Thoughts

Peace by piece (let’s make it a thing)

February 13, 2018

I have, through a series of fortunate events, been introduced to and befriended a mindfulness expert, Dr. Dave. I just love the guy. He’s one of these folks who holds people with his eyes and controls your attention through the inflection in and pace of his voice. He slows way down when he’s making the point he most wants you to absorb. It’s like performance art, watching this guy explain the overthinking mind, I tell ya.

All that to say, he’s a pretty captivating soul, but mostly, I love the guy because he does beautiful shit like this …

A few weeks back, a group of us were working on a video project with Dr. Dave at his house, which is always kind of a rewarding exercise in itself because his home is very curated and collected and cool. It spawns a lot of creativity, which is my currency of choice. Plus, interview someone on a chair in a lobby and then interview them on their couch in their living room and just see which comes out more engaging. It’s a pathetic contest.

Anyway, we were standing in his kitchen, contemplating his gracious offer to make coffee, when he threw a standard Dr. Dave curveball out. “Guys, I want to start today by setting an intention.” Aw yeah, here we go! Intentions! [Oprah voice] He reached into his pocket and pulled out three puzzle pieces. He placed one very deliberately in my hand, then each of my coworkers’ hands.

“I want you to look at the glossy side of the piece. What colors are on it? What textures did the artist capture? What bigger image might this piece be a part of?”

We all obediently ran our fingers over our pieces, quietly, pregnantly.

“OK, now turn it over. What do you notice about the other side? What does it feel like?”

We complied. It looked and felt like cardboard.

“Now, I want you think about a word. One word. I want that word to be your intention for the month of February. Think about something you want to work on or focus on. What is your word?”

We only get one?

“You know,” he continued, “sometimes it can be hard to see the big picture when we’re only focused on one small part of it. But if you set your intention, it can help clear out some of the noise and give clarity.”

Classic Dr. Dave. That insightful son of a …

This was the shot from the gun at the starting line for me. Not the idea of setting an intention. I mean, I employ mantras in loads of different ways: To get through a long run … “one more step, one more step, one more step …” Or a long car ride with three tiny, disgruntled passengers … “you’ll miss these days, you’ll miss these days, you’ll miss these days … Or even to walk away from breakroom brownies … “skinny jeans, skinny jean, skinny jeans …” But this was more complex.

Strap on your seat belts, guys. We’re going full speed into Metaphor Town!

Let’s say life is a puzzle, with, we’ll call it 100 different pieces (if you’re lucky), and each piece is a different intention; A different facet of your character, awareness or behavior you’d like to strengthen. If you invested a bit of yourself in every single one of those pieces, you’d feel pretty great about the project by the time it all came together and it was ready to be put away, right? Do you smell what I’m steppin’ in? What Dr. Dave was steppin’ in?

You can set an intention for the day.

Set an intention for the week.

For the month.

For the year.

You could take everything apart, figure out what needs fixing or focus and then fix or focus on it. Piece by piece. Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. Year by year. However much you can break off and handle at one time, handle it. Maybe it’s one small thing – like an hour more sleep – and that’s all you want to focus on for 365 days. I think that would be lovely!

This whole thing – this puzzle – might just be the secret to realistic change. It’s a guide to showing yourself grace and getting down into the gritty work in digestible, manageable doses. Every yahoo with a 50+ piece jigsaw under their belt knows that big results don’t come together by dumping the whole mess out on a table and going hog wild. No! Things really only start to come together when you have a plan. A strategy. They come from pulling all the edge pieces out first and starting there, maybe from a corner.

Yes, a corner!

Think of what your corners might be … C’mon, what are your biggies? For me, it’s patience, presence, health and growth. If I can get to a good place in those four areas, I think I can love with as much love as my heart can hold and live with as much life as my spirit can imagine. Maybe start there. With your four corners. The “need to haves”. Then … break it out from there with the “nice to haves” that tie back to your “need to haves”. What are the other pieces of the puzzle for you?

My intention for February is “awake”. (Remember, Dr. Dave only gave us one word.) It’s a state of being that often eludes me. I’m upright. I’m dressed for the part. I’m crossing everything off the list, but I am not always seeing things. I’m not always tuned into the people I’m doing things for or the reasons I’m doing things to begin with. I’m a frequent flier on the autopilot express, and my intention is to quit hitting snooze and wake the F up. Most importantly, the word “awake” ties back to one of my four corners: Presence.

So, now it’s your turn. I mean … if you want it to be. You could even go so far as to buy an actual puzzle from an actual store and write actual words on the backs of actual pieces. It’s your call. Blow it up and put it back together, word by word. An intention isn’t a contract or obligation to anybody but yourself. You can pick what those pieces say and you can pick your pace for putting it confidently into place before picking up the next one.

It’s your life, your puzzle. Eventually, it all comes together.

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Kids

Jealousy and a tough awards season

February 1, 2018

Jealousy. The green-headed monster. Riding the bitter train to Envy Town. The desire to possess what someone else possesses or garner the attention someone else has garnered is a totally natural, entirely ugly impulse.

I still remember crowding around a modest 20-inch television in the corner of our kitchen, the camcorder hooked up to the inputs, to watch a video of my older sister reading her winning entry for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. Mom had tears in her eyes. Dad got nostalgic about his writing days in college. At school, they announced her name over the loudspeaker. She had a certificate with a gold seal on it, which made it worth a million dollars in my mind. I was in third grade, she was in fifth, and all of this was very much a big deal.

When I won the same contest two years later, it just wasn’t the same. The shine of victory had been dulled by repetition. There were no tears. Hell, i think we even skipped the banquet where the winners read their essays. It wasn’t the first time my sister did something ahead of me, better than me. But it was one of the first occasions I can recall vividly. That sting of a sibling outshining her housemates. The taste of ice cream in someone else’s honor.

Everybody has those memories! We’re born with comparison and competition coursing through our veins. I remember thinking the attention I received for my own accomplishments just wasn’t as significant as the embarrassing amount of praise my brother – the football player and only boy – or my sister – the equestrian with the shy disposition – got. Of course, their memories are likely skewed the other way. And, in hindsight, the truth is, we were all loved an appropriate amount for three children who experienced predominantly mild, occasionally notable success, and acted like jerks much of the time.

But see, the trick to that clarity rests in the hindsight. When you’re in it, you can’t see it through the green. These days, my view is from the other side of the fence. The parents’ side. And it ain’t pretty, folks.

Last week, Hank and I received an email from the principal at the girls’ school:

[Paraphrased]
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Spike’s Parents,
It is my pleasure to inform you that your kindergartener, Spike, will receive our Perfect Panda award for displaying this month’s life skill, integrity. Please join us at our school assembly to surprise your child and present her with her certificate on Tuesday, January 30.

Sincerely,
Spike’s Principal

I closed the email and immediately jumped on chat. He was already there …

Hank: Go Spikey!
Me: Right?!
Hank: JoJo’s gonna be pissed.
Me: Right.

See, what you don’t know is that the school gives out these awards every month throughout the school year. And every month for the past 2.5 school years, our JoJo has come home with a sad, shattered spirit after learning she, once again, was not named a Perfect Panda. Spike, as the universe would have it, came in and cleared one just five months into her academic career. That burns a bit on the way down.

This was tricky. As the parent, you certainly don’t want to detract from one child’s accomplishment. But when you have an emotionally fragile child, you don’t want them spiraling, either. What to do … What to do …

I took every opportunity to initiate damage control early. For instance, when JoJo scored in her game Saturday, but Spike did not, I was quick to point out that Spike cheered for her big sis even though she didn’t get a bucket earlier in the day. JoJo nodded and smiled at her sister across the backseat. Then returned to her pack of Oreos. (Quick side note: What the hell is going on with the snacks at youth sporting events guys?)

Then I turned things up a notch. It was Sunday morning and all three of the chicks were tearing each other apart. I hit that boiling point that all parents hit after so many consecutive minutes of tattling and whining and sister-on-sister hate hitting.

“Go get your sisters and get in here!” I spewed to Spike.
[The three girls filed in, noses to the floor, and sat down in a row.]
“Mom, she–”
“I don’t care.”
“But she–”
“I don’t care.”
[sighs]
“Here’s the thing, ladies” I began. “We are a tribe. The five of us. We don’t hurt each other. We don’t put each other down and we don’t touch each other out of hate. Over everyone else, we have each other’s backs. Do you understand?”
[hesitant nods]
“Who knows what integrity is?” I asked. (Remember, Spike didn’t know she was getting the Perfect Panda award yet. Pop quiz, suckers.) JoJo raised her hand.
“OK, what is it?” I prompted.
“It’s how you follow the rules.”
“In a way. It’s also what people think of when they think of you as a person. So, let me ask you … What kind of person do you want people to think of when they think of you? You want them to think you are a _____ girl.”
“Brave and kind,” JoJo said.
“OK, brave and kind. Good. Do you think a brave girl calls her sister stupid?”
“No.”
“Do you think a kind girl calls her sister stupid?”
“No.”
“How about you?” I asked, pointing to Spike.
“Kind and does the right thing.”
“Great. Does a kind girl say she hates someone?”
“No.”
“Is telling someone you hate them doing the right thing?”
“No.”
“And you, Sloppy Joan. What kind of girl do you want to be?”
“A princess girl.”
“K. Do you think a princess gets to be mean to people?”
“Yes.”
“No. She doesn’t! So, here’s the bottom line. Stop before you say and do things and ask yourself if a brave girl would do that, or a kind girl would say that. Got it?”
They gave a collective, half-hearted yes, but I wouldn’t be satisfied until they gave each other the obligatory forced group hug. I made ‘em hold it, too.

(Happy byproduct of this fairly typical Come-to-Jesus exchange, it had never occurred to me before that moment to ask them what kind of person they wanted to be. I’d always just told them what kind of person they should be. It was interesting and worth revisiting.)

The momentum from the atta-boy lasted into the evening. They even had a party to celebrate each other, including Hershey kisses on toothpicks and glow rings strung together to form a disco light. I felt like Carol F-ing Brady. I was riding a high, though history told me it was temporary. I even convinced myself that JoJo might just surprise us, I truly believed it. I wanted to believe it.

One Manic Monday later, the day of the ceremony arrived. At 1:50 p.m., we sat waiting in a room adjacent to the gymnasium while all the students got settled into the bleachers. We lined up outside the doors. Two children from each grade would be recognized, and, of course, kindergarteners would go first. I was fidgeting. “Calm down, mama,” Hank warned.

Then he turned to the roars of cheering and applause coming from the gym. “Man, the principal is like a rock god. I wonder if he goes home and tells his wife he totally killed it.” It was true. The dude was absolutely slaying the 5-11-year-old demographic. Every punchline landed.

“And February 12 is Mooooovie Night!” [roaring applause]
“Don’t forget we’re collecting Box Tooooops!” [cheers and high fives]
“And on March 1, the middle school orchestra is cominggggg!” [losing their minds completely]

Then it was time. “Alright, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. We’re going to honor our Perfect Pandas now. These students demonstrated integrity in their classrooms during the months of December and January. Let’s start with kindergarten … Spike! Come down and receive your award from a surprise guest!” Out we walked, to a sea of tiny smiling faces and frantically clapping hands.

Our girl was waiting at the bottom of the steps, wearing the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and nutella remnants on her cheeks. We leaned down, hugged her and took our place on the red line, facing the crowd.

“I don’t see her,” I said, through my teeth, scanning for JoJo. “Do you?”
“I’m looking.”
“Oh, there’s her teacher.”
“Op, there she is.”
“She’s crying.”
“She’s definitely crying.”
“Oh, she’s losin’ it.”

We kept smiling. Everything’s good here. Nothing to see. It’s all happy joyful love in our house.

Once they’d made their way through the fifth graders with integrity, we took a seat to watch the rest of the program. Jon Bon Jovi came back to the mic. “Now, to introduce our new life skill, respect, here is the entire second grade class.” Ohhhhhhh shoot … I had completely forgotten about the song! JoJo had to come down and sing in front of everyone! She’d mentioned it this morning. The only question now was, could she rally?

She couldn’t.

With her fingers firmly in her mouth and cherry juice-colored tear tracks down her cheeks, my eldest daughter stood in front of the entire student body and barely mumbled through “It’s about respect, check it out, check it out.” . Her eyes were locked on us, her trader parents and her award-winning little sister. I gave her the best thumb’s up I could muster. Hell, I even shoulder shimmied a little to try and hypeman our way through this nightmare. Nope.

When the program finally came to a close, we walked to the group of second graders. As I approached JoJo, her teacher stopped me.

“She was already having a bad day,” he warned. “Then she took this pretty hard. I think it sent her over the edge.”
“We anticipated that. Thank you.”

He’d barely walked away when I felt her bury her hot crying face in my thigh.

“Hey, JoJo! You sang so well!” I lied.
“It’s no fair that Spikey got a Perfect Panda,” she said, putting all her cards right down on the table.
“We’ll talk about it when we get home,” Hank said.

But the torture wouldn’t stop there. JoJo stood and looked on as Spike posed for group photos, then parent pictures, and then one with the rockstar himself. It was almost too much for one girl to take. How do those Oscar losers do it?

On our way back to the car, I hung back with my big girl. I put my finger under her chin and tilted her face up toward mine. I could see straight through her eyes down into her heavy heart.

“Hey you. I know this is hard, but it would mean so much to your sister if you told her you were proud of her.”
“OK, Mama,” she said.
“You don’t have to. But I know she wants to hear that from you.”

And that brave little girl, she did just that. She got the words out, whether she meant them or not, and I was proud of her. Really proud of her.

Of course by the time I got home that night, JoJo’s true fury over her sister’s recognition had boiled over and we were facing a full-blown hatefest. She didn’t want to see Spike’s certificate again. She didn’t care about the stuffed animal they gave her. She thought it was crap we were having dippy eggs and bacon for dinner just because Spike picked them. Why does she get everything? My third-grade self totally got it.

But I made the decision not to let jealousy hijack this moment for Spike. She’d earned that award. She was killin’ it in kindergarten and that was something to celebrate. So, as we all sat down to our sunny-side up entree, I raised my glass and asked everyone to join me in congratulating our Spikey on a job well done. No one took a knee. The tribe showed up.

Afterward, JoJo came into the basement with me so we could work out; beachbody and American Ninja Warrior training, respectively. As I got all my gear lined up, I decided to try to parent my way through this thing just one more time.

“JoJo, can I tell you something?”
“Sure Mom.”
“You love our family, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Well a family celebrates each other’s victories. They’re there for each other when someone is down, and they’re there for each other when someone is up. Today, it was your turn to celebrate your sister. And maybe tomorrow she’ll be celebrating you. It’s just the way it goes, honey. Try to remember that, OK?”
“Yeah, OK,” she said, before ninja kicking a tower of blocks across the room.

Sometimes I think parenting is like American Ninja Warrior. Maybe even harder. Obstacle after obstacle, with water hazards all over the damn place. You can strategize all you want, but odds are, that shit’s still gonna get ya.

When dealing with a sensitive soul, the big questions become: When do I shield? When do I step back? And when do I support as needed? My JoJo, with her tender skin, has some pretty rough days, but her sister winning an award for integrity just shouldn’t be one of them. A win for someone in our home should be a win for all of us.

One day, she’ll see that. When hindsight’s on her side.

Pages

John O’Leary is on fire

January 18, 2018

On an icy Wednesday, on one of those strange days that follow Christmas but fall before the New Year, with 10 minutes to kill before my Panera order would be ready for pickup, I decided to drop my books off at the library. Then, for whatever reason, I decided to browse, which I never do. I picked up a book called “On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life” by John O’Leary, after an endorsement from Brene Brown on the cover caught my eye. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it would be silly for me to chalk this up to chance, as I’m fairly certain the universe – that saucy little minx – placed this audiobook in my weary little hands because she knew I would need its words in my heart and in my life.

You know how I get when I love a book. When it takes the air out of my lungs and quickens my pulse and reroutes the pathways in my mind. I get a little excited. I can not tell you how much I adored this work, particularly with the benefit of hearing it spoken by the voice of the author. If I could put the whole thing into this post, I would do so, for fear you won’t seek it out for yourself. It’s that good.

But that would be cheating you out of the opportunity to experience John’s journey at your own pace, in your own way. (Which you should!) So, instead, I will share just a few of the takeaways that I need to put in this space so they can stay with me always.

A bit about John.
When he was 9, John O’Leary decided to play with gasoline. A choice that would forever change the trajectory of his life. Laying in the snow, experiencing excruciating pain and watching his family home burn, John asked his sister to go back in the house, get a knife and kill him. He couldn’t live with the pain or the anguish of his actions. She didn’t. She told him to fight instead.

He was burned over 100 percent of his body and was given no chance of living. When his mom came to the hospital to see him, he asked her if he was going to die. “Do you want to die, John?” she asked him.

Do you want to die? He decided that he didn’t. Instead he wanted to fight.

Finding your why.
Throughout the book, John pauses to identify various “inflection points” in his journey. Personally, I’ve always referred to these as crossroads or gut-check moments. The times when you can go right or left and you may or may not know it at the time, but that decision will have an impact on your life. Do you want to die? is certainly an inflection point. As is coming to a boiling point with your child or a tough point in your marriage. There are inflection points every day. But I love in “On Fire!” when John says:

When you know your “why” you can endure any “how”.

It’s about reaching into your pocket and pulling out your compass when it counts. We get wrapped up in the tasks and activities and the appointments and the expectations, but that’s not your why. Your why is so much more than all that noise. Your why is that thing that, when nothing else works, pulls you through. It’s your true north. It’s your kids and your spouse and your life and your faith. It’s what whispers to you when you hold your palm over your heart. Your why is everything. When you have your eye focused on your why, you are invincible. A superwoman.
It’s also the source of your ignition statement.

An ignition statement is like a mantra. It’s something you can say to yourself, write in your journal, tape to your mirror, that, in the midst of the ordinary, gets you going. And it should start with “Because …” John’s ignition statement is, “Because God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is desperate for it.” Another example he offered was, “Because I want to make someone smile, even if it’s only God.”

Abandon the idea of ordinary. Go for gratitude.
Toward the middle of the book, John urges readers to “realize that you are not a mistake. You were made with a divine purpose.” It’s easy to dissolve into the mundane cadence of our individual lives. To take your eye off the why. We wait for the big things – the weekends away, the weddings, the new babies, the winning ticket – and in doing so, risk missing all the joys in the ordinary. The sound of children laughing, the smell of a home-cooked meal, the feeling of pajamas (read: taking your bra off at the end of the day). There’s so much to celebrate in that space between the big things.

And gratitude will get you there. Gratitude ensures that you always have enough. It turns a meal into a feast, a house into a home. And there’s always a choice. John tells a story of his father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. One afternoon John asked him how he stayed so positive. Through his answer, he showed his son that everything, even the seemingly devastating things, are gifts.

He was thankful for the days he couldn’t speak or leave the house, because they gave him time to reflect. He was thankful for the care his wife gave him. That she loved him so much, and he loved her. In days that seemed dark, he saw only the light.

Fear vs. love.
Make no mistake, you can be busy but not effective, breathing but not alive, and up out of bed but far from awake. The trick is to pursue significance over success, and significance is rooted in love.

So often we default to fear. But fear is rooted in what might happen, while love is about embracing what comes, no matter what. Fear suffocates. Love liberates. Again, you have a choice. You can fall into love, stay in love and it will decide everything. Or you can fall into fear, stay in fear and it will decide everything.

John encourages you to choose to let go of fear and instead, act from a place of love. And to wake up! Wake up to your life, to your loved ones, to the moment. After all, the greatest weapon on this earth is a soul on fire.

As a side note that’s much more than a side note, earlier this month, we lost my Aunt Marlene after she suffered a stroke. Among many things, she was a fierce cheerleader and champion for this blog. Scroll through the comments on my Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean. She left a piece of praise on nearly every post. Even the really crappy ones. There, under my turdy text, you’ll find a note from Marlene.

On November 28th:
“I read this piece through my tears as you truly have found the joy we should all be seeking. You have also been lucky to develop the insight that makes you such a warm, loving woman. You are your parents’ daughter. I love you, Courtney for passing along the joy. Thank you.”

My aunt battled a number of health issues throughout her life, three bouts of cancer and fatty liver disease among them, For much of her later years she was practically a prisoner in her own body. She was limited in what she could do and where she could go. And yet, the comments. The positive, encouraging comments. There was still joy to be had and love to give, so long as there was air in her lungs.

It’s fascinating and tragic how you never know when the last time you see someone is going to be the last time you see someone. My cousins, Marlene’s children, both shared moving tributes to their mother at her memorial service this past weekend. They were so poised and profound and made their mother so proud. In their hour of grief, they gave others peace. It was a gift to be in the room. And what I took away from their words, and John O’Leary’s words, is how insanely important it is to give an abundance of love to everyone you pass, every day. How urgent joy is. Just how much your presence is required to feel like an active, breathing participant in your life.

I’ve been working on my ignition statement. It changes often, but always I’m thinking of my aunt, and her family and John O’Leary. So far, my thoughts have brought me to this: “Because I am blessed to be able to do so. Because there are mountains yet to climb. Because I want to live, long and lovingly.”

Get this book. Find your ignition statement. Love boldly and without fear. Stand close enough to the spark that you live a life inspired … a life on fire.

Thoughts

Resolutions: lean and clean in ’18

January 3, 2018

Happy New Year, party people! My gosh, there were times during the last 365 days when I wasn’t sure we’d see the ball drop again, but we got there. Somehow. And thank goodness, too, because Mariah just couldn’t leave things like that. I rang in 2018 with the two oldest chicks (Sloppy Joan passed out to Spirit about an hour shy of the mark), my in-laws and my bro. It was everything you’d expect from 35 … a well-glazed ham, a counter full of Crock-Pots and a red wine hangover that began before I even went to bed.

I’m sure it comes as a shock to no one who reads this thing regularly that I am a huge sucker for the new year. As a seasoned ball dropper myself, I relate to the ceremony of it all. Admittedly, I get super romantic about the promise of a fresh start; the optimism, the possibility, the lies I can tell myself in the two weeks leading up to January 1, and the way I almost totally believe them.

I spend a lot of time plotting out my resolutions. I take them seriously, and I love stumbling across other people who take them seriously, too. It makes me feel validated and more secure in my ill-fated hopefulness. But to find those people, you have to kiss a lot of frogs first. You have to hear eight thousand times, “resolutions are a joke,” “I don’t believe in that shit,” and “My resolution is to stop making resolutions.” (So witty, that last one.)

Goal-setting is not everyone’s glass of Sunny D. I get it. Far be it for me to hate on someone who’s satisfied with the way their life is rolling along. That’s commendable! Grab a cup of joe and cuddle up with that joy, I say! Just don’t be a dick to those of us who still consider ourselves a work in progress, k?

So, what’s to become of this desperate little seeker in 2018?

After much deliberation and polling my social circle and complete strangers alike, I have arrived at my list for the year ahead. There are always some repeats from previous lists, either because I didn’t get the job done last year, or because I’m enjoying it so much, I want to keep going. This year’s no exception. I’ve already walked a bit down the path on some of these and, either wandered off into the woods to drink moonshine with the natives, or have miles yet to go.

2018 Resolutions

  • No sugar + No dairy
  • Very little meat + fish
  • Meditate at least 15 minutes a day, every day
  • Exercise in some fashion 6 days a week
  • Write something (non-DSS or work related) and put it out into the world
  • Less things, more experiences
  • Create space to love myself and my life

No sugar + No dairy.
We’ll hit this one right out of the gate, starting January 2. The hope is, we can really focus on these big bad guys for 30 days and then just carry that momentum forward. Not new information here, but the sweet stuff is public enemy No. 1 for this mama. Sucrose, fructose, maple, honey, cane, corn, brown, molasses … you name it, I’ll roll something in it and eat it. I can’t get enough. The butter, the cheese, the milk, the ice cream, I can tackle those lovely temptresses. Especially with so many semi-palatable replacements.

Very little meat + fish.
This one is also at the top of the list, but we’ve already started tiptoeing down the vegan path. I’d say our carnivorous consumption is down at least 50 percent. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes, a juicy burger or BBQ pulled pork sandwich just really gets my cavewoman heart a pumpin’. But, I will also say that, after going 14 days with no animal products, eating a pound of cow feels like swallowing a sofa. The sooner we can all get on board with easing up on things that moo, squeal or cluck, and being more mindful about the care they were given when they roamed the earth, the better off our planet will be.

Meditate at least 15 minutes a day, every day.
I’m phasing this one in after 30 days so I don’t completely fall apart before we hit February. I’ve had Headspace on my phone for months, that orange circle taunting me every time I see my home screen. When I make it happen, it makes me so happy. I have this recurring meditation. My mind just automatically plays it. It lives somewhere deep inside me and when I let some quiet in, it surfaces like a hug from my calmer self. The problem is, I rarely let the quiet in. I’m going to get better about that.

Exercise in some fashion 6 days a week.
Between Beachbody OnDemand and my gym membership, it should be harder for me to miss a workout than to get one in. But nevertheless, I often find 500 excuses to sidestep the sweat. For my sanity, I need to get back into a routine and start moving. I’m toying with trying a trail race in 2018, and would also love to find a spin class that fits into my schedule. Working toward a goal is always the best motivator so we’ll see what my fitness journey looks like over the next 365 days.

Write something (non-DSS or work related) and put it out into the world.
By far the most intimidating resolution on my list, I have a few ideas I’m staring at from a 3,000 foot view. I would love to do some research, get some words on paper, and send them out into the universe wrapped in lots of genuine love and intention. We’ll see, we’ll see … the thought is both exhilarating and nauseating.

Have you ever seen the movie First Knight? So good! Well, in it, King Arthur of Camelot (Sean Connery) dies and a bunch of knights, including Lancelot (Richard Gere) float his body out to see on a bunch of twigs and then, once he’s far enough away from the shore, shoot flaming arrows at it to light him on fire as Guinevere (Julia Ormond) looks on. In my mind, those twigs and body are my work and the flaming arrows are the publishing world. Clearly I have some issues to work through.

Less things, more experiences.
A favorite returns in 2018! I love, love, love this idea. I have stuff. I have a house full of gadgets and gizmos and garments and groceries. When I look around, i feel both blessed and burdened. To be honest, I would give most of it up in exchange for the chance to stand on a mountaintop with my tribe. I love smelling the air in a space I’ve never seen and seeing the reflection of the world in my daughters’ eyes. No blanket scarf or super juicer can top those moments. When it comes to spending money, insert a pause and consider putting your pennies toward places rather than pieces.

Create space to love myself and my life.
This is obscure perhaps, but also, so clear to me. I jam pack my days with the tiny functions of my family. Lunches and ponytails and bus schedules and Instant Pot recipes and baths and pajamas and Judy Blume books. I can easily fill the five waking hours a day I spend with my husband and chicks with tasks and caretaking. This does not make me unlike every mother in every corner of this planet. But between the morning, work and evening rush, there has to be a little room to breathe. There has to be some unscheduled space. I need to create a place to play. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know it’s lacking right now.

I can only explain it by sharing the way I feel when I hike. When I don’t have cellular data, or an agenda, or a plethora of first world amenities, I feel liberated. Like I’m opening my wings after keeping them under a lead jacket for months. But I don’t think it’s just the scenery. I think it’s cutting the tether to my everyday. I’d love to find a more convenient, accessible way to achieve the same freedom.

What are your resolutions for 2018? If you’re into that sort of thing. Whatever the goal, I hope the next 12 months are full of tender, sweet moments and joyous, soul-stirring triumphs. I wish you loud giggles – from your own belly and those of little ones – and restorative quiet. Glennon Doyle always says, “We can do hard things.” And I think I’d like to do some of those hard things this go around. Giddy up!

Thoughts

How the strep stole Christmas

December 29, 2017

We have been positively drowning in holiday cheer over here. Well, holiday cheer and the white-hot throat daggers of strep. Both, equally and with the exact same amount of dedication. With just 5 days till Christmas, my true loves gave to me …

4 sweats and shivers,
3 blades to gargle,
2 swollen lymph nodes
And a bug that left me feeling shitty.

But it came in tasteful, shiny wrapping paper, so, ya know …

Being sick this time of year is such a treat, because there are so many sophisticated films to take in (i.e. the Christmas Prince) (But, for real though, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and a brutal fever is the perfect way to sweat out some of those Christmas confections you’ve been stuffing into your mouth hole.

As the mother, finding yourself bedridden for two days before the jolliest weekend of the year is not unlike playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a local church production of A Christmas Carol. You’re a ghost, looking in as your spouse carries on dutifully in your absence. This is what baths would be like if you weren’t around. This is what the dinner rush would be. This is how laundry would be folded. It would all march on without you; Slowly. Wrinkly. Whiney.

The chicks passed the ick like a filthy baton. Spike kicked it off strong, followed by JoJo, who was trailed, not far behind, by Sloppy Joan and myself, simultaneously. But it’s interesting how the sickness materialized, festered and then vacated each of their little bodies. I have found, in my eight years of mothering, that, when under the weather, my girls often fall into one of the following personas:

The Walter White.
This is the kid who leaves for school in the morning smiling and talking about weekend plans and how wonderful their cinnamon toast is and comes back to you an hour later entirely deteriorated, a completely different person. This is the scenario that always brings the most passive aggressive school nurse shaming. You just know she’s wondering why you sent your kiddo off in such bad shape. Little does she know she was so good just 3 hours earlier.

The Jo March.
This is the kid who gets crazy emotional and affectionate when she’s sick. She talks about what a wonderful mom you are, how you should go and enjoy frozen yogurt without her, and how sad she is to be missing the opportunity to play with her sisters whilst she’s ill. Always with giant cartoon teardrops in the corners of her eyes and an endearing redness in her cheeks.

The Katniss Everdeen.
This is the kid who comes down with the ick, goes to your bed and sleeps for 48 hours, waking only for medicine and a drop of water. She goes into a self-induced coma to recoup and reemerges like a true badass. Classic Katniss.

The Sixth Sense.
This is the kid who, after just 24 hours, makes a miraculous recovery. She’s running around the house and jumping off the coffee table so you send her back to school. Three days later she comes home with a 103 temp and hot tamale tonsils. You just don’t see it coming!

We shook off the strep just in time for the major festivities. Unfortunately, the burning little bitch gave way to a barky, brutal cough that left all three chicks barfing in their sugar cookie-filled pie holes. Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like hacking over Grammy’s hamballs.

But we’re coming out on the other side now. I’m almost 90 percent sure of it. I took some time off, which I used almost exclusively to find homes for all the new shit we had stacked in our living room. This, of course, was only made possible by throwing away all of last year’s new shit. The thing that truly scares me is that year by year, gift by gift, all of these treasures are finding a nook and a cranny in my home. But my home isn’t exactly getting bigger, right? So eventually I feel like I’m just going to wake up in FAO Schwarz. My house is slowly morphing into the apartment from Big. The toys are taking over and their army is mounting by the minute.

Anyway, with all the Amoxicillin flying around I didn’t get a chance to really wish all of you who spend 10 minutes a week with me on here a warm and Instagram-worthy holiday. I hope it was filled with warm cinnamon rolls and cocoa, lots of smiles around the tree and at least one thing you truly wanted for yourself.

Much like the strep, I’m ready to shake 2017 off like a labrador comin’ out of a car wash. Let’s rally and kick some ass in the new year.

Kids

Little JoJo in the jungle: a tale of survival

December 8, 2017

My oldest daughter – my JoJo – is the second coming of both my face and my fits. And she is struggling to find her place among the elementary elite.

It started when … well it started getting really bad with the arrival of a solution to an 8-year-old dilemma, the Nipit. The Nipit is a genius product my mom discovered through the power of Amazon that’s worn on the elbow and prevents a child from bending their arm enough to get their respective digits to their mouth to suck. While it lacks in discretion – it’s bright, primary colors with loud velcro straps – holy heck it works. I’ve seen my girl with her fingers in her mouth once in the last three months. For a girl who was getting her suck on in the womb, that is nothing short of miraculous.

But, as is the case with most red and blue arm braces, it didn’t take long for the kids at school to take note. It’s different, which means she’s different, which means she’s “weird”, which means she has a giant red target right in the center of her tiny little back. Thus, the bullying began.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the last few weeks, and I’ve come to some clarity. I think the issue is, when we look into our child’s eyes, we see someone different. We see an unborn baby that got hiccups every night during our 9 o’clock show. We see the little human who turned everything upside down in the best, scariest way possible, and made us a mother or a father. We see a toddler whose hair grew in from the back forward and stuck straight up while she watched cartoons on lazy weekend mornings. We see her first birthday and her tricycle. We hear the crinkle of her diaper between thick, wobbly legs coming down the hall and her first words … “dada” of course.

When I look at my daughter, I feel her letting go of my hand on the first day of preschool and her pleading eyes when big change came. I feel cuddles from the best spooner on the planet and hear her telling me, at 4, that she was heading off to college just like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I hear her laugh. I see her crooked, gappy smile and pure, well-intentioned heart. I see a thousand tiny little pieces of myself, with her daddy’s build, walking out the door every single morning.

But that’s what I see. And I am her mother.

What kids see is another little second grader in a sea of 7, 8, 9 year olds, crowding the playground and trying not to do anything odd enough to get noticed. They don’t find her to be special in any of the ways that really count. They aren’t looking for that. They’re looking for different. They’re looking for a crack, an opening. They’re waiting for her to get comfortable enough that she shows something they view as a weakness or an eccentricity. If it lends itself to a nickname or a chant, all the better.

When the tiny opening presents itself, they put their toe in first, maybe a snide comment or whisper to a friend. Then they put in their leg, then torso, and eventually their whole body busts down that door, lashing out with hateful, belittling words that feel so good to them, so empowering. Because kids know no consequence. They know instant gratification and survival of the shittiest. It’s jungle rules out there and everyone is potential prey.

In his book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen”, Christopher McDougall wrote: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I send my little girl out the door every morning as this special ball of memories and potential, and the second she steps off the porch she’s reduced to bait. And do I blame the kids being unkind? Hell no! They’re just relieved they aren’t the girl with the brace on her elbow. And I totally get it.

Because no one wants to be that girl. Growing up, I had spacey, jagged teeth and a swoopy, horrible set of bangs for a good few years. I had girls pass notes to my BFFs saying they shouldn’t play with me anymore. I had days where I curled up in my mom’s arms, as she rubbed my back in her mustard yellow fabric covered rocking chair with the melodic squeak. Ask any adult and they can name their bully. If they can’t, they were the bully. It’s a rite of passage in some ways. Unfortunately. Stupidly.

It all came to a head recently, as one particular girl turned up the torment on my babe. We’ll call her Delores for the sake of anonymity and movie trivia. Delores has a girl gang. They think JoJo’s a big baby for sucking her fingers (predictable, easy), and they make sure she knows it on a daily basis. We’d been doing the usual coaching behind the scenes … Don’t fight hate with hate … The meaner they are, the kinder you should be … If you feel sad, tell a teacher … Just ignore her … Maybe she was having a bad day or she’s sad about something. Nevertheless, it persisted.

It persisted until earlier this week when JoJo decided to express herself about it. In a drawing. On the back of her homework. Where she’s throwing a bat at Delores’ head. And it’s labeled “JoJo’ and “Delores”. Needless to say, her teacher wasn’t thrilled.

Spike was waiting by the door for me that evening. “Mom, I’m not going to tell you what’s going on, but I will tell you that JoJo got in trouble and she has to go see the counselor tomorrow and if the counselor wants to, she can send JoJo to the principal’s office.” I walked into the living room to find my little criminal, sitting on the couch, red streaks from old tears subtle on her pale cheeks.

“You’ve taken a situation where someone was bullying you,” I explained, “and turned it around so that you are now the one doing the bullying. Do you see why this is wrong?” She nodded, her bottom lip curving down like a fat, grumpy fist in an animated feature. JoJo is certainly my creative chick, and this devilish doodle was, I’m certain, just a way for her to express her frustration, but regardless, it’s not how we roll.

Her teacher referred her to the school counselor, which, to be honest, I was a little relieved about. Finally! A professional can step in here! Somebody equipped with a degree and Inside Out dolls.

The day she was scheduled to meet with the counselor, JoJo was pacing the kitchen, whining. “I don’t want to go to the counselor’s office, Mama. I’m scared. What if I get in trouble?” I challenged her to be brave, and to be honest. I challenged her to step up to all the feelings of anger and sadness and loneliness she’s been feeling and share them with a grownup who could help. (And who she’d listen to more than her own mother.)

And then, I watched her step off the porch and go back out into that dark, vast jungle. Exposed and vulnerable and wearing her Nipit like a juicy, raw steak around her neck on the grasslands. A giant piece of my heart went right onto the bus with her and drove away.

I thought about her all day. I waited for the phone to ring. Maybe the principal would call and say she was suspended for the drawing. A black blemish on her spotless record. Maybe the counselor would call and tell me what a bad mother I was for waiting so long to alert them to the situation. Maybe her emotions would swallow her whole and I’d have to come get her.

But the phone never rang, and soon it was 5 o’clock.

I can always read the general temperature of our household within seconds. When something is wrong with one of the kiddos, it’s like walking into a room carrying balloons and a birthday cake after everyone else was just told someone died. So on this day, I was very tentative coming in from the garage.

“Hi, Mama!” JoJo greeted me. My whole body unclenched.
“Hi, JoJo!”
“Mom, I met with the counselor today and it was great. I didn’t get in trouble for the drawing and she told me I should tell Delores that what she’s doing is hurting my feelings.”
“Right. That’s great, JoJo!”
“Yeah, I feel so much better! Can I call Dad and tell him?”
“Of course.”

And just like that, progress. A touch of healing for a wounded little soul. She would live to roam the prairie another day.

I, of course, immediately sat down to type a teary note of appreciation to the school counselor, positive she had no clue how thankful I was for her 5-minute pep talk with my daughter. Positive I was being a little over emotional and positive I didn’t care a lick.

And the rest of this week has been better, though I know it’s not the last we’ll hear of Delores and her girl gang. The oldest child is such an experiment. They bring this stuff home to you, and you never know whether they’re being transparent or dramatic. You don’t know what’s normal and what’s a five-alarm fire. All you have to go on is your instinct and your own experiences as a child. (I mean, aren’t we all just projecting our childhood onto our own kids anyway?)

You just want to scream from the top of the school gymnasium, [in the voice of an Indian chief] “This is my daughter, JoJo! She is strong and funny and would be a really great friend! I am proud of her! And if you screw with her, I will squash your milk carton in your tiny horrible face.” But that’s not considered acceptable grownup behavior.

It will always be hard to hear. I’m the one who carries her stories, and because of that, I know what a treasure she is. I have the backstory. I’m invested, mostly because I grew her.

I’m the one who knows she called penguins “herbies” for years, even though everyone thought she was saying “herpes”. I’m the one who put her hair in long, flowing pigtails and cut the feet out of her penguin jammies so she could wear them a few months longer. I am in this thing for the long haul.

And I could sell her good points like popsicles on the Fourth of July. She likes to climb really tricky trees and eat Nutella straight from the jar and she can sing every word to every song from Descendents 2. She dabs like a boss. She’s a talented artist and can turn any strawberry into a rose too beautiful to eat. She always wears two layers of clothing, even in the summer, and changes into her pajamas within an hour of getting home from school. She did hygge before hygge was a thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with that girl?

There aren’t a lot of choices here. She has to keep going to school and I have to keep watching her step off our porch, bait though she may be. I can’t change the dichotomy of children, the hunters and the hunted. I can’t make my daughter’s skin thicker, no matter what I feed her at home. The only thing I can do is rock her when she wants me to and keep track of her stories, so she always has someone to remind her just how special she is. Someone who’s invested. Someone who isn’t going anywhere. Someone who, after all the deep lessons have been offered and her worries put to rest, will turn away from tiny ears and say the thing that everyone really wants to say.

“Ah, screw Delores!”

Thoughts

The truth about monsters and men

December 1, 2017

“This is getting out of control!” It was Hank, sending me an instant message in the middle of the day.

“Uh oh, what’s wrong?” I responded.
“First Matt Lauer and now Garrison Keillor!”

I knew what he was talking about right away. I knew because a friend I was close to once upon a Matt Lauer crush had text me the morning’s headline. (That crush had extinguished entirely years ago, after Ann Curry’s abrupt departure and his dickish reaction to the whole situation. I like Ann Curry. She’s that perfect blend of wicked smarts and genuine compassion.) But Hank and Garrison Keillor … That’s something else entirely.

The news of Mr. Keillor would shatter Hank. I can’t tell you how many times my husband (who I often theorize to be 87 years old at heart) made us all listen to Prairie Home Companion on a long Sunday drive. Or how many times he’s read the book “Daddy’s Girl” to the kids. He knows it by heart … “O baby won’t you dance with me … Little baby bouncing on my knee … Wave your hands and shake your feet … Ooohh baby you’re so sweet .”

He keeps it in his top dresser drawer so he’ll always know where it is, the spine soft and worn from his rough fingertips. Now I wonder if I’ll ever hear the lyrics leave his lips again. Those melodic lines, sweetened by his comforting voice under an 8 o’clock moon.

“It makes me sad and scared,” Hank went on. “For you and for our girls. That you have to live in a world where this happens. Where it’s something you have to think about.”

(That’s why I married this one, guys.)

While I assured him that everything was going to be OK. That we would raise our girls to know the boundaries of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to be strong and speak up and speak out and find power in their voice. I don’t think it soothed his burning thoughts.

And it left this interesting questions, too: What is Garrison Keillor to us now, if not a magnetic storyteller and master of words? Is he simply to be known from this day forth as an imposter? A predator? A monster? What’s to become of all those characters left in Lake Wobegon?

Comedians, TV dads, distinguished newsmen, business moguls, film producers, playwrights, media executives, acclaimed actors, presidents and politicians … their talents and contributions obliterated entirely because they couldn’t follow the simplest of unspoken rules. Because they made the mistaken, narcissistic assumption that their power would override the prerequisite for consent. Because they operated under the foolish pretense that they were desired by every woman, simply because she knew his name.

Maybe it’s us. Maybe our expectations are just too high. Maybe it’s too much to expect someone with a gift for music or narrative or business to also be an upstanding citizen of this planet. For them to share something with a woman without expecting something physical in exchange as payment for their genius or attention. Maybe it’s too much to expect that someone tick all the boxes when it comes to character and human decency.

Maybe.

But then, I know many men who tick all those boxes.

Men who expect nothing but mutual respect in return.

I will teach my girls that this world is full of monsters and of men, but more of the latter. And that it’s important to recognize the difference. I guess I started the lesson the day I married their father. The day I picked him and all his decency out of the pool of potential suitors and said, “Yes! That one! I like what he stands for. I shall do life with him, forever.” I think it has to start with strong male figures. It has to start with celebrating the men who aren’t in those headlines. The ones who respect a woman’s mind and humor over any curve or inch of bare skin.

And then you have to offer them awareness. Because their dad can’t protect them always. And neither can their mom. But I can sure as hell encourage them to use their words for justice and their breath for equality, and that they have to grow louder when no one is listening. If a time comes when I need to, I can show them the army of brave women coming forward to say, “This was not right,” and how, sometimes, though not always, consequences do exist. Victims do have the final word. They get their power back.

That’s what I can do.

And as for Mr. Keillor and his brethren of offenders, what a disgraceful party you chose to attend. My only hope is that this onslaught of accusations and dismissals might settle into a wealth of healing, for all those involved. For the men and the woman … and the monsters as well.

Thoughts, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and 31 flavors of joy

November 29, 2017

I’ve really been getting into joy lately. I think because sometimes, if I’m not careful, joy can feel like a bit of a unicorn. And, let’s be honest, who wants to live in a world where the most pleasant of emotions is as rare as a leprechaun sighting in Alabama? (Or is that really rare, after all?)

Here’s the thing, I fight fear like most people fight the flu; proactively minimizing my exposure and sniffing out supplements to stack the deck. That’s not only for my own sanity (though that’s the primary reason), but also to prove a point. Because sometimes I think those who seek to instill fear get the most pleasure out of creating the illusion that it exists. It’s the scary music. The mask. Sometimes I think that gets them off even more than carrying out the actual act that elicits the fear. I’m trying to strip it of its power. I’m trying to diffuse the pressure cooker of potential catastrophes lurking in both my imagination and my newsfeed.

It’s a work in progress. Some days I notice every nuance of the sunrise and some days I hyperventilate over whether my children will see their twenties.

But this past week I was so aware of joy, you guys. I was bathing in it. It felt more tangible than it’s felt in months. I could hear it, see it, taste it. Joy! In all its delicious flavors.

Why? I don’t know … lots of reasons. As the years go by, Thanksgiving becomes one of my favorite holidays. It brings some of my most treasured traditions. The 4-mile race, cold and challenging. It wakes me up and makes me uncomfortable in that way that can only be followed by extreme elation once complete. Then we go out for a warm, carb-loaded, maple syrup-soaked breakfast with a flowing stream of creamed coffee. Everything tastes like joy after a chilly trot in 30-degree weather.

Then I love going home to watch the parade with the girls, waiting for Santa to come down a crowded New York street, confetti flying around his jolly bearded head. Then the dog show, with the wild-haired breeds no one’s ever heard of. I savor the satisfaction of packing up the food we’ve prepared to share – this year, cucumber sandwiches, crescent rollups with garlic and red pepper and a vanilla bundt cake – and loading everyone into the car.

For the past few years, Hank’s Grandma Marge hadn’t been well. I remember two years ago on Thanksgiving, we all took pictures with Grandma, an unspoken nod to the reality of her condition and fleeting time with her beautiful face. This year, there was talk of babies and ripples of laughter. Life, it seems, has gone on, and there is still joy to be had. Next year, there will be a new beautiful face at our dinner. A sweet little boy.

Friday morning, all I had to do was have Hank get the red and green totes out of the attic for the chicks to release their unbridled cheer all over the first floor of our house. JoJo pulled out every homemade ornament we had – stick-on jewels and stretch cotton ball beards – and hung them on everything standing still. Every thing. She put a string of plastic snowflakes around the handle for the freezer. She threw gold glittered Christmas trees in potted plants. She was running around like Buddy the Elf at Gimbel’s. Joy! I said to myself as I saw it run past. This is what joy looks like!

And then there’s my Spike and her powder pink ukulele. I hear her sometimes, strumming the strings in a quiet corner of an empty room. She’s more of a songwriter, see. She’s about the lyrics. After two days of mumbling along with an unfamiliar melody, my brunette beauty came out and told me she was ready to share her song. She sat down, wearing nothing but a camp t-shirt and a pair of fuzzy boots, and she poured her little heart out.

Mya from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

It was a song about Mya, who is our dog. But this tune was not about our dog, specifically. Mya was the name of the fictional dog who runs away in the song. It’s moving … haunting, and I’m kicking myself for stopping the video just shy of her dramatic finish; three deliberate strums and unbroken eye contact. She was so proud of herself and her moving tribute to puppies, even though she hasn’t been able to replicate the tune since. Joy, in the key of who the hell cares.

Saturday we lit the lights at my parents’ house. The Grand Lighting, as we call it. Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom works her ass off to make all our favorites – turkey, deviled eggs, stuffing, broccoli salad, gravy and mashed potatoes – and we all sit around laughing over the same stories we’ve been laughing about for 30 years, while Dad bitches about outlets and breakers.

It’s one of those traditions steeped in self-inflicted inconvenience. My dad’s dad, Red, was huge on Christmas displays. In turn, my dad was. Until one year, he wasn’t. But the damage had been done. We all had expectations by that point. Not to mention the grandkids who’d come along by then. And so, with my mom taking over the helm, the exterior illumination show has gone on. And we, the display’s humble admirers, still stumble outside, bellies full and wine in hand, to watch as the strings of twinkle lights shine for the first time. And it’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

We sat down for a round of Cards Against Humanity afterward. I’m tellin’ ya, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard your mother utter the phrase, “tasteful sideboob” or “Lance Armstrong’s missing testicle”. The sound of joy.

The final day of our long weekend was also Mom’s birthday. Matt took over Big Breakfast to give our folks a little break. This family tradition is rich in joy; loud, sticky, buttery joy. The people I love most in my life, sleepy eyed in plaid pajama pants, gathering around mugs of strong coffee and plates of dippy eggs. The cousins – an army of girls punctuated by one teenage boy – flip in the front room, meandering in here and there to claim cinnamon rolls. The only rule at Big Breakfast is to come as you are.

And finally, last night I watched my three little girls hang a full tote of Hallmark ornaments on our happy little Christmas tree. One by one they picked up the ballerinas, the snowmen and the penguins wearing ice skates, and assigned them to the perfect branch. The Grinch was playing in the background, stealing their attention here and there. I should have made them go to bed by 8. I should have turned the movie off. But, the joy … oh, the joy.

The more I learn to grab it when I see it, the more I think joy is always there. Sometimes it’s concealed in discomfort, like change or unexpected news. Sometimes it takes awhile to shine through. But it’s there.

Sometimes it’s true, I have to kill a fair amount of fear so the joy has room to grow, but, like I said, I’m working on it. Worry will be the most overpowering weed in the garden if you let it. And Lord knows it’s easy to let it. But joy is where it’s at, I’m tellin’ ya. Joy is the remedy and the resolution. Let it filter in through every crack and see you through every shadow. Feel it, taste it, hear it, smell it, look for it … every day, everywhere.

JoJo Just Said, So Says Sloppy Joan, Spike Speak

Sisters say what? (Vol. 6)

November 15, 2017

These sister sayings have been piling up in the notes app on my phone and it was time for a massive dump. In recent months, Sloppy Joan has started calling babies “hunnies” (which is super cute when we see baby bunnies) and Spike has become obsessed with all things private parts and Mother Nature. From our house, to yours … Enjoy!

He’s Indian. No, like his DNA is Indian. – JoJo

I’m gonna volcano in your tub! – Sloppy Joan
You’re gonna what?
Volcano, mama! In there!
You mean cannonball?
Yeah!

Shakin sisters from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

I jugged that whole water so hard. – Spike

You know when I was little, I thought a plank was like a diving board, but now I know it’s like a pirate thing. – Spike

It said “B-I-T-C-H, please” in that wooden ship on the playground. So, “bitch, please”. – Spike

[Doing Zumba]
“Whoa, what does sexy mean , anyway?” – JoJo
“Um …”
“Is it a kind of dancing or exercise?”
“No! Don’t go to school and tell you friends we did sexy last night.”

“I’m going to miss being 5, but I think I can get through it.” – Spike

I like the pink shorties [underwear] but not the kitty shorties, because the kitty shorties are flaking and get into my butt. – Spike

What are those things called … chicas? – Spike
They’re called boobs. – her cousin

She probably didn’t recognize you because you have glasses now. – Hank
Yeah, maybe. But I have the same face and skin. – Spike

I know what that thing is – Spike
What thing? – Hank
That thing that you and Ryan have.
Oh?
It’s called a penis.
Really?
Yes, boys have a penis and girls have a private.
Actually, do you know what a woman’s private is called?
What?
It’s called a vagina.
Ew.

I don’t like jeans. – Spike
No? Why? – Hank
You know how sometimes your butt has like a crack in it? Like there’s a bump and then a crack?
Uh. Huh.
Well, the jeans get into that crack. That’s why I don’t like jeans.

Dad, I pooped in my underwear upstairs. Why don’t you check it out. – Sloppy Joan

G’night Sugar Lips! – Sloppy Joan

Diarrhea from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

“What are those bras called?” – Spike
“What honey?” – Hank
“You know, the bras.”
“Um, there-a, well,”
“The hairs that hang in your face.”
“Oh, bangs! Bangs! You mean bangs.”

It’s a dob bobblin … I mean a sob dobblin … I mean a nob shobblin – Spike
It was a hob gobblin – Hank

You know how you get a tickle in your throat? Well, I do not like to be tickled in my mouth. – Spike

Jack, you’re going to love the lake. They make the best watermelon there. – Spike

I saw firebees! – Sloppy Joan, chasing lightning bugs

Do you pick one out or you just have one come out? – Spike asking about babies

Oh, her name is Mary Berry? I thought it was madame Blueberry – JoJo

I was drawing on the sidechalk – Sloppy Joan

Owls are nocturtle – Spike

What do you want to eat? – Me
I want something that’s like too bad for night and too good for the day. Like not too treaty but not too dinnery. – Spike

Hey! Sloppy Joan has something to say! All you hunnies get off my mom! – Sloppy Joan

Do we have bath-is tonight, or no or yes? – Sloppy Joan, every night at dinner

Oop! I’m sorry – Spike
For what? – Me
I’m sorry I … kicked you, you know … in the penis.
Honey, I don’t have a penis.

They’re building it with an instruction truck. – Spike

Mom, you know the best part about dying? You turn into angel after you dust. – Spike

Mama, is it fun to be enormous? – Sloppy Joan

Don’t you dare look back from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

I decided I like being more brown because Pocahontas was pretty brown. – Spike

When I like to learn about nature is when it’s beautiful. When it’s not pretty, I don’t really care to learn about it. – Spike

She leaned back and kissed the bologna star, I mean the Blarney stone. And then the leprechauns came and they started making messes. – Spike

Jimmy said I don’t matter and I said you don’t care about God’s creation. – Spike

I have a friend and their grandma is 100! Yeah, I think she knew Jesus. – Spike

I stronging! – Sloppy Joan, lifting weights

Damn it, I left my coat at the farm! – JoJo, makin’ mama proud

Oh. My. Gosh. from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

See: Sisters say what? (Vol. 5) and Sisters say what? (Vol. 4)

Thoughts

Secrets. If you can’t tell the Internet, who can you tell?

November 10, 2017

Therapy looks different for different people. For some, it’s yoga, for others, it’s cigarettes and gossip. It might be an emergency session with a legitimate counselor or a vigorous hike or a bottle of red. For me, it’s these keys. This space. You guys are at all of my therapy sessions. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and I can almost instantly feel the weight of my burdens give way. Like a bra coming off after a 12-hour day, just the thought of being brutally honest about what ails me can be so freeing. But not today. Today, this post is scary and embarrassing, and I feel heavy just sorting through the words that might appear on this screen.

As you know if you follow DSS, I just had my 35th birthday. It was lowkey and sweet, both figuratively and literally. Those who spend any real time with me, know the key to my heart comes baked, frosted and coated in chocolate. My mom got me a necklace, gift card and seven candy bars. My birthday party (an event I share every year with my nephew) didn’t disappoint, as I blew out a candle nestled in a white cupcake topped with decadent whipped frosting, my favorite. My girlfriends from work took me to lunch and passed a superhero bag across the table. Inside, I found my favorite bath salts, a heavenly scented candle and three bars of dark chocolate.

The irony was lost on everyone but me. Because I am in on the secret. And now you will be, too.

While I’ve lightheartedly documented my suspicions here before, I am fairly certain that I have some food addiction issues. It seems so small, right? Inconsequential and petty. Dramatic maybe. It’s silly to assume that a grown woman would be incapable of practicing moderation. That she would compare a simple sweet tooth to true, uncontrollable compulsive behavior. But staring at the bag, with a superhero emblem on the front and my greatest weakness inside, I had to face the fact that none of this is funny or small anymore. Food is my heroin, my whiskey, my cocaine. It is destroying my body and wreaking havoc on my soul.

I often find myself hazy, drunk on additives and refined, racy treats peeled from brightly colored wrappers. I celebrate with chocolate. I mourn with cakes and cookies. I string the hours at my desk together with a licorice rope adorned with syrupy popcorn balls. I fight stress with frozen delicacies, named mint chip and cookie dough. I reward with cocoa-coated almonds and lean into lazy with a bowl of sweet cereal for dinner. I reach to find food in every high and scoop it up in every low.

And I guess most people would argue that it’s normal. Because in our culture, it kind of is. We eat too much, we joke about it, and then we have a salad to make up for it the next day, followed by a cookie that afternoon. It feels like balance and looks like trouble. But that’s the game. It’s a merry-go-round of too much and not enough, and we all have a generous roll of tickets.

From a 30,000-foot view, I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing it right. I work out at least 5 days a week. I pin vegan recipes and shop on Thrive Market. I obsess about curating all of the things my ultra-healthy alter ego is going to need for her ultra-healthy life. But it’s aspirational. All of it. I am planning meals for a person who doesn’t yet exist.

“You look fine!” people say, when I groan about my binges or complain about my weight. But I don’t feel fine.

I’ve been fighting the scale for months now. About two years ago, 11 months after I had Sloppy Joan, I made it back to my pre-baby weight. I was running, going to classes at the gym, tracking my calories. I was making the smart sacrifices you make to get your shit together. And I got there. But then, I got comfortable. And comfortable for me, is sugar and those simple, simple carbs. But it’s not just a little sweet here and a little apple fritter there. It’s disgusting, mindless gluttony.

A lot of people love food. I get it. Clearly I love it, too. But love, as many of us know, can be pretty twisted. It can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. It can consume you and blind you and make you sick. As so many loved ones pointed out last week, I’m flying toward 40. I don’t want to go into the next chapter of my life flailing and foggy.

I smoked for years (I know, gasp!). I can remember sitting in my garage and having these tough conversations with myself. About how I was killing myself, and paying a lot of money to do it. Every pack was “my last pack” and every Sunday night was the Sunday night before the Monday morning when it all went away. But what I didn’t realize, was that I never gave the substance enough credit. I underestimated everything about those little white bastards. I always thought I was stronger. And, in the end, I was, but it took years and years and countless attempts to find that strength. Because I loved those cigarettes. And only now can I see that love for the twisted lie it was.

But this time, I can call this by name. I can see this cycle as addiction rather than a harmless romantic indulgence. I know that, right now, I have no control in this relationship.

Let me give you an example. The marketing geniuses who came up with retail birthday coupons saw me coming a mile away. The second a voucher for a free frozen yogurt hit my inbox, I started thinking about it. What flavor, what night, what toppings. I obsessed. I mentioned it to Hank everyday, until finally we went, on a night when it wasn’t convenient – because with three kids, it never is – and after a sensible dinner that left me more than full. But that’s what I do. I lust after sugar like Heath Ledger in his knight suit, may he rest in peace. And I tell myself I could stop if I wanted to. I could just let the coupon expire. But I don’t. I can’t.

My relationship with food is one of shame rather than guilt, and it’s important to know the difference. When I eat an entire coffee cake, I instantly feel like I’ve satisfied those triggers firing off in my brain that scream, “Right now! Do this! It’s delicious! You don’t always have this in the house!” And then I immediately wash that down with a tall drink of regret and shame.

Behavioral researchers would make the distinction between shame and guilt in my situation this way: If I were a woman in control who made a bad food choice here and there, that would elicit some guilt. Guilt is temporary and not tethered to the characteristics one associates with their core being. But I’m on the other side of that. I am not a woman who feels in control of her food choices. I feel consumed by urges and addictive patterns, and overall, just riddled with shame about the whole thing. Then I try to swallow and shrug off that shame so that I don’t pass these tendencies down to my girls. Oh my gosh, life is short. It’s just food. I don’t want to feel deprived. But what I really feel, is sick.

They say shame is the worst thing for children, because they connect feelings of shame with feelings of being unlovable. But I’m an adult. I feel loved unconditionally and I feel accepted. I don’t fear being abandoned or found out or rejected based on this addiction. I just feel like shit because of it. I feel like I turned over a huge piece of my self-respect to a chemist who sat in a lab and figured out exactly how to hook me. And I want to think I’m stronger than that. But I’m not. And that concession is where the shame resides.

But you do Whole30s and 14-Day Vegan Challenges and all that stuff. I know, I do. And I stand by the fact that I find these exercises valuable in the war to gain control over my habits. But I also find it troubling that I require such strict parameters around what should be such an intuitive act in order to feel like I’m driving and not along for the ride. I feel like there should be a simpler way.

So what’s a girl to do, huh? When she’s come onto this blog more times than she can count and confessed her shortcomings. When she’s tried so many different diets. When she’s 21 Day Fixed and bootcamped and MyFitness Pal’ed her brains out. When she’s scared the sugar’s stronger. What is she to do then?

Last week, I saw the number on the scale I’d been running from for two years. I know that number does not define me, or my worth. I know that obsessing over that number does nothing for me nor does reacting to it in the way I instinctively want to react to it, particularly with three little chicks watching everything I do and listening to everything I say. I need to see it as the spark for change, rather than the fire that’s going to burn me down.

I choose to try again. I choose to make this Sunday the Sunday before the Monday when it all goes away. Because if 45 things don’t work, maybe the 46th will be the one that sticks. I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness, transcendental meditation and food addiction. While the salt/fat/sugar trifecta is certainly something to conquer, there’s also a lot of noise and stress and underlying triggers lingering just below the surface, whispering, “Food is comfort.” A little quiet might just help shut down those extra triggers enough to make some progress. So, maybe there’s something there.

It would all just be so much easier if the answers were in the back of the book. If I knew the solve. I have this friend at work and she’s always cold (you know the type). She combats the chilly office climate with a space heater. One she turns on periodically throughout the day and one that, inevitably, pops the circuit. She used to have to chase down a maintenance guy, explain her misstep and then wait for him to go flip the breaker. Until one day, it occurred to her to just follow him, write down which switch he flipped and then take care of it herself when the fuse, inevitably, popped again. Now, she heats her space without fear. “Well, I mean, I know my button,” she’ll say. Having the power to fix things for yourself is such a simple but rich reward in this life. I wish I knew my button.

I have no answers, no plan, no challenge in the works. I don’t know which button is my button. What you’ve read here was a trip to the confessional. An informal declaration. I just needed to come here for a bit of therapy. I needed these keys tonight. But our time is up for now.