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We celebrated your birthday and part of me wants to ask where has the time gone? These past eight years of you as my daughter. Where did the days go?

But I know exactly where the time went. Into loving you.

Into being the one who feels like home. Into being the safe, soft and quiet place to rest and release. It was the place where you laid your tears, your frustrations. I collected it all until you were ready to walk away and leave it with me.

It went into waiting until you were ready. Into creating a buffer between your sense of comfort and other people’s expectations. It was the space that you grew into, warming to the world. I held you and sat with you, negotiated for you and spoke for you. I stayed at your side until you knew it was safe to scamper away. And how you have! Like I always knew you would.

It went into pushes on the swing that you don’t ask for so much anymore. Into castles in the sand decorated with sticks and flowers that you now make with friends instead of me. Into dancing in the dark until you fell asleep to the beat of my heart that now comforts me when you are away. Into twirling you in the same pool where you now backward flip all on your own. Into Easter egg hunts and birthday cakes and pink dresses washed until threadbare. Into ballet tights and soccer Saturdays, ice cream sundaes and movies in the park.

Into pattycake and rock, paper, scissors, shoot! Into this little piggie and My Little Ponies. Old MacDonald to soothe your trips in the car and bedtime stories, a labyrinth of lengthening limbs and slowing breaths. Into traveling and skiing and skating and jumping the waves. Untangling ringlets and spinning mermaid tales in the bath. Into whispering, go ahead- it’s okay, and laughing loudly as you found your voice and your funny bone. Into admiring those soft rolls that became graceful curves of muscle and strength. Into counting loose teeth and each additional pet. Into watching you sleep and witnessing when something inside of you wakes up.

Into watching you open and dare until I’m just the voice of caution and permission. Into holding your hand until you are far more balanced without my help. You don’t need my height to reach the monkey bars now and you climb beyond my reach. And this is what it is all about.

Into encouraging you to try again and again. Into giving up my plans because you needed me more. Into making you feel bigger because you’re smaller than me. Into waiting my turn because right now it’s yours. Into taking responsibility for my happiness because you are only responsible for yours.

They say the days are long but the years are short as a way of softening the time we spend, as if that’s a bad thing. I see it as an investment in everything that matters, not to be softened but solidified.

These past eight years have gone into our relationship. Into listening to you not because I had to, but because I wanted you to be heard. Into giving you what you wanted not because I can’t say no, but because I can say yes. Into building you up not because I have nothing else to do but because this is the only time I have to do it. Into nursing you and sleeping with you and staying home with you not because I am too attached, but because that’s how we become attached. Into trusting you to trust me to trust you as we grow together and apart. And that is the most beautiful gift of my life. It is the most beautiful gift I can give you.

A base of surety. The rock of all your ages.

The hours in the days in the years have gone into creating a home for you. Into owning that task not because I know better than anyone else, but because I want you to know yourself better than anyone else.

The time has gone into uninterrupted sleep when your body unexpectedly needed to grow. Into long play days where relationships, ideas and skills blossom without a bell to move on. Into many focused hours of a game, a piece of art, a video series, dance and dress-up and sidewalk chalk and bike riding and being a kid for being a kid’s sake. Into opportunities to eat whenever your growing belly was hungry for whatever it was hungry for. Into trying and quitting and finding what makes you so happy that you don’t want to stop.

The past eight years have not gone into preparing for age eighteen or eighty. (How silly does that sound?) But rather into the moments that are piling one upon another; a big, fat, lopsided pile of togetherness and play and connection that threatens to topple into a heap of love and laughter.

Because these past eight years with you, my dear, sweet, bright girl, have been full of that. In this beginning.

And in the end, I find that the time hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re carrying it forward, with what we’ve made together, into what we have to look forward to.

It’s a dynamic life and while we may hunker behind doors in scarier times, the windows will be open to let in light from this time we’ve had together.

These long, long hours with you at my side. Listening, laughing, chattering, asking, getting to know me- a woman, a mother- with rhythms and ideas. Taking me into you as you carve out your own sense of self. Walking with me as I venture about the world and show you ways to settle in, new ways of reaching out.

Because I know that as the years continue on, we’ll both reach back. I in nostalgic sentiment and you in setting your course. These eight years have gone into where you will be from, from where you will spring.

The time may be gone but I am comforted that I gave it to you. Of all the places I could have been, I’m really glad that I stayed. In all the best ways that I could.

 

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My house is quiet at this moment. Utter stillness. Fittingly, a moment of silence. It would have been my sister’s birthday today and there is so much emptiness surrounding me. Yet, she fills the space still. She never knew it but she provided a moment that shapes my life still.

She was diagnosed with leukemia and separated from her children for treatment when they were very young. We all were. Her baby was only months old when we took him for the first hospital visit, when she had been away for weeks, maybe a month. It felt like forever. As she reached out for him, he smiled and reached back. He remembers me! The joy that flooded her face told me that this is all a mother needs. All a child needs. Each other. Sharing a love that can never go away even when we do.

Last night on the brink of sleep, I was suddenly awake with grief. The crushing remembrance that she was gone. In that dark room all I wanted was to have her back and I could feel her right there. Right next to my bed. So close. But I couldn’t touch her. I couldn’t hold her. All I wanted was to feel her kissing my forehead, brushing my hair out of my eyes. Again. Again.

Ordinary gestures. Not grand ones. Not impressive ones. Not accomplished ones.

Not like the dreams and schemes I have, these full-time projects that are brewing, conspiring to lead me out of my full-time life. The imaginary stack of achievements I’ll be able to point to beyond the stacks of folded towels, clean plates and grocery bags. The promise of my true potential and higher purpose that I must heed to be fulfilled, “radically authentic”, leaving my mark. Or so they all say.

Everywhere I turn these days the message is to be anything but ordinary. Be Epic! Be badass. Be daring and wild. If it isn’t hurting, you aren’t living. Platitudes and the anti-platitudes. Add a filter to make the picture hipper and cooler because the way it really is isn’t hip or cool enough. Make it larger than life and maybe then we can be friends. Go big or go home.

In last night’s late hour, I felt the value of ordinary. I didn’t want my sister back so she could do amazing, inspiring things with her life. I didn’t want her back so I could join her on epic, wild adventures. I wanted her back so she could love me. So I could love her.

She never tried to be unforgettable and yet I can’t forget her.

I don’t miss her because of what she never made. I miss her because I want more of what she gave.

I’m not sad because she didn’t have more time to be someone. I’m sad because I didn’t get to experience more of who she was.

I don’t cry because her life was cut short. I cry because there’s never enough time. No matter how much we try to fill our lives, how wisely we try to spend our time, how many checklists we check to feel accomplished, there will never be enough time.

We can never fill a hole that is un-fillable. The motivational gurus like to say we’re all given the same 24 hours. As in, look at all I’m doing with mine; what do you have to show for yours? That’s not honorable, though, because not all hours are created equally and we’re not all given the same number of days. They are indeed numbered to what will be our lifetime. Our life time. The time in our life is numbered. We don’t have all the time in the world. So are we going to chase it down like a balloon that has escaped our grasp? Or do we sink into it and drop anchor knowing that when the tide finally pulls us away, we’ll leave a wake in our path?

My sister planted herself in my world. She made taco nights so exciting because each ingredient had its own colorful bowl. She invited me to snuggle in her bed with her even when she had friends sleeping over. She brought me pencils and erasers from the school store where the big kids shopped. She listened to me when I was scared about being the flower girl in her wedding. She shared her favorite music with me and let me turn it up loudly when we danced in her living room. She brushed my hair and tied my shoes and gave me a horrible nickname. She wrote me little notes and I wonder if she knew how much they would mean someday when I was all grown up. Little, ordinary things. Not epic yet everything.

It’s this simple way of being in the world that is the most powerful. She never tried to be unforgettable and yet I can’t forget her. As a mother this is my biggest and most important lesson. Nothing can inform my mothering more than the deep knowing that the care and attention I give will be what’s everlasting. There’s no prize waiting on the other side- no fat paycheck, no cover of Time magazine- and yet I give the most prized gift of time, the limits of which make it my most precious commodity. My life time. She was not famous like the Mona Lisa, she was just Lisa; one of thousands of Lisas in the world, but she was my Lisa because she gave of herself to me in love. It was the kind of love that made me desperate. Desperate for more. For any way to keep her here always.

When I woke this morning, I was still sad. As I began to cry, incredibly it began to rain. It felt like the tears of my sister’s understanding saying she misses me, too. I heard between raindrops and silent sobs, can’t you see that I’m in the rain? I’m right here. Can’t you feel my legacy of love?

And then I knew. She is still here. She can’t kiss my forehead and I can’t hold her hand but I carry her everywhere. She’s always with me because when she was with me, she loved me. For every ordinary way and in a way that will never die, I loved her back.

When she died I made Lisa a lot of promises and I’d like to add one more: the next time I doubt my choice to build meaning over monuments, I will remember you.

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There have been moments when I said:

Just listen to me.     Just do it and get it over with.     Just stop.

Just trust me.     Just don’t fight with me.     Just don’t.

Because I said so.     Because I know better.     Because I’m the mom.

And inside of all that I couldn’t see the tiny spirit being crushed.

I couldn’t hear the tiny voice saying, but what about me? I couldn’t feel the helplessness of being not able to make my own choices.

Until I remembered. All of those times that I was told what to do even though it felt wrong to me. I was told to eat more when I was already full. I was told to dress warmly when I was already warm. I was told to stop when I was just getting started.

Until I felt it again. All of those feelings of sadness and desperation and just wanting to be seen and heard and not shushed and not threatened. When all I wanted was to be held and soothed and not punished and sent to my room. When I was so shy and didn’t know how to get help and instead got blamed for things I didn’t do or didn’t mean.

Until I heard it again. All of those reasons and excuses that had nothing to do with what I said/felt/wanted and everything to do with someone else’s idea of what was best.

I remembered what it was like to simply want to feel like I was important and loved more than anything. That I was special and cared about.

I remembered what it was like to simply want to not feel like I was in the way or the black sheep because I was different. That I was an effort or a cause of frustration.

I remembered wishing that someone would simply stop long enough to consider what I was feeling inside, what I was needing, what I was wanting. I couldn’t know anyone else’s inside so how could anyone know mine? I remembered the struggle to just be me.

It always felt like my fault. If only I could just do everything right and not like cookies more than spinach and not want to wear makeup before I was sixteen and not want to stay up later to watch the shows my friends talked about.

If only I didn’t create the conflict by expressing myself.

But here’s the thing: children don’t create conflicts. Parents do.

It’s the adult’s responsibility to lead the way. Parents have the ability to help things go smoothly or let them go to hell. Even when it’s beyond anyone’s control and shit hits the fan, we can make it worse or we can make it better. Parents have the inherent power in the relationship so it’s up to them to share it. That’s step one.

Our culture breeds the belief that power struggles are a natural part of parenting. We’re told to expect battles and we get lots of support and commiseration when we talk about them. (Oh, that sucks; you just need to be firm. Ad nauseum.) Yes, raising children is challenging because we’re all learning and we’re tired and we’re concerned. No, though, it doesn’t have to be hard. We can create a middle road as we believe in our brilliant intuition and in our kids’ best intentions. We can look for the people who are saying, “it’s okay to choose kindness.”  We can be the difference between meltdown and smooth sailing. Between frustration and contentment. Between insecurity and security. Between conflict and harmony. Between wanting to run away and wanting to stay forever.

The most direct way to reducing conflict is to be open to alternatives.

Some things cannot be compromised- safety is at the top of the list. There are many ways to achieve a goal, however, if you can look past what you initially believed was the answer. My kids don’t always want to stop what they’re doing to eat. I could insist on it or I could keep their food available for them to graze on while they play. My goal of getting food into their growing bodies is met, their desire to not be interrupted is honored, and there’s no struggle over any of it. The key is remembering that there’s more than one way.

There is a common belief that it takes two to engage in a conflict. One on Side A and one on Side B. But that’s not true. It only takes one. One to be insisting on their way. One to be holding the other to certain expectations. One to not listen. One to be inflexible. One to claim the power. One to hold too tightly. One who won’t let it go.

Don’t be that one.

Be the adult.

Be the one who understands. The one who creates space for possibility. The one who says, “let’s see.” The one who puts tender loving care before total leveraged control. The one who gets down on their level. The one who remembers what it’s like to be little. The one who gives hope and can be counted on. The one who paves the way to trust.

Be the one that feels like home.

My question to you on this ordinary day is a game-changing one. In your relationships, do you want to engage a battle or create a peace?

 

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Without a lot of fanfare, I became 42 years old this past week. I woke up that morning thinking these words:

Dear Sun,

On all these 42 trips we’ve taken together, I’ve been running around you. You’ve gently turned, raining your warmth over me wherever my feet were landing, wherever my breath was catching. You’ve remained while I chased your light, exhausting myself. This time around, though, I’ve got it figured out. I’m grasping your constant rays and allowing you to spin me around as you move. Like a little child I feel giddy held by your security, feet flying out behind, laughing in my dizziness. Let’s make this the best trip ever!

I thought about how I’m at the middle of my life and what I want now. What’s the state of things and how did I arrive here? I feel deeply satisfied while still challenged and interested in myself, my family and my world. I am so excited about my life and each day in it.

The conclusion is that mid-life is promising; there is no crisis looming. It’s taken some effort and these are 42 ways I’ve made it happen:

1. Stop apologizing for who you are.

2. Start apologizing for your mistakes.

3. Don’t create drama.

4. Do what you do best.

5. Walk the dog. Pet the cat. Play with the kid.

6. The best things in life are free but investments in those things make you rich.

7. Closed doors open if you turn their knobs. Sometimes you’ll need a key.

8. Get help before you need it.

9. Those thoughts you have just as you wake? Write them down.

10. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. This includes feelings, expectations and obligations.

11. Ignore the advice in your yearbook to never change. There is so much more out there. You mustn’t stay the same.

12. Take the advice in your yearbook to stay the same. Stay idealistic and looking ahead. Don’t ever change.

13. Change the scenery, even if you like it. You’ll learn something.

14. Say it don’t spray it. Express yourself but don’t wound.

15. Always have spare candles.

16. Spend money on yourself.

17. Forget about building the wheel. What you need are wings.

18. Knowing where you are going is more productive than where you’ve been. Think progress.

19. Surprise yourself regularly.

20. Don’t underestimate elegance.

21. Leave some blanks unfilled.

22. Know the starlight we enjoy is the legacy of stars burned away long ago.

23. Get over yourself already.

24. Raise the bar. Again.

25. Keep it simple. Don’t make it hard(er).

26. Look people in the eye.

27. Be heard. Your voice is desired.

28. Give your body plenty of oxygen and water. The rest is negotiable.

29. Err on the side of intimacy, if only with yourself.

30. What lights the flame is more important than the flame itself.

31. Bouquets wilt. Plant yourself a flowering tree.

32. Quit when you’re done.

33. With one hand in the past and one in the future you can’t embrace today. Pay attention.

34. Your head and your heart need each other. Let them communicate.

35. Keeping the peace can be as simple as letting the conflict go. It’s a choice not a weakness.

36. MINE is not a 4 letter word. It’s okay to keep something just for you.

37. Your story isn’t as unique as you think. Someone understands.

38. The people in your life aren’t mind readers and neither are you. Stop assuming.

39. Use clarity as your currency.

40. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be.

41. Receive grace and offer it yourself. There’s a reason graceful people endure.

42. A house isn’t a home until someone inhabits it. Your life is the same way. Move in.

.

Oh, 42, do I have plans for you!

 

(and it’s not too late for you to join in the Time of Your Life. The group is forming and enrollment is open until Jan 19.)

 

 

 

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1) Friends aren’t always forever.

If it’s too hard, let them go and find the ones who want to share your adventure.

2) The only scale you’ll ever need is the one that weighs your experience.

Always consider how you feel.

3) Dream big and then get in the game.

Define your success by the things that you try, not the things that you have.

4) Don’t ever make up your mind because that’s how you get stuck.

Choose a direction instead, knowing that when the wind shifts you can adjust your sails.

5) You can never be too loud or too quiet.

Except sometimes; it just depends.

6) Bad choices are generally uninformed choices.

You can ask me anything.

7) Your life will be richer if you begin most of your sentences with “I…”

Express yourself, ask for what you need, stand for something.

8) What you can see is not all there is.

Look past what you know.

9) Brave faces are over-rated and crying is okay.

Courage isn’t being strong; it’s being real.

10) I will always be here for you but you don’t always have to be here for me.

You don’t owe me a thing.

11) Butter makes it better.

(Just in case you thought I was joking. :))

I give you these eleven truths because I wish they had been given to me. All I can do is sift through my experience, searching for what has best served me, and offer it for you consideration. This life that you have before you is to be built according to your ideas, you desires, your choices. I can tell you that some days it may be dark, you may feel tired or the maze may be just too damn complicated. Don’t be afraid, though, because that’s not the end of the path, just a little part of it- keep going. Know that you are never alone. The light that you shine so brightly will call so many to you and I will always be part of the shadow that you cast.

And here’s a bonus #12 just because I love you so much. If you learn nothing else from me, let it be this:

Whatever happens, it doesn’t change who you are.

When you were born eleven years ago today, I didn’t know what to call you except grace. It was grace that gave you to me and it is grace that you carry. All you need to do is carry on, my sweet girl.

You are enough, just the way you are.

 

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I miss my little ones.

While I took so much time with them, it didn’t speed up, slow down or stop.

While I was getting through the day, the day was becoming the past.

While I was busy with every little thing, they would become the things I miss the most.

While I was reading about remedies for sore nipples, there were those little pudgy hands patting my breasts.

While I was researching finger foods, she was piling spaghetti on her head.

While I was washing cloth diapers, I forgot about those little sweet cheeks running through the fountain at the park.

While I was wishing for a full nights sleep, there was that tiny wrinkly foot that was growing beneath the blanket.

While I was struggling to finish the bath before she protested, her hair was changing color.

While I was hurrying to get her dressed, her skin was losing its softness.

While I was frustrated by her wild outbursts, I couldn’t she how it wasn’t her and it wasn’t me.

While I was feeling touched out, I could not know what it would feel like to have empty arms, an empty lap.

While I just wanted the crying to stop, I didn’t realize how deafening the silence would be when she didn’t need me so much.

While I was so bored building blocks on the floor (again), I had no idea that I would be her best friend for such a short time.

While I was folding another load of tiny, spit-upon clothes, I could not imagine that she would be wearing mine so soon.

While I was wishing I could finish just one meal uninterrupted, she was hurtling towards making her own.

While I was annoyed by the music on repeat, it was only tomorrow she would be going to concerts without me.

While I was tripping over toys, she would soon be playing at home a lot less.

While I tuned out her jabbering, she was developing the capacity for thoughts I would never hear.

While I was disappointed that the two hour nap got in the way of plans, I couldn’t know how much I would love a break in the middle of the day to just lie on the couch with her rising and falling to my breath.

While she was making me smile with her first “mama” I had no idea how beautiful she would be and how much more my heart would want to protect her.

While she was taking her first steps and getting into everything I had no idea how strongly she would run in the world.

While she was playing patty-cake with me I had no idea how many people she would touch with her sweetness.

While she was asking for more, I had no idea how giving she would become.

While she was just wanting to be held, I had no idea she’d become the neighborhood’s big sister, the girl everyone admires.

While she was wanting another push on the swing, I had no idea how high she would fly.

While I was reading her a story, I didn’t notice the ways she was helping me write mine.

While I worried about making sure everything was alright, I couldn’t see that it already was.

While I couldn’t see past the mess, the stress, our time together was growing less and less.

While I was feeling that I was giving her everything, I forgot that it was the other way around.

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Dear Future Flo,

As fall rushes in change always feel more acute. On this late September day, thoughts are swirling ahead to five years from now, when your daughters are 16 and 12 and changing yet.  As impossible as that is for Present Flo to envision, it’s going to happen.  Life is going to get more exciting and also more complex as their lives bring in more interests, more questions and more perspectives.  Over the next year you can embrace that change, taking steps to ensure your relationship with your daughters will be sound even as you all stretch your boundaries. In case you’ve forgotten, here are the top five things that have worked so well for you in their younger years:

Listen.

Turn away from the distractions and the noise and tune into them.  Hear their message with your whole self, remembering what it feels like to be a kid.  Let them finish their thoughts.  Don’t be thinking of what to say next.  Utilize silence.  Turn off your own ideas and give them room to express theirs.

Remember you’re not always right.

Sometimes, often, their experience trumps yours.  Give some weight to what is happening right now instead of a distant, fuzzy memory.  You are not them.  They are not you.

Be with them. 

Not just in the same room, but in spirit.  Join them where they are.  Applaud for the 1,432,343,234 flip over the couch.  Keep spinning until your head feels like it’s going to fall off.  Make another smelly hot dog for lunch and enjoy the ketchup smily face you draw on the plate.  Listen to the latest Taylor Swift song until your throat is hoarse from singing along.  Mimic Spongebob and Patrick until everyone is laughing so hard they can’t stop.  Take them seriously when they say they want to be a professional soccer player and a dog fashion designer and find them resources.  It tells them you’re interested in them and that it’s worth sharing their interests with you.

Let them cry it out.  

Not alone, never, ever alone, but in your arms.  Their sadness and confusion can be overwhelming and sometimes they need to dump it all out.  Don’t be afraid of their emotions and fear that they are broken in some way or that you’ve not given them proper tools.  Expression is a tool, too.  Give them space to relieve themselves while you comfort them and offer encouragement.  Remind them that you feel that way, too, sometimes because it makes them feel unashamed and understood.

Hold them close. 

Oh, don’t ever stop touching them.  They’re still the babies you bore, just a bit bigger, and physical contact still conveys so much information and emotion, happy endorphins, relaxation and connection.  Hug them, kiss them, hold their hand, bury your face in their hair, snuggle their shoulders, sit them on your lap.  They are tender and sweet and affectionate- don’t let that slip away.

I could write so much more.  It’s a gorgeous day, though, and there are requests for baking and a picnic in the sun.  So in the spirit of my own best advice, I’m closing this to open the way to more connection and stronger relationships.  Use your time wisely, mama.

—-Your younger self.

 

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