in the morning.

YES to playing with new dolls.

YES to gingerbread houses.

YES to playdates.

YES to driving around at night just to look at Christmas lights.

YES to Christmas parties with friends.

YES to spending hours reconnecting over Pay Day or Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

YES to hot chocolate and whipped cream.

YES to carpet picnics.

YES to quiet moments, and loud moments, and silly moments.

The “yes”s come quickly and easily, or at least they do when I’m not bogged down with Very Important To-Dos (ie: things I probably need to say no to).  I often find it strange and frustrating how hard it is to say no sometimes. Why should it be hard?  Why shouldn’t we be able to say no at any time, for any reason, and not give it a single moment of regret?

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.  I said those words on my FB page just a couple of weeks ago, and I know I’ll say them again.  I seem to need the constant reminder.

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Because the thing is, there is nothing more important than my family, especially right now.  So when the moment comes and I have to make a choice…. when I feel that little tug of “But, but… you need to do this!  You have to do that!”  I’ll answer, “You know what, as a matter of fact I DON’T.”

This year I’m giving myself the gift of NO, and what a gift it is.


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Filed under about me, Christmas, family, parenting, perspective

Following Water and Watching Ants…

A stomach bug is currently trying to take over our household, and as completely miserable as that is (seriously, how utterly lousy is a stomach bug??) the forced break and sort of “reset” on life is timely and important. Tegan was sad to have missed a fun field trip on Friday, I had to cancel plans with a friend yesterday, and finally accepting the inevitable, we cleared the calendar for today as well.

For the moment, we’re home. As long as we need.

We’ve been busy lately. A good busy… but busy nonetheless. A friend recently asked me what we’d been so busy doing, and I didn’t have an immediate answer. It’s just been an active season all across the board. More playdates, more field trips, more activities, more plans. Which always leads to a not-so-subtle reminder of the importance of living in the moment. Otherwise, I make myself crazy.

There was a time when even two things scheduled in the same day would stress me out. I couldn’t enjoy a playdate in the morning, because my head was too wrapped up in thinking about getting them to gymnastics in the afternoon. Oh but these kids, especially Tegan… if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that I can’t live that way. Life is in the moments, not in the plans.

Last week, the kids helped me wash the car. Tegan had been asking for awhile, and it’s finally been hot enough to want to get wet lately.

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One of the girl’s favorite things to do after we wash the car is to put on our shoes, and follow the water down the street.   Like a stomach bug, but without the misery and ick, that walk always serves as a little time-out from life.  We chat and laugh and follow the stream (sometimes walking in the stream) as it goes to the end of our street, around the corner, across to the other side, and down down down along the curb until it finally stops – usually spreading into a thin little pool in the cement wash between two of our neighbor’s houses.  We stand and watch while it reaches out and eventually disappears, thin little fingers of water evaporating in the sun.

This most recent time, our water walk took even longer than usual, because she stopped to examine some ants along the way.

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We’d had plans that morning, and plans later again that day, but right then, in that moment… the only thing that mattered was following the water and watching the ants.  That’s it.  Not to-do lists, not errands, not playdates, not field trips, not yoga classes.

Water and ants.   A happy girl,  a moment, and a memory.

And I think that when you strip it all down, beneath all the flowery language and philosophical soap-boxing, all my parenting and unschooling advice can be summed up in those few words:

Follow the water.  Watch the ants. 

Say yes.  And be there, with your whole heart.

I have regrets as a parent to be sure.  Things I wish I’d done differently.  Things I wish I’d said “yes” to.  Things I wish I would have researched more carefully and didn’t say yes to.  But I have no doubts that I will never, ever regret taking the time to follow the water and watch the ants.


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Filed under kids, life, mindful parenting, parenting, perspective, Tegan

Finding Balance

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For the past month, I’ve been participating in a yoga challenge on Instagram.  There’s a new pose every day, and the idea is to simply share of photo of you doing said pose.  It’s been a fun little challenge, if for no other reason than because I really didn’t have any pictures of myself doing yoga, and now I do.  I obviously love all kinds of yoga, or I wouldn’t have become a teacher.  I love how strong it makes me feel, how connected and in touch with my own body. My favorite poses to learn and work on though are the balance poses, the ones my teachers affectionately referred to as the “party tricks” of yoga.

For one thing, they’re just super fun.  More than that though, is that natural high you get after trying and trying, that moment when everything’s aligned, your body is just humming, and if even for just a second…… you balance.

That feeling is amazing.

And because life is one big interconnected circle, the same holds true for parenting.  My biggest personal challenge for the entire 17+ years I’ve been a parent has been finding and maintaining balance.  It’s the great question that no one else could answer for me….. how do I do it?  How do I fix my alignment when its off?  How do I balance being a present and involved mom to my kids, and a present and involved wife to my husband?  How do I balance taking care of the kids, and the house, and life… and still have time for my own hobbies, my own professional or personal pursuits, my own self-care?

What I eventually realized (after a lot, a lot a lot, of stumbling followed by unproductive self-flagellation) is that you can’t have perfect balance all the time.  Life doesn’t work like that.  Life ebbs and flows in seasons. Sometimes one thing or person needs more or less of our attention than at other times.  Equilibrium is found in the overall journey, but only through a million little ever-changing, in-the-moment decisions.   Even now, just choosing to take the time to write this blog post means I’m not emptying the dishwasher, or answering any emails, or doing any conference planning.

And that’s okay!   It absolutely has to be okay, because the alternative is to believe that I can do ALL the things, ALL the time, and to beat myself up if I don’t.  And that’s really not acceptable to me.  So for now, I write.  I write with 100% of my being.  And in 15 minutes or an hour when a sleepy little voice calls out, “Mama!  Come!”, I’ll go to her with 100% of my being too.  And the dance will continue.  Some days humming along, as well orchestrated as a symphony…. and others an awkward limp, full of stops and starts and missteps, the saving grace being that there’s a new moment, a better moment, coming down the pike.

Much like finding balance in yoga, finding balance in life is an ongoing process.  Sure, you learn some “tricks” along the way, things that make it easier, but there’s always more to learn. Always a need to up your game. Always a new trickier pose as it were.  It’s a fluid, living organism, one you can only understand if you’re right there in the moment.  Not worrying about tomorrow, not stressing about yesterday, but being right here. Right now.  Breathing… Trusting…

Knowing that if you just stay with it, you’ll eventually have it.  Those toes will eventually come off the ground,

and you’ll balance.


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The Hard Things

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I’m really bad at Scrabble. So bad that on the rare occasion that I dare play with my husband, he doesn’t just beat me. He demolishes me, with double or triple my score. And no matter how many times he tells me it’s a puzzle game, NOT a word game, it still bothers me that I – someone who lives and breathes for words – can be so dreadfully awful at a game that revolves around… well, making words!

I’m bad at chess too, and all my kids who play can beat me easily. I don’t have the attention span required to think two, three moves ahead (to be honest, paying attention long enough to think through one move is pushing it), and I can never remember the rules.

I’m good at baking, but I can’t fry a decent egg to safe my life.

I like sports, but I’m incredibly clumsy. I ran track one year in high school, and the coach was so frustrated at my repeatedly bungled attempts at the high jump, that he finally said, “You know what, this event isn’t for everyone. Maybe you need to think about trying something else.” I did eventually get the hang of the long jump and triple jump, although doing so gave me life-long shin splints, so I’m not sure it was a fair trade-off.

I struggle with math. Once I go beyond the basics, something inside me cries, “Too hard, too hard!!” and a little switch in my brain shuts off. Refuses to even try.

I have a terrible sense of direction. I’ve lived here in Phoenix for over 8 years now, and while I never truly worry that I’ll get lost-lost (mainly because the layout of the city is very gridded, and I know I’ll eventually get to an area/street/highway that I recognize) my track-record outside of my own normal stops is… spotty. The thought of going anywhere I’m not very familiar with, especially without my little sticky note of directions (I tend not to trust the GPS) makes my palms sweaty.

So why am I sharing this list of shortcomings? Because, about a month ago, I started taking a karate class as part of my 40 for 40 list of goals for the year. I always thought it’d be fun, and it is fun. But it’s also really freaking hard, at least for me. It doesn’t come naturally. I keep getting my left and right confused, I’ll start a middle block and some how end up with a high block, and when my hands are finally doing the right thing, my feet forget what they’re doing. I get flustered and embarrassed and I have to work really hard to mentally get past my mistakes.

But I keep showing up, and I keep working at it.

Twenty years ago – probably 10 or even 5 years ago, if I’m being honest – I would have quit. Gone home after that very first class, made some sort of declaration about karate being “not for me”, and never gone back.

I stand before you a recovering perfectionist. For most of my life, if something didn’t come easily to me, if I couldn’t do it well right from the get-go, I simply didn’t do it. I avoided anything that was hard at all costs, anything that would make me feel stupid, or incompetent, or… human. And you know what? It’s really no way to live. I mean, sure, I did some worthwhile things. I wrote! I made art! I played music! But the things I missed out on… the things I really wanted to try, but avoided because deep down I was afraid of failing? That list is longer than I care to admit.

Some of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done as an adult have been things that were terrifying. Things that took me way outside of my comfort zone.  Things that were – or continue to be – really, really hard. Over time I’m learning to embrace the challenge, stare the fear in its face and say, “You’re not going to stop me this time.”

My kids? They don’t need to learn how to do this. They’ve already got it. When I interviewed them for my blog last year, and asked the question: “Some people think that unschoolers will only learn things that are easy for them, and will not ever challenge themselves. So do you learn things that are difficult, or do you just go for easy things that you know you’ll do well?” Spencer was quick to answer, “I like a challenge!” Right now he’s currently challenging himself with a two-year long small engine repair course that’s going to mean assignments, studying, and formal tests.  And just last week, when Everett and Paxton started a fencing class, their first comments after the class was done were, “That was SO HARD!  And so fun!  I can’t wait to go back.”

They’re not afraid of doing the hard things, and I’m finally, after 40 years on this planet, understanding why.

Because that feeling you get when you finally get that triple word score, or solve that polynomial equation, or smoothly execute the low block – middle punch – upper cut without getting tangled up in your own arms…

That feeling is pretty damn awesome.


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Muddy Bathrooms: More Lessons from my Daughter

It rained yesterday. It rained HARD. It was the kind of much-needed ridiculous, relentless, driving rain that gave us exactly two options: Play in it, or hole up inside for a day of Netflix-watching and eating stuff.

We did both.

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After a wild and watery game of tag in the lake previously known as our backyard

When we came inside, I was hit with a heavy case of the Mondays, and wanted nothing more than to just sit for awhile.  There was laundry to do, and floors to sweep, and bathrooms to clean, but first…. sitting.  Lots of sitting. When I realized that Tegan had gone back outside, and was happily involved in her own project (and had been for quite some time) I mustered up the energy to take advantage of the quiet and get a little housework done:

Pop in some laundry.  Run the vacuum.  Sweep the hall.  I did the bathrooms – my least favorite thing – last, and once they were sparkling to my liking, I headed back to my chair to resume my sitting.  I passed Tegan on the way;  a joyful little blur of pink and mud.  Heavy on the mud.

I found her in the bathroom I’d just cleaned about 18 seconds earlier.   In her split second head start, she’d gotten mud on the floor, mud on the toilet, mud on the mirror, mud on the counter, mud in the sink.   She was happily chatting away as she ran the water and filled up the sink, gently washing the mud off the Barbie that had just gotten a head-to-toe mud treatment at the Spa of Tegan.

“You little stinker.  I just cleaned the bathroom!”  Only I didn’t say it.   I wanted to say it.  I almost said it.  In countless other similar situations, I’d said it.  But this time, in that moment …. I saw her.    I really saw her.  Happy. Healthy.  Innocent.  Chatting about her Barbie and how much she’d liked her mud bath.  Talking about how black the water was getting. Wondering out loud what she was going to play when she was done.

I am so lucky.

And if I’d commented about the mess, even in a joking and lighthearted way, it might have stolen a piece of that moment.  It might have taken away a piece of that joy.  It might have prevented me from seeing, from really being there.  

Yes, it’s a lesson I’m destined to learn over and over and over, but it’s an important one.  And she teaches it better than anyone I know.

I said nothing about the mess, and when I did clean it up I was able to do it with a genuine smile. I will clean the bathroom, even if I just cleaned it.

I will clean it again.  If it means happy and healthy and curious kids, I will clean it a thousand times.

 


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Getting away, real life, and perspective

Last week at this time, I was drinking my morning coffee here:

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And walking here:

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And exploring here:

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And admiring these:

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It wasn’t technically a vacation for Mike, who was there for a TIAA Cref conference … but for myself, who tagged along just for the fun of it, didn’t have to sit in on any sessions about benefit options, and never once uttered any words like “fiduciary”… it was ALL vacation.

Vacations are weird.  There’s no better way to say that.  We got on a plane, we flew across the country… and real life ceased to exist.  For nearly an entire week our biggest problem (um, except for my temporary crisis that shall not be talked about) was deciding between Mexican and Italian for dinner.  Or what movie we were going to watch.  Or how much we should tip the tour guide.  Or which seashells we’d be taking home as a souvenir.

It was lovely and relaxing and it renewed my spirit.

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Things like bills?  Doctor’s appointments?  Errands?  Housework?  Crazy schedules?  Nope.  They were forgotten.  Existing only in some alternate reality that applied to other people.  Not me.

The night before we headed home from Marco Island, I started getting grumpy.  That same grumpy feeling I get on Sunday evenings when Mike’s been home for a particularly nice long weekend and has to go back to work the next morning.   That.  But multiplied by a factor of ten.

I couldn’t wait to see and hug my kids (who’d been enjoying their own vacation with their grandparents), but the real life…. stuff… that was also waiting for our return?  Not quite as excited for that part.

It wasn’t until we were on the plane, somewhere between Ft Myers and Minneapolis, that it hit me.  The only reason I hadn’t worried about any of life’s little distractions going on at home was that I chose (whether consciously or subconsciously) not to.   And if I could choose to do that in Florida, couldn’t I choose to do it in Phoenix?

The world hadn’t stopped spinning.  Nothing had changed.

My mortgage still has the same number of zeroes no matter what side of the country I’m on.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had such a realization (and I’m sure it won’t be the last), but I found my sudden epiphany freeing.  I don’t need white sand or palm trees to rest… in either mind, body, or soul.  It’s a choice, and it’s always been a choice.

When we’d landed safely back in Phoenix, I breathed in the dry desert air with gratitude.  Home feels good.  And when we walked in the house and were immediately met with an ant situation, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It’s all part of the experience.


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