Love Still Wins

I avoid certain neighborhoods mere miles from my own front door because they’re the last places I saw you.

Time and experience have the strange ability to turn me into a tourist in the neighborhood I grew up in. These old familiar streets, their feel and their smells aren’t mine anymore, not really. There are small pieces and big pieces of you and us and our life sprinkled all over this town.

My days of In N Out milkshakes are over.

I don’t walk through that janky old Dollar Store you loved so much without a knot forming in my stomach or my mouth turning to cotton.

Our old, worn down field is sharp on my insides because I still see you and my eight year old self running drills an hour before any of the other kids showed up.

I know that our house on the corner, where you taught me to drive in the front lawn when Mom wasn’t home, will always smell like the big tree that hugged the treehouse we spent hours together building in the back.

I don’t ever hear Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and not wonder, with a burning throat and empty chest, whether you and I will dance to it at my wedding the way we always promised we would.

I drove past my high school inadvertently yesterday. I scanned the big, ostentatious concrete buildings, but my eyes landed where I knew they would. When I looked at that field, I could have seen the hours I spent growing up there. I could have seen my teammates, I could have even cried for the one we tragically lost. I could have seen so many of my own personal trials and tribulations and instead I saw you climbing the fence at midnight to poke cups through the holes to spell out my initials the day before my senior game. I saw you sitting in the outfield, quietly drinking in the sounds of your favorite pastime away from the frenzy of obnoxious parents. I saw you explode from your chair, fists flying above your head the first time the ball off my bat cleared the fence. I saw the day I realized how much you believed in me.

I’ve driven through that winding road behind the house for the last time because the image of you standing, waiting for me to find you and pick you up, with our dog by your side and that backpack that lived in our garage for a decade is stamped permanently on my heart. Without the backpack and our dog, your bearded face and dirty skin would have been unrecognizable.

So much joy lived in these streets with us and most days, I’m pretty good at remembering that too. But love and loss and mourning and healing are strange, inexplicable processes. They’re not linear or fair and they don’t apologize for what they’ve done. Honestly, I never intended to publish something that came out so deliberately dark and sad, but maybe sad is honest and honest is pure. I believe that the places that are dark are also full of healing, learning, hope, and love. Mostly Love.

I listened to my girl, Glenon Doyle, in a podcast recently and she was asked: “if you were lying on your death bed, unable to speak, and all of your writing had been somehow erased and you were given a sheet of paper to write down three truths to leave behind for your family, your children, what would they be?”

She obviously said something sharp and sassy about the injustice of the question and then replied plainly, “Well, I’d tell my kids what I’ve always told them, the thing we’ve had posted on the wall of our home since they were born. Our mantra is:

  1. We can do hard things.
  2. We belong to each other, and
  3. Love wins.”

Copy that, Glennon. A lot of things hurt. But Love Wins.

Let Them Change

Fall is my season of gratitude.

Yes, they should all be seasons of gratitude (and this is something I’m working on all of the time), but for honesty’s sake: they are not. The winter holidays make me feel stressed and poor, spring is just fine, and I am forever overheated and overextroverted during the summer months.

Fall is my soul time.

I am captivated by the change of seasons; it’s what filled my childhood imagination and drove my dream to attend college somewhere that was not Southern California. I love how trees, the air, and the sky look and smell as the year progresses into autumn. The smell in particular reminds me that I am alive in a way that no other season does.

The day I physically arrived on the planet is in the fall. Football is in the fall. Wearing oversized clothing is in the fall. Earlier evenings and longer sleeps are in the fall. Starchy vegetables are in the fall… All things I’m passionate about.

Recently, a friend/soul sister sent me a daily ritual list that she found. At the top, you’re asked to identify your emotional/spiritual intention and then outline a ritual that will guide you towards living in this intention. I love the idea and yet, as I sat down with it, I could only think of a single word. Grateful.

Acknowledging that for today, my only intention is to live and love in gratitude, feels like a gift in and of itself. I haven’t gotten around to filling out the rest of the worksheet. That strong voice inside me that I can hear when I’m genuinely quiet is reminding me that grateful is a state of mind – it corresponds closely with byproducts of serenity, love, etc. etc. Honestly, I don’t know what the tools are to finding that place other than continuing to practice being there. Like learning to swim, there are drills and techniques – skills to hone. But none of the real work starts to unfold until you’re in the water… And then you practice.

Living with the intention of gratitude is cliche, I get that. It’s something that that hippy dippy yoga teacher you had once mused at you right before she lit a weird candle and stood on her head. I used to think it was woo-woo too…until I felt it. And here’s the thing: gratitude feels really effin good. I’ve done the critical thinking, black and white, needing concrete answers to every foreseeable outcome thing, believing that this was how respectable, intelligent people who take things seriously analyzed the world. I encourage you to do your own experiments with it, but here’s my spoiler: my life was not more organized, more clear or more productive when I ran around looking for problems to solve and criticized myself for not being and doing more all. of. the. time. I wasn’t smarter, more articulate, or more professionally esteemed. I was chronically anxious and I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping through the night and used copious amounts of caffeine to make it through each day. I didn’t laugh very often, I had an unfulfilling social life and my face broke out every other day. As it turns out, it’s also a lot more fun to walk around challenging myself to find a way to live in gratitude in spite of supposed evidence of the world’s imperfection. Maybe it is exactly as it is supposed to be and it is only my job to find a way to be in sync with the flow of everything else. I’ll never know.

So, for now, I’m going to continue to love the shit out of my favorite season.

Someday it will change and the trees will let go of the things that no longer serve them. But until then, you’ll catch me just peepin dem leaves.

I wholeheartedly invite you to join me.

“I believe that…

What we regret most are failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves. For that reason, regret can be the birthplace of empathy.”

-Brene Brown. Rising Strong

Everyone Look Busy

Occasionally, I pick up date night babysitting gigs to fill the gaps between nannying paychecks. Truthfully, there are a lot of gaps and I’m spinning my wheels to get them filled more often than not, but that’s another topic for another time.

Last Friday night, I had a job with a family I’ve worked for sporadically for the past 18 months. They have a lovely, mellow little girl who recently turned three years old. I usually put her to bed between 7:30 and 8 and have at least an hour and a half to relax, watch Netflix or read my book while I sip kombucha in peace and quiet before her parents return. During this time I am myself, comfortable in my cocoon of solidarity; I am free to be the person it’s really hard to be when I think other people are watching.

I’m typically flirting with disaster during these encounters because I don’t know the parents well enough to be okay with them knowing that I’m really making myself at home. They also don’t text or call to let me know when they’re on their way home, as many of my other families do. I’ve assessed the risk and found that the payout of having some very high quality self-care time (while I’m being paid, no less) usually outweighs the awkwardness of being caught off guard in my jordan-ness.

I had put the tiny human to bed around 7:30 and like clockwork, she was out by 7:45. My ritual commenced – I pulled their jumbo ottoman up so it was positioned as a perfect squishy footrest for my very short legs. I adjusted the air conditioning to my liking and plugged my computer in while I watched an episode of something silly and mindless on Netflix. I enjoyed the dinner I had prepped earlier in the evening, slouched into their sofa like I owned the place… and then I heard the garage door.

My heart soared out of my chest and I sprung from the couch like I had been electrically shocked, nearly choking on my delightful little salad. I sprinted around their beautiful hardwood floors in my socks, Bambi on ice skates, and turned the temperature back up to a warm 78 with frantic clicks on the touchscreen thermostat. I unplugged my electronics and rushed my dish to the kitchen, gave it a two second half assed rinse and shoved it in the dishwasher. I slid the ottoman back to its original home and pulled a book from my bag, tearing it open to a random page just in time to see the couple walk through the door from the garage and gave them my cheeriest fake: “Hiiiii, how was your evening?!” voice. My heart rate returned to normal, we made awkward small talk while the wife wrote me a check for my time, and I scampered out the door as quickly as humanly possible.

Then I laughed the whole way home.

There was something so specific about this experience “babysitting” that made those weird uncontrollable, bubbly chuckles sneak out of me. Those twenty seconds were a perfect metaphor for exactly where I am in my life. They’re precisely what pretending to be an adult feels like for me. I’m struggling to get comfortable, trying to be myself in a weird role that’s traditionally filled by pre-teens for a few extra bucks. Then, in the blink of an eye, just when I think everything is okay and maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to figure out how to pay my electric bill, get my smog checked, return library books, be a decent human being, find my passions, explore my interests, remember to put gas in the car, take out the recyclables, buy groceries AND wear pants on the same day, life walks in unexpectedly, reminding me of this weird couch/ottoman space I’m filling. My heart is racing and I am trying to play it cool, but let me be clear about this: I AM NOT COOL. In fact, I am quite a hot mess and announcing that is my new favorite hobby. Want to know why? I theorize that most people have this totally misconstrued perception of how “together and adult” the rest of the world is and it makes everybody involved feel just a little bit better to know that they’re not alone. As uncool as it is, I think it’s an act of radical love to ourselves and to those we’re sharing with to admit when we’re feeling weird and scared and like we’re going to be stuck here forever.

My best guess is : we are and we aren’t. It seems that the specific challenges you and I face individually and collectively today are temporary, but this peculiar dress up routine of trying to play it cool during a phase of life you’re unprepared for? Maybe that’s here to stay. Maybe racing around in our socks and then laughing about it later is the way to show up for those moments when you feel too young and too old at the same time. Maybe some people are self-assured and extroverted enough to keep their feet up on the ottoman and wave hello to the parents through a mouthful of salad. Maybe the universe knows that the way to remind me of the knowledge that’s already inside is to make me laugh at myself. Maybe the greatest gifts are these funky, awkward, sometimes painful lessons. Maybe more important than the lessons themselves are the people I’ve been blessed with whom, when I bring them my difficult, weird, usually uncomfortable stories, embrace me and remind me that I’m not alone. They tell me that it’s okay to be figuring it out day by day, that they’re mostly faking it too and promise me that we’re going to be okay. Maybe this is the messy and the beautiful thing none of us really signed up for.

What Makes Us Run

I read What Made Maddy Run in two days and since I closed the back cover, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts around it. This is the story of Madison Holleran, the nineteen year old student athlete of the University of Pennsylvania who killed herself on January 17, 2014. I think it’s important to pay homage to Kate Fagan, who did a beautiful job crafting a narrative around a human, not a suicide. She shared with us the story of family, growth, pressure, the cost of being a competitive student athlete and she did so with personal introspection, a professional journalistic lens, and respectfully navigated and represented the Holleran family.

For me, reading about Maddy’s life and death was like watching an eerie home video through a kaleidoscope. Her story was my story, with one very different plot point and as I start to ask around, particularly within my circle of former collegiate-athletes, that sentiment is echoed loudly. We struggle. Certainly some more than others and many at different points in their lives and careers; and a good chunk would have been dealing with anxiety, depression, and things of the like without ever having stepped foot on a field or a court. The other similarity: we struggled silently.

The dissonance between the problem and any potential solution to these topics is that their natures are inherently contradictory. As a student-athlete, a high achiever naturally and environmentally prone to anxiety and the illusion of perfectionism, I was raised, trained, and groomed to form my identity around my tangible accomplishments. Of course I was also raised to be respectful, kind, and loyal, but the formation of my self-concept was based largely on how hard I could push myself, what I could endure in order to be great both on and off the field. I was programmed by a competitive athletic and academic environment to keep it to myself when I didn’t feel okay and couldn’t explain why. When conflicts lied ahead, I learned at a very young age to engage with the discomfort and to work harder until I had achieved the desired outcome.

As a developing person, my equation for living looked a lot like this:

Hard work + discipline = achievement. Achievement = self-esteem = success.

I have always loved athletics, teamwork, camaraderie, sacrifice, and the satisfaction that coincides with really hard work. These things light me up and I can say the same for most of my former teammates. I know beyond the shadow of doubt that my parents did the absolute best they could to put me through the strongest athletic competitive training organization and help me to build a sense of self-confidence in the student-athlete I was developing into. But, in reality, maybe developing real life mental and emotional resiliency as a well-rounded human being got a little lost along the way. It’s no one’s fault; growing up with these cornerstone values has constructed a person I’m proud to be today, but it also came at a cost.

I was scared to go to practice every day of the week for the majority of my preteen and teenage years, around the time when playing competitively began to feel like a job rather than a game. Practices were grueling and regularly ran until 9pm. I was often physically and mentally exhausted, getting too little sleep to function fully the next day but far too diligent of a student to let homework slide or go late to school, I endured. I played for one coach in particular who spoke to young girls in such a way that makes me lose a little bit of faith in mankind as I think about it today. It motivated some people to be better and it motivated others to quit. Some cried, some shouted back at him, some parents got involved. There were a handful of us who were different. We had already been acculturated to sand our softer spots into sharper, more durable edges, to trade in our vulnerability, fear and exasperation for introversion and the pursuit of perfection. We took his words and we internalized them; his harsh criticisms of the players we were became our worldview about the type of people we were. I was small, weak, slow, untalented, unworthy of playing time. These are the things I understood about myself at twelve years old. I know what you’re wondering: “where the hell were this kid’s parents while this was happening and why did they think this was okay?” Like I said, they did the best they could. They wanted me to achieve greatness, to attend a college that would have been unavailable to me because of my family’s financial reality without the golden ticket of an athletic scholarship. Playing for the best was, in their eyes, the way to get me there. And if it wasn’t hard, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

I never told a soul, but I eventually started trying to make myself sick before practices so that I could stay home and hide.

And in eighth grade, I decided that I had had enough. I couldn’t do it anymore and I was ready to quit every sport. My parents convinced me that quitting was too extreme, that I’d regret it in two weeks once the novelty of being a regular kid wore off. They reminded me that I was not a regular kid – that I was made for this and I’d be bored with trying to do less than I was capable of. I know in my heart of hearts that both of my parents love me tremendously and genuinely thought that they were simply challenging me to follow the passion I had declared on my own, but what I heard was this: “this is your identity, walking away from it is weakness, all of your friends can deal with the pressure, you are disappointing us, and the world expects more from you.”

From what I can tell, these are also the messages that Madison Holleran heard as she faced the same decision when running track became a full-time job for her at Penn. It was grueling, it was stressful, and it wasn’t fun anymore. Cutting it out seemed, intellectually, like the reasonable solution, but she didn’t know how to be herself without it. “High achieving student athlete” was her title, the banner that waved behind her as she ran, the only way she knew herself. When the precise lifestyle that has made us “ourselves” becomes the demon that haunts the inside of our heads, how do we get rid of it? How do you walk away from the only thing that makes you feel alive or special? And how do we talk about this decision with the people that love us, the people we really need to get it? How do we talk to ourselves about this decision – to learn about ourselves as beings worthy of love and belonging without the clause that has always made that true?

As Fagan recognizes beautifully, the precise culture that teaches us hard work, loyalty, teamwork, camaraderie, and dedication also teaches us that strength and worthiness equate to ignoring our emotions. As young athletes, many of us were celebrated for being “composed,” for pushing through physical and mental pain in order to obtain victory. We were taught that showing vulnerability, for admitting fear or defeat is synonymous with weakness, and it is unacceptable here. This paradigm builds disciplined, willful, high achieving student athletes and is also a dangerous combination when mental health is involved.

In a sense, I was extraordinarily fortunate to have struggled with my desire to leave athletics at a young age. Though thoughts of quitting trailed for many years to come, competing as a division 1 collegiate athlete felt like a privilege. An exhausting, draining privilege, but a privilege nonetheless. Growing up on the west coast and playing extremely competitively, the speed of the game slowed down for me when I got to my tiny liberal arts east coast college. I went from being a low man on the totem pole in the giant powerhouse organization that I came from to holding my own in the college arena. My setting and my competition changed and my perception of who I was as a student athlete was transformed. But the timeline of my story is perhaps a little backwards.

It seems that my debilitating relationship with my sport and with my identity as a student athlete came sooner than most and my struggles with my mental health much later. They didn’t synchronize, as they did for Maddy (and I’d venture to say countless other collegiate student-athletes who made the transition from decorated high school superstars to completely average relative to their high achieving teammates and classmates). Personally, and rather ironically, I went from below average relative to the competition in my youth to completely average, maybe even a little above, collegiately. I reverted back to loving my sport for the game it had been to me when I fell for it as a child.

These notes are my subjective perspective of the culture I was raised to compete in and the person I’ve evolved into throughout this process. I reached out to the friend who recommended it and I said something along the lines of “I just finished it. I’m processing a lot of things and I don’t know where I’m at yet. I don’t want the book to be over because I don’t want her to be gone. I wish I knew what more we could do.” She told me it was her story too – from more of a logistic point of view, rather than the honest inside look at depression and anxiety. It gave us the connecting bridge into an important conversation: what it was like for her to lose some of her passion for the game when she made it to the “promise land” of athletic competition and what mental health means to me – and the ways in which growing up as a student athlete has shaped my perspective. We agreed that the story was a little too relatable to be comfortable, which is precisely why it was so crucial that we dig deeper. We both wished we had read it going into college, and that we felt like it was our responsibility – as receivers of the story and first person narrators of similar ones – to pass these pieces of our soul libraries on to other people who really get them. It is our work to put the stories in the hands of another circle who understands and will advocate for these issues, just one more friend who might raise their future athletes differently, one former athlete who might choose self-compassion and love during times of emotional and mental chaos and despair rather than the toughness and silence we were raised to practice. We dream that someday we can build or participate in a forum that allows us to help prepare the next generation of overachieving, driven student-athletes know that it’s okay to struggle and to somehow construct resources to support them when they do.

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I was proud to stand next to her on the field this day, watching our nation’s flag help us celebrate our favorite pastime. I am even more proud to stand next to her today, with 3,000 miles between us, starting discussions that matter.


 

We don’t know how and we don’t know when the next step comes, but we know that this conversation isn’t over.

The Soul Library

This week, I read one of the most important books I think I ever will. It confronted a lot of issues that are radically important to me and brought them together in a courageous human story.

I’m always honored in ways that are difficult to describe when someone recommends a book that is close to their heart. It’s amplified when I read it and I feel the same way about it. This is what books, stories, and writing are to me. I think, somehow, the most personal things about me are words. Sharing a piece of my soul library is like handing you a page torn from my journal. It has always been the way I say “this is who I am, perfectly articulated by these words, it makes no difference whether or not they were originally constructed by me. This is what scares me, what I love, what drives me, and who I dream to be. Do you get it?” That courage to share your favorite pieces is sharing your insides, your intellectual curiosity and most importantly, your heart. So it was a gift to have a friend, a former college teammate to be exact, reach out to me and recommend this particular book. She was telling me “this is a piece of me and I think you’ll really get it. It reminded me of you too” and I accepted the offer to dive into her literary world with enthusiasm. Turns out she was right. What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan was a game changer…

“You Got a Bucket There, Mamacita”

My car’s front bumper is being held on by zip ties.

I tend to forget about this until I catch someone staring. Sometimes there are laughs and points. Children seem to really enjoy this spectacle. I bought the car in this condition- I swear on the life of my first puppy. I’m really a fantastic driver, but people tend to assume otherwise when they see my zip ties.

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I’ve only had one unfortunate driving related incident in my nearly ten years of driving – Two years ago, I pulled up at the Women’s Resource Center to drop off bags of clothing to donate to their store (I think it’s worth the extra 20 minute drive because proceeds go directly to their shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse). As I pulled up at the store, I noticed that the only parking spot available was next to the pop up stand of an elderly woman selling flowers. I inched carefully into the spot and smiled and waved respectfully at her, hopefully implying “Hello, ma’am. I see you and your lovely stand and have no intentions of running it over with my high class automobile.”

I dropped my donation bags off and returned to my hot rod, blissfully unaware of the world around me. I put Her in reverse and edged out of my spot and then cautiously proceeded in drive as I rolled forward to exit the parking lot. Suddenly, there was a horrific scraping noise and I felt my face turn to hot liquid lava beating beneath the surface of its skin and my infamous facial sweating commence. My bumper must have fallen off (Yes, I am familiar with that exact sound…Make of that what you will). I pulled off to the side of the parking lot to examine the damage, painfully aware of stares and chatter growing around me. It was one of those parking lots, nice and cozy so that something like this couldn’t have gone unnoticed. I also happen to stand out a bit in this particular part of town simply based on my physical appearance; I have light-ish hair, light eyes, freckles. The majority population in this shopping center does not.

After I’ve pulled my sweet whip over to examine the bumper situation, I am puzzled. My bumper appears to be perfectly intact (please remember that “perfectly” is a relative term here). So, where the hell is that noise coming from? The sweat continues. I have a moment of wild, insane bravery and peek under the bumper.

Daaaaamnit.

A perfect, white painter’s bucket, the most standard, nondescript thing you’ve ever seen seems to have jammed itself all the way underneath the middle of my car…the part that gets stuck if I go over too large of a speed bump without taking it on an angle. The only possible explanation I can imagine is that while I was sneaking very cautiously into my coveted parking space, I failed to notice that there was a bucket placed at the very edge of the spot on account of all the smiling and waving I was doing. I apparently pulled into the spot a little too far. In hindsight, the smiling and waving I received in return from the nice old woman at the flower stand was not a “welcome to the neighborhood, please enjoy your time at the Women’s Resource Center” and was probably closer to “you’re about to hit my bucket, you dumbass.”

I did what any rational person would have done: I got flat on my stomach on the scorching hot pavement and climbed all the way to the center of the car. I pulled with every ounce of strength until the bucket shot loose. At this point, I’m doing the kind of sweating no one even likes to talk about. I didn’t want the woman, who was now watching with great trepidation from the threshold of her flower stand, a wrinkled hand sheltering her tired and concerned eyes so she could watch my fiasco with greater clarity, to think that I was stealing her bucket. With that spirit in mind, I chose to walk the bucket all.the.way. back across the parking lot and return it to her by hand. I apologized to the woman for giving her bucket the ride of its life and returned to my car, my face, hands and clothing smeared with oil, sweat, and humiliation.

This final segment is the part of the story I’ve tried really hard to forget and still gives me awkward butterflies as I write, two years and many strange encounters later.

I’m nearly running back to my beautiful Corolla, three long strides from the door of my car, my beloved safe place, when I hear a whistle – loud, intentional. There are hearty laughs from a corner of the parking lot. The whistler, a young Hispanic man in his early twenties shouts: “You got a bucket there, Mamacita!”

And I’ll bet you never guess what I did in response (because to this day, I find it hard to believe).

I saluted.

Under Where?

I realize that my line of work allows for a lot of diversion from the normal boundaries between employees and employers and even between families and houseguests, simply because I spend so much time with the families in their homes. Even with this notion in mind, I find it to be absolutely flabbergasting that I continue to encounter indecency in the workplace on such a regular basis. Allow me to explain.

I got to work yesterday at 6:45AM and Kim was in her underwear – in the front yard. The “why” is still completely unclear to me as a person who typically puts on underwear and then pants in quick succession. Either way, Kim was pants-less.

I mustered the superhuman task of keeping a straight face and assuming there would be some sort of explanation (a terrible injury she had incurred that made pant wearing impossible, for example), I continued with my morning routine: I placed my bags inside for the day, and brought the dogs out to go to the bathroom. As soon as I got back outside, I realized Kim-The-Pantsless was waiting for me at the threshold. She followed me outside with the dogs as they began to explore a small subset of their five-acre property. These are typically my favorite ten minutes of my twelve hour day, these quiet moments with the dogs as we make our way through the orchards, taking in the silent morning before the teenagers wake and reek havoc on my life, Kim calls from work every twelve minutes to micromanage something, and before the heat of the day sets in and rattlesnakes come out to play. It’s quiet, it’s cool, it’s just us.

Not this day, it wasn’t. It was us – and Kim. And Kim’s Undies. Kim likes things a certain way (in addition to liking things breezy, apparently), and by “things,” I mean everything. On this particular morning, I was holding the dog’s leash in such a manner that allowed him to be “disrespectful” to me, and Kim went to great lengths to make sure that I understood the proper technique and the significance of demanding Zeus’s respect. Let me repeat that because I fear I was a bit too subtle there and you’re not fully appreciating the implications…Kim, in her underwear, criticized my leash-holding abilities. She scolded me, THE NANNY, about how the dog’s leash should be held as she stood in the yard in her underwear. Maybe it’s me, but this seems like a silly bone to pick – particularly because I am a perfectly average leash holder, thank you very much.

Ten minutes later, I was feeding the dogs breakfast, feeding the fish and the turtles, and beginning to prepare breakfast for the girls and Kim came stomping back out from her office. She informed me that I’d be making cold zucchini soup for the entire extended family that evening for dinner. She wanted me to work on these things because my cooking skills are “at the top of her concern list.” She had printed out a recipe, for which I was secretly extraordinary grateful because I had no idea that cold zucchini soup even existed. She also pulled out a rack of lamb from the freezer to defrost and I chuckled childishly in my head at the image of me trying to figure out what the hell to do with a rack of lamb. I’ll be totally frank: rack of lamb is not in my cooking repertoire, nor do I think that it needs to be. I am a simple person with simple taste and I get by just fine in my own simple, beautiful life.

And because I know you’re curious: I rocked the zucchini soup and thanked whatever and all that is good and holy in the universe that my shift ended before dinnertime and I didn’t have to touch the lamb.

I drove straight home and added several items to my own version of a “concerns list”. It was good for my soul and also my sense of humor, which is basically the same thing.

Courage to Crash

My little sister is twelve years old and she teaches me things all the time.

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Recently, she was cut from the middle school volleyball team. She has never played before and made a brand new friend at a brand new school in an almost brand new state and decided to try something. That quiet courage, her simple bravery, that allowed her to put herself out into the world far enough to be rejected is amazing to me – a calculating, safe-playing, pro-con list maker. It is difficult to explain to her now why it is so exquisitely valuable to learn disappointment and resiliency at her stage in life. I know that it stings in this moment and my heart hurts for her. At the same time that I want her to learn hard things, I also want to shelter her from anything that could ever possibly hurt her. I want to wrap my arms around her and keep her safe forever, but I know that this isn’t in my power as a small, imperfect human being. As much as I sometimes wish it were, that’s not the way living works.

On her first day of 7th grade, she called to inform me excitedly that she didn’t get lost once on her maiden voyage of changing classes, a concept and a practice that is entirely new to her. She also made a brand new “best friend,” and reported that all of her teachers are “really cool and seem like they wont’ give that much homework.” I told her how proud I am of her for embracing her new unknowns with enthusiasm and passion, rather than trepidation and fear. I also gave her a teeny tiny reminder that school is supposed to be challenging and getting by doing the bare minimum won’t get her very far, because that’s just who I am (insert eye roll).

By the middle of the week, she called again. She told me that things at school were still great, but that she had noticed the same girl sitting alone at lunch each day and that it had bothered her because the girl seemed lonely. That day, my little sister invited the person sitting alone to her table with her new friends. She offered her a cracker from her lunch, the ultimate currency of friendship. Pride doesn’t begin to explain the experience of imagining this little person I have helped raised and watched grow display a simple act of kindness that likely had a tremendous impact on another human. She embraced an opportunity to take what little she had herself and share it.

The boldness in her generosity of spirit is extraordinary and I pray that it is something that doesn’t fade as she encounters more hardship and pain as her life progresses. I want to remind her every day that if she lets it, if she digs really deep, these pains will strengthen and soften her heart, allowing her generosity, her wisdom, and her courage to grow rather than causing her heart to harden from fear and hurt. I want to thank her for being my tiny mirror, very much her own person, but embodying so much of my own spirit. Mostly, I want to tell her to please continue to be brave and kind every single day just in case, amidst our travels, either of us ever forgets.

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