Thoughts

Calling a Code Brown

March 23, 2017

Last week, I ran into my sweet new friend in the parking lot at preschool.

“Hey! Did you get a new car?” I asked her.
“No, I got in an accident.”
“Oh my gosh! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I’m not that person. I don’t like to be Debbie Downer.”
“But, I don’t care if you’re Debbie Downer. You got in an accident?”
“I’m just not having a good week. I screamed at the kids yesterday for no reason, and I’m cranky, and …”

I was watching a very familiar ball of yarn – one I personally keep in my nightstand, next to the melatonin and emergency candy bars – unravel.

She’d taken a mental health day from work, she went on to say, because things were just piling up. Between yelling at her boys and being annoyed with her husband and questioning all of those pesky major life questions, she was mentally depleted and in need of a mindless, indulgent Netflix binge. As I stood there, an unforgiving morning wind intruding in our conversation, I listened as this strong woman, who I deeply care for, talked herself down into a hole. It was a ritual I’d practiced myself and with almost all of my girlfriends, my sister, and my own mother. I waited for an opening.

“Listen, I know exactly how you feel. All moms feel that way. We all have those lows and days where we feel totally defeated, and it’s OK! I promise. I was standing with my toes to the edge last week. And now you’re up. We all just take turns.”

I think we can all agree it’s time to call it good on the charade. Being a mom in any capacity on any day that ends in “y” is a crazy occupation. Crazy! Anyone ambitious enough to think they’re going to climb that ladder has another thing comin’. Between the demand and the clients and the hours, mere survival is considered an above par performance on the job. There are two kinds of days: The days you have enough milk for their cereal, and the days you have to go out into the garage and grab a new gallon. The days you catch the bus, and the days you chase it down and get reprimanded by the driver. The days you make it to work without incident and the days you hit the bump and spill coffee down your white button-down blouse sleeve.

I can tell you, within 10 minutes of my children waking, what kind of day lies ahead of me. I can feel it. Like the air before a tornado – Mother Nature’s hot breath. But we don’t show the sweat on our faces, no. We smile and we press on and we push all the shit way down deep because we think it makes us less of a mom or less of a wife or less of a woman if we aren’t acing all the things, all the time. Well, guess what … that’s bullshit.

I always say, God makes ‘em cute so you don’t kill ‘em. In my case, he doubled up just to be sure and made them funny, too.

On one particularly trying morning, I slipped and let the truth serum seep in. When Cheri in my office asked how my morning was, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, thanks, other than the fact that I want to go on strike against my entire family for a few days.” A spark flickered in her eyes. “You know,” she said, like a kid at confession, “once when the kids were little, I told my husband he had to take them and I checked myself into a hotel for the weekend. I just watched TV, did a little shopping, ate.” We laughed like idiots, and I thought about how many other times I should have put out the invitation for other mothers to share their tales from the trenches.

In the parking lot that morning, if I squinted really hard, I could see the little armies waging battle inside my girlfriend. One side was fighting in the name of vulnerability and transparency and saying all of the depressing shit she was really feeling, while the opposition was willing to die on that hill for the sake of smoothing it all over with a laugh and a shrug. I’m familiar with that war, that struggle. How much to share, when to share it, how to sugarcoat it, which parts of the day’s failures I should censor for fear of how it will poison the perception of my otherwise “tidy” life.

We women, we are an efficient bunch. We are anticipatory. We are prepared and organized and concerned. We shoot ourselves in both feet day after day after day by getting everyone up and dressed and fed and out the door. We sign permission slips and send notes about doctor’s appointments and talk to the sitter at length about the quality and quantity of the baby’s bowel movements. We do it because somebody has to do it. But sometimes, being the somebody who does it just chews you up and spits you out.

In holistic nursing, there’s something called a Code Lavender. When the code is called for a caregiver, he or she is given a purple bracelet to wear, signifying they are in emotional distress. People might be a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little quicker to forgive minor oversights. Well, I’d say it’s time for moms to get a code of their own. Code Yellow, maybe? Code Brown? (Signifying we’re in deep shit.) That way, we can offer hugs, or cocktails, or comforting cuss words to our fellow comrades who are momentarily flailing.

If you have a perfect household with a perfect spouse and perfect children and everything is all Marie Kondo perfect everywhere, that is incredible. But, for the rest of us, it’s really easy to feel lonely sometimes. We think we’re alone in thinking our kids are assholes on occasion. We think we’re the only one who wants to stop for a drink after work on Thursdays instead of sitting in the carpool pickup line. We think there’s a conspiracy that our neighbor’s house is always suspiciously clean while ours is reproducing dust at a mind-boggling rate. We hide our secret Lucky Charms addiction and exchange kale salad recipes.

But the Code Brown could revolutionize our sorority.

For example – and this is entirely hypothetical – if I saw you pulling into the local watering hole on a Monday afternoon and we locked eyes, and you just happened to flash your poo-colored wristband, I might offer to pick up your kids and keep them busy for an hour, no questions asked. And you would return the favor two days later, when it was me sporting the bracelet. If you saw me carrying a snot-covered, entirely hysterical child out of the grocery store and glanced down to find a doo-doo-hued decoration south of my fingers, you would know to say a silent prayer for my sanity (and my child). And I would do the same for you that Friday when you replicated the scene in the McDonald’s playdome. It’s an emotional exchange program, rooted in support and understanding.

So, who’s in? Who’s comin’ with me here?

Let’s remove the stigma staining our struggles and choose, instead, to help a sister out. Friends, I do not mind having your children over to play for a bit, no strings or expectations attached. It does not inconvenience me to listen to your recount of just how irrational your daughter got over al dente noodles last night. No one can hear a mother’s cries and gripes like another mother. I say it can’t count as a true failure if you speak it aloud and set it free.

I’m here. And I know you are, too.

Kids

I wanna be like Spike

March 15, 2017

Women talk a lot about raising each other up. We make signs and applaud the movement to flex and demonstrate our strengths enough to generate a mighty wind, which we’ll use to power a greater good. We post about offering our shoulders for others to stand on, so they might finally be able to reach their dreams. But what does all of this really look like? What is the commonplace, everyday application for lifting up our sisters? Or our neighbors? Or our children?

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how abstract these concepts have been to me. I mean, the memes are great, and I love a good quote, but when you take the lipstick off, what does this particular type of empowerment look like? I wasn’t sure. Until last weekend, when I stopped looking for a grand demonstration and saw it, instead, in its purest presentation. In my daughter’s eyes.

I think I told you guys how Hank and I recently jeopardized our status as mediocre parents when, in an effort to save some of our Saturdays, we decided to sign Spikey up for the same basketball team as JoJo, even though she was two years younger and 4 inches shorter than her average teammate. When we started to question our decision, we resigned ourselves to the argument that it would build character and make her just that much better. Adversity, after all, breeds growth, right?

Each week, the kids would have 30 minutes of practice followed by a 30-minute game. Each little player was on the court for two of the four quarters. Well, on that very first week, Spike took an arm to the glasses, and that was all she wrote. She was still up for the practices, but she turned on the tears when the coaches tried to put her in for the game. “I don’t like people running at me!” she would say through pouty lips under a drippy nose.

The team had two coaches, a man and a woman. The latter, Coach Kasey, just had a way. She was young and athletic and a card-carrying mom herself. She pushed ever so gently by standing right behind them, supporting and cheerleading. She never forced Spike onto that court. Ever. And it was a good thing, too, because I did everything wrong. I pulled every ill-fated play from the playbook. I drenched her in compliments for minor tasks. I bribed. I threatened. I guilted. All laughable attempts that were destined to fall short. And why would they work? After so many “I believe in you”s and “Never say can’t”s, your parents just start to sound like the salesperson at a department store. “Oh my gosh, you can totally pull off snakeskin pleather pants!” It’s just pink noise.

Coach Kasey would check in on our girl and then jog over to the sideline and give me updates. “She said she’d try in the next quarter.” “She’s afraid of that girl on the other team.” “Her knee hurts.” “Her eye hurts.” “She forgot to wear underwear.” Always being a fellow mom to me, but a strong example to them. Positive and constructive and subtle.

At their second to last game, Kay came to watch the girls play. Spike had promised for weeks that she would play for Kay. In fact, she’d asked if her former caregiver would come later in the season so she could be at her very best. You have to really know Kay to appreciate the pressure here. She is a former volleyball and basketball coach and she gets a little … intense. She likes to yell and throw up ref signals, and I’m pretty certain it’s all involuntary. So, when it came time for Spike’s debut, and there wasn’t a lot of movement on the bench, I got a little worried.

But Kay sure as shit didn’t. She just tucked her coat under her arm and marched right over. Hank and I stood aside and looked on as Kay, Coach Kasey and the referee, a sweet older teenage gal, huddled around our hesitant five year old and coaxed her onto the court. We let the village raise our child. She played for two of the six minutes that quarter. Parents in the stands gave her enthusiastic thumbs up as she walked back over to her seat to grab her water bottle. When it was her turn again, she turned in a solid 45 seconds right at the end. I was thrilled.

The tiny taste of the action was enough to awaken the humble giant inside her. The entire week leading up to the final matchup, she told us she was going to play the entire game – all of the minutes Coach Kasey wanted her to play. She wasn’t going to be fast or yelling or waving her arms, she prefaced, but she was going to stay in and stay right there with her coach.

And you guys, she did.

She really did.

Just like the other kids, she played two full quarters, glued to the role model she admired so. Where Coach Kasey went, Spike went. When Coach Kasey told her to put her hands up, pass, run, she did it. Soon, she was running on ahead of Coach Kasey, as her knowing instructor hung back just enough to let her lead. Standing right behind her. Masterfully pushing her on.

And then, the Rudy moment. She shot the ball. Twice.

This adorable love nugget – who spent game after game sitting curled up, knees to her nose, arms crossed, peeking up over her legs with her sparkly purple glasses – that little bug stepped up and flung the ball toward the hoop with everything in her, from her toes to her fingertips. I’d be lying if I denied I got choked up over the whole thing, for the love of leggings!

After the final buzzer, Coach Kasey handed out awards. JoJo got “Best Listener” and Spike got “Team Spirit”. Might as well have been “Best Actress in a Lead Role” and “Best New Artist”. They raced over to show us their certificates and the shiny medals they were wearing with smiles to match. I bent down and gave JoJo a squeeze, then turned to Spike. “I am so proud of you, honey. You really did it.”

She asked if I’d take a picture for her. I followed after her wild brown ponytail, so much pride in her step, as she juggled her snacks and her accolades on a path to find Coach Kasey. As I watched their teacher crouch down in between them, I swallowed hard. This woman probably thought she was just volunteering to share her time and talent with her son’s team. What she actually did was positively alter the mental makeup of a stranger, my Spikey.

It’s truly awesome how people come into our lives and unexpectedly, through the most modest efforts, build new bridges on the map. They rewire parts of our confidence, our character, our backbone. That was what Coach Kasey did for my daughter. By staying with her, behind her, she ever-so-slightly reprogrammed the part of her heart where bravery resides.

As we walked to the car, Spikey’s mind couldn’t catch up with her mouth. “As I ran down and back and forth and I checked the ball and I shot the ball up there, I kept getting prouder and prouder and braver of myself!” She told us how badly she wanted to play basketball again, but only if Coach Kasey could be there. Hank and I exchanged knowing grins, heavy with the burdensome truths grownups carry around. Not a conversation for today. How could I tell those baby brown eyes that we would only be putting her in her appropriate age group going forward, and that made our paths crossing again unlikely?

As we made our way down the road, I heard mousey sniffles. I turned around and tears were rolling down her tender cheeks.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked. She didn’t answer.
“Are you hurt?” JoJo inquired.
“Are you tired?” I offered.
“Are you embarrassed you forgot underwear?” JoJo threw out there, which finally made her smile.
“I miss Coach Kasey,” she sobbed. And I felt stinging at the backs of my eyes.

Ugh! I hated that it clicked so late for my gentle lady. I hated that she’d made that connection and now it was over. It’s like when everyone tells you the fried egg sandwich at a local restaurant is to die for but you put off making the trip, and then you do and it is so amazing and then they take it off the menu the next week. The worst! I’ll be honest, I’m fine with getting our Saturdays back, but I would sit there seven days a week to see the pride I saw that morning on her face again. Those victories are so few and far between. And the first couple you get in life are the sweetest ones of all.

Coach Kasey packed up her own family that day and went back to her routine. And I’m willing to bet she has mommy moments of her own where, like all of us, she feels inadequate, disappointing, under-qualified. Maybe not, I’m guessing here. But I hope that Saturday she felt a small sense of what she gave to our middle chick. That she became my real-life illustration of what it means to lift people up. Small girls need grown women they can model themselves after. They will mimic what’s put in front of them, whether it’s good or it’s bad. I am so moved by the influence this woman, whose name I’d never heard 10 weeks ago, had on my ladybugs.

This is what I so desperately want for this place; A community that raises up our fellow citizens and our tinies and one that fosters a warm, safe morale where everyone feels empowered. I don’t know about you, but it’s felt like much of the world has been standing out in the cold for months now. It’s isolating living in a place so plagued by conspiracies and discontentment. But my hope for my children is that it’s different through their eyes. As I looked over and saw other parents clapping for my daughter’s air ball, I felt my heart swell. It was like taking a full breath for the first time this year. All the way in … and all the way out.

I don’t need my girls to be all star athletes, let’s not kid ourselves here. But I did see the invaluable struggle between self doubt and perseverance playing out for their tiny souls on that court. People talk about the parallels between sports and the real world all the time. Now I get it. And if our time in that microcosm has any correlation to the current state of things, perhaps there’s hope for this race after all.

Be someone’s Coach Kasey.

Raise someone up if you can.

Let them stand on your shoulders and offer your voice to make theirs louder.

When pure intentions and unbridled encouragement come together, hope has plenty of room to grow and spill over into all the dark corners and spaces where doubt likes to dwell.

Raise someone up.

Try That With Matt

To my brother on his 40th birthday

March 14, 2017

I know you don’t want this. I know you’ve been dreading this day for 19 years, at least. I know in your mind this milestone is marked with canes and can’ts and all the limitations you fear so much. But all those thoughts were born before we knew the truth. Now we know what 40 really looks like on you. It kind of looks like 21 driving up in a Honda Odyssey. It looks like flippy cup over nice carpet and gift bags crammed full of craft beer. And that’s really not so bad.

We know the important things haven’t changed and, if anything, they’ve gotten better. You’re still active. You’re still loved. You’re still one of the funniest people I know, even though sometimes I really don’t want to laugh at your stupid, sarcastic self.

From far away, 40 might have looked like Mike Tyson biting someone’s ear off, but up close, it’s more like Mike Tyson talking to his pigeons, right? You’re fine. Everything is just fine. I’m proud of you.

Celebrating your last four decades with friends and family last Friday was a treat. I always forget just how hilarious you are until I see you in your element – hosting a room full of people, telling a story in that voice that thunders over the group, and shakes the ground as you punctuate the important parts. Even though most of us have heard your bullshit before, it always feels new, hysterical, hard to believe. You’re theatrical and over the top and completely ridiculous. The people who know you best, know you’re best served up in this state. Showing off and workin’ your side hustle as a professional smartass.

You’ve been blessed with good friends who accept and humor you always, and that’s a gift you get to open every day. Not everyone is that lucky. Never stop sitting around with them and telling those stories. I mean, when someone knows the punchline involves you shitting your pants and they still let you get all the way to the end without blowing the whole thing, that’s generous.

I can’t wait to see what your 40s hold. More challenges, more stories, more love. I hope you choose to walk a little lighter and settle into all the best parts of who you are. I hope you don’t grow up and you don’t stop fighting to be the person you want to be. Meditate. Hike. Relax.

I can’t necessarily see into the future, but I’d say some of your best is yet to come. I can tell you one thing that I predict with 100-percent certainty though. One thing I will gosh dang guarantee you won’t be happening in this decade. I hope you read this next part extra carefully, old man: I will NEVER, ever stand up to sing karaoke with you again. You hog the mic and you don’t need me up there. There’s only room in that spotlight for one star, and it’s all you, brotha.

So, happy birthday and best wishes, you lovable son of a … Here’s to 40 more!

JoJo Just Said, So Says Sloppy Joan, Spike Speak

Sisters say what? (Vol. 5)

March 7, 2017

We laughed to our guts! – Spike

I love to drink my tears. – Spike

JoJo, your face looks funn- [turns and runs into wall]. – Spike

It’s like raining snow! – Spike

Is “whore” another word for “seat”? – Spike

Are we cheering for the Steelers or the Takers? – Spike

I wish you were little, and you were my sister and you looked like you, but smaller. – Spike

Did you know grass is Mother Nature’s hair? – Spike

She laughed so hard she cracked herself out! – Spike

I think my eyes were playing tricks on your mouth. – Spike

See … isn’t having kids fun? – JoJo

Uncle Map is a kiddish grownup. – Spike

I’m having a lot of “excuse mes” today – Spike

Love isn’t just a word. It’s a feeling. – Spike

I wanna wear my bathing soup! – Sloppy Joan

Mom, can I tell you a secret? I’m the class helper a lot and I have to hand out markers. And when I hand out the markers, can I tell you the secret part? I give people markers that match their shirts. If they’re wearing blue, I give them blue. But if they’re wearing white, I have to give them a black marker or some other color. – Spike

Mom, you know, some grownups are smaller than teenage kids because they have shrunken. It’s not their fault. They just get smaller sometimes. – Spike

Is that for your things? – Spike,
Yes – Me
Oh. … Like, it holds them down?
Kind of. It holds them still.
Oh. … But I don’t need one yet, right? Because my things are so small.
Right. But you will when you’re bigger.
Right, like when my things are hangy.
Uh huh.

Do all the hookers have head lamps? – Spike

Mom … Mom, I have to tell you something. No, in your ear. [I bend down] I forgot underwear – JoJo, wearing Umbros at her co-ed basketball game

If you were a seahorse, you’d come out of your dad’s tummy. It’s true. – Spike

Does my bathing suit look like a lea-tart? – Spike

A lot of animals are made out of meat. So I say care for the honeybees, care for the birds, care for the everything. Even animals that don’t make food, I’m still saying to care for even all the animals. Even the ones that attack Mother Nature. – Spike

Dad, what’s that sound? – Sloppy Joan
What sound, babe? – Hank
That car sound.
What car sound?
That boom shakka lakka.

Did you pick up upstairs? – Me
I think we can do more. – Spike
How’s it looking’ up there? – Grammy
Ahhh, i don’t know if you heard me say, there’s more we can do. – Spike

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt & Co. The Showdown.

March 5, 2017

My family gathers around food. It’s just our thing. Father’s Day is about Dad’s famous grilled chicken. Christmas is for ham balls, chicken wings and queso dip. The girls, Hank and I have dinner every Friday night with my parents before playing three rounds of euchre (Team Granny Panties vs. Boys). And the granddaddy of them all, Big Breakfast, is a feast of Dad’s dippy eggs, pounds of maple sausage and bacon, mugs and mugs of coffee (with the naughty creamer, of course), pancakes, fried potatoes and cinnamon rolls that takes place around my parent’s dining room table every-other Sunday. In a way, this is our church, and the sermon is always written in shameless digs and sarcasm. The congregation is questionable at best.

I could talk about Big Breakfast for hours. Seriously. It’s all about how much time you have. You’ll have your constants, like Dad dripping in sweat over four pans of food, yelling out in desperation through a potato-smelling smoke, “How many more eggs do we need? Marilyn! I asked how many more eggs do we need?” Poor guy. He’s always just slaving away as the rest of us get our coffee in hand and watch CBS Sunday Morning, which is always, always on. You’re guaranteed a story about somebody, usually my mother, falling down. It seems someone in our family falls down at least once a week. Which is probably some form of karmic justice because we all laugh like idiots at the storyteller’s misfortune. I mean, I’m sorry, but if you don’t think folks eating pavement is a side-splitting good time, we just can’t communicate. I always get the middle cinnamon roll, because, it’s the best. Duh. And there are always babies fighting and biting each other over plastic princesses.

Then we sprinkle in some excitement occasionally for extra flavor. There was the time the girls called 9-1-1 five times, unbeknownst to us, and a sheriff showed up. There was the time the entire family spent an hour trying to wrangle a 200-pound pig named Kevin Bacon into a horse trailer. There was the morning Matt belched so loud (also not uncommon) that Mom startled and instinctively turned so quickly she popped something in her neck. Or the beautiful Sunday morning Mom and I were sitting on the deck while the kids played and I leaned too far back in my plastic chair and flipped over backward. Or – and this is one of my favorites – the time my nephew took us on a Polaris ride and my brother, really, really had to go to the bathroom, so he jumped off the moving four wheeler when we got close to the house, his butt cheeks clenched so tightly he only came down on his toes and then waddle/ran all the way to the door.

And then there’s my tiny white nemesis. My parents have this rescue dog, Josie. She’s one of those tiny things, a mix of two different breeds that both have names that sound like poop, Caca-something or Doodle-other. All I know is she loves my dad’s soft bosom and licks her butt and then licks his face and I’m the only one who finds the entire relationship completely appalling. Plus, just the juxtaposition of this giant man holding a frail little dog never seems normal to me. Big Rog, knowing how I feel about the tiny mutt, refers to her as “my little sister”. “Aw, aren’t you going to say hi to your little sister?” “Your little sister had to be sedated to get her teeth cleaned, poor thing.” And so on. Well, at the last Big Breakfast, my ten-tons-of-fun brother pulled a skin tag clean of her neck with his bare hands because he thought it was a tick. She let out of tiny yelp and the whole thing was over as fast it it began. “What is that?” he asked, holding it up between his thumb and his index finger. “Oh my gosh!” Mom replied. “You pulled off her mole!” As Spike would say, “I was laughing to tears.”

See, what I mean … how much time do you have? It’s a sunny-side-up sideshow at a low-budget three-ring circus, this family.

So, why am I talking about all this? Well, partly because I got sidetracked, but I started because Big Breakfast is now part of a winner-takes-all contest several years in the making. It’s sort of a Try that with Matt … and Hank, and Kirsten, and Rog, and Marilyn. That’s right, we invited the whole kookie clan to join us for an extra-special, family-wide weight loss challenge. The Hupe Heifer Showdown began on Sunday, February 19. Six weeks, person who loses the highest percentage of body weight, wins.

Let’s meet the competitors.

The husband.
Honestly, we’re more allies than anything so it’s really hard for me to be an asshole about this one. I make his food, so sabotage wouldn’t even be a game at this point. (“They’re these weird Swedish nutrition bars. My mom used to give them to the kids in Africa to help them gain weight.”) Plus, I’m pretty sure his heart isn’t in it and he’s only participating to humor the acorns at the nuthouse.

Why he could win: This guy can drop some weight when he wants to. But he also has an addiction to authentic Mexican fare and miscellaneous goodies. Dark horse here for sure.

The parents.
Considering the parameters of the challenge, either one of these clowns could just demolish us if they wanted to. Their plan is to adjust their macronutrients (proteins, carbs) and workout more. Now, this brings up a topic that must be addressed. This is not a joke, you guys. My parents wear denim to workout. We’re talking full-on, chafe-your-nether-regions, unforgiving, tough as Clint Eastwood, 5-0-1 jeans here. I once walked a 4-mile race with my dad while he was wearing jorts, aviators and a ball cap. They just go out there like, “Hey, no big deal. I was just doing some light grocery shopping and decided to pop in for a little workout. What’s this spandex you speak of?” And it just baffles me entirely.

These people also grew up in a time when the shelves weren’t crowded with food and to waste wasn’t an option. When my dad was little, he once ate his entire meal after, af-ter, someone at the dinner table sneezed and skyrocketed a boog right onto the side of my dad’s plate. He just pushed right past it. If he put that type of dedication toward cleaning up his diet and moving a little more, or my mama did the same, this could be theirs for the taking. Although, I did have a tense 20-minute argument with my dad over the benefits of white bread (him for, me against) on Friday, so … I’ve got that goin’ for me.

Why they could win: A lifetime of refined flour and 9 p.m. snacking set these two up for some serious success if they can change their habits.

The brother.
On the morning of our initial weigh-in, Matt was running a few minutes late. As we all started going through the breakfast buffet a la Roger, my big brother walked in the back door, peeled off his shirt, then his pants and then pulled his boxer briefs up his crack before stepping onto the scale. The Chris Farley-esque stunt had Mom bent over clenching all of the pee-releasing muscles. It was bold. It made a statement. It lessened my appetite. I’m pretty sure this dude would sit in a sweat suit hovering over coals in a sauna for 48 hours straight to win this thing. I’ve been seeing him at the gym at 5 a.m. and I know he wants it. Problem is, he also wants deep dish pizza and all of the chocolate cakes. The struggle is so, so real.

Why he could win: I’ve often thought that Matt was missing the chip inside most people’s bodies that says, “No! Stop! This is the most I can take!” He’s lifted a riding lawnmower into the back of a truck by himself. The guy is Thor dressed up as an insurance agent. When he turns it on, he can hammer some workouts. Plus, he sweats like a whore in a Texas church in August.

The sister.
Dear, sweet, chocolate-covered Kirsten. My sister has six, count ‘em, six little girls. She runs ragged on all the days that end in “y” and the past few months in particular have been heavy with stress. To cope, she focused on what she needed to do for her chick-a-dees and less on taking care of herself. (Raise your hand if the lyrics to this tune sound familiar to you?) When you grow up with the nickname “Skelator,” the concept of having to work for a good weight can be a bit foreign. Kirsten has always been long and lean and now she finds herself in unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, territory. She’s rich in knowledge about healthy eating and so, so short on time, so she has her sights set on regaining balance for sure.

Why she could win: In her own words: “Because I’m too stubborn to let Matt win.” One of my fondest memories from childhood was watching Kirsten chase Matt around the island in the kitchen with a butcher knife after he’d pushed her buttons one too many times. What I’m saying is, there’s a history here. If it’s between cutting off an arm and losing to Matt, she’s severing the limb.

The me.
I have spent so many words in this space talking about my love of sweets and lack of control, it would be silly to steal more real estate expanding upon it now. Other than, just for the sake of transparency, i should mention that Hank brought home five boxes of Girl Scout cookies last week, so the cards are somewhat stacked against me. I hope somebody gets a damn patch on their sash for the internal shit I’m going through right now.

Why I could win: If Kirsten and Matt somehow destroy each other before or at the final weigh-in, my odds are pretty fair. Here’s hoping.

Those are the ponies. Ladies and gents, place your bets!

Mindfulness

Working on my core

February 28, 2017

Let’s start with a game.

I’m going to ask you to pick three words. The first three words that pop into your mind, OK? The prompt is: What drives your day?

Three words … and … go.

Got em? OK, what were they?

Full disclosure, so it’s all out in the open, my three words were: work, schedule and kids

Don’t forget your words.

So, I wanna talk about this book I read. Because we NEED to talk about this book I read. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, the dope pages of “Present Over Perfect.”

Present. Over. Perfect.

This audiobook came in for me at the library on the same day the Lauren Graham book, “Talking As Fast As I Can” came in. I was getting ready to leave for my Florida trip, I wanted something light, and so I opted for Lauren first. Now I’m watching Gilmore Girls because, let me just save you the suspense, the book is likely one trillion times better if you are watching or have watched the series. Which I hadn’t. So now I am.

Anyway, her mouth was really moving because it went super quick. Having wrapped the Gilmore diaries, I looked down the Tuesday after my quick Tampa weekend and saw the other audiobook, “Present Over Perfect” sitting on my passenger seat. I’d almost forgotten about it. I put in the first CD and a sweet voice filled the cabin of my SUV. Minutes later I was crying, clutching my chest and holding my breath. I think I was nodding, too.

Um, wait, did I write this? No, I didn’t write this. I’m not that good. This was instead a classic case of my very favorite thing; when it feels like the author, in this instance Shauna Niequist, chose her words specifically for me, her attentive audience of one. Shauna is, naturally, part of the poignant sorority that boasts the likes of Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker that I so wholeheartedly worship. These truthtellers have got it goin’ on, you guys, I’m tellin ya.

Sobbing like the latest Bachelor cast-off after just 5 pages is a promising sign. And it proved a match. Completing this book in its entirety was like having a conversation with myself after we hadn’t spoken in years. It drudged up a lot of honest crap I’d been denying or shrugging off for years. It was a mirror I’d tucked in the back of my closet and now I was staring right at all the blemishes and cracks and imperfections.

Let’s dive right in.

“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.”

Let it soak in. Let it marinate and send sweet reflections through your scattered mind. But don’t linger too long. This is good. Really good. But Shauna was just getting started here. She was toying with me; Dangling her heart-squeezing verbiage in front of me like a gorgeous orange carrot to a tired, famished bunny, so I’d wrap my front paws around them and she could just then … at the perfect moment … yank me into her web of truth.

“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be known as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through. … I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was I was organized.”

Or capable, or a great multitasker, or punctual or anal. Remember your words?

“But what I eventually realized is that the return on investment was not what I’d imagined, and that the expectations were only greater and greater. When you devote yourself to being known as the most responsible person anyone knows, more and more people call on you to be that highly responsible person. That’s how it works. So the armload of things I was carrying became higher and higher, heavier and heavier, more and more precarious.”

My current currency is completion. A demand comes in, I respond and then I’m paid in checkmarks. I can take something off the list. I can crawl into bed knowing I’m rich in lines drawn through the middle of pressing matters like ordering new checks, refilling the dog’s prescription and sending peanut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free cookies in for the school fundraiser. I’m walking through my life collecting chores and calls and duties and no one is keeping track of the gold stars I get in return, how many pieces of flair I have on my lapel. Except me.

My collateral damage can be tallied in many forms, but perhaps saddest of all is my connection with my husband. This is not to say that we aren’t in a good place or we’re having problems, but the life and the routine I’ve built for our tribe certainly has the potential to break what has always been so good about us. The rich stuff. The stay-up-late-talking-and-laughing-over-gin-and-tonics stuff. My hand to God, he sent me a calendar invite to “hang out” this past Sunday. A calendar invite! I accepted and then immediately felt the asshole aspect of the situation rain down upon me.

The other day in meditation, I silently asked myself if I was giving enough to my marriage. On the drive to work that morning, I saw a “Henry’s Plumbing” van. I’ve never seen a “Henry’s Plumbing” van in this town, or in my life and now a toilet tender’s business bearing my husband’s name was turning in front of me. Just 24 hours later, a sign we kept in our bathroom that said, “I love you because _____” fell down. You know, the kind you write on with a dry erase marker? We’d had it for years. We’d leave silly and sweet little notes on it from time to time. Well, it fell off the wall. Gabrielle Bernstein talked a lot in her book, “The Universe Has Your Back” about signs. Ask for them. Look for them. Be open to them. Well, I got three of them in as many days.

I made the comment to Hank that I often feel like we’re business partners, particularly during the week. We are tending to our tasks and checking in on the progress of various projects. “How’s that poop test result coming, Jones?” “Doctor said to have Sloppy Joan lay off the corn kernels, Banks.” And so on. I can’t pinpoint when I committed to full-on ruining all of the things that made us fun and all give-a-damn about everything. I just know that it happened in spite of our best efforts to stay cool.

“It seems to me that one of the great hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it’s easier than true, slow, awkward and painful connection with someone who sees all the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult.”

“It is better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way.”

“What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management.
And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace”

“The world will tell you how to live, if you let it. Don’t let it. Take up your space. Raise your voice. Sing your song. This is your chance to make or remake a life that thrills you.”

I know, brothers and sisters. I know.

This particular thread running throughout the pages was the big one for me; The slap that jolted the reality to the surface for me. If you think of your social connections like an onion, the center is likely comprised of your husband, kids, immediate family and ride or dies. Next, would be good friends and extended family. Then we’re looking at friends. Then acquaintances and gym buddies, and so on. As you work your way out through the layers, the connections get softer and softer. But what happens, and what has been happening with me for years, is we spend so much time committing, saying yes, donating our time and our talents to the people in the outer layers that we exhaust all our good stuff.

By the time I leave work, take care of any outlying obligations, make dinner and get through the kids’ checklist of “necessities” for the next day, I certainly don’t have the mental lightness to roll around and play tickle torture. I am depleted and primed to fail.

And while this all seems to be the norm these days, and I know that my priorities, in all their backwards glory, are not uncommon for mothers, the whole thing really is super freaking messed up, right? Because I volunteer to help causes that are important but not that close to me personally, I miss hearing JoJo’s recount of her bee experiment that day. And we all know those stories are always best the first time around. Because I said I could step up my freelance game for extra sitter money, I rush through the bedtime ritual and feel annoyed that my five year old dare ask for “one more butterfly kiss.”

It’s a mess.

My flow is all fucked up.

It’s clogged with boulders of bullshit excuses and obligations made to third- and fourth-layer acquaintances. I have to learn to choose no when yes means less of the good stuff. Less cuddles, less sanity, less conversation, less eye contact. I have to learn to say no even though the yes is wearing pretty clothes. Even if it means more money or smart connections. I have to learn that if yes doesn’t feel good in the moment, it’s not going to feel good on a Thursday night at 9:30 when the laundry needs folded and Sloppy Joan has gotten out of bed for the 14th time.

“I almost left her behind. I almost lost her when I started to believe that constant motion would save me. That outrunning everything would keep me safe. You cannot be a mystic when you’re hustling all the time. you cannot be a poet when you start to speak in certainties. You can’t stay tender and connected when you hurl yourself thru life like being shot out of a canon, your speed a weapon you wield to keep yourself safe. The natural world is so breathtakingly beautiful, people are so weird and awesome and loving and life-giving. Why then did I try to hard for so long to get away without feeling or living deeply?”

Go back to your words. Think about what they mean to you and what you wish they were instead. Because, why not wish for what you want?

I want to move work to love, and schedule to passion, and kids to … well, the kids can stay. But I want to stop letting responsibility be my defining asset. So I can get it all done? What’s the good in any of that if I’m miserable? Who’s keeping score anyway?

It’s time to shake things up and slow things down and really, truly, deeply focus on the middle of my onion. People are always saying they need to work on their core, strengthen their core, build from their core. Well … there ya go. This is the kind of core work I need. Screw abs, I want to be present for Spike’s story hour and the chicks’ gymnastics show in the front room, with Sloppy Joan wearing her “bathing soup” as a leotard.

These are the people I so desperately want to hold close to me. Because at the end of the day, I’d rather be focused than frenzied. I’d rather be late to a meeting than missing as a mother. I’d rather be known for my mess than tidy and tired.

I’d rather be present than perfect.

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. 90-mile month.

February 14, 2017

I have an ongoing list of ideas for these monthly challenges with my brother. Some of the things are just a matter of time (a bar crawl in kayaks, coming this summer!), while others might never happen (backpacking through Ireland?). The point is their dreams … aspirations … wishes on stars that might actually be satellites. Now, obviously, sustaining this little project – 12 challenges a year – means the entire list can’t be all grand excursions and riding on elephants. We have to pepper in some practical for good measure. These vanilla additions are challenging, but achievable. Adventurous but local. Exciting but not as exhilarating as the biggies. So when my brother picked one of these “practical” items for the first month of the year, I was kind of, unintentionally, a turd about it.

January Challenge: Run 3 miles every day of the month. No excuses. No crying.

It could have been worse. I believe I actually had, “Complete a 100-mile month” on the list, so this was technically an improvement. We would be coming in around 90 miles (should have been 93, but we gave each other one pass). It was going to get real, and it wasn’t going to be fun, and it wasn’t going to be really fun.

**MATT**

Jon Sutherland – who holds the record for running on the most consecutive days – has completed at least one mile every single day for over 17,000 days in a row. That’s 45 years and 2 days, a number that will be outdated by the time you read this post. So, when I suggested we run 3 miles a day every day for 31 days in January, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’ll spare you the suspense. It wasn’t.

In fact, it was whatever the polar opposite of cake is. Something awful, that smells bad. But despite the fact that it was a complete pain in the ass, now that it’s over, I can look back and say there was never a time I went for a run and didn’t feel like the reset button had been hit after. We all struggle to make time for ourselves, at least that seems to be the trend with myself and my peers that have children. We are all too busy shuffling our kids here and there, and staying after work, and grabbing things at the grocery, and cleaning our houses, that we end up with a million reasons why we can’t make it to the gym. And who can blame us?

I think that this is what I took away from the challenge this month; that I’m full of bullshit excuses. Did I drop some lbs and get in better shape? Yes. Oh, and I have to mention it just to piss my sister off, your boy was a “super user” at the Y for the month of January. You know this shit! (Didn’t see your name up there, DSS.) Yes, my party pants now fit a little looser so I don’t have to worry about them splitting when I am out there on the dance floor dropping it like it’s hot, or … Oh, wait … I’m 39…. I mean I don’t have to worry about my Levis splitting up the crotch when I am squatting down to check out the soft batch cookies on sale. But even more than all that, I realized that we can ALL make time for ourselves if we really want to. And it’s important.

Going to the gym is not being selfish. It’s just taking 30-60 minutes for yourself to set a good example for your kids and for you to get that healthy release so when you do go home you don’t unload your stress on your family. We are all guilty of it. We all have shitty days when we don’t want to go workout, we don’t want to cram one more thing in. We just want to stuff our fat faces with chocolate chip cookies the consistency of pillows and watch 20 episodes of The Office. And it feels good for a second, but 20 minutes later, when you are doing dishes, laundry, etc., and you’re so filled with stress it’s exploding out of your beard hair holes, guess what … someone’s ass is getting yelled at. Then you feel like an asshole. A cookie-eating asshole. Because you know they didn’t really deserve it. And you know if you would have just taken your fatass to the gym, you could have avoided the whole verbal beat down.

We all struggle with the same things, even though we feel alone. You let yourself go and don’t want to feel judged going back to the gym. You’re unsure of how to use equipment. One of the hardest things for me is the voice in my head telling me to grab the chips and the remote. But you have to squash those thoughts and take care of you! Nobody is judging you and people are always happy to help if you just ask. And guess what, after you workout, you don’t want the chips anyway.

You only get one go at this life and you don’t want to spend it sitting on your ass, do you? You don’t have to run every single day for 31 days, but challenge yourself to get to the gym or get a workout in each day, and see what it does for your attitude or how it motivates the people around you. This challenge has helped kick start my cardio workouts again, I know that. I was in a funk for the past year where all I did was work and make excuses why I couldn’t get to the gym. It is so easy to give up on goals, but you know what feels even better than sitting on the couch and relaxing? Unleashing that inner beast you have been hiding under excuses! Anyone can quit, but who wants to be just anyone? Not me.

Note: Do not ask DSS to be your gym buddy if you decide on a consecutive run challenge, we just started talking again the beginning of February. Good job, Sis! Love you!

**ME**

I don’t know how many times he told me, reminded me, that this was technically my idea. It takes a special kind of jackass – my kind, apparently – to propose 31 days of running in a row. Hank and I had company on New Year’s Day and I knew right away this was going to be a bitch. I didn’t want to run. It was the first day of the challenge. I’d been in a dark place during a Try That with Matt before, I mean these can’t all be fun, but unlike the spin class at the asscrack of dawn after a night of drinking, this one was a slow burn.

I always have something to say, this you know by now, but I don’t have much to say for this one. There were points where I was literally angry with Matt for picking it. How messed up is that? I was projecting my disappointment in my physical ability and lack of positivity onto that poor innocent old man.

“Are you avoiding me?” he asked.
“Ugh, kind of.” I said, ashamed.
“I can tell! I feel it.”

It only made it worse that he seemed to be loving it. Loving it! Running! Every day! Every stupid day. It was like he was having some sort of life-altering realization and I was just trying to draft behind him for survival.

**Random interjection**

Speaking of, the Grammy’s are on in the background as I write this. Does anyone else feel emotionally inadequate when they watch Beyonce perform? Her style of musical storytelling leaves me bewildered at times. Like, I know I should be feeling something very deeply but I’m not 100 percent sure what those feelings are exactly. Oh, it’s women empowerment … wait, wait, it’s forgiveness … no, I think it’s about looking like my mom and thanking her for offering me her womb? Oh God, Oh God! The chair is tipping back, you guys! The chair, is tipping, back. OK, she’s down. Phew! I mean, she’s badass, regardless. It’s all just a little confusing for me personally.

**End of random interjection**

Every day we would exchange proof of mileage. I would typically go in the mornings and send him a snapshot of the watch I use to track laps. It takes 27 laps to equal 3 miles. Yes, 27 laps. But it’s OK, you guys, because every other day they make you switch directions. So, I had that going for me. Matt would go in the evenings, so I’d get a pic of the panel on his sweat-soaked treadmill. I always picture the people on the machines next to him squinting and holding up their hands as his perspiration pounds them like a Hummer through a spring puddle. He kept getting faster and faster. I, on the other hand, seemed to be dragging as the days went by.

And I hurt everywhere. I read this article recently about how running just one mile every day was proven to increase mental clarity, creativity and physical longevity. Yeah, maybe. Maybe one mile a day feels a lot different than three. Cuz three hurt. My achilles was tighter than harp strings. My hamstrings were harder than an old man’s beer belly. My lower back ached, the bottoms of my feet were tender and I just felt, generally, like a broken old fart.

It wasn’t all bad, I guess. There was an unseasonable break in the weather and I did a few runs outside. That’s so much better for my soul. I love checking things out, listening to my music. But, no, for the most part I was a miserable, cranky turd for the entirety of the month. Remember, I was simultaneously Whole30-ing, so while Tons of Fun could run and then murder a 2-pound meatloaf burger (That really happened. I know, because I gave it to him.), I was chasing my miles with plantain tortillas and 5,000 avocados. The whole thing, for me, was just really brutal. I’d never been happier for freaking February in my life.

Onto the next …

Wanderlust

It’s Tampa bay for this buccaneer

February 9, 2017

I love my husband.

I do.

You won’t find a better human walking this earth. But homeboy is one lucky son of a biscuit that my love language isn’t gifts.

In our 15 years together, he’s gifted me on various birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and Valentine’s Days with such treasures as a rubber ducky from his school bookstore, long underwear (a few times), a mini muffin pan and, most recently, Microsoft Office. Now that’s not to say he hasn’t had some real winners in there, too. He has. But none sexier than Excel. I mean … you guys, merging cells, sorting, formulas …

And here I am giving him lemons like this:

“Why didn’t he just say it out loud?” a coworker and mutual friend asked.
“Huh?”
“You should always say things like that out loud. ‘I got my wife Microsoft Office for her birthday.’ I feel like he would have done things differently.”

Every holiday is caked in suspense. What will he come up with next, I wonder. He’s a thinker, my husband, and he lives in a literal world. It’s part of what I love about him.

So, this year, on Christmas morning, when he excitedly handed me a small cardboard box and told the girls Mama was going to open “the one,” I immediately started running through the possibilities in my head. An attachment for the Kitchenaid? A bug net? A set of encyclopedias? No. It was a foam airplane. Taped to the bottom of the box was a picture of me and my friend, Nissa.

“Oh, is Nissa coming here?” I asked.
“No, you’re going there.”
“What?!”
“In February.”
“I am?!”
“Yes.”
“But, I’ve never flown by myself …”
“It’s a direct flight. Really easy.”
“But … oh my gosh!”
“Well, I asked the girls what we should get you and JoJo said, ‘Mom needs a break,’ so we decided to send you away for a weekend.”

Does this make my child incredibly observant and sensitive to others, or has all of my bitching and yelling over her seven years of life resulted in her recognizing my borderline psycho personality, thus prompting her to suggest shipping me off? I’m still not sure.

I immediately picked up my phone. I wasn’t sure if the time was different in Florida. I wasn’t thinking clearly.

“I’m coming to Florida!” I messaged.
“I know! Are you excited?!” Nissa replied.
“Yeah! I just can’t believe it!”

I thought I’d seen every play in Hank’s playbook, but this was entirely unexpected. One of my resolutions was “less things and more experiences,” so my old man’s yuletide treat was right on time. But I was admittedly nervous.

“Your mom and brother told me you’d hate it.” Hank said.
“Really?”
“Yeah. They said you’d feel guilty and hate the travel.”
[both true.]
“Oh, gosh, no I love it.”
[also true.]

How does a woman go 34 years without taking one of the most popular forms of long-distance transportation alone, you ask? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve just always had someone with me. And I prefer it that way. You might recall I have special eyes, so navigating the unfamiliar can be tricky. I also have another disorder I don’t talk about much. Chickenshitosis. I’m often frightened by things that are generally completely harmless and part of being a grownup.

The weeks passed quickly, as all weeks do after your third child, and soon I was packing my carry on for my long weekend in Tampa.

A bit about Nissa. I know this pretty gal from the Sunshine State through my previous employer. After my first day on the job, I went home and told my husband that there was a girl about my age, but I didn’t think she was necessarily interested in making friends. Turned out, she was just monotoned! We grew close as crossed eyes pretty quickly. She was the graphic designer. I was the copywriter. We pitched a blog and then spent months taking trips where we found creative ways to expense food crawls around New York City (“It’s what our target demographic would do!”) and attending conferences with castmates from Laguna Beach and the likes of Rachel Zoe.

After about four years collaborating during work hours and bonding over Bachelor finales in our free time, Nissa told me she was moving back to her home state. I hated Florida for a hot second. She came in for a visit shortly after I had Sloppy Joan, but that was it,aside from emails and SnapChats, for years. In fact, she had a whole child in the time that passed since our last meeting. She became a mommy. And has another on the way.

The most important thing to know about Nissa is she loves food. This Scandanavian can throw down on some grub, lemme tell ya. If I had to pick someone to plan my last meal on this planet, and I got absolutely no say in it, I would pick Nissa. She’s the girl who knows which restaurant specializes in sardines three ways and which one makes pasta strictly from the hair of angels, and so on. I’ve gone on at least six trips with her that I can think of off the top of my head, and she picked the restaurants we dined at in every single city. She never misses. She started sending links to restaurants about 3 weeks out. I couldn’t wait.

I arrived in Tampa without incident Friday afternoon. It’s always so surreal when you set eyes on someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Like your pupils have to adjust to their familiar face. Not surprisingly, she told me we were heading to South Tampa for tacos and margaritas (just for me, because, you know … bun, oven) at bartaco.

“Do you want to sit outside?”
“Yes!” Always yes. I had left 32-degree days behind me and I wasn’t about to stare at the sun through a window.

We got some magical combination that included spicy cucumbers, a special slaw, 6 tacos, 2 tamales and guac with giant tortilla chips. I also treated myself to a pomegranate margarita. While we dined al fresco, catching up and reveling in the fact we were sitting across from each other, my sweet friend informed me she was waiting to hear if she got a new house. She did. We found out around the time we polished off the guacamole.

This was cause for celebration! (Not that we needed cause.)

We left lunch and hit two sweet spots in less than an hour. Don’t show up if you can’t keep up, OK? There was an adorable new gourmet ice pop shoppe across the street, The Hyppo. Prego went for salted chocolate and I picked up an avocado coconut option that belonged in my belly. It was heavenly. I swallowed it entirely within 3 minutes. My popsicle partner, however, was multitasking. I watched, amused, as she held hers in her mouth and texted her mortgage broker. It would melt and drip. She’d curse. Then she’d put it back in her mouth to send a new text and the insanity would repeat. Don’t waste it! Was what felt right to say at the time.

Next stop? Sprinkles … but these were for later. We aren’t wild animals! We opted for Dark Chocolate Banana for Nissa, Maple Bacon for her hubs, and a Chocolate Marshmallow for me. It was 70-something degrees and times were good.

We stopped by her new digs for some proper surveillance of the situation. The house was beautiful. One thing I find amazing about Florida architecture is how much it differs from house to house. You’ve got your beach bungalows, you’ve got your Spanish colonial revivals, you’ve got your modern mansions, you’ve got your Georgian-style homes. Dare I say I even saw Tudors! It’s all just hangin’ out … mingling. I mean, I like it. There aren’t pockets necessarily. It’s just a giant junk drawer of kickass houses.

Just when I couldn’t take the waiting anymore, we went to pick up Nissa’s little girl. She was cuter in person than in the 9 trillion SnapChats I’d seen her in before that day. There’s a magic in seeing a friend as a mom for the first time. It’s like all of the sudden you feel this energy of shared struggles and consuming love for your little nuggets. And it’s beautiful. Nissa used to stay at our house occasionally and JoJo always wanted to sleep with her. She would play with the girls and dance with the girls. She threw me a baby shower when Spike was on her way. She was an honorary aunt made of all the best stuff. So seeing her here, now, with this towheaded toddler made my heart swell.

Saturday morning brought breakfast and nail painting. I slapped some polish on my new little friend’s tiny fingers and took her on laps around the pool so they could dry in the sun. The funny thing about people who live in Florida, is they forget how delightful the sun is. As soon as it appeared, I was like a poodle at the back door. I couldn’t wait to get to it. The warmth on my skin was like sloppy angel kisses. I turned my face toward the glow and soaked in the soothing heat with my new petite sweetheart.

Nissa and her husband Alexis have a boat (name TBD). Their neighborhood connects to a channel so getting to the bay is a breeze. Right before we left their house to ship out, at the very last minute, I decided to throw my bathing suit on, just in case. Nissa packed up some Trader Joe’s truffle cheese and beverages and we made our way out onto the brilliant blue water.

Now, I’m from lake country. We have our boats tied to docks and we take those boats out for a couple of counter clockwise laps around the modestly sized body of water a few times before we tie the boat back up to the dock. When your boat goes into water that feeds into an ocean, there are no laps. We could have sped across the surface forever. We parked for a bit in the bay and broke out the snacks. I had a beer and a glass of wine, while the little one stuffed handfuls of truffle cheese into her mouth. Seagulls came. They told their friends and more seagulls came. I started to feel a twinge of pee moving in.

There were two pregnant women on the boat – Alexis’s sister and husband came along – so I figured it was only a matter of time before someone had to relieve themselves and I could see how it was done here. But no one said a word. We decided to cruise some more. As the shoreline got farther and farther away, my bladder started to scream. We hit bumps, I squeezed every muscle from the waist down. We turned, I clenched. As soon as the deafening noise of the motor went to a whisper, I mouthed to Nissa that I was moments from pissing myself.

“Oh no!” she offered. “Alexis, we have to pull over!”

But we couldn’t just pull over. We were right next to a bridge that was also a highway. And boats were coming up quickly behind us.

For 15 additional agonizing minutes, as we coasted to calmer waters, I battled the urge to just succumb and turn on the faucet. As soon as we reached the canal, I knew the hour was upon me. I darted to the rear end of the boat – nearly taking out Nissa’s pregnant sister-in-law – put my feet on the ladder off the back and let my butt kiss the water’s surface. There, in the Tampa bay, in front of million dollar condos, a pair of people I’d met only hours before, a boat full of old fishermen and my sweet host family, I proceeded to pee for no less than 10 straight minutes. All I could think was A) This would be mortifying if it didn’t feel so damn good, and B) Thank God I put my suit on. No one knew where to look. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

We got home in time to get cleaned up for our lady date. We were putting on makeup and we were going to eat somewhere fancy. We went to edison in South Tampa. If I could actually describe the pork belly BLT appetizer and peanut butter dessert we had there and come even close to doing it justice, I would. But I can’t. You’d just have to taste them. Aside from the bomb ass dinner, we did get a show as well. I don’t know what it was about the table behind us, but it was just full of characters. First up … a couple who was beyond interested in my Korean Chicken and Waffles entree.

“Oh, look at that … she got the chicken and waffles.” the woman said, less than one foot away from me.
“Oh man, that does look amazing,” her partner added for good measure.
“Is that a sauce on there? That’s a sauce on there.”
“It looks so interesting. I bet it’s good.”
“What kind of sauce do you think that is, hon? A sweet sauce? A spicy sauce? I wonder …”
“I don’t know, hon! Sure looks wonderful.”

This went on for a few minutes until I finally turned around, smiled, and said, “I know, I’m pretty excited about it, too.” And they felt satisfied.

At some point, this duo parted and a new pair entered the scene. I don’t know what sparked their argument (I thought I heard him say “sister”?) but the newcomers behind us got into the biggest, ugliest, most brutal fight. She tried to get up and leave, he convinced her to stay and what followed was the most tense series of photobombs in history. (See examples below).

It was a treat sitting in a restaurant, out of our sweatpants, catching up about her trip to Italy, our marriages and our goals. I text and email Nissa regularly, but nothing can replace the lost art of face-to-face chatting with a great girlfriend. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Sunday funday! We went to Ulele in downtown Tampa. Because we are about eating all of the things, I will tell you that I had a beet and pear salad with whipped goat cheese that changed something in my mouth permanently. I then murdered two lobster rolls and polished it all off with maple and bacon ice cream that was coated in cornflakes. If you’re thinking, “That sounds good,” you would be damn right. It was. It all was.

We left to take little Miss to the splash pad next door to the restaurant. The water was straight-from-the-hose cold, and homegirl wasn’t feelin’ it. The sun was relentless, beating down on my reflector-white forearms. I knew I was burning, but I just didn’t care. We took the long way home, down Bayshore Dr., and I enjoyed my zen-like vacation high.

Even more so than deciding who gets to square dance with Ryan Reynolds, the truest test of friendship is whether your girlfriend is willing to get up at 5:20 in the morning and take you to the airport. Mine was, and she did. It was dark and chilly and, knowing my flight anxiety, she even offered to come in and usher me to the right line. “No, Mom, I should be able to figure it out.” I felt turdy for being so scared to get to my gate.

We hugged. Twice. And I felt some hot tears tapping on the back of my broken eyes. Time for takeoff.

I had been reading “Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail” for the first part of my trip, but decided to switch to “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Bernstein for the flight back. I read almost the entire thing, which, let’s be real, when was the last time you ever sat down and just read an entire book, cover to cover? “I can’t remember,” said every mom ever.

The premise of the book, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that ultimately you get back what you put out into the universe. If you look at the universe as your teacher rather than this thing you want to control, but can’t, you’ll be in much better shape when it comes to facing fear and uncertainty. I found it incredibly timely considering my current Facebook feed. Come at things from a place of love, not fear, and you will see change in your life, and in the climate around you. It was a really good read. I’ll get into it more down the road maybe. The ironic part was I was trying so hard to zen out and get into the Spirit Junkie vibes, but the woman in the middle seat was breathing her morningness all over me. It was a difficult mental exercise.

I landed and got my luggage without incident. Hello, world! I am a grownup now! On the way home, I stopped at the grocery to pick up a few things and smirked at how naturally we fall back into our roles. I stepped off the plane and right back into my mom jeans … I mean Toms … I mean … something cool that moms wear.

I have to say thank you to Hank and JoJo for treating me to this mini break. Thank you, sweet girl, for recognizing that I am human and that I work hard. Thank you, Hank, for showing our chicks what a supportive spouse really looks like. I can only hope they end up with a partner as exceptional and practically perfect as mine.

Wheels up! (That’s something people who fly a lot say.)

Wellness

A whole lotta Whole30 fun

February 3, 2017

That’s a wrap on Whole30 round No. 4!

It always feels bittersweet at the end of these little resets. Like, I’m so relieved I don’t have to carry emergency food in my purse and cook ALL OF THE THINGS, but also so concerned about what happens when I drop the reins and give myself some food freedom again. You have the best of intentions to ease in, go 90/10, but then one evening you wake up delirious face down in a plate of Texas Roadhouse cheese fries with ranch up to your elbows. It gets away from ya that fast.

Every time I do a Whole30, I get the same two comments/questions: 1) I don’t think I could do that, and 2) So, then what?

Let’s address these.

I don’t think I could do that.
Yes you could. You really could. People get their panties in a pinch over hearing the word “no” so many times consecutively, but simply put, the Whole30 guidelines specify you must eat real food for 30 days. This means no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no carrageenan, sulfites or MSG, no corn and no processed crap. It means you’re going to be gettin down on a lot of eggs, meat, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. This is not a tragedy, folks. It’s really just doing what you should always do, which should be easy but isn’t at all because, it turns out, “food” in our country is in kind of a sad state.

The secret, I’ve found, is in the cooking. And let’s just say it, it is so much freaking cooking. If you can’t use a food processor or chop produce like a boss, you will not survive. If you don’t like meal planning, you will not survive. If you don’t like doing dishes, you will survive (it just blows). It’s kind of like having a newborn; You live on a 2-hour cycle. You prep the breakfast, eat the breakfast, clean up the breakfast, prep the lunch, eat the lunch, clean up the lunch, prep the dinner, eat the dinner, clean up the dinner. Go to bed, start over. The first time we did a Whole30, I took some epic missteps in regard to meal choices. Ones that haunt me to this day. I remember one night I just threw a pan with a pile of shit on it in the middle of the table, cried and told Hank not to eat it because I was pretty sure it was poison. It was a little Pinterest lie called “pizza with cauliflower crust” if memory serves.

But now, four rounds in, I’ve developed quite a repertoire. I can do things with a bag of almond meal, carton of eggs and pound of bananas that would make you– I don’t know where I was going with that … Anyway, this time, I checked the official Whole30 Cookbook out of the library. It was legit. Its pages were packed with game changers like Crispy Spicy Turkey over Cauli Rice and the like. We kicked things off on January 3 with the Curry Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Potatoes, Cauliflower and Kale, and we ended on February 1 with the same dinner. When you find something that works, hold onto it and serve it up as many times as you can for sanity’s sake.

The funny thing is, the food is really good. After your taste buds are revived from the 11-month waterboarding they’ve been served by sodium- and sugar-drenched deliciousness, a meager strawberry suddenly dances on your reinvigorated tongue. Roasted vegetables are inviting. Cashews are silky. It’s amazing what real food can do when you take all the crap away and just let it do it’s natural thang.

For whatever reason, I didn’t detox quite as hard this time around. In the past, it felt like I had the flu. I’d be exhausted, pale, sweaty and down with a throbbing headache for much of the first week. Am I pregnant? I thought. Maybe mono? Oh, no, that’s just me coming off sugar. Although, in my body’s defense, I’m pretty sure my consumption rivals that of the rats they use to test whether candy or heroine is more addictive. It’s up there. So my withdrawals might be magnified a bit. This time, however, I think my body was begging for the cleanse so hard it decided not to put up much a fight.

The benefits are the same, but a little different, every time we do this. This time, it was the sleep. I was like a bear in the Smokies. It was so good, I almost always got 8 hours. I’d get horizontal and my body just automatically signed off for the night. It was a beautiful thing. I felt clear-headed and alert and loved the sustained energy.

Another bonus, Hank and I discovered the best fruit flavor combination on earth. Stuff a red grape into the cavity of a red raspberry and just put my thank you card in the mail. I’ve often wondered if it’s really that good, or just that good because fruit is the equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s when you aren’t having sugar, but I think it’s really truly that good.

But that’s not to say it was all roses and smooth BMs. Here are three of my favorite journal entries from the journey …

Day 13 (Clearly in the anger phase)
I want to scream. I am doing all of this planning and cooking and shit and I asked my husband to do one thing – set out chicken breasts to thaw – and I get home, get all the shit chopped up and guess what? Frozen freaking chicken boobs. One thing! One thing!

(Sorry Hank.)

Day 18
I vomited in the sink. My body put up a stop sign to sweet potato, egg and avocado. There can be no more.

Day 19
We went to Matt’s to watch the playoff games. I thought I was prepared. I made Nom Nom Paleo wings and banana-coconut “cookies” and whipped coconut cream with strawberries. But it was no match for the smell of queso and enchiladas. Damn him! Damn him. We held strong though. This is a bitch.

So, then what?
Well, I’ll be the last person to tell you I have harnessed the true power of Whole30. I followed the blog Kale and Cigarettes throughout our journey, as the writer and his wife were going through their first round. He wrote a lot about the anger that comes with not necessarily knowing the end game. As in, what if I bought all these weird ingredients and cooked my ass off every day and turned down beautiful, glistening donuts for nothing? What if nothing changes? What if I don’t change? What if I just go back to my old ways and learn nothing? I brought this up to Hank the other night as we were driving back from a wedding.

“I feel so good,” I said.
“Yeah.”
“But, I feel like we need to figure out the long game here.”
“Yeah.”
“Like, I love the short-term benefits, but what changes am I really making based off the reset?”
“Right.”
“I need to find a way to carry some of the momentum over.”
“Yeah.”

I mean, the truth is I eat on autopilot. Like gross autopilot.

Mindful eating is a thing. A very real, very useful thing. And I can’t do it. I can’t. I recently sat in on a video shoot on the topic, and I tell ya, it made so much sense in theory. In between takes, I told the instructor, “I mean, I eat on autopilot. Or at least, I’m distracted. I’d assume that’s the same thing. I’m so concentrated on making dinner, and then the walls my girls are coloring on as I’m chopping, frying and roasting, and then on getting their plates made, and then on what they’re not eating and then on disciplining at the table and then on clearing it all and then starting the dishes, and then bath time. In the noise of that process, sometimes I can’t even remember if I ate, let alone gave much thought to how I was doing it.” He just nodded. Because I am not unique in this struggle and all I had to do was shut up, listen to everything he said, and observe a brief moment of gratitude before my meals.

It doesn’t help that things like chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt and long Johns just seem to jump from counters, cabinets and kids plates into my welcoming mouth hole. It’s that 30 seconds. The initial smell and sight. If I can get through that 30 seconds, I’m good. Think about how brief a taste of something is. Some things, not many, are worth it. There’s this new place in town everyone’s talking about that makes ice cream sandwiches with fresh-baked donuts for buns. I’m thinkin’ that’s worth it.

No matter how many times we do this and no matter how many times it’s happened before, it always amazes me how some people just have to salt your game. If you aren’t drinking, aren’t having dessert, aren’t giving yourself a pass, people just can’t stand not commenting on it. The pressure is so ridiculous. And then you feel like you have to justify what you’re buying, eating and using to make your own body go. If I’m shoving something down your pie hole against your will, please feel free to engage me. Otherwise …

So, here we are.

I haven’t really answered the second question because I guess the answer is I can’t really answer it. I guess what comes next is my best effort. Every time I adjust my diet and become more food aware, I learn something. I learn what my body feels like when I feed it shit, and what it feels like when I’m a clean machine.

We’re done for now and I lost a little bit of weight, got a lot of great sleep and found some great new recipes. But, of course, I’ll spend the next week analyzing how I could have done better. I could have exercised more, I could have relaxed on the dried fruit. But perfection is so boring.

If you ever try a Whole30, here are a few you don’t want to miss …

Slow Cooker Korean Grass Fed Short Ribs from Nom Nom Paleo

I had a friend who spoke of these ribs and I didn’t listen. Then, one day I did. And I hated myself for all the opportunities I’d missed with these succulent little suckers throughout the years. About 15 minutes of prep and 7-9 hours in a slowcooker stand between you and a full mouthgasm.

Gluten, Grain, and Garbage Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets from The Domestic Man

Saved me with the chicks.

Plantain Tortillas from Eat Your Beets

OK, SWYPO is a very real threat with Whole30. These were my regular appointment with my trousers. I love these tortillas as buns for a bison burger, as shells for carnitas and, when things get really hairy, with almond butter and sliced strawberries.

*Honorable mention to everything in the Whole30 Cookbook

Kids

The push and the pull … and the push

January 19, 2017

When we pack up our sweet little popup and head out to commune with Mother Nature, it is 100 percent guaranteed that my children will sniff out and frequent two places: The playground, crawling with feral wilderness kids, and the camp store. And these chicks are con artists, I tell ya. They can hit up their PaPa for a 5 dollar bill like a Las Vegas hustler and have a Rocket Pop in hand before we’re backed in and level.

On our last trip for the season, the third visit to this particular park that year, the older girls started wearing a path in the pavement. They’d go around the same loop on their scooters, always stopping at the camp store for a minute before hopping on their Razors and racing back to the site. They’d done it so many times, I’d eased up on my strict surveillance of the situation. And anyway, I was doing laps myself, mom strutting behind Sloppy Joan as she strolled about on her tiny legs under a bright yellow canopy of leaves, pointing at every dog, fire and bug. It was what I imagine sloth poetry is made of.

After a 30-minute .5 mile, we came up to the camp store and my mother sitting perched just outside with her tiny white rat dog on her lap.

“Ummmmm …” she said.
“What?”
“I thought you were in the camp store.”
“No, I’m walking with Sloppy Joan. Should I be in the camp store?”
“Well, the girls went in there. I think they were going to buy something. I thought you were already in there.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Right.”
“Right.”
“So …”
“So, I guess take Sloppy Joan and I’ll go check it out.”

I walked in and followed the intentional maze of tall wire shelves – past fridge magnets and Wiffle Ball sets and boxes of instant potatoes – until I reached the line. At the front of that line stood two little girls, their chins barely reaching the counter. The oldest, with her disheveled ponytail and Chick’s Rule sweatshirt, stood confidently as the middle one offered shaky support from just behind her, biting her top lip for comfort.

[Mom enters the scene.]

“Hey guys.” I said.
“Hi Mom,” JoJo sighed, knowing this put a damper on their hustle.
“So, whatcha got here?”

They had a lot of stuff, you guys.

Two candy bars, two packages of glow sticks, one notebook, one box of crayons and two, rather sizeable, stuffed animals. Dogs, if I remember correctly. I have no idea how long they’d been at the counter.

“It’s $33.50,” the irritated 17 year old with no children said to them (but looking directly at me).
“And how much money do you have, girls?” I asked.
“I have $5,” JoJo offered.
“So, if you have $5 to spend and $33.50 worth of toys and candy, what do you think you need to do?”
“Get more money?” JoJo proposed.
“Or, maybe, I was thinking … put some things back.”

Groans and those dreadful whines that announce the impending arrival of an actual, super-annoying cry started spilling out of child No. 1. My face was filling with the incinerating heat of extreme mortification. I turned to the gentleman behind us and, out of obligation and respect for the assault on his leisurely stroll to the friendly camping store to get coffee filters, mouthed a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine!” he said too kindly. “I love watching other people parent, and it’s a good lesson for them.” (I feel it’s vital to the story that I mention the dude looked like Jim Gaffigan.)

Two minutes later, we left the store with one candy bar, one package of glow sticks and one sour little camper. (Spike was fine. She, I deduced, was merely along for the ride.)

“What happened?” Mom pounced as we walked out.
“Oh, I’ll tell ya what happened. My children were trying to buy Christmas with a $5 bill and no parents. That’s what happened.”

She. Fell. Out.

I finally laughed, too.

Later, when I pulled JoJo aside to talk to her about the responsibility of carrying money and making smart purchases and always, always letting someone know where you’re going and what you’re doing, I realized that her frustration wasn’t just about the fact that I’d cockblocked the purchase of the one stuffed animal that brought her to an even 500. It was more about the embarrassment. She felt a false sense of confidence because she’d been to the store with me and now she just wanted to prove that she could be grown up, too. She could make a transaction. She knew what was going down.

Only, little bird, you don’t.

And thus the internal battle begins. I can appreciate the fact that she had the self confidence to walk into a store and do something “adult”. It’s amazing actually when you think about the fact that they had been casing the joint the whole time. And the last thing I want ever is to squelch my daughter’s spirit. But obviously certain things require supervision and guidance. She’s just in such a dang hurry to grow up, that one, always offering to cook dinner and watch the other kids. “You’re 7!” I want to scream. “Be my baby forever!”

It’s a tricky thing, instilling self-assurance in our kids. We want them to be carefree, but cautious. Capable but reliant. Brave but tentative. We tell them they can do anything in this world, as long as they let us hold their hands and take them there to do it. It’s a balance, I suppose, like everything. And it’s often necessary. I mean, my 7 and 5 year old clearly can’t be trusted to go off on their own with a sweaty handful of bills and a thirst for entertainment.

But even though I know it was the right one, my reaction on that day and in other situations, both before and after their Treat Yo Self 2016 binge, have me pondering some of the big motherhood questions. Am I standing back enough? Am I promoting independence and a sense of wonder? Am I flapping their hesitant wings with heavy hands, or am I teaching them to fly?

Seeking answers from within your social circle won’t help. Getting together with girlfriends is really just an exercise in self deprecation and unconditional acceptance. We shower our fellow soldiers in the comfort that they are doing the absolute best they can, and then solidify the support by immediately countering with a one-upper of a personal parental failure.

“You guys, I haven’t cooked a meal from scratch in 6 days.”
“That’s OK, I caught Susie eating a used Q-Tip out of the trash Tuesday night.”
“Oh, man … well, at least she’s eating. Henry only eats AirHeads and olive loaf.”
“I say give it to him. At least you’re feeding him. I forgot to make breakfast twice last week. Just plain spaced it.”
“It’s all good! I got mad at the boys for insulting my banana bread with a smiley face made out of chocolate chips in it, so I picked up the whole loaf, took it to my room, locked the door and ate the entire thing while I watched Breaking Bad and pretended to cry.”
“Awwww, you put a smiley face in it? You are such a good mom. I aspire to be the mom who makes food into faces. I was out of stationery this morning, so I wrote Desiree’s teacher a note about her eye drops on the back of a past due notice from the cable company.”
“But you’re communicating. Unlike my husband!”
And so on …
We can stop there.

If we’re really honest, none of us know what the hell we’re doing. And even if we did, sometimes it doesn’t matter anyway because the little shits have these minds of their own. The nerve. We spend all of our time with our kids pushing them and pulling them, and then second-guessing ourselves so we push them again. And then we leave them and spend the whole time dissecting what we did while we were with them. The bottom line is we just care too damn much.

Last weekend, Hank’s mom brought over some old photo albums. I flipped through as she squinted down at the snapshots and recounted old neighborhood buddies, the days they had no money, and injuries. Sooo many injuries. Stitches and staples and gashes galore. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess because they were boys and because I never went anywhere, and because I left home and got married right away, I was just always like, ‘Go! Try it!’ and they got hurt sometimes. But it all worked out.”

After she left, I thought about how strictly I police the girls sometimes. (Not always. Because sometimes I watch Mad Men and “fold laundry”.) I can hover like a rescue copter with the best of them, just waiting for the signal to drop my ladder. And I love to call out up-to-the-second instructions: “Don’t do that!” “Get down from there!” “You’re going to fall!” “Wait for a grownup!” “Look both ways!” Necessary? Often, yes. Beneficial? Probably not always, no. A little psycho? Perhaps.

But nobody tells you when you’re supposed to cut strings and nudge them out of nests and let go of their hands. I mean, I feel like, unless somebody instructs me or they demand it, my timeline for those initiatives is … never.

I do want to put them out there. I want them to feel like they can own their feelings because they were born from their own decisions. I want them to be bold when something stirs in them. I want them to explore. I want them to take risks. (The push.) But I want them to be safe. I want them to be aware of the possible outcomes. I want to protect their little bodies with traffic guard arms and their hearts with the wisest words. (The pull.)

My conflicting feelings on this matter have never been as palpable as they were this past Saturday morning as JoJo and Spike took to the basketball court. See, Hank thought, in the interest of saving some of our Saturdays, it would be best if we just put both of the girls on the team for first and second graders, even though Spike is in preschool (she is old for her class). The second the game started, my rescue chopper instinct kicked in. My curly haired babe was flailing. She was smaller, weaker and slower. The argument could definitely be made that this was not our finest parenting decision.

But the buzzer rang out at the end of their little game and she was still standing. Crying, because she got hit in the cheek, but still standing. Through with basketball because the kids were running over her too much, but still standing. Disenchanted because it wasn’t like playing P-I-G on the tiny hoop in the basement, but still standing. She was still standing, and she was fine. So why shouldn’t I be? Everyone needs that one story, “Well, my parents didn’t even believe in age groups! They just threw me in with the 10 year olds and left for an hour!” This, I suppose, will be hers.

Had I not walked into that camping store that morning, JoJo would have learned a tough lesson about finances. It just wouldn’t have been from me. But she would have gotten the lesson anyway. (Still, the thought of that is horrifying. “Where are their parents?” asked everyone anywhere watching that situation play out.) They’re going to fall off the bed whether I tell them to stop jumping or not. They’re going to run into each other, and get knocked down and slip off monkey bars. I guess it’s just the deciphering between “that’s where you come in” and “that’s part of life” where it gets muddy for me.

Maybe the balance rests in the letting go. Or maybe, like in Mean Girls, the balance does not exist. Maybe we never really let go because that means our job isn’t as important as we think it is. And I know parenting is important as hell. So, maybe instead, I’ll just concede a few things …

Spelling quizzes and checking their homework folder will be mine.
Tests and final school projects will be theirs.

Pep talks, protection and well-meaning warnings will be mine.
Perseverance and victories will be theirs.

Boo boo kissing, cuddles and words of advice will be mine.
The lessons will be theirs.

(Negotiations are ongoing.)