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.

“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.

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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To the Bubble Blowers

The other day I was at the park pushing Maisley, my littlest Little, in the swing as we both quietly watched the flocks of tiny humans navigating the sandbox. She’s her happiest out in the fresh air with the sun shining and constant energy buzzing all around her. She’s an extroverted adventurer in the making and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

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The sandbox was bedlam and I, like usual, found myself feeling extraordinarily thankful that my smiley little person loves to watch the havoc from her safe rubber seat in the swing, waving and clapping along to other peoples’ toddler tantrums and sharing scuffles. We’re not there yet, we’re just observers for now.

Suddenly, the playground fell still as every single kid turned to take in the whispering force that had overtaken the air just above and between them: the bubbles. There were squeals of joy and surprise, dramatic jumps into the air, hats being thrown – widespread bliss, the adults every bit as enchanted as their little ones. These tiny spheres of soap floating invitingly through the air had captivated every soul on that playground.

The bubble curators were two older kids, a brother and sister of probably 10 and 12, who had visited the playground from an adjacent birthday party with no other connection to the sandbox. They were literally attending their private, quiet little gathering and thought to themselves, “who else might enjoy some nice bubbles?” until they spotted a dozen toddlers in a sandbox and scurried the 50 yards over to spread the joy.

I was fascinated.

Who taught these children to take pleasure in giving such joy to others, to look for a place to bring happiness? How did they know these strange kids would be as enthralled and mesmerized as they were? Were the bubble blowers aware that they were giving every parent on that playground a much needed and well deserved two minute vacation from the world of fetching snacks, diffusing conflicts, and making sure little Johnny doesn’t topple backwards off the monkey bars?

Where did they come from and where do we find more of them?

You know these people, you may even be one these people. I know that many of my readers are indeed bubble blowers; they do especially nice things for others just because. It goes beyond simple kindness and in my opinion these are the people that change the world.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to the bubble blowers of the world. You probably have no idea what your tiny, beautiful acts of love can do – I see you and I appreciate you.

Memoir of an Old Soul- Part 1

I discovered long ago that I am aging into my personality.

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In first grade, my teacher spoke to my mother in a low, concerned voice – the kind that makes your stomach drop, thinking you’re being busted for something terrible. She was concerned about my socialization because I fell asleep during the Valentine’s Day party. I remember that day clearly; I wasn’t afraid of the other children, it wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends in class. I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I was tired and I was bored, so I took a little rest.

I have always been fond of tucking my shirt in. It ensures that my midriff never shows, and allows me to prominently display any nifty belt I might be wearing. It suits me. Also, wearing watches – when I first realized that I have always been a watch person and had simply never worn a watch, I was almost nostalgic, grieving the lost years during which I could have been wearing a magical timekeeping device on my wrist. I even sported a rolling backpack for a short stint in the sixth grade because I was inordinately paranoid about early onset scoliosis. Also, what if I simply couldn’t carry all of the books I might want to read during the day? It just seemed like good sense.

I tried for years to understand where I was supposed to be, as if there’s one true box in which to categorize oneself or one, specific geography on the globe for which every person is designed. It was never that I didn’t fit in, per say, more that I always felt a little different. I was the nerd of the athletes and the athlete of the nerds, more at home in my treehouse writing stories or reading books than I ever was on a playdate. The more peers I met, the more I wanted to spend time with my dog. Virtually all of this is still true two decades later (other than the tragedy that I no longer have a treehouse) and I imagine it will be until the day I die. I have always been and always will be, an explorer and a traveler. I was a peculiar child because I always knew these things. It makes bonding with other seven year olds a little tricky.

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I have always kept far more words inside than out. You never would have called me shy, necessarily, but I am and always have been certainly an introvert to my core. When I was five years old, my dad, the other antisocial homebody in the family, told me plainly:

“You sure think a lot, Little Buddy.”

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The Frosses

Last weekend, I sat with both families of Frosses at a concert in the park. We sat on blankets, high on fresh air and good company, as the last few hours of another perfect summer day drifted off. We watched the Littles bask in the attention of so many familiar faces with watermelon sticky hands and tired eyes.

They were illuminated. They were surrounded by love and they knew it. Maybe the more accurate thing to say would be: I am always surrounded by love, but sometimes I forget it. Sometimes I forget to look hard enough. And they remind me, these perfect Littles and their remarkable parents. They remind me to look. The ease and comfort, the giddy giggles of our tiny humans perfectly loved and sensing the attention and connection to their people in such close proximity is a fraction of what these golden hours were for me. My Frosses stumbled into my life during a time I didn’t realize I needed so much extra love. These hours with my people were and are my reminder from grace to look for the love that is always around, represented so perfectly by the accidental love that walked into my life when I thought that I had simply signed up for a job.

Often at home, I’ll exclaim sarcastically, “what a time to be alive!” when one of my roommates or I has had a truly ridiculous day at work and we’re feeling like Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Chandler, just trying to make it through another day to get back to each other and commiserate.

This evening in the park, I thought to myself quietly in a mental whisper, so soft I almost missed it:  “what a time to be alive.”

The Lighthouse

My roommates are some of my best friends and in our cozy little apartment, I am at home. A year and four months ago, I found them on Craigslist. I know what you’re thinking – this sounds like a horrible idea to most rational, realistic adults with any modicum of awareness; I know this because it did to me as well. We emailed back and forth for a week before we decided to meet, cautiously. I had every sketchball awareness detector activated and walked into their homey apartment on high alert, fully prepared to blow the emergency whistle I had packed in my purse. But then, before I even had a chance to make it across the threshold, one of them met me at the complex gate in her car to direct me to the apartment…and she used her blinker in the parking lot. I put it on my mental list of “Non-Psychopathic Tendencies” and exhaled a tiny sigh of relief.

Disclaimer: Meeting roommates on the internet can be incredibly risky, please do so at your own risk and do not view this piece of writing as advice as to how your life choices should be made. I personally believe that it’s entirely possible that I found the two greatest humans to have ever entered the world of Craigslist and you should dabble in internet affairs WITH EXTREME CAUTION. Hopefully you knew this already.

Anyway, I loved them, moved in, and we became the quirkiest little family you’ve ever seen (okay, maybe second only to my immediate biological family).

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Macie is bold and fierce, fearless in her endeavors and strong in her convictions. She’s aggressively bright and she knows it. She’s unique and spirited. She is our wine loving unicorn. She adores her niece and nephews and wouldn’t miss their birthday parties, soccer games, piano recitals, karate events (or weekly dinners at their house) for the world, but she wouldn’t be caught dead working with children. You know, like most educated adults.

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Meg is much more like myself and as such, was more challenging to read and get to know. It took us probably nine months to get into a groove, at which point she told me I “was a tough nut to crack.” Touché, girlfriend. Meg is one of the most intelligent people I have ever known (and I’ve known some smarties). She lives and loves with grace and gentleness, difficult to define but undeniable for those who know what to look for. Meg, like myself, has a decorated degree from a prestigious private university and chooses to work with small children. We come home and swap war stories of our days in the trenches with our “tiny terrors” on the regular, as we empty our pockets of glitter. We each require a shower after a day’s work because we’re covered in sweat and sunscreen, applesauce and probably a lot of other bodily fluids you don’t want to know about. We ask aloud “Why in god’s name do we choose to do this for other peoples’ children?” on a weekly basis.

That question is our lighthouse: when the seas are rocky, the wind is strong and we’ve lost our way through the fog (and we’re vomiting over the side of the boat because we are both highly sensitive to motion sickness), this question guides us. It’s always rhetorical. We’ve both been in jobs that were much more professionally respected, jobs that did more for our pride and sense of social acceptability, jobs that paid us enough to buy oatmeal and peanut butter in the same week and yet, we both choose this. We both have other options that seem extraordinarily appealing on days when every toddler in the world has conspired against us to have simultaneous meltdowns, we’re tired and just want to coast, days when it would be really nice to have sick pay, vacation time, or you know, health insurance. And yet, everyday we embrace this role that breaks us down and lights us up, that leaves us so exhausted that we both close our doors for the night around 8:30pm.

When Meg and I ask this question, we both smirk silently – to ourselves and to one another – because we already know the answer – we can’t do anything else, not anymore. The tricky part is, it’s not tangible. It’s really difficult to explain to someone why I choose the glitter covered, applesauce stained, snot-wiping, sunscreen wearing life. As tough as it is, at the end of the day I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I have a job that doesn’t demand that I sell something I don’t believe in; I do not have to wear nice clothes, sit behind a desk staring at a screen, or hell, even brush my hair. My youngest Little doesn’t care whether I have green eyes or brown, whether I have acne or whether I’m roughly 12 pounds under or overweight. She cares that I am present with her, that I learn and grow with her, that I am comfortable enough in my own skin to act like an absolute moron in order to make her laugh. She doesn’t dig me because I drive a nice car or because my mascara is perfect (Let’s be honest…if these were the stipulations, I’d never have the job in the first place). She digs me because of my light. She doesn’t ask me to meet sales quotas, she asks me to show up and be the best person I know how to be. It may not always be true, but for this moment, this is the work I am meant to be doing.

I think we could all take a little more time to appreciate these things in one another and probably in ourselves, but for today, I am so thankful to have my comrade just down the hall. Finding a member of your team is such a rare and significant thing and I feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet to get to share a home with my people.

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“Kid, You’d Better Start Writing”

I don’t share DNA with most of my family: I’ve chosen them. My “aunts” are my safe place, my beloved friends, and my anchors. They started as my coaches when I was eight years old, going on 76, and the rest of my teammates were nine, going on 20. They saw this kid – the smallest and the slowest on the field, willing to show up an hour before anyone got to practice to put extra work in, still not as talented as many of the others, and I became theirs. On life’s terms, they were my coaches, then family friends, until they were just family.

The first time they came over to my family’s house to drop off a bucket of balls or a lineup sheet for my dad, their eyes grew wide. My Aunt Cathy, a strong-willed, opinionated, and direct woman who loves nothing more than a cold Coors Light and a deep-bellied cackle at an innocent soul tripping and falling, pulled me aside. She bent over next to my miniaturized body and looked at me with raised eyebrows. She got very close and said “Kid, you’d better start writing this shit down. You’re going to make a killing someday.”

Eight-year old Jordan smiled politely that day, ecstatic to have an assignment, already infatuated with the world of language and storytelling. Maybe I’m a little slow, but it took me years to really understand that other families don’t collect gargoyles in their front yards, walk their rabbits on a leash, adopt leftover playground equipment from forgotten schoolyards, or harbor “vintage” refrigerators and toilet seats “just in case.”

Don’t get me wrong, that house was bubbling over with a plethora of love and support. I love my family, quirky as they are, and I am beyond grateful to have grown up in a colorful home. Of course I wonder what it would have been like to only be allowed to wear a Halloween costume to school on October 31st or only have one, well-mannered pet, but that is not my story. My paternal grandmother only wears purple, my father keeps “just-in-case-equipment” (including but not limited to: gas masks, tires, lumber, old hoses, furniture, more gargoyles)  stored in the front, back, and side yards at all times; we sometimes park on the lawn. I accepted the first time I spent three hours and forty-two minutes with my mom in the grocery store, sitting in the parked shopping cart, meticulously filing her coupons in the expandable file folder as she scoured the aisles, that my life would be a continuous unfolding of quirky, unplanned, and at times inexplicable events and experiences. I understood that my story would become colorful, sometimes confusing, but ultimately beautiful. I also understood that it was probably best that I buckle the seatbelt in the cart, just in case.

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Not Christmas

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My First Day

On my first day at anything new, I listen to an old voicemail from my spitfire of a grandmother. As today is my first day of my new job nannying for a new family, and because I am a compulsive creature of habit, I carried out my tried and true ritual.

Five years ago, my grandma had called on my first morning working as a retail clerk in the golf shop where she herself had been employed for nearly a decade to give me a five minute “how to be a good cashier” crash course. She didn’t mean for it to be hilarious, but most of it is. It’s so charmingly grandmaternal and wise, but also so specific to this tiny, stubborn, fiercely independent woman with whom I have the pleasure of sharing DNA.

I am nearly positive that she doesn’t even remember leaving the message, but I am positive that I will be listening to it until long after she’s gone.

Here’s the advice she gives:

-#1. Greet everyone who walks through the door. Don’t forget to mix it up. (She then gives examples of how to greet people because she’s heard my social anxiety at work when I’m placed face to face with strangers and she figures she’d better save us both the embarrassment).

-#2. Don’t stand around; always look busy. Clean the counters when you feel like you’ve run out of things to do. Also, it’s totally okay to not know something – be honest about that and be willing to ask for help when you don’t know. People will appreciate that from you.

-#3. “Greet everyone with that great smile of yours. Everyone loves a good smile.” So true, grandma, so true.

… and finally,

-#4. Maybe don’t call me “G-Ma” on the job. [See point #1 and my sense of congeniality. I’m pretty sure this one was just Gma looking out for Gma].

For the record, it took all of three shifts for everyone to know that I was the granddaughter of the bossy lady in the shoe department after I had something on the back of my skirt and she couldn’t restrain herself from reaching right over and dusting off my ass behind the counter. Thanks for that one, Gma. Also – my portion of the counters were so frickin shiny people could practically see my goofy grin reflecting off and projecting throughout the rest of the store. She couldn’t help but claim me.

 

 

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Thank you, GMa. I love you more than you know.