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Leave No Man Behind

Competition is inevitable. And it is true that we have encouraged it. “Who can get their pajamas on first?” and other such nonsense. You know, for our mental health, if not the health of their relationship. (Priorities!)

But you know, sometimes it backfires. Like when Squish ends up in tears every afternoon on the way home from school because his legs are not as long as his brothers and he comes in second in their daily race down the ramp. (Little Miss is just happy being able to run at all.) 

We’ve tried to encourage Manchild to go easy on his brother, to ease up and let him win every now and then. See how nice it feels to make someone else feel good? Even better than winning! (He didn’t buy it.)

Last week, though, suddenly and strangely, something shifted. Suddenly I’m hearing: “Partners?” “Partners!” I’m hearing them cheer each other on. I’m hearing teamwork. 

And I’m seeing this:   


Holding hands. Climbing the slide together. Leaving no man behind.

This development struck me especially hard last weekend when I heard a story about a couple of brothers who got themselves in a tight spot climbing a cliff and life was literally on the line. Micah and I couldn’t breathe for a few moments while we imagined our own offspring in the place of those boys. Gah! What would they do? Would one of them fall to his death? Would the other have to watch his brother die?

And suddenly, it seemed as though we could, perhaps, do a little better at encouraging cooperation instead of competition. We’re not in this to beat each other or come in first, right? Even if we do our best, isn’t it better to finish together than to be alone at the line? (Well, maybe not in an actual race, but you know, in life.)

The question now, then, is how to keep it going. Make sure we’re on the same team. A six-legged race, with each of us tied to the other. The victory is not in winning, but in learning to run together, to pick each other up when we inevitably stumble, and, eventually, to make it to the finish line in tact. 

All the Pretty Princesses

One of my sisters went through a phase in which she was not, as we had all been led to believe, Sarah, but was instead “101 Dalmatians” or sometimes “Little Bear” or possibly “Baby Rabbit.” It was never the same from day to day or even hour to hour. Two-year-olds are like that.

Including my two-year-old. She is (of course) a princess, a girl, NOT a sister, NOT a toddler, a bird, a kitten, a magic magic princess, a baby, NOT a baby and possibly several other things that are currently slipping my mind. 

My instinct is to tell her that she’s not a princess but to just go with everything else, for the fun and/or truthfulness of it. (Clearly some of these are easier to just go with than others . . . .)

On further thought, however, why not a princess? My hesitation is, obviously, that she wants to wear a pretty dress all day and tell people what to do. And also that every other little girl wants to be a princess and since my little girl is special, she can’t be like every other little girl and hence, cannot be a princess. 

But then again, her princesses are different from my princesses. (Her princesses are also different from all the other girls’ princesses, because my princess, er, daughter, is special.) My princesses were the sitting in the tower waiting to be rescued type. Her princesses are as follows: There’s Little Miss Princess (of Little Miss books fame), who tries (with mediocre results) to help people. (Having never been forced to do anything on her own, she makes a mess of a shopping trip for Mr. Bump, who broke his leg, and finds that if nothing else, she’s good at giving orders—even if it is over the phone, for pizza.)

Also, Princess Nausicaa. It is true that she might not remember much from Squish’s Nausicaa obsession of summer 2014, and yet it is possible that something stuck. Princess Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind flies around on a glider through the Toxic Jungle trying to find ways to save her people from its spread. She defends her dying father, negotiates with invaders, and eventually sacrifices herself to the insects. (Don’t worry, she’s a Christ figure. She gets resurrected. Oops, my bad. SPOILER ALERT!)

And then Princess/Queen Elsa. She has powers! She . . . has powers! So there’s that. No waiting in the tower, exactly. But, well, whatever. 

Now that I think of it, however, I’m not convinced that my little girl actually knows what a princess is. It sounds nice. People respond to it. I respond to it: “You’re a princess? Since when?” 


So she doesn’t know what a princess is. It’s a girl. A special girl. She wants to be special. She is special. She climbs and she races and she knows where the chocolate is and when to offer her mom some. She knows her style: pajamas, leggings, kitty nightgowns, monster underwear. She is determined to learn to cook, if only so she has first dibs on all the batter/dough in the bowl.  

So I guess it is up to me to teach her what a princess is and what a princess does. Which is this: climbing and racing. Finding the best chocolate and sharing it with her favorite people. Knowing her season and making it work. And, like a good little witch

  testing her brew before serving her guests.

 Don’t tell her, but she’s my favorite little princess.

ps More on my new project later. If you’re curious.

For A Cause

Way back in January I read “Marathon Woman” by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a bib. She was basically attacked and nearly kicked out of the race for her efforts, but went on to run it—and other marathons—many more times and then to promote women’s running for the rest of her life. Encouraging women to run, and showing them that they could, was (and is) her life’s work. 

Seems pretty awesome, right? To have a cause, a vision, a focus for all your efforts as a human being? I admit to being slightly jealous.  At the time I read it, I was going through a little crisis of my own and none of my favorite things—running, writing, mothering—felt very inspired or inspiring. After several years of paddling along just fine, writing about my life and my loves, running races, and feeling the sweet soreness and strength of all of those things, I was dead in the water. 

Writer’s block, runner’s low, mama’s blues. 


I had hoped that this is what I would do forever, on one scale or another. Run and raise my kids and write about it. I loved doing that, and love it still. I plan to do it for a long time. But I have come to accept that I can’t be as productive as I want to be all the time. I can’t always be inspired. I can’t always be improving. Sometimes I just have to be.

It’s been hard to let those things go, to not see the music and magic in my mundane life raising these kiddos and to not be sharing those things here and elsewhere as often as I can. I miss that very, very much. (Though I admit that it has been nice to make the effort to actually be a part of the action, rather than just observing it: playing video games and ignoring the dishes is something I could maybe get used to. Assuming I don’t always and forever come in last place in MarioKart.) 

However, in the fallow field of my mind and heart a new plant has taken root. A new idea is springing up that I am excited about. I have a great vision for it and I think that it can and (I hope) will be something beautiful and inspiring and even healing. 

That’s just a fancy way of saying that I have a new project I’m working on. It is different and bigger and, I think, more important than anything I have ever imagined up before. And I am excited to share it with you.  


For now I just wanted to let you know that I have what I believe to be “a cause.” And it feels pretty good. 

More to come.

Behold, the Underminer!

“Who’s on your list of best friends?” I asked Little Miss a few weeks ago. We were just joking around. It was all in good fun. She walked over to the entertainment cupboard, pulled out Super Mario Galaxy and showed me all of her best friends: lumas of vaious colors, Princess Peach, and Mario himself.

I wasn’t quite satisfied. “Who else? Anyone else on your list of best friends?” And as I awaited her answer, I heard the ridiculousness of the situation. And also the stupidity. 

List of best friends? Is that what I wanted to teach my daughter? To make lists of people she likes? And then what about the rest? They don’t matter? (Not that we don’t all have several of those lists in our lives . . . .)

But seriously. I sense some self-sabotage going on here. “We love everyone! We are kind to everyone!” I say because I want to raise kids who are kind and loving and accepting. And then I say, “Yeah, but what I really want to know is: who are your favorites? Am I one of them? (Please please please please?)”

It kind of reminds me of that time I took Squish to the doctor and he got some shots. Back at home I asked him to tell Micah how brave he had been. Tears ensued. Accompanied by the explanation: “But I wasn’t brave! I cried!”

He seemed unconvinced by our insistence that bravery and tears are not mutually exclusive. And upon further reflection, I could think of half a dozen reasons why he might think that. Starting with every time he falls and we exclaim, “Be brave! Don’t cry!”


I’m super careful not to talk bad about my body, I try to keep an open conversation about all kinds of important but uncomfortable topics, I make a sometimes Herculean effort to do good deeds. 

But now I have to wonder: in what ways have I/will I/do I undermine my carefully considered plans in unguarded moments? It’s a shame I won’t know until I hear myself begging my two-year old to tell tell me that I am as cool as  Mario and Princess Peach. 

Sometimes You’re the Kite, Sometimes You’re the Anchor

It’s really not fair. Anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that Micah gets to go to work each day, that it matters what he wears or if he has bedhead. It’s not fair that he gets to sit in meetings where he shares ideas and people listen, that they appreciate his expertise, that they will take his advice.

He doesn’t live his life with a capricious and mischievous two-year-old as a constant companion, a little being who can turn a simple trip to the grocery store into an epic battle of wills. He can have insightful conversations with the people he spends his days with. He doesn’t have to remind his co-workers 7 times in a hour to sit and do their work, or revoke various privileges when they once again lose focus and start chasing each other and fighting over a stuffed monkey.

It must be nice, I think, to be compensated and appreciated. To be able to be promoted. To switch jobs if necessary.
But then again, it’s really not fair and anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that I can wear my pjs all day and it would be totally appropriate. It’s not fair that I can sit and watch “Clifford The Big Red Dog” in the name of quality bonding time. It’s not fair that I can write whatever I want and work on whatever projects interest me the most.

I don’t have to worry about making enough money to take care of the family. I don’t have to set my own ideas aside or refashion my creative impulses to fit somebody else’s vision. I don’t have the pressure of so many deadlines or the worry of what could happen if I didn’t make them.

And I’m sure he thinks it must be nice to have the best hours of the day open to whatever I want: a run in the park, a get-together with friends, a lazy day of reading and playing make-believe.

Sometimes it feels like I am the anchor to Micah’s kite, letting him soar up above the trees where he can see spectacular views and feel the rush of the wind in his hair. It feels like I’m stuck on the ground, nothing to see, nothing to do but watch and wonder what it’s like up there.

But other times, I feel like I am the kite: flying, diving, tossed about. Beautiful views, yes, and exhilarating speed. But a bit unsteady and unsure. It must be nice, I think, to be on solid ground and surrounded by people and things, to be able to sit and relax for a bit, instead of always being pushed around.

The truth is that sometimes I am the kite, and sometimes I’m the anchor. And sometimes Micah is the anchor and sometimes he’s the kite. Sometimes we are a little bit of both. And sometimes it feels like we are both caught in the tree, tangled and trapped without any feet on the ground or any heads in the sky.

But that is the price of marriage and family and love and life. And it’s boring and it’s crazy and it’s a drag and it’s a party. And I’ll take it any day of the week. (null)

Good Grief: guest post by Heather Cosby

A few months ago, my friend Heather posted some thoughts on her blog about grief and motherhood. It really resonated with me and over several weeks the topic kept finding its way into my conversations with other friends. I finally asked Heather if she wouldn’t mind sharing it here on MotherRunner, and she graciously agreed. Without further ado, here’s Heather.


As I sat nursing my baby, Emily, this morning, I saw my phone sitting on the ottoman at my feet. I thought of a funny text I could send to my husband, Sam, but I knew if I picked up my phone I’d end up fiddling around on it till Emily was done eating. Knowing this was one of my rare moments of peace during the day with my son at preschool, I resisted and instead shut my eyes and tried to focus on the weight and warmth of Emily’s body against mine, her hand brushing my skin, her contented little mmm’s as she ate.

Eventually, my thoughts turned to my son, Levi, as they often had lately. We always seemed to be battling one another and we were both exhausted by it. And though I was trying not to wrestle with his formidable will, the other ways I tried to connect with and motivate him weren’t working, so we almost always resorted to threats to get things done. This of course left him feeling angry and me feeling guilty.

Though recently, I had started reading, “Parenting Without Power Struggles” by Susan Stiffelman and it gave me plenty of parenting wisdom to ponder on this quiet morning. Stiffelman suggests that at times when your child won’t be getting his way, you should approach them as if they were grieving. After all, they’re experiencing a loss of something important to them. As she detailed the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression or sadness, and acceptance—I realized these were exactly the emotions and tactics my son was experiencing several times a day.

levi copyOur job as parents, Stiffelman says, is to walk our children through those emotions more quickly and as allies. That way they then come to accept the situation on their own, without our forcing it on them. Instead of wading through the refusals, bargaining, yelling, running away, whining, crying, and resentfully cooperating, you give your child the freedom to mourn their loss. You’re on their side as you tell them how sorry you are to see them sad, and they feel supported as they come to understand they’re not going to get their way. So far, it had worked with Levi. He finally felt like someone was listening to him, and I was more compassionate towards him as I saw him grieving.

My thoughts then slid, as thoughts do, to what my life would look like in the context of grief. In the past several years I’ve dealt with anger, depression, and nearly constant change. I thought maybe moving too often—seven times in eight years—was the source of pain, but I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve seriously considered going back to school or work, but when it came down to it, I knew I would regret not staying home when the kids were small and we had the resources to make it possible. I’ve struggled with medications and injuries. But in the last year and a half, all that has gone away and I still get flashes of deep sadness or feeling adrift or feeling like something is missing.

As I sat with my eyes closed, snuggling my tiny baby, I finally asked myself, “Is there something you’re grieving or mourning?” Without knowing how, it was like a weight was removed from my heart. It’s not that I don’t love my life or my family. It’s not that I regret the choices I’ve made, because when I look back they really are indicative of my true desires. It’s that as a young woman I had expectations for my life and myself that have not been realized, and I am mourning them.

I had expected to be more involved in my community through a career or intense volunteering. I had thought running would always be a part of my life. I thought I’d be as healthy as I’d ever been. I thought I’d be an energetic and creative mother. I thought I’d have new friendships as deep and lasting as my old ones had been. I thought I’d be the person others needed rather than needing other people so often.emilyandlevi copy

In the same way that it was hard to say goodbye to my grandmother and grandfather who I loved and admired deeply and who gave me hope, I was finding it hard to say goodbye to the woman I thought I would be, a woman who is strong and smart and fit and kind and capable and seems to be all of those things all of the time. I’m mourning the loss of her possibility.

Realizing this, that I had seen the long, slow fading of a remarkable woman who had long been my companion, tears came to my eyes. I was filled with compassion for myself. I sometimes feel so torn inside and feeling like there’s no reason for it just adds to the pain and shame of it. But stepping back and seeing myself in grief and mourning lets me be kinder and gentler. It lets me sit with the pain, quietly, and let myself say goodbye again, as many times as I need to.

When I was baptized into my church, I promised God I would be “willing to mourn with those that mourn… and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We are able to do this because each of us knows sorrow in our own way. Life never happens the way we expect, and when that woman who seems to be all the things we want to be holds our hand, or cries with us, or sits in silence with us, we know that she too has mourned her own losses and dreams.

Somehow, through that sisterhood, and through our quiet hours grieving with and comforting our own broken selves, we are slowly reborn. As we say goodbye to the person we thought we’d become, the person we are becomes more real, more true. Like a new child, we are small, fragile, and tender, but the weight of our hands and the warmth of our touch are undeniable.

A Different Kind of Watchfulness

I haven’t changed a diaper in weeks. In my mind, this was always a long way off. Diapers were, I suppose, the last vestige of babyhood, and my babies were never going to grow up. We were never really bottle people. Sippy cups were always short-lived. Cribs and highchairs became superfluous long ago. But diapers were eternal.

Until a few weeks ago when Little Miss refused to wear one any more and very suddenly developed the motivation to use the toilet.

She’s not perfect at it, of course. We still have to watch her, still have to look for the potty dance and be in tune with her liquid input/output ratio. We’re not always great at reading the signs, which is why the other night, when she woke up with the strangest cry I thought she just wanted me to lie down and cuddle with her for a minute. It wasn’t until we were both lying in a puddle that I realized that cuddling was not her most urgent need.

But really, I’m not here to talk about pee.

It’s more about the watchfulness. Watching for Little Miss’s dance, listening for her distress, yes. But her particular milestone is probably the most obvious thing to watch for these days. Her needs are still so physical, her emotions roll around on the floor and jump upandupandupandup. There’s no hiding them, and it’s easier to address them.

The boys, however, are growing too. I no longer feel like I need to watch them so closely on the train platforms. I don’t always need to hold their hands as we cross streets. They spend so much time at school and then do homework and read and eat dinner and go to bed, it almost feels as though I don’t need to watch them at all.

But then again. They are away from me so much of the day. There is so much I don’t see or hear about. It’s not so much that I don’t need to watch them as much as it is that I need to watch them differently. It’s not their physical safety that preoccupies me like it did when they were younger and more impulsive. They—especially Manchild—are old enough to hide their feelings, to downplay the things that are most important, to feel it keenly if I don’t attend or respond as they’d hoped.

So I try to watch for the subtle smiles and blushes of pleasure, the quick blinking of downcast eyes, the dragging feet or involuntary bouncing. Their emotions don’t always roll and roil, bubble up and spill over like they used to. But that is, I believe, because they are felt more deeply. To not see them, or acknowledge them, would be to draw a curtain between us, one that could blind me and prevent me from warning my kids of dangers I could have protected them from—dangers that could leave scrapes and scars and bruises and burns that no one, not even they, can see.

They’re such good kids. I say that often, because it is true and because I want them to know it and because I need to remind myself of it. But I hope that by saying it so much I don’t let it become a shield or blinder against more urgent issues—and leave us all lying in a puddle of shame and regret.(null)

Staring into the Storm

I stood in line to get into Trader Joe’s today. Yes, just to get in. I didn’t mind so much. It felt very festive, almost like Christmas. I chatted with the girl in front of me while we stood out there in the cold, and we wished each other well once it was our turn to raid the pantry, so to speak.

I headed over to the hardware store after that to see if there were any sleds available. People practically jumped up to get door for me and my big fat stroller, and no one griped about how clumsily I handled the sled and stroller as I paid and headed out. Again, that festive feeling.

And as we waited on crowded train platforms and stood on crowded trains, everyone seemed so relaxed. Like they were among friends, not strangers, like everyone was moving together.

I guess that’s what happens when we’re all facing the same direction—staring down the storm, hoping for the best, waiting for the trial to pass.


My Girl

She and I, well, we fight. She points at me from across the room and says, “Don’t talk. Don’t talk, Mommy. Don’t. Talk.”

I tell her I’m not saying anything, but she gives me a look, or yells all the louder, “DON’T TAAAALLLKKKKK!!!”

She likes her space. And she’ll tell me that, too, just like that: “Get out of my space!” or, “No, Mommy, sit over there!”

Sometimes, she will look me straight in the eye as she does exactly what I told her not to do. Classic.

And it’s happened more than once that she has run the length of the subway car, with me hot on her heels, saying, “No Mommy, stay over there! I don’t like you!”Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

It is, most of the time, hilarious. I have to keep myself from smiling or laughing out loud. I have to remind myself that this is real, that she isn’t joking, that she is sincerely upset. But when our arguments are about things like our hard-and-fast rule about wearing underwear at the dinner table, or whether or not she can have a potty treat, it is probably about as endearing as it is exasperating. How can I be truly mad at her when she’s buck naked and/or stuffing forbidden chocolate in her mouth?

But it’s hard not to imagine what this will look like in 10 years or so, when stakes are higher, when emotions are higher, when I can’t distract her and win her heart back with a couple of chocolate chips or gather her in my arms and kiss her little face and hold her until we are playing instead of fighting.

That prospect scares me. Just a little bit. I worry that I’ll get tired of fighting, that she’ll find her own space that I don’t even know about, that I won’t be able to keep up as she runs away. I worry that it is starting right now and that she really means it when she tells me to not talk and to sit over there.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetThen again. At the end of the day, when she’s tired and just can’t sleep and she’s lying on the floor in front of her door, her voice echoing out from the gap, who is she calling for?

“Mommy! Mommy! Mama Heiselt! I need you. I need you Mommy.”

When she’s fallen off a chair for the third time this week, who does she reach for?

“Mommy! Mooooommmmmmyyyyyyy!”

And what do I hear when Micah comes to her rescue in the middle of the night after she has wet the bed and is naked and crying, waiting for someone to help her find some new jammas?


And that’s how I know that even though we fight, and she yells, and she tells me that she doesn’t like me, she is also looking to me to teach her how to be—that for all the cries to “Get out of my space!” she really wants me close.

She sits on the counter and finds a way to help me cook dinner. She hands me my mascara after my shower (and insists I brush some on her lashes too). She climbs into my lap at dinner time, and story time, and nap time and  prayer time. She is usually the first to recommend that maybe we should have just a small taste of chocolate.

She’s my girl. I’m holding on tight. And I’m staying right here.Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

The Complexities of Holding Hands with a 7-Year-Old

We were getting off the train. It was a couple of months ago. It’s crazy, after school sometimes. So many people. My kids trying to wiggle their little bums into any exposed piece of bench, no matter how narrow the space between passengers. Me, trying to listen, trying to see, trying to make sure my dreamer (Manchild) and my slowpoke (Squish) and my Little-Miss-Contrary all get on before the doors close, and trying to make sure my little people don’t annoy any/all of the other passengers.

Can I be forgiven, then, for almost missing our stop? It was a frazzled moment when I stuck my hands out to my kids sitting on the bench and said, “Hands! Let’s go!” And it was another frazzled moment when Manchild was the first to grab my hand and I said, “Not you!” and dropped his hand and grabbed his sister’s. She was, after all, the one I was most worried about getting lost in the crowd.

We did make it out of the train on time, but boy oh boy if I didn’t make an enemy of my eldest child in the process. Manchild was not happy. All, “Humph!”s and teary eyes as we made our way up the staircases and the escalator to wait for the next train. And as we got on the train. And off at our stop. And down the ramp and across the street to our building. And up the elevator. And into our apartment.

“I didn’t mean I didn’t want to hold your hand!” I told him as we made our winding way to our apartment. “I knew I could trust you to get off the train!” I told him. I went on and on about how he’s more responsible, he listens better, he knows the stops. Plus, I only have two hands! The other kids, they might get lost if they’re not holding on to me.

He didn’t buy it. Or maybe he did, but it didn’t ease the hurt of having his mom throw his hand back in his face like a dirty rag. My guts were sufficiently wrenched when the frazzle-panic died down and I realized what I’d done.

I’d forgotten that he’s still a kid. That he still needs closeness. That even if he is inquisitive and precocious and determined to be independent, he still needs help tightening the elastics on his adjustable-waist pants.

He may always be in his head, where he morphs stuffed animals into magical creatures and flies around in inventions powered by magnets and laughs loudly as he relives the favorite parts of the comic strip books he doesn’t understand. And I don’t get to go there with him. But even while he’s soaring through the clouds in his imagination, physically he still needs my hand to hold onto. He’ll let go when he’s ready.


(And until then I’ll have to work on growing a third hand.)

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