Thoughts

Turtle Talk (and other stops on my road to being a writer)

August 31, 2016

How the hell did you become a writer?” an acquaintance inquired during a stalled start to the morning meeting.
“I mean, how does anyone choose their profession?” I thought, but instead replied, “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, but like, no one really becomes a writer. Like, unless you write books, right?”

You never think something about yourself is odd until someone else flags it as odd. That’s what makes it official. You mean everyone doesn’t leave the last tissue because they like the design on the box so, so much? I don’t think the way I earn a living is particularly noteworthy, but I’ll entertain almost any question for the sake of content. I can trace the roots of this one all the way back to a little majestic dot on an elementary school map, called Turtle Town.

MiraclesWriting

While others were known to dabble, I made a career out of having an awkward phase. The beginning of my climb to peak unpolished adolescence arrived at age 10. In the fourth grade, I had spacey, jagged teeth and mousy blonde hair with bangs that easily flipped and frizzed at the slightest breeze or rush of activity. My lips were always chapped. I wore a rotation of sweatshirts with assorted appliqués over turtlenecks in contrasting shades (they never matched exactly because I liked to embrace my rebellious whims). My boyfriend, who wore hammer pants, was 2 inches shorter than me, and I was a meager 3 feet in stature. Things ended abruptly when he placed my Pound Puppy, which I had gifted to him against my mom’s wishes, in a sad, semi-rain-soaked brown grocery bag on top of my desk with a note that read simply, “Itz over. – Jon”. I knew nothing of myself. I was a sheep. A follower. The full extent of my ambitions for the foreseeable future consisted of marrying Dylan McKay, having a smile like Julia Roberts and moving like Penny from Dirty Dancing. (The fact that my parents allowed me to watch sex-tinged programming with prostitutes and “knocked up” resort performers is not for any of us to judge.)

What I didn’t realize was I had something going for me; A hand to gently guide me toward fate. I had Mr. Johnson for fourth grade and Mr. Johnson was the shit. In the midst of sleepovers where we made girls pee their pants and call their parents at 1 a.m. and clammy, sweat-soaked hand-holding, and the arrival of Gushers, Mr. Johnson went and turned our classroom into a microcosm and just waited to infiltrate our tiny, ignorant little brain saplings.

Every year, the students in room 23 would decide the name, mascot, and basic government and judiciary system of their pretend city. In 1993, the name was Turtle Town, the mascot was a fox – just kidding – it was a turtle, and the government was comprised of a collection of pinheads who liked to show off their turdy friends and make fart noises in the middle of films about migrating birds and what have you. But it was cool. We had elections and town meetings and learned all kinds of important life stuff without realizing we were being taught (such suckers). I can’t remember if it was my idea, or the teacher’s, but at some point, it was decided that Turtle Town needed a newspaper. It would be called Turtle Talk and I would be the editor.

I went to my parent’s office and took a giant accordion-style file folder and labeled the slots with sections – sports, front page, government, etc. I carried around a small spiral-bound notepad and pen and pleaded with my classmates to write fake pieces of news. “So, like maybe you left the town hall meeting with a stomachache because you ate bad porridge at the Turtle Top Tavern. Huh? Whatdaya say?” In the end, I discovered a truth that followed me for the next 23 years and counting: If you have the vision, and you want something written, it’s best to just ask the right questions and write the damn thing yourself. And so, I did. I slapped on my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper chapstick and got to business writing horrific headlines and cheesy photo captions and exposés on Turtle Town’s public officials (the majority of which never made the cut). I fashioned that fabricated content into a true, tangible newspaper, piece by piece. Of course no one really gave a crap. How do you compete with an unstoppable TGIF lineup and Beanie Babies for Pete’s sake?

Followers be damned, the seed had been planted. I loved to write. I loved coming up with ways to tell stories and talking to people who’d done things I hadn’t and working with words until they formed the perfect linguistic cadence. (This last sentence may be a bit overkill for the work I was turning out at this time.)

Writing

Where Mr. Johnson left off, my high school journalism and English teacher (one in the same) picked up. This woman was a dead ringer for Miss Geist from Clueless. She had a sarcastic wit Amy Schumer would envy, sobering honesty when you really needed it and a hands-off style that just made kids thrive. She didn’t reach all of the kids in the school, but the ones she did, she changed. We were like a gang comprised of rejected members of the Breakfast Club. There were intellectuals, athletes and “outcasts”, but when we entered that corner classroom, tucked away from the social hierarchy, the subtitles dissolved entirely. We ate boxes of Lemonheads and troughs of Cheetos while we brainstormed story ideas and layouts. We made McDonald’s runs to clear writer’s block. It was an editorial-induced euphoria that kept me high for four solid years.

I wrote sappy editorials about saying goodbye to upperclassmen and being single on Valentine’s Day. I spent a solid week sipping sugary gas station mochas and pouring my emotions out for the intro page copy in our yearbook my senior year. My Miss Geist doppleganger, who by then was like a second mother, encouraged me to make a last-minute change of college for a better Journalism program and a leg up down the road. I followed her advice.

In 2002, Sex and the City was a female institution. You knew if you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or, God forbid, Miranda. I was studying Magazine Journalism in the Midwest and, culturally, could not be farther from the Big City storylines I relished so intently. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) was a student at a small all-male college a little shy of 2 hours away and they were looking for a female columnist for their newspaper. One sample article later, I was committed to pen a biweekly editorial on life through a woman’s lens. From the Hip ran for 3 glorious years. It was the closest to Carrie I would ever get. And while most of the questions submitted came from lonely independents who just couldn’t understand why the weekend lady visitors weren’t feelin’ their flavor, we did venture into some heavy early adult topics. If nothing else, writing that column made going to the bars super fun. “Hey, aren’t you From the Hip girl? Whoa! Wussup?” “Hey, you know what you should write about? Why girls don’t make any sense.” “Hey, you were wrong. That girl totally called the next day.” “Hey, you know what you should write about? [Insert late night radio show topic].” “Hey, your article cut into the football feature. I’m not mad though. I’m just sayin’ it was long.” Those were good times. I sincerely loved those times.

And those were the articles, with heavy sexual undertones and ridiculous subject matter, that I took with me to apply for my first job out of school; an editorial assistant at a food magazine. The publisher must have been on heavy pain meds when he hired me. My portfolio was sad, but my rate was cheap and I was eager to work like a typing mule. The magazine had zero money. Paychecks would bounce at least once a month and we were our own cleaning service. But the education I got in the five years I worked there was immeasurable. I went into immaculate kitchens with freshly butchered meats and cheeses I couldn’t pronounce. I learned about wine varietals and molecular gastronomy and organic farming. I was 22 when I started that job. It was a champagne experience on a penny pitcher beer budget. I adored my editor. I still adore my editor and I still call her my editor even though we haven’t worked together in seven years. She had her priorities right and was a sharp wordsmith. She shaped my writing and she showed me how to balance my work and personal life without sacrificing myself. She ran on her lunch hour, knew the best places to grab a beer and believed in the value of a Friday Coke. Every young writer needs an editor like that.

Eventually my writing turned into more of a job than a joy. I made some career turns and strayed from the rich editorial path a bit in exchange for a more realistic salary. It worked for a few years. But I know myself and I knew that I was missing the art of writing. Not just the piecing together of words with alliteration and spot-on syntax to reel consumers in, but the actual soul sharing and storytelling part of it. I started this blog, privately at first, as a way to quench that desire to express myself in that way. I needed an outlet to complement my occupation. And, 3 years later, here we are.

EnjoyItWriting

A man that I admire a whole heck of a lot said, “We write so that we can taste life twice.” He was referring to journaling. I think that is what this blog – and truly, many parts of my professional career – are for me. I’ve seen natural springs and traversed the steep hills of a maple syrup farm and flown in helicopters and hiked the AT and survived 7 years of motherhood, and I can relive those days any time I want. I can pull out a magazine or pull up an article and recall those sights and sounds and characters because I’ve shared them and they live somewhere outside of my forgetful mind. That is the gift that writing gives you.

You might love cleaning people’s teeth or educating young children or giving quotes on various goods and services. I love the sound of the keys when my fingers can’t keep up with my mind and the satisfaction of submitting a finished article. For me, it isn’t about showing up in your newsfeed or standing from the tallest podium in a room of screaming grownups. I just want to make people feel something. I want to elicit empathy and contemplation and exploration. I want to write things that inspire and engage people and make us hop off the hamster wheel for a few minutes. Not everything I write is going to do that, but I respect the process, and I respect rare gem you get when the words come together just so and set something off for someone.

From Turtle Town to this Desperate search for Superwoman, there’s just something about writing for me. I’m so blessed to have found it. I’m so thankful you read it. It’s so delicious tasting this life twice. Period.

Tune in Today

Try that with Matt No. 1: Random Acts of Kindness

August 23, 2016

Try that with Matt

My brother is a strong presence – in my life, in other people’s lives, in his work life, with his friends, with his kids, with my kids – he’s a big dude with a big heart and a loud voice. As I’ve grown older, and he’s gotten older, and major changes have rolled ashore and back out into the great big ocean again, our relationship has evolved. At some point my memories of him as the broad behemoth who wrapped blankets over my head and farted on me as I struggled and screamed under the smothering conditions, eroded a bit and I actually started seeing him as more of a friend. Being grownups isn’t necessarily the most comfortable hat for either of us to wear, and I think there’s a comfort in keeping someone so close who reminds you of your more-distant-than-you’d-like past as a dumb kid, but also supports you as an adult.

Siblings

Anyway, after our stint on the Appalachian Trail back in April, and the series of blog posts that followed, I think a passion for this platform began sprouting deep inside my big brother. He was more interested in the topics (this post in particular) and we started chatting a lot about adulting topics like happiness and contentment and satisfying the urge to explore and stretch yourself.

From these conversations, an idea was born. We would choose one challenge every month and try something we’d never tried before. We would dwell in the enticing space outside of our comfort zones at least once every 30 days. Some of our ideas are physically demanding, others are mentally demanding, but all are new to us in some capacity.

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August was the inaugural month for the “Try that with Matt” series, and we agreed to kick things off with something that had been on both of our minds: positivity. We challenged each other to pull off 10 random acts of kindness (RAOK) in 10 days. There were no hard and fast rules. Just two handfuls of happiness distributed as we saw fit.

If you didn’t see this video, you should. She inspired us. My friend Kelly has done my hair for years. She never tells me what I owe her and I always give her what I think is fair, and she thinks is too much. One day she told me she took the money from my last hair appointment and donated it, anonymously, to a mother in need from “two mothers who wanted to help”. THAT inspired me. That same friend took her two children a few times every week throughout the summer to a local facility to be peers for a severely autistic classmate of her son. Now THAT is what you teach your kids. THAT is the example you set. THAT inspires me. So many people are sheepishly, quietly trying to change this world, or at least make it a little happier, one day and one deed at a time. It isn’t all bad. It isn’t all violence and loss. We wanted to be a part of that movement.

Here’s how it shaped up …

MATT
*Written by Matt.

BOUQUET 2

Act No. 1. Special delivery.
The kids and I took flowers out to my mom. They were super pumped. My daughter picked them out, in Gram’s favorite color, of course. Mom was so surprised and happy we stopped out. I swear, the kids were just as excited as she was. It made me feel good, like I was doing something right, seeing them so hype about making someone else’s day. They helped with most of my acts of kindness.

Act No. 2. Bought fundraiser tickets.
Young guy, little older than my son, was out selling fundraiser tickets for his traveling soccer team. I had watched him and noticed the little guy hadn’t been very successful. He was a shy kid, so we made conversation and purchased some tickets and wished him luck on the season.

Act No. 3. Stopped to help.
A guy ran out of gas right by our neighborhood. Amazing how many people went around him and didn’t think twice. I jumped out of my truck, offered to push his car to the closest parking lot or run down and get gas for him. He assured me he was fine, his wife was in route to save the day. (Perhaps some other superwoman …) I think a lot of times we assume help is coming for people, but we should all be inclined to at least check and make sure.

Act No. 4. Moved mattresses.
I helped a friend pick up some mattresses. They didn’t have access to a truck and needed a hand so I tossed my hat in the ring and said I would take care of it. Life is busy for everyone, especially if you have young active kids. If you have the resources and someone else doesn’t, it never hurts to give a bit of your time. In this case, someone needed a box truck and I just so happen to have one, albeit one that tried to kill me years ago on a trip back from Iowa, but we’ve worked out the kinks and it was nice to help a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.

Act No. 5. Treated a stranger.
Kids and I went for a frozen treat one Friday night and we decided to pay for the person behind us. As the gentlemen drove past with I will assume his wife and kid, he gave us a thumbs up out the window as we patiently waited to destroy a few milkshakes ourselves. We gave a wave and a thumbs up in return and I said hopefully that made his day and he does something nice for someone else. Kids thought he probably would because he was happy.

Act No. 6. Cashed in a good deed.
Back to school shopping was in full swing and I had already taken a day and tackled Kohl’s with the kids and cashed in some Kohl’s cash (free money, what!?) Well, a few days after we crushed it a coworker was heading out with her two princesses and Kohls was one of their stops. I had a 30 percent coupon and, like a boss, active Kohl’s cash burning a hole in my wallet. I passed them on so she could tear it up with her girls. We all know kids are costly and every little bit counts. This person kills it as a coworker and always does stuff for others. It felt good to put a smile on her face.

Act No. 7. Went for a wash.
Took the car through the carwash and paid for the person behind us (or to the side, or God knows where because the place was stupid packed). The kid that took my card was all about it though and you like to think that when you do a RAOK like this the people caught in the middle get some enjoyment as well and makes them think of doing something nice.

Act No. 8. Turned over the keys.
Kid was selling a car and couldn’t get rid of it and I like to buy and sell some things, so I gave him some green for his beater and the plan was to get it flipped. Later that day I was talking to another buddy and told him about my latest purchase and he was telling me about a guy that he knew that was having a run of bad luck and trying to get on his feet. The guy had a couple of kids, he was a hard worker, made mistakes as a kid that had cost him a good stretch of his freedom … I agreed to sell my buddy the car for what I paid and he was going to surprise this guy and give it to him so he had wheels for he and his kids. That was a no brainier and shows you there is so much good in the world; good, loving people. But all we focus on as humans is negative bullshit. The news is crap. Why not report 28 minutes on all of the positive stuff that happens daily and save the last 2 minutes for the sad, selfish bullshit instead of vice versa.

Act No. 9. Dogwatch.
Took care of Desperately Seeking Superwoman’s dog for the weekend. Yeah, I counted it. Made me feel good for a minute until I went to let the dog out and they had no chips in the pantry. Stay stocked up Biscuits!

Act No. 10. Meal on me.
Picked up a tab at dinner for a random patron and asked the waiter to have them pay it forward. He was all about it and the kids just sat and smiled. It just feels good to do something for someone that isn’t expecting it and you don’t get to see the reaction. You just hope they in turn do something good for someone else.

****

COURTNEY

LoveLetter

Act No. 1. Love letter.
I’m obsessed with the site,The World Needs More Love Letters. I logged on, picked the story that tugged the most violently at my heartstrings (a 13-year-old boy who was wondering why God chose for him to live through a tough illness in this case) and pulled out stationery. Stationery. When was the last time you used stationery to write words to pick up another soul? I did on that day. And I put an actual stamp on it and put it in the actual mailbox.

Act No. 2. Donuts for all.
Let’s be real. For men and women in the workforce, donuts on Friday are like a sitz bath after a 32-hour labor and delivery. Candy after a trip to the dentist. I like to sit them somewhere and see how long it takes for someone to find them. Who will open the brown box? Who will be most excited? Great social experiment all around.

Act No. 3. Sympathetic ear.
I stumbled upon a coworker in the midst of an emotional meltdown. I’d never met this particular coworker in person before, but it became very clear, very quickly, that this woman was in need of a good cry. Do you know why it was so easy for me to recognize this scenario? Because I have been in that seat, fighting those tiny burning needles behind my eyelids and sensing a trail of tear-induced snot marching it’s way out of my nasal canal. I have been there! Who hasn’t? Sometimes the shit hits the fan and you can’t get a win to save your life and you just need someone to give you permission to open up the dam and let it out. I don’t think it was an accident I ended up in her office.

Act No. 3. Garden goodie.
My niece loves zucchini bread. I baked up two loaves for her to enjoy. It took no more than an hour to do and I even threw in an extra loaf for my crew.

Act No. 4. Passed along some pages.
I have a girlfriend who I adore to no end. She’s been working through some major life stuff for a few months now. I logged on and had a copy of Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein sent to her doorstep with a note, “A bit of inspiration for a girl who inspires me.” A great book is best shared with those who really need it.

Act No. 5. Blog crush kudos.
I understand, as a writer, how humbling a creative profession can be at times. You put things out into the world and sometimes get tough criticism back or, worse yet, hear nothing at all. It’s brutal and totally self-inflicted. So, I took some time to email a few of my favorite bloggers, who I don’t think have a huge following just yet, to let them know how much their words mean to me.

Act No. 6. Spread good luck.
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. You’ve heard it. I took two handfuls of pennies and flung them about in high-traffic areas.

Act No. 7. Pat on the back.
One of my favorite people on the planet is my college roommate Ashlie. She recently adopted two children and, I tell ya, watching her parent them brings more joy than watching myself masterfully manipulate my own little turkeys into doing something good. She’s good at it. Like really, crazy, stupid good at it. So I told her she was. I don’t praise my mommy friends enough from the trenches.

Act No. 8. Lunch for the lady.
Hank’s folks stopped by around dinner time so I packed up some leftovers for his mom to take for lunch the next day. She’s been a nurse for more than 30 years and gives so much of herself to strangers. Caregivers often focus so much on others they neglect themselves. It made me feel good knowing she had one less thing to worry about the next day.

Act No. 9. Make the hole.
This was likely the girls’ favorite good deed. On Thursday nights, the main road to our neighborhood is a traffic jam due due to food truck event that takes place at a popular intersection. As it started to break loose a bit and we were going to get moving, a firetruck, parked in the station, flipped it’s lights on. I slammed on my brakes to let them out right in front of us. The girls cheered in celebration of this one. I told them it was an honor to help heroes.

Act No. 10. Take a timeout.
I have a buddy at the gym. He’s likely in his late 70s and a bit difficult to understand some times. He knows my workout schedule. On Mondays I stay home and do yoga. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I run. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I do weights. He knows this. If I’m missing one day, he checks in with me the next. I always humor him with brief chatter. But during this challenge, I planted my feet, looked him in the eyes and spent a good 10 minutes working through children and grandchildren, recent vacations and his work life. We pass by hundreds of people every day. How many do we really see? That day I saw him.

We learned that it is possible to be competitive over good deeds; as we would occasionally compare our handy work. We also confirmed something that wasn’t exactly surprising. I like to plan things, while Matt is more of a freestyler. I had sat down and brainstormed a few things I really wanted to do over the 10 days. They were things I’d already had in mind and this was the perfect excuse to pull the trigger. Also, I would defer to emotional expressions of love and respect, while Matt’s go-to was lessening someone else’s burden in some way. There was no wrong, it was all right.

It crosses all of our minds more times than we realize to do good – to take something from someone’s full hands, or pick up the check or stop and listen … really listen. What woke me up was just how easy it was to actually do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan ahead. Just allow the time to comfort someone in need. Be human when someone needs it most. Be the hugger. Be the listener. Be the voice of compassion. Join the army of men, women and children spreading love in this world. Random or otherwise, let’s make kindness routine.

Kids

Losing Lisa Frank (and other elephant problems)

August 18, 2016

Snap my suspenders and label me a yodeler, cuz I just have to climb up into the Desperately Seeking Superwoman Swiss Alps and echo the statement I’ve said from this platform a thousand different ways, using a thousand different words … time is freaking flying, man! I disappeared from DSS for a hot second to collect the final sunny seconds of the girls’ summer vacation and get our shit together so this household could slide back into the dreaded grind, but I don’t really know how we got here. It was like we went to get frozen yogurt on the last day of class and, before it even had a chance to melt, we’re back to CrockPot dinners and homework folders.

Girls Surfing

When I said, “get our shit together,” I was mainly referring to one thorn that is still lodged in my bitter, soft side. Can we just talk for a second about the transformation of the school supply list? What the Boy George happened there? I can remember, as a greedy grade school gal, sorting through stacks of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and folders with puppies in various states of play and trippy holograms and Disney characters, agonizing over the decision, for what felt like an eternity. I needed Troll pencil toppers to tickle my chin during boring Spanish lessons and gel pens and, of course, a killer crayon box. I despised the required items … Paste? Why? So Betty has an afternoon snack? No. 2 yellow pencils, my ass. Maybe for amateurs and basic Bs. I’m gonna mix this up right here with some mechanical action that’s gonna blow their minds.

So, let me fill you in on a little something; it’s not like that anymore. The school supply list has been twisted and bastardized into the most exhausting, infuriating scavenger hunt known to man. I waited too long, I did, I’ll admit it. Like a fool I downloaded the list and shuffled into the local supercenter the Sunday before classes resumed. JoJo came along for what she optimistically categorized as, “special Mom and JoJo time.” She trailed behind me as I snaked, dumbfounded and squinty eyed, up and down the same 3 aisles over and over again searching for stupidly specific items like, “vinyl 2 pocket folders in yellow, green and blue,” and “pack of 3 plain pink erasers with the word ‘eraser’ printed in Comic Sans.”

But the best part was the camaraderie. Hell hath no fury like a group of parents driven by the mob mentality of collective failure. You know when you talk to your child about something, but you’re really just sending out a Bat signal for an adult to commiserate with you? There was a lot of that. “Honey, I don’t know why you can’t just use the generic colored pencils. The list says they have to be Crayola.” “Stay with me, honey, we have to find this last folder. I know you’re tired. I’m really trying, babe …” And then, the connection … “I know, I couldn’t find that folder either. This list is insane,” a fellow frazzled grownup says. “I know, right?” I responded in an aggressive, clingy tone. Success. You’re both pissed. You’re not alone. You have delivered a synchronized verbal middle finger to the supply list and all it represents.

Confession: 20 minutes in, I called it and told JoJo we’d shop at mommy’s favorite store, Amazon. We got frozen yogurt and laughed through the window at all the suckers walking in with their lists. Now that’s special mommy and JoJo time, if ya ask me.

MilFirstDay

GirlsFirstDay

In spite of my lackluster preparedness, the first day came and went without incident. One brutal update to the routine is the bus, which conveniently arrives 10 minutes earlier this year. Before I share this next part, it must be said that the driver she had last year was religiously tardy, OK? We’re talking up to 20 minutes late some days. It conditioned me to be lax with our roll out time. It all came to an unpleasant climax this morning when, pulling out of the driveway, I saw the taillights of the big golden bird disappearing down the neighboring street. JoJo, always a bit high strung, began sobbing at the thought of being left behind. It never occurred to either of us that I could have just braved the drop-off line and taken her to the actual school. Oh no, we were going to catch that bus.

I sped down our street, knowing the driver had at least 3 more stops. Holding a mug brimming with steamy coffee in one hand, I leaned over the steering wheel, anxious and recklessly accelerating while calmly assuring my oldest daughter that we would get her on board one way or another. After a second miss, we approached the bus at its final stop. The next 30 seconds were a flurry of action. “Run! Go! Go! Go!” I coached. Of course she couldn’t get the door open. I was still in drive. I hit the unlock button and, with tears in her eyes, JoJo took off down the sidewalk. Two SAHMs, standing at the corner having a leisurely chat with their chai tea and boat shoes saw my girl sprinting with every bit of energy her Cinnamon Toast Crunch would give her, and they gestured for the driver to wait. We had done it.

As the bus pulled away, I allowed my car to crawl toward them. I rolled down the window and raised my mug in genuine gratitude. “Thanks guys!” I said. “Of course!” they responded. “Hey, aren’t you Matt’s sister?” one of the moms said, squinting in my direction. Great … juuuuust great. I always prefer my early morning servings of humble pie with a side of anonymity. No such luck. [awkward laugh] “Oh, yeah, I’m his little sister who apparently needs to change the batteries in her watch!” [more awkward laughing] “OK, see ya!” I can be a real turd sometimes.

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An extra-special treat this year, our Spikey started preschool. I know her teacher. JoJo had her a few years back, so I know she’s sweet, but let’s all pray she has a good sense of humor. Spike picked out her prettiest floral dress for her first day. She couldn’t have looked more precious if her entire face was made exclusively of dimples and cuddling sloth babies. On JoJo’s first day, I remember she was tentative and sheepish. She stood at my side and looked up at me with questioning eyes. Not Spike. She barreled in there, found her cubby and all but kicked me out. I think her confidence worked like a dam for my mommy tears. They never actually came until I was away from her, in my car, pulling out of the parking lot.

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The subsequent days got a little more interesting. Hank was out of town, so I was sure to organize what I could the night before to ensure a smooth morning. I put out their clothes, packed snacks, boiled eggs for breakfast, and set out shoes and bookbags. I had it dialed in. On our second day of the chaos, just as me and my car full of chicks started to pull out of the garage, my little preschooler innocently asked, “Mama, do I have to wear underwear to school?” “Yes,” I answered. “Do you not have underwear on, honey?” “No, I’ll go get some.” I backed down far enough to watch JoJo run to her bus stop and waited, patiently, as my streaker sauntered back into the garage, skimpies in hand and proceeded to pull her boy shorts on over her sandals while standing in the streaming bright yellow glare of my headlights. A jogger came upon the scene and I causally waved.

That night, Spike described to me the difference between a mouse problem and an elephant problem. “See, Mama, a mouse problem is when someone says they don’t like you … or your body smells … or they don’t want to sit with you at snack. You should just talk that out. If you tell about a mouse problem, that’s called tattling. An elephant problem is when you throw up or get cut or get hit. You should always tell someone if you have an elephant problem.” I can tell you that, to me, sending your child to their second day of preschool bare-butted in a dress is what I would categorize as an elephant problem, but to Spike, we’re talking about merely a mouse situation.

That night at dinner, she took it up a notch.

“Spikey, how was your day?”
“There was this girl and the other girls were so mean to her and I told her to sit with me.”
“That’s so nice, Spike!”
“Yeah and she can’t see very well, so I hug her and kiss her forehead.”
“Awwwww!”
“And today, she went to the hospital.”
“Whoa, what?”
“I’m lying. I don’t know why I said that. I just made that up.”

Have a great school year, everyone!

Pages

Yes ma’am

August 4, 2016

“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”

Books are great. They really are. All the letters and the smell of fresh print and the way a bookshelf looks when it’s crowded with interesting titles. But for someone who despises paper and would gladly speak for the trees, I think an amazing audio book is where it’s really at. A captivating voice – all the better if it’s the author’s – orchestrating rich characters and delivering slivers of dialogue that widen your eyes and sing to your soul … Yeah, that’s my jam.

Going into “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person,” one would anticipate a good show. I mean, the woman (Shonda Rhimes, of course) fashioned the twisted minds and friendship of Meredith Grey and Christina Yang for McSteamy’s sakes. As if grandstanding, she then gave us the quivering, lavish lip and firm-but-passionate prose of white-hat-wearing Olivia Pope. She claimed a land and a night of the week and an acronym and a hashtag. I would expect the woman to be able to write a book. But she didn’t.

Book cover

She didn’t just write a book. She wrote her cliff’s notes for self-improvement and true satisfaction. She, herself, is not a specimen of human perfection. You don’t begin the book thinking she is and, even after following her through 365+ days of extending and challenging herself, you don’t end the book thinking she is. That’s not the point. Perfection is not the end game. Happiness is.

Once she gave herself permission to be uncomfortable and bold and a tiny bit selfish, that’s when she met the best parts of herself and her life. Let’s face it, we all take comfort in the layers. We cover the raw truths with whatever it takes … food, sarcasm, passive aggressive quips, makeup, clothes, work, Netflix, wine, excuses. It all works the same. It all creates a barrier between the yucky bits of our true selves and the perception of our true selves. I know what my layers are made of. You can probably figure yours out as well. For Shonda, it was predominately food and social sheepishness. She was hiding behind an unhealthy weight and choosing evenings on her couch over once-in-a-lifetime galas and interviews.

What she reveals in the book is that, by saying yes to her body and yes to her peers and yes to her accolades, she was able to shed those security layers and uncover a happier version of herself; one that felt more fulfilled and appreciated and alive. Relieving yourself of that weight – both literally and figuratively – frees up all this space for joy and adventure and self-acceptance. It’s beautiful really.

I recommend this book because it’s masterfully written. I recommend it because she reveals which Grey’s Anatomy cast member is in her ride-or-die group of friends. I recommend it because you’ll see yourself in it somewhere. I recommend it because it’s clever and honest and she was about as transparent as she could be without compromising herself or her relationships. And I recommend it because it makes you want to say yes, or at least consider it.

Welcome to the church of Shonda …

1 copy

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This is everything, but it’s even more than everything from 16:20 on:

1 copy 2

Thoughts

Meet me where the glass ceiling used to be

July 29, 2016

The world has gone crazy. She has lost her way. There are so many different energies pulling everyone in so many different directions that we’re all simultaneously colliding and treating each other like ghosts. But on a planet where commonality has become the ultimate unicorn, I have identified one undeniable truth. One fact we can all say, “Amen” and “Hallelujah!” to with an enthusiasm otherwise reserved for Bad Moms trailers and quotes from Scary Mommy’s facebook page. This truth I’ve stumbled upon is undeniable and invigorating and, let’s face it, a giant middle finger to a lot of folks who’ve had a big middle finger coming for some time now. So, here it is … Ready …

Women are kind of having a moment.

For a person who has the word “Superwoman” in the title of her passion project, it seems negligent to breeze past the forceful feminine momentum in the air. And more exciting? For once it really has nothing to do with Beyonce. I mean, other than I almost took my sweat-soaked shirt off and swung it around my head when Run the World (Girls) came through my headphones on my morning run. (“Strong enough to bear the children – Then get ta business.” I mean … somebody had to say it.)

RearView

And I’m not just talking about ole Hil’s recent nomination, either, although no one can diminish the historical significance of her accomplishment. For me, it has everything to do with this speech and this woman:

If she was acting, I volunteer to polish her Oscar for the rest of my days. That speech had stank on it. It was a master class in delivery and poignancy and perspective. She threw her rhetorical spaghetti at the wall and it stuck. To everyone. Everywhere. The part about her girls playing on the White House lawn … I felt like I took an emotional bullet.

The chicks and I were driving home from their grandparents’ the other night and got into one of those driveby formative chats.

“And who is the president, girls?” – Me
“Barack Obama!” – Both
“Right, and who is his wife? Who’s the First Lady?” – Me
“Ahhh, Michelle Obama?” – JoJo
“Right!” – Me
“I love her.” – JoJo
“Yeah, I love her, too” – Spike
“Why do you love her, JoJo?” – Me
“I don’t know. Because she’s pretty and she helps people.” – JoJo
“She does. That’s right.” – Me
“Why do you love her, Mom?” – JoJo
“I love her because she is a wonderful woman. She cares about children and education and people’s health. She has a garden and she says things that change people for the better. She is very strong and all of us girls should try to be strong, right?”
“Right” – Both
“Because, girls are …” – Me
“Awesome!” – JoJo

These unexpected conversations put just a hint of hot vomit right at the base of my throat. I feel such a responsibility to say the right thing. To offer those profound nuggets that will turn up in their nonfiction works 30 years from now. But more often I falter here. I think my FLOTUS contact high got me through this particular incident just fine.

Perhaps the female feels are also heightened for me because of the book I officially finished this morning, Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. The writing on these pages makes everything from the brain in my head that forms sentences to the tip of my fingernails that tap furiously on dirty keyboards so jealous I’ve been reduced to a humbled heap of fragmented story ideas. Dear reader, I don’t know what your craft is, or your interest, but have you ever been witness to someone who does that craft or hobby so masterfully that you feel both defeated and on fire all at once? That’s me now. I’m all jumbled up in awe and inspiration. Her intimacy with characters and uncomfortable transparency in this book were so admirable and so well done it sparked a desire in me to quit writing altogether and just succumb to the towering shadow cast by her rare creativity and run away to furiously write for weeks in a small cottage in the Ireland countryside all within the final letters of the final chapter. //More to come on this masterpiece later.//

The entire book was captivating, but one speech featured in Year of Yes in particular stirred something in me. Something I didn’t realize had settled. If you are a woman, a professional, a master of your craft, a novice, if you have a pulse, give this 8 minutes of your time. Let it pour in and take up some space where a negative thought used to live.

I love the idea of the glass ceiling being this tangible place, this possible meetup. Like it’s a designated location where we can all go to celebrate our victories and plot to right all the gender-specific injustices. I’ve been lucky. In my working years I’ve never truly felt oppressed or discriminated against. I’ve been given platforms and the benefit of the doubt and opportunities. I don’t feel like I need to burn my bra (they’re too expensive for that anyway) or march with other womanfolk. But that doesn’t bestow upon me some fast pass to get to the front of the line. It doesn’t mean the struggle of other women doesn’t leave bruises on my heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t get a righteous tickle where my internal plumbing resides every time a lady sticks it to some condescending sucker.

I have three little girls. Three girls. I want more than this moment, for them. I want them to, not only chase their dreams in a world that is free and just, but also respect and appreciate the fact that other women went toe-to-toe with adversity and beat the shit out of stereotypes in order for them to do so. I want them to watch Michelle Obama’s speech and feel the weight of her words. I want them to let other women’s stories shake them up a little bit and flip their perspective. I pray, of course, they never feel less than or unequal to, but if they do, that they know that’s when it’s time to go high.

It isn’t the end of the struggle, but yes, we women are having a moment. Whatever side of the party lines you fall on, whether you’ve been held down or lifted up, whether you have children or you don’t, there is something to celebrate here. So keep those over-the-shoulder boulder holders clasped and your eyes on the prize. The world just might find her way after all.

Mindfulness

Drop the damn bananas

July 21, 2016

What if I just let go?
What if I dropped all the weight, right here, right now?
What if I managed to slip away?

Like the majority of my fellow estimated 152 million bloggers pounding the keys somewhere in the world right now, this particular platform is not my primary source of income. [I’ll pause here so you can recover from that shock. We good? OK.] Yes, I have an honest-to-goodness 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. You know, the one. Where women wear smart skirt suits with white tennis shoes and everyone keeps a carpal tunnel brace in their top drawer for days when it’s damp outside. This is just my side gig. My alter ego.

One of the perks of my big girl job is that I get to do a lot of writing and a lot of editing. One of my favorite people to work with is my main man Dr. Dave. You know that dance you do when engaging in a conversation with a hyper-intelligent human being … When you nod on the outside and say things like, “How interesting,” and “Huh. Really?” but inside your brain is like an Amazing Race contestant frantically trying to put the puzzle together? But then, like Steve drawing the final hint on Blue’s Clues (I will never acknowledge Joe), it’s all there. Bam! You get it. And it’s genius. Life-altering even. It’s the type of exchange that’s worth the work because the thought changes you. It expands and alters the makeup of your brain. That’s my entire relationship reading and listening to Dr. Dave. The guy has this gift for inspiring and shaking cores and soothing souls. Sometimes he takes a straight path to deliver his message, but often he invites you along on a series of unexpected U-turns and gravel paths before delivering you to the promise land. To the epiphany. Yeah … he’s one of those people.

Recently, Dr. Dave shared one of his favorite metaphors. It seems that some time ago, in a small village in India, there was an obnoxious monkey population. The primates were so numerous, in fact, the townspeople decided to round them all up and take them to a lovely little monkey farm in the country somewhere, where they would have a better life and live out the rest of their monkey days. To catch them, the people would place a bunch of bananas inside an upside-down bamboo cage with fairly narrow bars. The animals would approach the cage, see the fruit, reach in and grab the banana. With their hands clenched tightly around the fruit, the monkeys couldn’t remove their arm from the cage. The harder and longer they would try, the louder their screams would get. This attracted more curious monkeys who would repeat the same imprisoning process. And thus the animals were had.

Of course the monkeys could have escaped easily if they would have just let go of the fruit. If they’d just drop the damn banana they would be free to go swing with their posse through the mossy trees and throw poo like little jungle punks. But they just couldn’t. They were panicking. They were frozen with fear. They were reacting. They were trapped. Then Dr. Dave went on to define what constitutes a banana for us – that being the feelings or actions or situations in your life that elicit a strong mental or physical response. Probably detrimental. Likely toxic. Definitely negative.

Holding Onto Bananas

After reading Dr. Dave’s piece, I spent nearly my entire 3-mile run the next morning thinking about my bananas; The toxic things that I cling to and the response they trigger in me. The noxious notions that infiltrate my thoughts and ridiculous requests I place on myself.

I hold onto sugar.
Boo hoo, I know. But truly I’ve long battled some sweet, sticky food addiction demons. Growing up, treats and large meals were a mark of celebration. I, in turn, have carried this tradition on to my own family. Frozen yogurt, brownies, greasy gyros from our favorite place … it all adds up to a slippery equation of food + happy = reward. And who doesn’t want to be rewarded? Like, all the time. The problem is I’ve come to a place where those little white granules (perhaps the poop of angels, I hypothesize) now own me. They control me. They take me so high and then drop me on my head. But no matter how many times I tell myself – usually in the haze of a sugar-induced hangover – that I am done, I end up following the syrupy trail right back to the honey pot.

I hold onto perfection.
Real talk for a second. I started an entire blog based on this concept. Based on the pursuit of a perfect balance between all of the parts of myself that battle for time and attention. I want to see the world. I want to stop screaming at my daughters. I want to cook with ingredients I pluck from an organic raised garden bed. I want to kill it at work. I want to be perfect at this blog where I write about my pursuit of perfection. With my body, with my habits, with my profession, with my parenting, I hold onto these unrealistic expectations for myself so tightly that I don’t even know what a feeling of perfection would smell, taste, look or feel like at this point even if I somehow managed to reach it. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to keep looking past where we are rather than live contently in all the messy, dirty, imperfect bits of ourselves. Defining yourself as a work in progress is the ideal guise for an existence riddled with rough edges.

I hold onto fear.
This is a huge one for me. I’ve talked about my anxiety and I’ve talked about my struggles with parenting in this violent world here before, but truly, the terror I live with runs crazy-deep. I attribute at least some of this to the fact that I am a prisoner of push notifications. My job requires me to be online for the majority of the day. My phone, my laptop, my desktop, my television, whatever it is, there’s some horrifying news alert popping up on it. Flashes of events that point to the demise of character and kindness and sanity and love for humanity flood my newsfeed and thus, my mind. In one of my more recent social media-induced meltdowns, my brother (you remember Just Matt) told me to get a grip and remember they’re just leaving out the good stuff.

My thought of the day for you regarding the world we live in … You’re better off not watching the news. It will make you a happier person. Something negative happens and they beat it to death to keep you tuned in. Try shutting it off. The world is full of wonderful people, so many caring and selfless things happen on a daily basis, but that isn’t what anyone focuses on. All any of us can do is help one another and love one another and raise our kids that way and to not let a few bad people keep them from loving every minute of the short life we all get. The kids and I will sometimes pick up a bill in a restaurant for someone. They love it and you have to think that it makes that person’s heart happy and makes them want to pass that feeling along to someone else. Bad things have happened since man was created and always will, but at the end of the day people are good, that just isn’t news. The positives far outweigh the negatives on a daily basis, but just like the evening news, we tend to focus 28 minutes on all of the negative and just set aside the last 2 minutes to talk about how a stranger donated an organ for some child they don’t even know so they can live a happy normal life and love their friends and family. So shut off the crazy people on the news and focus on all the awesome people you are surrounded by on a daily basis, like me for starters.

– he wrote

And he’s right. I know he’s right. But then I go to sleep and have vivid dreams of nuclear attacks and running through crazed streets grasping my sobbing children and all the horrible things the dark parts of our brain push aside during the daylight hours. And I wake up drenched in sweat and succumb to the fear. How can I protect them? What would I do if …? Why is the world so broken? I feel helpless and small and scared to death.

I hold onto my routine.
Ask anyone who’s close to me and they will tell you I live and die by my meticulous schedule. They’ll also tell you it’s annoying AF. Almost any hour of the day I can tell you where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing with about 80 percent accuracy. Any deviation from this cadence requires additional planning to compensate appropriately. Any unplanned deviation has the potential to send me spiraling downward … smoking engine, towering flames, the whole scene. The thing is, it annoys me, too! I swear it does. But it’s a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, to conquer the Everest that is training for a half marathon, dressing and getting 3 children ready to go, working a full day, making dinner, doing baths, menu planning, meditating and getting a semi-decent amount of sleep, only, mind you, to wake up and do the whole damn thing over the next morning, requires a solid plan. Otherwise the wheels just fall right off the wagon. But there’s certainly a strong argument for a little more flexibility. A little less rushing along and a little more “in the moment”. But if I’m really honest, even when I’m cutting loose and playing along with the pull of the universe, I’m still calculating the time lost and required compensations in my head. Maybe that’s just being a mom. Maybe that’s just me as a mom. Maybe I’m a total psycho who needs drugs and liquor.

Free Bird

It’s brutal holding onto these bananas. They’re rotten. And honestly, it’s exhausting. So much of my energy is pumped into fueling these cyclical habits that positively drain me. So, what would happen if I just dropped them? If I let go and pulled my arm back out of the cage? Would I be free? Could escaping anxiety and shedding all that extra weight really be that simple? That obvious? Something I could have just done 5 years ago? Am I held by a trap I set out for myself? I don’t know …

If only bananas weren’t so sweet. You know how I like my sugar.

Wellness

Processing error: The crux of too much input

July 13, 2016

“I gotta get serious, man. I’m not kidding. I still have 15 pounds of Sloppy Joan on me!”
“You look great! I’m the one who has a jiggly ass.”
“Oh, whatever!”
“No, really. I have this pair of jeans that make a crazy noise when I walk. You know, because my thighs are rubbing together.”
[laughs]
“I mean, I just love brownies. And cookies. And ice cream. And I can’t say no.”
“I know, it’s hard. Especially when you’re working, and raising kids, and trying to keep the house up, and …”
“Yeah, but I want to stop making excuses.”
“Yeah. No. Let’s do it.”
“No sugar, for 12 weeks. None.”
“I’m in.”
“OK, once a week. Once a week we can have sugar.”
“Yeah, that’s better.”

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the sad docu-drama, “Baby Weight Is Not So Great: A story of pudge and pooh-poohs”.

This body, stretched and tired, just never came back to me after my third trip round the maternity ward. It is a truth that I wake up to every morning and try to kick out of bed every night. As it could be said for nearly everything in this country right now, there is work to be done here. My problem is, when I want to achieve something – anything – I tend to collect support tools. You know, like how your mom collects cookbooks or 4 year olds hoard rocks. I want the secret code in Super Mario Brothers that unlocks weight loss, a clean house, well-behaved children. Up + Up + Down + Down + A = a waistline, etc. I get sucked in to apps and gadgets and blog posts about things like protein made out of crickets. I let the promises take over, like mint in an otherwise tame Midwestern garden. The result is a hoarder’s house of apps and monitors and half-filled notebooks.

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The damning evidence.
When I wake up in the morning, should I feel so inclined, I check in with my Fitbit app and see how much sleep I just got. I try to recall when and why I was restless 10x when I was supposed to be getting beautiful, restorative rest. Did I pee? Was it Spike?

I step on the scale before I head out the door just because I like to a) torture myself and b) update the weight stats on my various food and fitness tracking mechanisms daily.

I go sit at my desk, where I drink from a cup that has the ounces marked so I can measure my daily water intake.

Following each and every meal I tediously and dutifully enter my caloric missteps into MyFitnessPal, so I know exactly how high I need to rank in that moment on the self loathing scale.

Of course, some of the food isn’t that terrible. I know this because I scanned them with my Fooducate app and it told me so.

I check in with my wrist periodically … I’m at 2,000 steps … now just 2,800 … now 6,000.

My phone vibrates to remind me that I am not chained to this smudged keyboard and it’s time to get my ass moving for a bit.

Around 3pm I Snapchat a picture of my unnecessary dessert with the caption “Big girl loves cake” and, of course, a poop emoji.

When it’s time to work out, I have my usual tracking device or, if I want a more accurate reading, I’ll borrow Hank’s heart rate monitor to see just how little I burn in comparison to what I ingest in one sitting.

I jot down my activity and calorie burn tally in my exercise journal and check to make sure it registered in my Fitbit dashboard.

I’ll finish the day with a peek at my blog stats for the past week and then fire up my meditation app for a quick 10-minute mindfulness exercise.

young-girl-starting-new-day-with-meditation-in-her-bed-picjumbo-com

I can remember at one point, not so long ago, my former employer decided to implement a task-tracking system so our department could make the case for more manpower. Every time you went from one project to another, took a break, or went offline, you had to document it. I was also trying to shed the pounds from baby No. 2 and got on the body tracking bug bus hardcore. Literally every minute of my waking and sleeping hours could be accounted for, examined, dissected, scrutinized.

And you can do it, too. There is a tool for gauging your every success and misstep on the market right this very second. Want to see how relevant your digital dialogue is? Get into your Facebook Insights. Care to explore how you’re spending your time? Download Lifehacker and have at it. Down to track your spending, productivity, exercise frequency, project management, mile splits … there’s an app for that.

But what happens to us when we get that introspective? How can you harness and process that much quantitative output about things like floors climbed and resting bpm? I’ll tell you … we become our own worst critics, doling out Rotten Tomatoes to yourself for every bonehead meal choice and skipped sweat session. I don’t know about you, but once my calories in/calories out get in the red, I’m out. I’m done. Cooked. I’m pounding sleeves of Oreos; plunging them into chocolate milk just to show off. It’s like I let go of the expectation I had for myself when I started entering every freaking condiment and candy hours before and just go bananas.

The pressure of so much accountability is unrealistic. It’s exhausting. I mean, I came up with 11 points of access for personal health feedback, without even trying hard. I’m certainly not going to be a hater here. It’s entirely self-inflicted. Nobody put those apps on my phone or strapped the monitor to my wrist. And I’ve had great success in the past leveraging dashboards and tracking tools and DietBets. A lot of folks have. You don’t know what you don’t know, and knowledge can be powerful when you know what you want to do with it. But I guess I don’t know what I want to do with it anymore. I haven’t known what to do with it for awhile. I have come to the realization that I am over-tracked and under-living. I know what I’m supposed to do and, as a grownup(?) I should be able to just do it, without creating a hall of records to house every failure and over indulgence.

Last week, while comforting a co-worker as she barreled toward a full-fledged presentation-induced meltdown, I told her she needed to, “Turn off the faucet and get in the tub.” Meaning, sometimes I think we hide in the info-gathering. We assume that once we have all the facts, all the data, all the feedback, the answer will magically reveal itself. But if I’m honest with myself, I know what’s going on. I know where I’m messing up. I know that the s’mores need to go and the hard work needs to grow. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still use my running app for half marathon training and weigh myself. But maybe I’ll just step on the scale every Monday. And I’ll try to eat what makes my body and mind feel good, without analyzing the hell out of the proteins, carbohydrates and fiber (Like I know what all that shit means anyway). Good things in, good vibes out.

It’s time to turn off the faucet and get in the tub.

Laughs

Sisters say what? (Vol. 3)

July 8, 2016

I peed my pants! No, wait, just some rain snuck in there. – Spike

It smells bad in Sloppy Joan’s room. She pooped so hard! – JoJo

Pretty much anyone who wears a wedding dress looks like Queen Jelly. – Spike

But if I tell on him for hitting, I’m gonna get a tattle tail. – Spike

I had to go to the nurse because my feet hurt and all I had for lunch was an apple. – JoJo

I drank it up in a jippy! – Spike

Girls Suits

Ya know, they make Huggies so much easier now. At least that’s what the commercial said. – JoJo

Oh my gosh, Mama, today Johnny fell and I laughed to my death! – Spike

It’s actually good to toot or fart because it warns you that you need to go to the bathroom. – JoJo

What’s the story with this peanut butter jar in the sink? – Me
Oh, I know! Once there was a jar and it fell and cracked its nut. – JoJo

I can’t wait to get cold knees. – Spike

I want to be an art teacher when I grow up. – JoJo
Ask God if you can. – Spike
I might forget cuz it’s awhile until you have a job. – JoJo
Well, God will remember. You are a really good artist. – Spike

Dad, you know that’s called a wee wee … what you have. What kind of plant is this? So, anyway, yeah, you have a wee wee. – Spike

I know how to spot buzzards … pterodactyls … and robins. Oh, and eagles! – Spike

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How’s your pull-up? – Me
Good. There’s just a gallon of pee in it. – Spike

If anyone breaks these I will cry to my death! They’re my pets. – Spike, holding a jar of seashells

This lake is full of allergy! – JoJo

That’s my role model! – Spike, seeing a picture of her from a marketing photo shoot

I love you. – Me
I love you. – Spike
I love you more. – Me
That’s great. – Spike

Michael had a hooley hoop today. And he watched on me while I hooley hooped, too! – Spike

Peter Pan is so handsome. I love everything he has going on. – JoJo

Those are chocolate cows! – Spike

I’m going to fall in love and marry Travis. He likes me, I like him. He’s really silly and would be a good dad cause he’s handsome and funny and would make the kids laugh. I know everything about him. He’s six and a half, he’s lost six teeth, and sometimes he gets hurt. – JoJo

My fingers taste funny. They’ve tasted funny since I showered at Kay’s. – JoJo

Mom, my dream taught me how to do a bun! And I was so excited that I peed.” – Spike

Sadie is my lover dog. She just loves me so much she wants to hold my hand. – Spike

Mom, nothing is impossible if you believe. [man belch] – Spike

If your heart beeps stop, you could be dead. Because, you know, the beeps make the blood go around. – Spike

Bonus!

Hattie Choke

Kids

So you’re going to be parents

July 1, 2016

There’s a sound that every woman past the age of 20 instantly recognizes. It’s an obnoxiously boisterous shriek that starts at a grown woman’s toes, works its way right past her ovaries, and jogs by the ole’ ticker before erupting like a volcano out of her mouth. It’s a universal celebratory cry reserved for two specific occurrences: Engagements and babies. Even if the sound doesn’t volunteer itself from our vocal chords, almost every woman knows how to fake it, instinctively.

Last week, while hammering away on my keyboard at work, I heard the call and, as we all do, went running to add my shriek to the choir. A coworker was expecting. Her first, it turns out. “Ahhhhh, bless her little heart,” I thought to myself. “Bless her naive, innocent, untainted little heart.”

People want to know what parenting is like. But they really don’t want to know what parenting is like. It’s a similar story with childbirth. “Tell me everything!” [Insert stories with words like “tear” and “blood” and “plug”] “Why did you tell me all that? Gawd!”

It’s really not that bad. You see, parenting is basically like this …

You know when you walk into your house and the odor is off? Like, you know something went awry. Something terrible transpired in the minutes or hours you were away, but the only way to pinpoint the exact scent invading your nostrils is to go on a terrifying scavenger hunt to track it down. Well, when you’re a parent, you play that game, like all the time. You leave no shirt, underchin, diaper, palm, head of hair, or ear unturned. My children, for whatever reason, typically smell like a potpourri of maple syrup, black dirt and a hint of pee. Why? I don’t know. It’s all part of the game. I find that asking the right questions is key. “Did you fall in the mud or walk through it?” “Do you have to go potty or is too late?”

OK, so also, being a parent means living in the strap of a giant slingshot. The strap, you see, is made up of threads of your child’s emotional instability. The thrill is not knowing when you’re going to get shot into the air as a result of their tantrum or general displeasure or really for no freaking reason at all. It is guaranteed that at some point in your evening you will be hurled, full-throttle, into the throws of a meltdown-fueled tail spin. You develop a scale in which you can gauge the insanity from foot stomping to full-blown breathless sobs. Anything that falls at desperate mean-spirited accusations and below, I tend to just ignore. Now, the mistake a lot of rookies make is thinking there will be some sort of lead-up to this irrational hurricane. Like you’ll see it coming and be able to distract or deter. [smh] Just buckle up and prepare for the free fall back down. (That’s when you get to hug them.)

Spike

Also, being a parent often involves conversational exchanges that remind me of the ones you have when you show up at a kegger and start chatting with someone who’s been there a while. I think I’m shaping a young mind with lines I picked up in a children’s psychology book and, you know, generally killin’ it, and they think I’m merely filling some time before we move on to what’s really important. Like how Captain Hook lost his hand.

Me: “Honey, when you say those things, it makes JoJo feel attacked. And do you think it feels good to be attacked? This world is so full of sad, mean things. Be the one in the crowd that makes people feel good and loved and heard.”
Spike: “Mama, did you know that last night I lived on the moon? In my dream. I lived on the moon and ate Cheetos.”

You also have to have very serious conversations where you focus really hard on not laughing about their problems. Painful poops come to mind.

Poo

Remember right after the Blair Witch Project came out and everyone got super jumpy and lost their shit at the slightest twig snap as soon as the sun went down? There’s a little bit of that going on with parenting, too. Things that are perfectly acceptable in the daylight make for a crowded, sweaty bed in the moonlight. My kids have had night terrors to the tune of Cookie Monster eating them, the masked man from Big Hero 6, curtains, a local (poorly produced) car commercial with a Halloween theme, Ursula and a campfire song about the Chicago Fire, just to name a few. The challenge is to maintain your cool at 2 a.m. when you’re jolted awake by a frightened face illuminated by the blue glow of your alarm clock just 2 inches away from your eyeballs. Now that’s scary, man.

Another thing is the total mass destruction of your word association game. Let me ask you something. When you hear, “Push it” in any context, how does your mind complete the sentence? “Push it real good” is the correct answer. How about, “It’s Friday”? What you’re looking for here is, “You ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do.” But when you’re a parent, the concept is the same, but the words change a bit. Now, I’m all like, “Finish each other’s” “Sandwiches, that’s what I was gonna say!” and “Here’s the mail” “It never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail, when it comes I wanna wail, mail!!” Don’t even say the three dirtiest words in the parent dictionary. You know the ones. Three words, seven letters total, rhymes with “Get it, Bro.” Don’t say them or I’ll be forced to cut you.

Trolls

And being a parent means you’ll never be lonely again. Even if you want to be. You want a few minutes to reflect on the day, or a big decision, or why in the heck JoJo (not my JoJo) sent Wells home last Monday? Don’t go to the following places: The bathroom, the bathtub, the shower, your closet, your bedroom, your car in your garage, your pantry or your linen closet. They will find you there. They will find you and they will sing Lost Boys for the 500th time and you will be forced to sing along in your head because gosh dang it, it’s catchy.

I’d also liken the messy part of being a parent to cleaning up spilled raw egg (which, for the record, is how I imagine Big Bird’s snot might be). You wipe and wipe and there’s always more shit. Literally and figuratively. Since becoming a mother, I’ve had boogers, pee, poop, vomit and blood, none my own, on my hands. The weirdest part is, at some point your gag reflex becomes immune to the disgusting insanity of it all and it crosses over from, “I have shit on my finger!” to, “Can you take the baby, please? I got shit on my finger.” And then there’s all the other crap. The shoes with no match, the long-neglected components of Happy Meal treasures past, the markers with no lids, the books with torn pages, the Barbie shoes, the beads, the princess jewelry. And don’t try to contain it. I thought it would all live happily ever after in the basement. But it doesn’t. Somehow, piece by piece, all the crap migrates into your garden tub and onto kitchen counters and the floor of your car. It invades. It multiplies. It sucks.

So, what my friend here’s trying to say is love is blind … I mean, parenting is pretty much the coolest. If I’ve helped to prepare anyone in any way, then my work here is done. For more parenting gems, you can check out this and this.

Wanderlust

Attention campers: Get your ultimate popup packing list

June 29, 2016

Oh, hey you guys. Sorry about that little break there. I had a big project for work and a business trip to Chicago and I dabbled a bit in sun poisoning … It’s been a crazy 8 days of summer. This post is coming from a recent request I got from one of my favorite folks around who just procured a popup camper. You might recall that we have a tenement on wheels that answers to the name Emma.

When it comes to camping in a modest popup, we’ve certainly had our share of wonderful times, as well as times where it was more touch-and-go (who can forget the birthday party hosted by Satan himself?). It took a few hitchings and pitchings before we found our groove, there’s no denying that. It got testy a time or two before the air conditioning kicked up. There was also the time we spent 5 solid hours on top of each other as the Ohio rains came down mercilessly upon us. Not exactly a zen experience.

But we’ve learned that the difference between making memories and simply managing misery often rests in the preparation. Do yourself a favor; Get a few tubs and keep them stocked with the essentials and, with the addition of a few items you want to pack fresh, you’ll be set to savor some family time on a stress-free holiday in Mother Nature’s magical motel.

Woods2 2

“Send me a list of your camping essentials, please! We’re going at the end of July and I’m already freaking out.” my friend text me. Well, I like to think of myself as an oversharer granter of wishes. So, I started by asking Hank what he would consider, “essential” …

Hose for drinking water
Water filter
5 gallon Jerry can (for water)
Pressure regulator
Leveling blocks or 2x4s
Extension cord (Whatever power popup has)

“After that, it’s just how do you wanna live?” He said. You probably don’t know him, but this is a very Hank thing to say.

Smore 2

Here are the things I keep in my tubs for campsite L-I-V-I-N:

Pudgy Pie Maker
Good folding chairs
Dutch oven and/or cast iron skillet
Flashlights/headlamps
Party lights
Outdoor rug
Bug spray
Sunscreen
Long lighter
Bag of charcoal and lighter fluid
Glow sticks
Collapsible scooters for kids
Bubbles + sidewalk chalk
Coloring books, crayons, Uno, whatever keeps your kids sane when the rain comes
Sleeping bags + pillows
Towels
Hand sanitizer
Dish tub + dish soap + a sponge
Coffee Pot and coffee
Cups and mugs
Box of tissue
Large Ziplock bags
Large trash bags
Pop trashcan
Utensils
Ove gloves
Paper towels and/or cloths
Cocktails
Jugs of drinking water
Foil
Small broom and dustpan
Sandals + gym shoes + hiking boots
Tweezers (for splinters) + First Aid kit with plenty of Band-Aids
Toiletries + face wipes
Clothes + extra clothes (because someone will pee their pants and it might just be you)
Laundry bag (for dirty clothes)
Hats
Raincoats
iPad (Shut up, let’s be real here) loaded with movies
Portable Bluetooth speaker
Chargers
A travel journal that stays in the camper (I write down campground, site # and any special memories from each trip)

This just in! Hank – coming to terms with the endless sea of estrogen in which he’s swimming – just ordered a portable potty for nighttime emergencies. I’ll keep you posted.