Category: musings (page 1 of 27)

Sisters Tell Stories

You know that the best part of any girls’ night is the loads and loads of stories that come spilling out of everyone’s mouths. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you can’t breathe and then suddenly you’ll be crying for real as you make an emotional 180.

As much as I love hanging out with friends, cracking jokes and musing about nothing, it’s really in the storytelling that friends become sisters.
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Last night I listened as two wonderful sisters-from-church talked about their experience with divorce — shared their stories of heartache, loneliness, redemption, fulfillment. I knew these women before, had talked with them, had a sense of their strength and depth. But hearing their stories colored in the lines.

They talked about how much hearing other women’s stories helped them through their own difficulties. We have sisters all over the place, we just don’t know it until we hear their stories, or tell them ours.

“Story of my life!” and “I love that story!” one of my sisters-in-law always says.

Stories are our lives, and I hope that we love the stories we live, whether they are happy or sad, tearful or fearful. And I hope, too, that we share them with our sisters to strengthen and support them — to help them color in the lines of their own lives, of their own stories.

Sisters in Beauty

I get a little bit annoyed sometimes at how focused we are on beauty. I mean, can’t we go a little deeper than that? Can’t we get beyond appearances to the meat of who people actually are? But then again, I am as much a sucker as anybody for someone telling me I’m pretty or that they like what I’m wearing or that my hair looks nice.

As much as I hate to admit it, it matters. It really does.

And I got to see why yesterday when I went to Dove’s Self-Esteem Weekend kick-off. I listened to teenage girls from the Girl Scouts, from Girls Inc. and from The Boys and Girls Club talk about beauty and confidence and how they can influence each other to feel good about themselves. Dove’s focus this year is on your beauty legacy — how others feel about themselves because of you.

I know that I have a lot of responsibility for my kids (and for my daughter especially), but one of the things that stood out to me was the sisterhood of the whole endeavor. “Confident people encourage others” was one of the takeaways of the event. Once you get to a place where you are happy with yourself — with who you are and what you can do — you are not threatened by others. You can bring out the best in them because you recognize the best in you.

Too often girls (and women) are so catty because they feel like if anybody is pretty or smart or talented, it means they are less pretty or smart or talented. (Guilty as charged!) And we bring each other down when we could be moving up and beyond the basics and actually getting stuff done.

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And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to focus on beauty. Because maybe if we master it in ourselves, we can help our sisters find it in themselves. And then maybe we can relax a little bit and see what we really have to offer.

What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.

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My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

Beauty and Brains

“You may say most positively that ‘Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,’ but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

We talk so much about teaching girls to be themselves, to nurture their talents, to not be afraid to do or be anything. But then we also praise them so much for being “pretty” or “cute” that it would be easy for them to get the idea that being pretty is the only thing to be. I am for sure guilty of this. My daughter is only 2 and it’s already a habit for me to praise her beauty every chance I get. It’s kind of a problem because she may get the sense that no matter what I say, her true value lies in being pretty.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I have definitely felt that way. Growing up, I was the Sandra to my sister’s Susan. Everyone told me I was smart. It seemed like they were complimenting me. It seemed like they were trying to tell me that this was a good thing. And yet it felt a lot more like a curse. I was told that is was probably the reason I didn’t have a lot of friends and the reason boys didn’t ask me to dance (apparently, my big brain was super intimidating?). Even my youth leaders seemed perplexed by what to say to a girl whose “intelligence” outshone her looks. It wasn’t until I was receiving scholarships my senior year of high school that I started to feel a small amount of validation that being smart was actually something to be admired and celebrated.

I know that there could have been other things going on. I am a reserved person. My face is hard to read and that makes me seem unapproachable. But during those extremely formative years of my life, all I could see was that the “pretty” girls (including my sister) were getting a lot of attention, and I was . . . not. I felt like this trait that I had, these “brains,” was talked about it like it was worth something but it wasn’t really valued at all. It was worthless and so was I.

It has only been recently that I’ve started to unravel the truth that the value that I have as a person is something separate from whether I am pretty or smart or approachable. At that time, I had been working really hard to earn the love and attention of others. I wanted to prove that I was worthy. It was crushing when I felt like my efforts were ignored or unappreciated. But about a year ago something turned in my head — and my heart — and I could kinda sorta see that there were at least a few people who liked me because I am me, and not because I can bake pie or run fast or because I’m somebody’s sister or friend or because I am or am not “beautiful.”

Then last spring this idea came into focus a little bit more when I went to the Women in the World Summit and heard Ken Burns say, “Eleanor Roosevelt would not have become who she was if she had been made to feel like she was pretty.” So much of the work that she did — helping the downtrodden, fighting injustices, bringing attention to the overlooked — she didbecause she felt that she couldn’t get by on her looks alone, that she wasn’t worth anything if she didn’t do it. 

Later that same day I listened to a panel of women talk about how girls pin so much of their self-worth on whether or not the selfies they post online get a lot of “likes” or comments. It hit close to home for me. I admit it. I don’t post pictures of myself very often because I don’t feel like I get “good feedback” (or any feedback). And I let it tell me that I’m not beautiful, not worth praising, not worth anything — that people don’t like me. When Rashida Jones, one of the panelists, suggested that girls and women be encouraged to invest more in their “appreciating assets” — their heads and their hearts, rather in the “depreciating asset” of physical beauty, another small wheel turned in my head and this idea became a tiny bit clearer.

I’ve been thinking a lot since then about what it means to be “beautiful” or to be a “beautiful person”and last week I had the chance to sit down with a dozen other women to talk about it. There were so many insightful, thoughtful, and helpful comments. Some of the best:

“Every day I look in the mirror and I tell myself I’m beautiful. In fact, I’ve only seen myself ugly once. That was when I was angry. I told God, ‘Thanks for letting me see me ugly,’ and now I am never angry.”

“I want to tell people that I love them, but what I hear myself saying instead is, ‘You look beautiful today. I really like that dress.'”

“When I think of all you ladies, I don’t see what you look like as much as I see the things that you are doing, how you are helping others, that special moment I got to see between you and your child, your talents and what you are contributing to the world.”

“People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.” (Which is possibly the most freeing realization I have ever had in my life.)

“I have a friend whose default position is, ‘They like me.’ She just tells herself that everyone likes her, and then they do, because she’s not afraid of them.”

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With all this coming into focus in my mind, I was bold enough to post a photo of myself (not exactly a “selfie” since Little Miss was actually the photographer) to Instagram. It’s not a glamour shot by any means, but it is me — my face, my story. When I first posted it, I held my breath a bit and waited to see if anybody would “like” it — or me. But then I talked myself down and remembered: people aren’t voting on how pretty I am or how much they think I am worth. I posted the photo to tell my own story, and whether or not they like it is irrelevant. It’s fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that no matter what people think of my looks or my brains, I can still be a beautiful person — someone who is kind, generous, thoughtful, patient, selfless, sensitive, honest, cheerful.

A Quiet Place to Sit and Think

You know those times when you have so much going on, so many things in your head and your heart and your life that you just really don’t know what to do with it all and you just kind of close the door so that people don’t have to see/hear/witness you thinking and talking in circles about nothing at all?

That’s where I’m at.

It’s the funnel that is all blocked off because everything is trying to get through at once. In the past few months we went on our first international, child-free vacation. (You can read what I wrote for Babble about it here.)

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We moved five blocks from where we were and re-discovered, similar to getting married, that the real work in moving starts after the big day. (So far we’ve created a kitchen peninsula, mounted a small entertainment center on the wall, and begun the third “big project”: a shelving unit that will allow us to unpack half a dozen boxes full of books. Don’t even ask me about the “little projects.”)

Manchild finished first grade and we are learning what “summer vacation” means — without actually going on any vacations. (It’s harder than I expected, people. “Summer Break,” my eye. What I’m feeling is “Summer-Break-Me-in-Pieces-Trying-to-Balance-Fun-and-Rest-and-Work.”)

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Little Miss turned 2 and has been growing into a chatty little trouble-maker whom we can’t get enough of.

And there have been many little mental and emotional upheavals that have left me craving time to just sit and think. Both running and writing have fallen farther down the priority list than they have been in years, and although they are still happening, there are no clear goals or a sense of urgency for now.battlebunny

Because for now, we are getting our house in order. We are cruising through some things and charging through others. We are shaking things up so that when it all settles, it will — we hope — settle in an orderly, peaceful manner.

And with all that going on, mostly what I want to do is sit and absorb, and think, and feel.

Anxiously Engaged

We’ve been looking for a new apartment for about 6 months now. We are being “gently nudged” out of our current place and are hoping to find something a little closer to the park, a little closer to our friends, with a little more space (and with not too big a price tag).

I know we’ll find something. I know we will. I am sure there is something out there that we will be happy with. But, we’re six months in and I can’t help but be a bit anxious about it.

We’ve had people tell us their (large) apartment was too small for the size of our family. We’ve had one slip through our fingers based on some miscommunications and bad timing. We thought we found a great one — and then they renovated the kitchen and replaced the full-size fridge and stove with mini ones. Not so good for a family.

So it’s not really surprising that I’ve developed some anxiety around the situation. And, in fact, I wonder if being anxious may not just be part of the process as we move forward with the faith that eventually we’ll find what we’re looking for. There is a scripture in my faith that says that we should be “anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

Anxious in this case means dedicated and diligent, of course, but I wonder if those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are just as necessary as dedication and diligence in helping us get to where we need to go. Wrestling with the doubts, the questions, the failures and the deadends — rather than simply giving into them — show that we care about the outcome, that we are seeking to do what is right and best for ourselves and our families, that we want to learn to trust our free will to bring us to not just any place, but to the right place.

To bring us home.

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I wish that I could confidently and carelessly say, “Well find the right place,” and go about my business without worry or stress. But it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me. The anxiety is what keeps me “anxiously engaged” and diligently seeking . . . on Craigslist, PadMapper, Street Easy, and wherever else apartments are found.

And that’s fine. I’m willing to suffer through these months of low-level stress and (mostly) minor disappointment if it gets me a little closer to where I want to be.

p.s. Boston is next Monday! I’m running it! I’m anxious about that too! And I’ll post later this week with my bib number and final thoughts for those who are interested in following me from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

Boys Can Be Pretty, Too

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“What about these ones?” Manchild held up a box of running shoes. They were bright blue with hot pink accents. There may have been hearts on them. Clearly a pair of shoes made for a girl. Except, he didn’t know that and I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or maybe I didn’t have the guts? Maybe I just didn’t know how.

After all, a color is just a color, right? He already has hot pink swimming trunks. He uses a pink plate or bowl and cup at nearly every meal. He likes pink. And that’s fine. Pink is just a color. I try to be neutral about such things, but I was grateful to have a reason to say no: “Those are cool. But they’re running shoes and you already have a pair of those. We’re looking for warm shoes for winter.”

He put them back on the shelf and we found a pair of brown boots with red laces instead.

That was back in November and I still think about it frequently. Not the event itself, but the question and answer that it brings to mind:

Why can’t you have the shoes with the pink hearts?

Because you’re a boy.

Boys can’t wear pink because it’s girly. Boys don’t play princesses. Boys don’t cry.

This seems unfair and hypocritical to me. Especially now that I have a girl. A girl who can do anything. Wear pink or blue. Be a doctor or a nurse. Play ball or be a ballerina.

Is it just me or does it feel like boys’ worlds get smaller as girls’ get bigger? How can I explain that to my boys? My boys who have no problem prancing around in princess dresses at their friend’s house? Who would rather be “bunnies” for Halloween than muscled superheroes? Who name their cars and airplanes things like Lilly, Amy, and Ella? How can I break it to them that, you know, they might get beat up, made fun of, teased to tears if they wear shoes with hot pink hearts of them?

I’ve been trying to figure it out for months. Do I tell them what could happen? Do I just draw a line at “cultural norms” and simply say, “Boys on this side, girls on that?” Do I let them feel it out for themselves?

And then, a week or so ago, this happened: Manchild was home sick from school. In an attempt to do something “fun” with our day, I pulled a bottle of nail polish from the bathroom cabinet. Within 5 minutes, both Little Miss and Squish had magenta toenails, and Squish was on his way to see if Manchild was interested as well.

I knew, of course, that he would be. And I knew that this was going to be a “teaching moment,” though I didn’t know who or what was going to be taught. Or how. But when Manchild walked in looking for the nail polish party, I opened my mouth, “Now, I don’t have any problem painting your toenails, but before I do, I want you to know that some people think that it is girly to have your nails painted, and if one of those people saw your nails when you are at swimming lessons, they might make fun of you or say mean things. So now I need to know: if someone said something to you about your toenails, what would you say to them?”

He hardly needed to think at all: “Well, I don’t want that to happen.”

End of discussion.

And beginning of an awakening. For me and my boys. And it kind of stinks. The world is closing in on us — on them, mostly. No pink nails. No shoes with hearts. Pretty soon there will be no more princess dress-ups, no hot pink swim shorts. Part of me wishes I’d just painted his nails, gotten the shoes, let him live it up while he can — until he comes home in tears wondering why I didn’t tell him, warn him, protect him from what he didn’t know.

I shudder at the thought.

And then I hope that as they “grow out” of their child-like and innocent games and interests and loves and into more traditionally “boyish” pursuits, they don’t also grow out of their sensitivity and sweetness — that being cut off from “cute” and “pink” and “pretty” doesn’t leave an angry scar.

Why You Should Never Read Books About Food During the Holidays

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This is the mistake that I made: over the past couple of months I read Cooked by Michael Pollan and Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss.

These books are about food. The former about how good, essential, and elemental home-cooked food is to the health of our bodies, our families, and our society, the latter about how unhealthful and unnatural processed food is for our bodies, our families, and our society. When I started reading them I thought they would basically reinforce my own thoughts and feelings about cooking and buying food. After all, as much as I can, I cook in my own kitchen and avoid, as much as I can, foods that are made by the food-industrial complex. I expected to give myself a high five and be on my merry way.

And to a degree, that is what I did. I high-fived myself that at least I am on the right track. I told myself (and Micah), “See! I told you so!” many, many times. I read passages to my sister and asked for her validation that yes, indeed, these were the exact words that describe my philosophy of eating.

But there is always room for improvement, and the indulgences of the holidays highlighted my own capacity to do just that. And now, despite the fact that it is a new year and there are all sorts of “resolutions” going around, seems like a good time to start.

In my search for ways to improve I took stock of my cupboards and noticed this: too many crackers. Crackers, I have told myself, are one of the few conveniences I will allow myself. I tried making them from scratch a couple of times and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. But I think the time has come for me to try again – either to make them myself from more wholesome ingredients, or to replace them with something that is at least not entirely stripped of nutritional value.

And then there are salads. I think I mentioned having a revelation regarding salads, and the revelation is this: I don’t like weak leaves. Green leaf, romaine, red leaf – those lettuces that get all brown and wilty after a day or two? They make eating my vegetables a chore. But kale? And cabbage? Leaves that can stand up to a splash of vinaigrette for days at a time? Yes please. More please. All the time, please.

So my goal is to integrate some new eating habits into my life over the next little while: a container of sturdy salad in the fridge at all/most times is one of them. And right next to that container of salad is the container of chopped fresh veggies – things like carrots and celery, bell peppers and cucumbers – ready to be dipped and snacked on or added to the salad at a moment’s notice. I’m also hoping to wean myself away from crackers as a quick, portable snack and steer more toward home-tossed trail mix or homemade crackers. And finally, though it pains me to say it, I’m hoping to give fewer dollars to Breyer’s and Edy’s and Turkey Hill and Blue Bunny. This is not to say I will necessarily be cutting down on my ice cream consumption. But if I want a tasty treat, I’m going to have to make it myself.

And that’s that. I don’t expect to be perfect at it – right now or ever – but I think it’s worth making the effort.

And you? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? Things that have worked for you? Things that you are hoping to change? I’d love to hear.

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(This is my current favorite simple, sturdy cabbage salad. If you ask nicely and are very patient with me, I may remember to share the reicpe.)

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