Lead from the Middle

My friend said something today, in passing, while sharing how her little girls made her smile on a sad, crappy day in our nation’s history. She said, “Lead from the middle.” And BOOM. I am seen. I think more of us are in the middle than we know.

Being in the middle gives you no place to belong- because you’re not on one side or the other- you might be a little bit of both- but you don’t fit the bill to belong exclusively to one group or the other. The middle might be the most confusing, hurtful, scary place to be right now. But I think the middle is the answer.

Have you ever dropped a rock in water and watched its impact? No matter how big or how small that rock is – boulder or pebble – the impact on the water is in the middle and makes its way out, one ripple at a time. The water will eventually return to a calm, still surface, but the structure and environment beneath is forever changed by the rock you dropped.

Change isn’t just inevitable. It’s proven by science and history to be a necessity to survival. It can happen to you or you can choose it. No one is immune.

Make no mistake: YOU. MATTER.
Your words, your choices, your actions. They have impact and ripples that you cannot take back. It is an endlessly fought-for and hard-won freedom in this country to choose our focus, our direction, our words, our next steps.

Those of us in the middle feel silenced by our perceived inability or refusal to choose one side or the other and fit in. Those who do ‘belong’ will tell you what you are & what you’re not, how you should feel. Because if you’re in the middle, you’re not strong enough to choose one or the other.
No ma’am.

Being in the middle doesn’t make you weak. It makes you the impact that will change everything. Being in the middle means you are changing the environment beneath the surface. You can’t control what happens in the ripples, but you can control your impact.

So, if you’re in the middle – driving your daughters to school filling your heart with their endless chatter, all while praying the country you love (and that has loved you back) doesn’t fail them – sit with me, hold my hand. I’m here with you. The middle is where we meet, heal, learn, and grow – together.

“Lead from the middle, friends.”
LEAD FROM THE MIDDLE.

Thanks, Mandy.

Three Tiny Trees

I got a tattoo. Yes, me. Finally. When people notice, I get one of two responses:
1. YOU got a tattoo?!?! And 2. Oh that’s cute, what does it mean?
I never do anything permanent without major overthinking and contemplation.
The three tiny trees on my wrist are the story of 2020 – just as 2020 is the story of three tiny trees. Those trees are the symbol of how I got to where I am today. Those trees gave me permission, finally, to become.

2019 was a snow globe year – the year my beautiful little world got turned upside down and shaken violently. I have written and rewritten this part so many times. There is no nice polite way to say that my father was unfaithful to my mother – a lot – for a long, long time. No one knew, until we did. And so the snow globe was shaken, the village set on fire, and then carefully placed right side up so the pieces of ash could settle. I’m not being dramatic. Within a few months, the centerstone that I built my life on was gone… one betrayal, one dismissal at a time. Just like that, I was alone. Brene Brown brought me back to life with her book, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” In it, I found that I wasn’t alone. I was just in the wilderness, among the trees, searching for that place that I belonged, knowing that I couldn’t go back and hoping one day I wouldn’t want to. I inhaled that book like air, taking deep breaths of it over and over.  I read that book again and again – holding on with both hands to this quote that Brene shares from Maya Angelou:

“You can only be free when you realize
you belong no place, you belong every place, no place at all.
The price is high.
The reward is great.”

1.8M Views Face

January. 1.8 Million.
On January 3, 2020, I wrote a blog post. Within 48 hours, nearly two million people all over the world had read it. It blew me away and for about a week made me really believe there was something more to be discovered and unpacked. But life. I went back to work after having the flu and took a full time position with a company I had been with for several years for one reason: money. My boss wanted me to take the job and said “what do you want” and I named what was, to me at the time, an astronomical salary, and she said “done.”

5AM any day in February

February. Right after the epiphany of a 2 million views blogpost that set my soul on fire, I started that full time job that had nothing to do with that fire, and I lost a little piece of myself to the wind. During this time, I was nearing the end of a long training cycle and planning a weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio to compete as an Olympic Weightlifter at The Arnold Fitness Expo – an opportunity I sort of qualified for by accident. No one qualifies for the Arnold and doesn’t go. NO. ONE. And so I trained from October-March in my garage with my husband Rob for hours every day. In February, with my full time job, full time kids, full time life, and this blog post that haunted me with possibilities, I continued to lift 2-3 hours a day, preparing for The Arnold. (Seriously though, it’s a big thing.)

Somewhere. With him.

March. The Arnold was scheduled for March 6-8. We had hotels booked, two other coaches/friends from my local gym were going, my nutrition coach was planning to fly in for it, my best friend was driving up, and, most importantly, Rob was going to be right there when I stepped on and then off of the platform for the ‘good game double tap’ (if you know, you know). Two weeks out, new regulations were released due to the Coronavirus about health checks, limiting contact and space. A week out, Arnold himself (that’s Schwarzenegger) cancelled the Expo “out of an abundance of caution.”  Six days out, we were told we could still lift, there just wouldn’t be a crowd. Four days out, I made weight. 3 days out they said only lifters would be allowed in the expo center which meant Rob couldn’t go. 2 days out I said I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore. 1 day out, I pulled on my singlet (aka sweet spandex onesie), walked out into MY garage onto MY platform, weighed in at 75.8 kg (just under the 76kg requirement), and went 4/6, nailing my heaviest snatch and clean and jerk with personal bests. With that total, I would have stood on a podium at the Arnold. Instead, I changed my clothes and ran away to the mountains with Rob. It was the best weekend of 2020.

“Essential AF”

April. Home Healthcare worker: Leaving for work before the sun came up and getting home after it went down. Buying toilet paper from gas station bathrooms to distribute to my patients who had no way of getting any if there was any to buy… April took more than it gave to most.. for me it was the final slide down a slippery slope, a final departure into the trees of the wilderness. I sat in my car one day between patients and thought, “How long will this last?” and I didn’t just mean quarantines and COVID. How long was I going to play a role for the sake of making sense to everyone else if I didn’t make sense to myself? I also knew that I couldn’t afford to keep falling apart…

May. “Rob, I think I quit my job today.”

June. Stay at home mom. July. Stay at home mom. August. Stay at home mom.

The summer of 2020 was a slow awakening. Let’s leave it at that.

This is 38.

September. Fitful, anxious, frustrated. My whole life I have been convinced that you have to have a plan and that plan should always be moving you forward to the next thing. ‘Living in the moment’ was a cute fake Instagram filtered concept that looks good, sounds better, but for me was actually a load of shit. There has always been too much to DO to actually enjoy it. Yet there have always been people around me that seem impossibly busy, absorbed by their work, balanced in their families, and blissfully happy. I turned 38 and realized that I wasn’t busy, absorbed by work, or consumed by any specific goal – but I was blissfully happy.

Tree Hugging.

October. Social Media hiatus. This always teaches me how little people are paying attention to you. Insert ironic laughter here. I took inventory once again of the people and places in my life where I was pouring my time and energy and realized that, actually there weren’t very many, and those places and people that used to get my time and energy hadn’t noticed my absence. If ever I was a tree hugger, this moment of realization was it. Having truly embraced the wilderness in my search for true belonging, I finally began to feel an itch at the back of my mind that I was about to walk right off the precipice where I had been camped out for months – years. But the view was still foggy.

Izzy the Boss, #85


November. “Show Yourself.”  
I watched zero coverage of the election. ZERO. And I didn’t go back to social media either. I watched Disney Princess movies. On repeat. My daughter and I sang the songs and revisited the stories. I thought about how much criticism of the Disney Princesses I had heard when she was younger, because we “shouldn’t teach our daughters to aspire to meet a man” and call it complete. Clearly, the people saying those things have never met my Izzy nor have they REALLY watched these movies. Frozen, Mulan, Moana, The Little Mermaid… make all the jokes you want, those chicks are REBELS. They are real deal wilderness girls stepping out of all of life’s “shoulds” and following that still small voice that calls to them.  In November, my daughter showed me that I knew how to be a ‘rebel’ – because I was raising one. Then one day, I watched Frozen 2 and just felt SEEN. Elsa, a girl who spent her life questioning who she was meant to be, always feeling like an outsider, trying to just be a ‘good girl’ – against all expectations and resistance follows a voice that keeps calling to her, a voice she can’t seem to shake – a voice that will show her who she is – a voice that she finally demands: “SHOW YOURSELF!”

“Show yourself / Step into your power.
Grow yourself / Into something new.
YOU ARE THE ONE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
ALL OF (YOUR) LIFE.”

December. Release.
I stopped making anyone else responsible for my healing at some point this year. I didn’t realize it until I said it out loud in December, but I did, and something broke free. The veil lifted in that moment and I was able to see so clearly who I really was. Nearly two years of wilderness walking and I was finally free. Everywhere. Nowhere.
It was tattoo time.

Three tiny trees for the three who loved me, needed me, accepted me, and carried my heart with them when I couldn’t bear it alone… three tiny trees for the three that I would always belong to. Rob. Samuel. Izzy. Always.

I cried for all 3 minutes it took to tattoo it. Grateful, happy, endlessly content tears. Every drop of ink so deeply symbolic I was too wrapped up to think myself ridiculous. I watched him carve those trees into my arm and thought, “There she is.” In those 3 minutes I let go of everything that had ever held me back, all the “shoulds,” and I gave away my pain, my regret, and my past with gratitude for its lessons. It was a period at the end of a very long sentence. And now, I get to write the next one without exception, without judgment, without fear – but with truth and love and peace. I get to come alive. I get to become.

If you find yourself in the wilderness of your soul, remember Maya’s words:

“The price is high. The reward is great.”

And stay in the trees…

Everywhere & Nowhere.

Every Christmas… I’ll wait

It was late. It took hours. There was no way in hell it wasn’t getting done.
For months, weeks, I had anticipated all that would be required to pull it off – all by myself.
But when I sat back and looked at the finished product, it was all wrong. Backwards. BACK. WARDS.

“Babe. I’m sorry, I really have to go. Just… it won’t matter. It’ll be too cold for him to ride tomorrow anyway and he has other toys. Please don’t be upset.”

I took a deep breath and swallowed the hot, angry tears and turned with a smile – to my laptop where my husband’s tired sad eyes looked back at me from a world away.
“You’re right. I’ll get with the neighbors tomorrow to see if they can help. Wow! I didn’t realize it was so late. Sorry to keep you up, get some sleep and we’ll call you to open presents in the morning. I love you. Merry Christmas.”
“I love you too. Merry Christmas baby.”

The minute the Skype screen went blank, I calmly picked up the nearest object and threw it as hard as I could across the room. Then I picked up another. And another. Until I was grasping at the carpet, desperate. Why was there nothing else to throw?!? The tears came hot and fast and I took a deep breath, gulped in the failure, the guilt, and finally laid face down on the carpet and cried because I just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do it all by myself. I shouldn’t have to. And there was certainly no reason that a Green Machine bike should be so damn hard to assemble. Bitterly, I thought about how quickly my husband would have put it together – and not backwards. Twice.

That was eight years ago. It was not the first time my husband watched Christmas unfold on a tiny screen from overseas. It wasn’t the last either. I look around today, eight years of life experience later, and I’m grateful for growth and maturity. I hope that I’ve shown myself, my fellow military spouses, and my children over the years that happiness and gratitude is a choice – regardless of the circumstances – but that’s not why I’m writing this. This isn’t about that. This isn’t even about the troops overseas this holiday season. This is for the ones left behind. The brave faces, the constipated emotions, the smiles so sharp they could cut glass, and the holes in the wall that have to get patched at 3am on Christmas morning. This is for you.

One of the most ironic things about social media is how easily you can be overlooked when people are talking about you. Here’s what I mean: It’s December 2nd and the “Don’t forget the Troops” posts are already circulating. I’ve seen Christmas card pictures posted that say “We’re so blessed to be together this year!” and others with two photos – one of the family and one of the solider overseas. Even still, there are posts that demand the happiness and gratitude of those whose families are all together this year, because others are not. EVEN STILL, there are posts that suggest military families are scoffing at ‘civilians’ who are separated from their families for the first time due to COVID-related travel restrictions and precautions.

There is so much noise out there, especially this time of year. So much to tell us all how to feel and what to think, but nothing that sees us. Again, this is for you.

I know there are still events to put on, a Christmas tree to get up, and lights to hang. Our most basic instinct is to try, for ourselves and for our children, to keep the traditions alive and make everything ‘feel’ as normal as possible. It’s exhausting. It’s maddening. It’s sad. And I swear they lie when they say assembly is quick and easy. LIES, ya’ll.
Why is there so much pressure to appear normal when we’re not? Why do we feel the need to take care of everything when we can’t? The first Christmas I spent without my husband at home, he had already been gone for eight months when Christmas came around. I was pretty much in survival mode by then. It was the one and only year I didn’t put up our own tree – my kids were very young and we went to my parents’ house – but those weeks leading up to Christmas, my house was not jolly. That year I learned that traditions matter – so I’ve always put up a tree, strung the lights, sent the cards, and made the cookies because I needed to make sure my husband knew we were still living the life he was fighting for. Two years later, I learned that “some assembly required” means that I need to bribe a neighbor with cookies and beer to help assemble. In subsequent years, I’ve learned to look up and be grateful for those lessons. You are learning too – even when you’re hurting and sad and completely fed up.

What I mean to say here is that what you’re doing is beautiful. It matters. And it is so, so brave. The knowledge of what we are living without and the fear of what we might not get back weighs heavier at this time of year as we are bombarded by so much implied happiness and gratitude. While so much emphasis is placed on those who are away and what they’re missing out on, I want to take this space for you to say that however you choose to carry on, you’re doing it right. If you go stay with family or stay home on your own, if you string 4 lights or 40,000, if your tree looks like a Pinterest win or an epic fail, if you put on a brave smile or fall apart, if your egg nog isn’t fit for minor consumption (and you’re not sharing anyway), if you skipped the photos with Santa or the gift wrapping volunteer booth, if you wrap the Green Machine (bike) box with a giant dent in the side (that looks a lot like the boot you threw at it) at 3am and curse the guy who wrote “some assembly required” for all of eternity – you’re doing it right. Your strength and courage, the brave smile and the broken one, your inability to give up, fills my heart with more reassurance and pride than anything I can describe. As much as the soldier sacrifices for all of us, going away to fight battles we’ll never see or understand, you are the glue. You are what holds all of the pieces, however precariously, with total and complete grace, and in various stages of calm and chaos. Perfection isn’t just a myth – it’s overrated. Years from now, you’ll see the humor in the heartbreak and smile at how hard you tried, failed, and persevered. Don’t let the noise of this season drown out how remarkable you are, how beautiful YOUR service to this country is, and that however you’re doing it – you’re doing it right.

If you’re reading this through a tiny screen from overseas, there are no words to adequately express my gratitude. I promise that I am living fully in every moment and that I never forget the freedom that fills my lungs is won every day by your courage and selflessness.
When you talk to your family – especially “the glue” – tell her she’s amazing. Because she is.

Merry Christmas. And God Bless America.

Christmas Mornings with Skype

“Every Christmas.
Counting the days.
Maybe this year will be different
And I won’t be, be alone again.
Under the mistletoe
Let it snow
Come on home.
Every Christmas, I’ll wait.”

~Kelly Clarkson, “Every Christmas”
I don’t know if she wrote this one about us/this, but I like to think so.
I sing it obnoxiously loud every single year in honor of all the “glue” out there
– holding it together and making spirits freaking bright.
Thank you, Kelly, for singing exponentially more beautifully than me,
and expressing exactly what my heart feels with your words and music!

THAT IS (still) AMERICA.

Back in March of this year, I pulled into the gas station, parked, and fell apart.
COVID was upon us. Everything was slowing down, shutting down, and everywhere you looked, there was another voice telling you what you should do, think, and feel. Like most of us, I was skeptical, confused, and scared. I was still working as a home health speech therapist, but truthfully, I spent most of that week buying rolls of toilet paper for $5 from gas station bathrooms for my homebound patients who had run out and had no means of getting more. While I tried to convince myself to keep it together, a car pulled into the spot next to mine with the radio blaring. The driver, who was an African American woman, hopped out without turning the car off and I started to roll my windows up, but then I heard the song she was playing:

“There comes a time,
When we heed certain call.
When the world must come together as one…”

I stopped trying to keep it together and fell apart, good and proper. I must have been crying but I was also singing. When the song abruptly stopped and started over at the beginning again, I looked over to see the driver standing by her door smiling at me. She said, “I see you sister. It’s gonna be OK. Just sing through it.” She turned up the volume until I thought the side panels would rattle right off of that little Hyundai. I got out and we stood in that parking lot, wearing masks and gloves, crying, swaying, laughing, reaching for each other, and singing:

“We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who’ll make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.
There’s a choice we’re making.
We’re saving our own lives.
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

When the song ended, she said, “Thank you, sister. You’ll never be a stranger to me and I wish I could hug you.” I couldn’t speak, just covered my heart with my hands and nodded. “I know,” she said, “We’re going to make it through. Keep on singing, keep on loving.” Then she got into her car, hit repeat, and drove away. I cued up the song, rolled down my windows, and did the same.

March was a million years ago. Sometimes when I look around, I hardly know where I am anymore. There is so much noise in the world, we’re all scrambling to be heard. Every difference has become a division, every argument an ultimatum, every wound mortal. We’re riding a wave that doesn’t have a shore and are caught in a wind that doesn’t have a direction. The more I talk about it, ask questions, and seek answers, the more fearful I am that we will never get through this whole. For all of the conversations I have had and the soul searching I have done in the past several months, I cannot articulate a single sentence that everyone will agree with. Here’s the good news: words don’t matter. Actions always prove why words mean nothing. There are a lot of people who are remembered for their words, but only when those words stood for something they did with their time here on earth – good or bad- and action is what facilitates change. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Why is that true? Because love is a verb. It is rooted in simple, consistent action and it is catching. If we all agreed to “love through it” like my sister in the parking lot, we might just get somewhere.

“We can’t go on pretending day by day
That someone, somehow can soon make a change.
We are all apart of God’s great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need.”

Just seven months ago, seemingly on the verge of World War III, there was a growing sense of anticipation and fear. We watched our soldiers board a plane under a blue sky, not knowing if they would come home, and all I could be was proud and grateful. I sat down, fell apart, and wrote it down. Those words spread so far and so fast, not because I was right or wrong, but because so many people could feel them. We were all ready to come together again, not because we agreed, but because we were humbled by the willingness of those who chose to go – to serve and defend. Unity is needed most when you stand on the precipice of losing what you hold most dear. I have sat shoulder to shoulder with the bravest women I’ll ever know, holding hands, waiting to hear which one of us is going to lose it all. Let me tell you this truth – in those moments, we breathe as one, we cry as one, our hearts beat in sync, and no one lets go. It never mattered what color the hand I was holding was, because that hand was my hand and my hand was hers. Unity. It is the only way to heal wounds that are un-healable.

Whatever you believe in, the story is the same. We are all here on purpose with a purpose. We are all different – we have gifts that were meant to heal the flawed and broken world we live in. It is through our gifts – our actions – that we bring about change. We have work to do. We can do better. Lucky for us, we live in a country where we are afforded the FREEDOM to love our families, love our neighbors, and work hard for change.

So here’s looking at you, America.
The lens is foggy and distorted, but I know you’re still there.
I can feel your freedom in my bones and your hope in my heart.
I believe in you, America. I believe in us.

WE have the power to make change possible.
WE can take action in our homes and our communities.
WE can speak up and take care of each other.
Those freedoms are the gift.
STAND UP and BE THE CHANGE.
Be the kindness and acceptance and help and equality and hope that you want to see in the world.
Be the stranger in the parking lot that turns up the volume and sings you through it.

THAT IS AMERICA.

“When you’re down and out, there seems no hope at all.
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall.
Let us realize
That a change can only come
When we… stand together as one.”

The Mother’s Day Massacre

For “You have got to be ****ing kidding me” Moms everywhere.
On our special day.

I love Mother’s Day. My own mother is one of the most beautiful souls I know. I come from a long line of amazing women who love their families very well. My husband and children always make me feel so special on Mother’s Day. I love seeing my newsfeeds filled with pictures of Mamas being honored by their families with cute hand-written cards, breakfast in bed, flowers, and the smiles of their sweet children filling all of our hearts to bursting.

I can remember one of my earlier Mother’s Days, sitting on my grandmother’s front porch trying desperately to get my kids to take one – just one – decent picture with me where they were looking at the camera and not picking their nose, biting their brother, or eating dirt. I begged and bribed – they ate no less than four packs of fruit snacks each – and it all ended in tears, mostly mine, because I just wanted that ONE picture. C’mon, mamas… you know you’ve been there. For every one perfect moment we have to show the world, there are no less than fifty moments of total chaos. Today, on the day we celebrate Moms everywhere, I give you a story of total chaos, from which there was no coming back, and a Mother’s Day I will never forget.
For the record, on this particular Mother’s Day weekend, my husband was away for work as he often is, so it was just me, the kids and the dogs… and this baby bird.

The Bird

The previous owners of our home planted two trees in the backyard, both as Mother’s Day gifts. One was just outside the kitchen window – a Bradford Pear tree – that the little barn swallow birds loved to nest in. About a week before Mother’s Day, we had a pretty decent thunderstorm that knocked one of the baby birds from the nest. My 10 year old daughter Izzy found the little one and was so worried for it. All I could think was how completely heartbroken she would be when this little bird didn’t make it. She was determined – she googled what you could feed baby birds, woke up early before school to feed and care for it, and after three days, the little bird was still with us. As the weekend neared, I started to feel a trickle of dread. We were leaving town for the weekend to go visit my mom for Mother’s Day and there was no way I was taking that bird with us. Izzy and her older brother Samuel read online that baby birds could eat blueberries, so they cut some into small pieces and put several in the box, along with grass and a flower (why not), and closed the box. The kids put some holes in the top of the box to allow airflow and put the box in the flower bed around the base of the tree.

The Weekend

We headed out on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend with my mom as planned and Izzy didn’t talk much about her bird back home. I had no less than five nightmares about what we might come home to. When I really thought about it (always a mistake) an animal of any decent size that wanted to get into that box probably could. We lived on about two acres and our property backed up to farmland and some woods. We had seen coyote, foxes, skunks, raccoons, not to mention the neighbors’ cats that roamed about. In all honesty, I hoped that if something got into that box, they wouldn’t leave evidence of a blood bath and we could go on believing the bird got out and flew away on its own. When we hit the road on Sunday, the questions began:

“Mom, do you think the bird has had enough to eat?”
“Mom, what if the mama bird came back?”
“Mom, what if the bird couldn’t get to the blueberries?
“Mom, what if it was too cold?”
“Mom, you don’t think other animals would get the bird, do you?”

Eventually, I caved and told her that I hoped the bird would be OK, but that we had to be prepared and accept there was a possibility that it hadn’t made it through the weekend. She was a little quieter after that, but then reassured herself that everything would be fine. I hoped she was right but the closer we got the more I feared the worst.

The Dogs

Lucy and Maggie

We have two dogs, Lucy and Maggie, both rescues and both mutts. Lucy is the oldest and definitely the alpha. We were told she was a German Shepherd mix, but our vet thinks she is more Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as African Lion Dogs, which are hunting dogs. Lucy is the sweetest dog, very protective of her people, extremely smart, and with obvious hunting tendencies. Maggie is a shepherd mix – Blue Heeler, Australian Shepherd, Cattle dog, etc. – and she is definitely the watcher. From a young age we noticed that when we were in the backyard playing, she would always mark the perimeter of our space and sit and watch us. If any of us left that space, she would follow until we came back, then she would sit and watch some more. Maggie is bigger than Lucy, but doesn’t have an ounce of aggressive instinct in her body.
Lucy spent every spring under that Bradford Pear tree, barking and jumping at the birds. Ironically, and this is important, we nicknamed Lucy ‘Bird’ after she proudly dropped a dead bird on the back porch for me when she was a puppy. Lucy had knee surgery in March so she wasn’t chasing anything that spring. We boarded the dogs with our vet while we were gone, as I was still concerned about Lucy having too much excitement and receiving the appropriate care for her still healing knee. We picked them up from the vet on our way home and loaded them into the back of the car, leashed and squished in with the kids and suitcases, and headed home to find out the fate of our baby bird.

“HE MADE IT!”

The minute we pulled into the driveway, Izzy was out of the car like a shot. I panicked a little, because I wanted to check the box first (just in case), but the dogs were losing it to get out. Samuel got out of the passenger side and opened the back door to grab Lucy’s leash while I grabbed Maggie from the other side. I was just telling him we needed to take the dogs inside and telling Izzy to wait for me when the fastest five seconds of our lives happened.

It’s important to note a few things: Samuel and I each had a dog on a leash on opposite sides of the car. I was closest to the house while he had the car between himself and Lucy, and the house, so I couldn’t get to either of them without rounding the car. Samuel was taking Lucy to the grass, further away from me and the house, to go potty. Lucy weighs about sixty-five pounds and Samuel, at the time, was probably close to ninety pounds. Maggie weighs about eighty-five pounds.

I had my eyes on Izzy, who hadn’t complied with my request to wait for me to check the bird. In two breaths, she shouted, “HE MADE IT!! HE MADE IT!!!” and then let loose a blood curdling scream as she lifted the flap of the box and this -very much alive bird – began flapping and jumping madly. I have seriously never seen a bird create so much movement. Izzy still has a hold of the box – mid scream – and there is grass and feathers flying everywhere. As I am making my mom-hero move to save Izzy from this mad baby bird, Maggie plops all eighty five pounds of herself at my feet, so that I must leap over her ‘assume-the-possum-position’ form, and I see a blur of brown out of the corner of my eye and notice that neither of Samuel’s feet are on the ground. He has lost the battle of holding Lucy’s leash and is breaking his fall into the grass.

Maggie at the Scene of the Massacre, on a less horrific day

The Massacre

Izzy’s next scream is accompanied by her involuntarily shaking the box as I am calling desperately for the dog, whose protective and hunting instincts have been simultaneously and irrevocably activated. In what can only be described as an impressive display of prowess, Lucy leapt from the driveway up the stone ledge to the grass at the exact same time as that damn bird made it’s escape, jumping clear of the box, having been given a boost by Izzy’s shaking it. Dog and bird are both airborne as we all watch in abject horror as the bird is caught mid air, a foot in front of Izzy’s face, by Lucy’s waiting jaws. All movement ceased and for a second it was dead quiet while the dog turned away from Izzy with the bird – who has surely died of a heart attack – in her mouth. The next second Izzy let loose an ear shattering, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!” and I can still see the horror in her eyes when she turned them on me and said what all Moms love to hear in moments of absolute chaos:

“MOM!!! PLEASE!!! SAVE IT! SAVE IT! SAVE IIIIIITTTTTTT!!!!”

Having reached the stone ledge, I put myself between Izzy and Lucy and said, “Drop. It.” Miraculously, she did. That dog has never given up a tennis ball without a fight, but in this moment, she dropped the lifeless body of this bird into the grass and plopped onto her butt next to it… and I swear to God, she smiled. At this point, Samuel had regained his feet and had Maggie’s leash. This, as all you moms know, is the moment when we give orders. (To Samuel) “Get her inside. Izzy, go with Samuel. Now. Lucy stay. Maggie… did she pee???” There were a few protests, demands to know if the bird was alive, to which I just couldn’t respond because the only words in my head were (say it with me mamas), “You have got to be ****ing kidding me!”

The Aftermath

The bird was, in fact, very dead. Oddly enough, it wasn’t bloody and hadn’t been torn to bits, so I’m fairly certain it really did die of a heart attack. Izzy was obviously devastated and demanded a funeral with full honors. The next hour was spent wiping tears and digging a damn hole to bury the damn bird. Izzy was reassured that Lucy only meant to protect her and didn’t mean the bird any harm. Samuel unloaded the car and kept his snickers hidden from his sister. Apparently, from his vantage point, it was all pretty funny to see go down. Lucy proved once and for all that her knee was, in fact, good as new, and that she is, in fact, a skilled and deadly hunter. Maggie has never really recovered. She is still easily spooked. My favorite part of that day was the much-anticipated call from my husband:

“Hey babe. How was the day?”
“You. Are. Not. Going to believe this…”

Lucy aka “Bird”

To all the Moms out there, I hope your day has been extra special and full of perfect moments with your families. If it hasn’t, we’ve all been there. Motherhood is full of all the things: elation, frustration, and (sometimes) horror.
May you always find the humor in the moments of chaos. May you always know that you are enough.
Happy Mother’s Day.

Quiet on the Homefront

THEM: I don’t know how you do it.
US: It’s all we’ve ever known.

This one is for us. ~KP

You know the images all too well. The airport, the hangar, the school, the front porch. Over the past 18 years, videos of military homecomings have been breaking, mending, filling, and healing our hearts. I for one, cannot bring myself to scroll past someone’s sweet moment of reunion without pausing to watch, cry a little, smile, and sigh. They’re everywhere and they are a huge happy piece of the story of our country. If you’ve been on the receiving end of “that first hug,” then you know. There is nothing like it. Standing in a hangar at 3AM with hundreds of other people, all collectively holding their breaths, as they have been for months, all waiting to breathe again. They open the doors, slowly and deliberately, the music plays, and there they are. A formation of warriors, survivors. There are cheers and screams and this ache that makes you feel like your insides are about to explode. You’re searching faces, one by one, looking for yours. The music stops, the formation stands at attention, someone important says something that no one hears, until finally… “fall out.”
Pandemonium ensues. I’m on my tippy toes, looking, rooted to my spot because I know he’ll find me. And there. The face I could never forget. The biggest smile I’ve ever seen. The first touch, first smell, first embrace. It melts you down to your toes. Finally. The wait is over. Everything you have been waiting and hoping and praying for – it’s all over and your life is back in your arms. Chaos is everywhere but its the happiest chaos you’ll ever know. There are bags to be picked up, signs & banners to collect, and homes to get back to. Hand in hand, we walk, we smile, we laugh. Welcome home. We drive away from that moment, from that war – a battle fought and won – towards the next war. The silent war of the homefront.

Floppy Sweaters.

My husband and I started dating in 2003. Our courtship started out a little different than most. He was in Afghanistan and I was taking summer classes at the University of Georgia. We met in high school and lost touch for a couple of years before we reconnected as friends who occasionally flirted. On Valentine’s Day of 2003, I called him only to find that his number had been disconnected. For several days, I stewed over why he would change his number instead of just telling me he didn’t want to talk to me anymore, and then I did what any mature and reasonable twenty year-old woman would do: I sent him a snarky, nasty email, detailing with only slightly restrained rage how immature, rude, and typical he was, while I obviously remained capable of mature, clear-headed communication. The next month I was emailing him again, begging his forgiveness and a word that he was OK. He didn’t change his number. He went to war. I have never watched the news as religiously as I did during those months from March-May 2003. I sent so. many. emails. One day in May I got one back. It said, “Hey, I’m OK. Stop watching the news.” Over the next several months, he relocated to Afghanistan and slowing acquired more regular internet access which meant email and AIM (that’s AOL Instant Messenger for anyone born after 1985). We exchanged messages daily and eventually, he had access to a phone so we could talk. I fell in love with him over the phone. We talked about everything – our families, our friends, our heartbreaks, our plans – and eventually we started talking about when we would see each other again. In October he was called home for a family emergency. I’ll never forget my panic at hearing his voice, “I should be in North Carolina by dinnertime tomorrow. I’ll call you.” He did. And so began a wild road trip – before Google Maps, Garmins, and navigation systems – with me navigating him via MapQuest. His phone died as he arrived in Athens. It was 2AM. I jumped in my car and drove in the direction I knew he would be coming from. He passed through an intersection and I flashed my lights at him like a mad woman. His brake lights lit up the dark street and I slammed on my brakes. Time stood still. I got out of the car. I can still feel the cool night air rushing over my skin and through my hair as I raced across the pavement without any idea what to expect from the man standing in the shadows beyond the glow of the street light. I remember that I was wearing a read knit sweater over a tank top. He remembers that it flopped off my shoulders as I ran towards him. He stood, under the traffic light at the intersection of College Station Road and Agriculture Drive, with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and his arms open for me. His lips brushed my cheek and we held each other, saying nothing. Breathless when we realized we were both holding our breaths, he pulled my sweater over my shoulder and smiled. And I think I said, “Welcome home, Pal.” That was nearly 17 years ago. He has been coming home to me ever since.

A Thousand Beautiful Stories.

Later this month, my husband and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage. I like to joke sometimes that married years in the military are more like dog years, so by that math we have been married for 105 years. It seems like that must be true to fit all of the life we’ve lived into our time together – and apart. He has been deployed to combat for a total of 4 and a half years. He has been away from home another 2-3 years for schools, training exercises, and courses – preparing to deploy to combat. For nearly half of our married life, we have been apart. That’s a lot of homecomings.

We have moved 11 times in 15 years. I have bought and sold houses and cars. I have moved across the country. I have attended weddings, funerals, and family vacations by myself more often than with him. I have replaced broken appliances, gotten the water out of the basement, changed jobs, diapers, daycares, and potty trained puppies, on my own. We have 2 children. They have attended 5 schools and just finished the 7th & 5th grades. They have lived in more houses in their short lives than I have for the whole of mine. They have met more people, made and lost more friends. They take life in stride. We all do. We are the lucky ones because we have gotten him back every single time he’s left us. I could tell a thousand beautiful stories of our good and bad times, full of laughter and tears, anger and worry, victory and triumph. But this is the true story that I don’t think many will tell. This is the story of the moments after the homecoming. The surveying of a different battleground. This is the story of the war we fight on the homefront.

k[NO]w Peace.

For 15 years, I have been married to my best friend. We have a beautiful life. Our children are smart, beautiful, incredibly resilient human beings. We have known more than our share of good times and blessings. We have made wonderful memories over the years. We have been through a lot – together and apart – we have run the gamut of every trial, tribulation, and emotion. The one thing we have never truly known is peace. I am part of a generation of spouses who have never not expected to send their husbands away, again and again. There has always been a war to go back to. My children are part of a generation who have never known a world without this war. There is plenty of discourse available on this subject, but I don’t want to speak to that. There isn’t a pretty, witty, or even organized way to write this explanation – or maybe it’s a confession – so stay with me. There is nothing tame about this story.

Heavy.

I am writing this for me, for my children, and for everyone who has ever had to answer the “I don’t know how you do it” question with the stoic and matter-of-fact, “It’s all we’ve ever known.” This is for us. For you. I know that right now, your eyes are full of tears and your insides are shaking. I know, I know. I. Know.

We. Don’t. Talk. About. This. Part.
Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.
Stay with me. We’re going to be OK. And I am 100% talking about it.


Have you ever thought about the gravity of that statement? “It’s all we’ve ever known.” Have you thought what price is paid for a life that has never known peace? We fight for some semblance of normal. Some life that is worthy of the price he has paid, the horror he has seen, and the countless moments he has missed, and that battle never ends. Have you ever felt that your truths are unwelcome? They see the yellow ribbons and the flying flags, the homecoming videos, the special privileges – the discounts! – the reliable health insurance and retirement plans, the lives “we signed up for,” and the romanticized picture of the long waits and sweet reunions of military life.

Here is what they don’t see. Here is the part we don’t talk about.
They don’t see the face of the father whose child doesn’t recognize him or the fear on the face of that child as you hand them over to a stranger that they are expected to trust and love.
They don’t know what its like to look into the face of your spouse and see your soul, but not recognize them at all.
They don’t know that life doesn’t just go on while they’re away, it moves at warp speed.
They don’t know that he pressed pause when he left and came home to a life that went on without him.
They don’t know what you tell your 4yr old when he asks you if his daddy is a killer.
They don’t know what its like to see the pleading in the eyes of your children when they don’t know their dad and are always afraid of being misunderstood and saying the wrong thing.
They don’t know what’s it like to be the bridge between your children and their father – and to bear the burden of his frustration and theirs. To constantly swear that everything will be OK. To beg time to just keep moving so you can keep surviving. To want so badly to have the answer but never finding the right words.
They don’t know the guilt we feel for putting our children through this life… and for making their resilience a requirement and a point of pride.
They don’t know that you have an identify crisis because all you ever do is reinvent yourself, one duty station after the next.
They don’t know that you have spent as much time planning his funeral as you have his homecoming.
They don’t know how many times you have wanted to give up, leave, and run away, because the process of rebuilding and healing is so impossibly big.
They don’t know that you keep secrets – because how the hell are you supposed to know what to tell him while he’s gone? What if your problems are petty to what he’s facing? What if you worry him and he gets distracted? What if he figures out that you’re completing screwing it up? What if he thinks you’re not raising the kids well? What if you should have told him about the family drama but didn’t? What if he doesn’t like the house you bought? What if he doesn’t like you anymore? What if he isn’t the same?
Secrets. So many secrets. Our secrets are the price we pay when we say, “It’s all we’ve ever known.” The family we carefully piece together time and again will always be pulled apart again. You never find all of the old parts and the puzzle never looks the same. Sometimes I wonder how we can live so loudly and still not be seen or heard. I wonder what my children will say when they look back on their childhood and the life we gave them. I wonder if there is enough therapy in the world to mend my mistakes. I wonder if he’ll always come home… and if we’ll ever be whole. I wonder how long it will go on and how many generations of people will know these secrets.
You just can’t know the weight of “all we’ve ever known” unless you’ve carried it yourself.
I see you. I know you. I’m with you.

Truth and Peace.

I have been writing this story for about a year, in bits and pieces. In truth, I guess I’ve been writing it for 17 years. I’ve only recently come to understand why it is such a hard one to share and talk about openly. It’s not the lovely, heartwarming, uplifting vision born in the arms of a homecoming’s embrace. It’s not the hero who comes home but of the one who protects it while he or she is away. It’s not the story that everyone wants to hear and sometimes those stories are the ones that need to be told the most. And it’s not mine alone. Maybe that’s where we find our truth and peace – in the honest telling of it. In the light.

In my darkest moments, I know where to go to find the light of my heart and soul.
On a dark night, under a sea of stars, the path that my feet somehow knew to take, to my destiny that waited in the shadows of a traffic light. Arms as wide as his smile. Waiting for me, waiting for him.
Where all is quiet on the homefront.



COVID-19: A View from the Front Line

Let me start off by clarifying that I do not consider myself “on the front lines” of COVID-19.
Yes, I am a healthcare professional and the service I provide has been deemed “essential” so I am still at work, providing care to patients, but I am not face to face with the horrors this virus is bringing upon the people it infects. I am, in my own way, sitting on the frontline of how the horrors of this virus is effecting the people who don’t actually have it.
So are you.
So are we all.
What does the view look like from where we’re all sitting?

The Toilet Paper

I watched three grown women come to near-blows in a Walmart over how many packages of toilet paper they could buy. The store manager had to assign two men to guard the pallet while a security officer escorted them out. That same week, I paid a gas station manager $5 for the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom to take to an elderly patient who couldn’t find any when she went shopping. I taught another lady how to use her microwave, carefully writing down the steps, while she cried because the meals-on-wheels guy said he would still bring her meals, but they would be frozen and she would need to heat them up, but she wouldn’t be hungry.

Instant Stay-at-Home Dad

For eighteen years, my husband has either been training for, going to, or returning from war. I have always worked in some capacity outside of our home and been the ‘primary parent’ to our two children in his absence. He has often joked with me that we (the kids and I) are more organized and efficient when he is away. That organized chaos is called survival and it is the only way we have made it through. When he is home, we share the load, but in the last three weeks our roles have completely reversed. My workload has increased and he is juggling groceries, laundry, dogs, kids… oh and that whole online schooling thing. My kids are thirteen and eleven, and I think it’s fair to say they have never had as much uninterrupted or unmitigated time with their dad as they have in recent weeks. This isn’t a vacation, this is real life. The three of them are being forced to get to know each other under very new and uncertain circumstances. Watching them navigate this new ground together has humbled me to the depths of my soul. This is a gift, but not always an easy one. If you know, then you know.

Homeschool for everyone!

From what I understand, you’re either:
1. Navigating Google classroom, Zoom, and/or YouTube
2. Ordering the homeschool starter kit
3. Hiring an online tutor because common core.
4. Have thrown in the towel. Fortnite wins.

We can all now agree that teachers do not get paid what they’re worth, right? My kids have been able to make a (mostly) seamless transition to online instruction. Other parents are trying to figure out how they are supposed to keep their essential personnel job, find childcare for their kids, and homeschool them so they don’t fall behind. Parents of children with special needs are trying to figure out how to navigate teletherapy and worrying about all the progress they have made through years of sessions slipping away.

Life is Cancelled.

The Class of 2020 will be notified via email when their degrees are complete. There will be no donning of the caps and gowns, no speeches, no pictures, no high school proms, no graduation parties. Nothing that traditionally marks those milestones will happen this year.
Sports. Gone. Just like that. No senior seasons, no tournaments. No summer Olympics.
My best friend has been planning her destination wedding for nearly two years. Cancelled. Well, the wedding is cancelled, not the marriage, but the trip we’ve been planning for two years won’t happen.
Vacations, concerts, weddings, reunions – cancelled.
In a lot of ways it feels like life has been abruptly cancelled in so many ways, but doesn’t it have to be said?
Life is cancelled… it’s not over.

At Least You Still Have a Job

I am grateful to still be working. I tell myself that at least once every hour. More often than not, I find myself torn between wanting to slow down and spend this unprecedented, uninterrupted time with my family at home and having the privilege of going to work and bringing home a paycheck to my household. I wonder if, given the time at home, I would work on all the unfinished projects and unrealized dreams I keep tucked away, or if I would just play Candy Crush and take naps. I am torn between the privilege of earning a living while others cannot, and the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and bringing it home to my husband and children. Most days, it feels like an impossible choice and one I never set out to make. It’s a choice I know plenty of ‘non-essential’ small business wish they had. I know it’s a choice a lot of healthcare providers wrestle with – because unless you work in emergency medicine, intensive care, or infectious disease, you didn’t sign up to be on the frontlines of a pandemic like this. The corporate healthcare companies will let you think you did so that you can continue to take those risks, earn your wage, and keep them in business.

I Hope Nothing is Ever the Same

Maybe the one thing we can all see from our front line is that we want this to be over with.
We want to see our friends and families, go back to work, back to brunch, the gym, and shopping at stores.
We want to send our kids back to school, we want to fight crowds at Disney, eat hot dogs at the ballpark, watch our best friend get married, feel the sand between our toes, and celebrate life’s milestones in person.
We want our normal back.

I hope nothing is ever the same. This virus has shined a bright and unforgiving light on humanity. Some of it is uplifting and encouraging and some people are just hoarding toilet paper. The way we respond to these challenges will have a real and direct impact on what the “after” looks like. I hope we are paying attention. I hope we take this time to look at ourselves – stop looking to our left or our right, judging and assuming – and PAY ATTENTION to who we are, the choices we make, the words we speak, and the actions we take. Look for the good.

Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” The world has pressed pause so we can do just that. Love your life. Love the people in it. Remember that for more than 1 million people who have lost their lives to COVID-19, this is an opportunity they will never have – to live another day, another year, with purpose and hope. I hope nothing is ever the same. I hope we all look within ourselves and find the people we were always meant to be. I hope we will be those people on purpose, always on the front lines of a world made better because we endured to be better.

Be Kind. Work Hard. Love Big. Keep Moving Forward.

Second Place Face: A Letter to My Daughter

“As for my girls… I’ll raise them to believe they breathe fire.” ~Jessica Kirkland

For Izzy.
My 34 week preemie baby girl – who “might always be small and slow, who might have trouble learning, whose development may lag, who will probably be sickly.”
For Izzy.
On your birthday. My ELEVEN year old baby girl who is so much more than anyone could have ever imagined – faster, smarter, healthier – and who is just getting started.
I love you most.

My daughter is a phenom. Statistically speaking, she wasn’t supposed to be. I will remember for the rest of my life “the speech” about all the complications that can follow a baby born premature. Maybe I was too young and naive, but I didn’t believe a word they said about my girl. No one would look at her today and believe she was ever born at a “disadvantage.” If you’re of the mind that parents shouldn’t brag relentlessly on their kids, stop reading… or maybe you need to hear this. In recent years it has occurred to me that I heard (and did) a lot more complaining about kids than praise in general and that absolutely impacts the vibe that flows between parents and child. This is a subject in and of itself I’ll be back to discuss some other time.
Right now, I’m going to be “that parent.”

When she was five, Izzy played her first season in recreational soccer. By the time she was seven, I spent most of my time watching her with raised eyebrows. She is a natural athlete, as they say, runs with perfect form, changes directions with easy grace, picks up quickly on skills and – she. is. aggressive. Not in the unnecessary roughness kind of way, but in the instinctual fearlessness that she attacks every opportunity to score, to win kind of way. I’m going on record right now to say that she doesn’t get that from me. I don’t think you can teach that, its just there. I think it’s the preemie in her. (*wink wink*)
The older she got the more quickly we realized what a fierce competitor she is. She loves to play and hates to lose. She made the move to a club soccer team last year, seeking a higher level of play. It only took one scrimmage game for me to realize I was “that parent” – the one who is relentlessly cheering and losing her mind from the sidelines, who can’t sit still and is pacing, clapping, jumping – yep. That’s me. I heard a woman named Jenny Donnelly speak on this at a leadership conference some years ago. She was giving a speech about leading with passion and she told the story about how she, at her 4 year old’s indoor soccer game, was on her feet, on the glass, shouting “go-go-GO!” all the while reminding herself “It’s 4 yr old soccer – it’s 4 yr old soccer.” But upon reflection, she realized that it wasn’t the soccer game she was so crazy about – it was her son – and she wasn’t crazy, she was PASSIONATE. It’s hard not to be passionate about our kids and everyone expresses that in different ways – not all of us are comfortable being “that parent,” but for better or worse, that’s me. My fellow soccer parents are nodding and/or rolling their eyes right now… my bad ya’ll, but it can’t be helped!

One thing that stuck out about Izzy on this new team is how poorly she handled a loss. Her little rec team had been sensational, they rarely lost a game, and I thought that it would be good for her to embrace a little struggle and learn from it. She cried after every game. Their first tournament was hard to watch as they played up an age group and got absolutely smashed. She was inconsolable after every game and while I hugged and shushed her and told her it was OK, I looked around and noticed that, while most of her teammates weren’t happy, they weren’t crying. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big tournament, a ‘friendly’ scrimmage, or a team scrimmage at practice: losing = tears. The last tournament of the fall, their team did really well playing through awful wet, muddy, freezing cold weather, but lost in the championship game. Second. I thought surely this was better than getting smashed, but this was where I first saw the “second place face.” She didn’t want a medal, didn’t want to take a picture with her team, and certainly didn’t want to be recognized in front of the whole crowd as the “finalist aka not the winner.” (Her words). I got downright mom-voice on her and told her she would accept that medal and be a good sport because losing is part of playing. “You can’t win them all.” If looks could kill, the one she gave me after I said that would have killed me instantly on the spot. It was sheer defiance in her eyes, but she took the picture, and I’m so glad she did. I don’t ever want to forget that second place face. In passing a parent said to me, “It’s hard to move from rec to club. She’ll get used to losing.”
Boom.
That did it. That was the moment it clicked.
GET USED TO LOSING? Never. Losing doesn’t just happen on a scoreboard. Losing is a mindset, a habit of letting yourself be disappointed or hurt and accepting that as the status quo. Accepting that you are ‘less-than’ or that you ‘can’t.’ If I had a dollar for every time I was hurt or disappointed – in 2019 – I would be sipping drinky drinks on a Caribbean Island basking in all my dollar bills. But hurt and disappointment don’t pay – it’s what you do AFTER you’ve lost that pays in dividends. Get up. Revise. Reset. Go again. Simply not giving up and trying again is a victory. Someone somewhere said that you can’t beat someone who doesn’t give up. I feel like it was one of the Rocky movies… whoever said it, they were right.

There are a lot of ways to draw parallels between sports and life. I can trace some of my greatest life lessons back to a softball field, a CrossFit gym, or a weightlifting platform. I have watched both of my children learn fun and difficult lessons in the midst of sport. There are a lot of feelings out there about youth sports – from participation medals/everyone is a winner, to making sure they don’t take it too seriously, to locking up that scholarship in the 7th grade – whatever your opinion, you’re entitled to it. I will continue to be unapologetically passionate about my girl and her love of sport, competition, and winning. Winning looks different for everyone, but in the end, I want to her to have a happy and fulfilling life – THAT is winning too. Being happy and fulfilled isn’t easy. I was basically ‘today years old’ when I realized that you can never be happy or feel fulfilled if you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for permission or some definition of what it means to be happy and fulfilled. It’s who we are at our core, our perfect gifts, that will lead us to our best lives… and you will never find it if you “get used to losing.” Trust yourself, trust your process, get up and try again. Google your favorite champion – Serena, Lebron, Mia Hamm, Tom Brady, Rich Froning – they all have a second place face and it’s not a smile and it’s not a scowl. It’s a promise. Win or Learn.

And so here, my fierce daughter, is my message to you on your eleventh birthday.

I hope you never get used to losing. I hope you know that you either win or you learn. I hope you know that nothing worth having comes easily and I hope you never ever forget where you came from – that you have already proven all of the statistics wrong – you were a miracle from the minute you were born. I hope you never let the world convince you that you need its approval – the greatest gift you can give to the world is your true authentic self. Your gifts are God-given and not everyone will understand them. You’re going to be hurt and disappointed. You’re going to feel lost and alone. But no matter what life brings you, I will always be your biggest, loudest, most unapologetic, passionate fan. I will always believe in you and will never stop – no matter how much you may wish it – telling you that I see more greatness in you than I thought possible. Your greatest strength lies within you, that fire and lightning, that endless desire to win… breathe it in deep. Use it. Force it. Not everyone will like it or understand it, but the world needs your light. Don’t ever settle. And don’t ever forget – we call you #izzytheboss for a reason.

“It’s not over until I win.” ~Les Brown

Izzy the Boss Part I: An Ambulance Adventure

There are some stories worth retelling and others that we have to retell – at least to ourselves – because otherwise we become convinced there is “no way that actually happened!” The story of how our daughter Izzy came into our world is one such story I tell myself every year around this time. She turns 11 soon and her birth story is about 3 weeks long. I am biased, of course, but it is one of my favorite stories to tell.
Pack a lunch and enjoy…

The Back Story:

On February 12, 2009, I was 26 years old and 31 weeks pregnant with our second child and daughter, Izzy. Our due date was April 4th and I was deep in the trenches of my third trimester. I was not the kind of woman that “pregnancy looks good on.” I was puffy and nauseous all the time. I did not like being pregnant. That particular day was a busy one. We lived on Ft Rucker, Alabama while my husband was in flight school. I was working full-time at a nursing home nearby and our son Samuel was 2, big and busy as life. I picked him up from daycare after work and went to a friends house for a playdate before dinner. My friend Tami had a little boy close to Samuel’s age and our husbands were in the same flight school class and were planning to meet us for dinner at their house. I remember driving over, being all the way annoyed because every time I shifted positions, I peed a little. (Sorry not sorry… this is a birth story and it gets worse. You have been warned.) When we got to Tami’s house we took the boys out to the playground. Looking back it really did feel like an out of body experience. Samuel toppled off a ladder in slow motion, I squatted down to help him up, and stood up with pants wet to the ankle. There were expletives. Tami looked at me and said “Holy shit. Did your water just break?!” I went into immediate denial and embarrassment over peeing in my pants right in front of her. I had had a baby already, I knew what it was like when your water broke… right??? An hour later Tami had me on my back on the floor with my feet in the air. The husbands got home and I calmly explained to Rob that I had called the doctor and they suggested I come in and get checked. Another hour later we were on the Labor and Delivery Floor at the hospital peeing in a cup. Skip ahead more more hour… I was in a state of complete and total terror. Rob was making phone calls and the doctors were arranging for me to be transported to a hospital that hosted a Level 4 NICU. I was admitted and Rob went home to pack me a bag…

Friday the 13th

The following day, the plan was set. My doctor pulled some strings and had me set to go to Northside Hospital in Atlanta so that we would be close to my family. That meant Rob and Samuel would be able to stay comfortably nearby with my parents and we would have some help taking care of Samuel while I was… well keeping my feet up and the baby in and Rob was keeping me (mostly) sane. It seemed simple enough. I would ride in the ambulance and Rob would drive separately with Samuel, take him to my parents house, and meet me at the hospital. Did I mention it was Friday the 13th? It was also February. It was pouring rain.
Oh… and I was nearing hour 24 of a clear liquid diet. Just let that sink in for a second.

The Crew

My ambulance crew arrived a little after 4pm. The process of bringing this field trip together started on Thursday night about 8pm. I consider myself a reasonably patient person, but at 31 weeks pregnant stuck in a bed with my feet in the air, on a clear liquid diet of popsicles and fear, peeing in a bucket all day, thinking I was going to have my baby any minute – where the hell is this ambulance?!? At 4pm my chariot arrived just as I was overhearing the nursing staff arguing about who was going to have to ride with me. I endeavored to be an excellent traveling companion – chatty, interesting, funny, and endearing – so maybe they would sneak me a candy bar. Over the hum of nurses’ chatter I heard new voices in the hallway – loud, heavy local accents – who burst into my room wielding a stretcher and a pile of papers printed from MapQuest. This was the first time I thanked God that Rob hadn’t stayed and was already enroute to Atlanta.

Side Note: Let me say, very delicately, that when your water breaks, it’s not like a whoosh of water and you’re done. It’s kind of like a leaky faucet without the sound effects. When you’re not allowed to change your clothes every 5 minutes, well… suffice to say I was not looking my best and I was definitely not dry. All of that to say, moving around in that state of being is about as ungraceful as I’ve ever been in my life.

SO. My rescue drivers were called Bubba and Big Girl. These were surely not their given birth names, but that’s what we’re going to call them – Bubba and “BG” for short. And no, I’m not being mean, just honest. Bubba was probably about 5’10” and one of the lankiest dudes I have EVER seen – if he was hosed down while wearing a trench coat he might weight 140lbs. He also had the mustache that only Tom Selleck has ever been able to pull off and he is “born and RAISED in DALE County – also known as God’s country.” (This is for real how he introduced himself). He was also chewing an unnecessary amount of gum. He had terrible posture, slumped his shoulders forward and had his fingers hooked through belt loops that were well accustomed to this stance. “That there streeeetcher, it can’t never leave my siiiights,” he said with a high pitched, hyper nasality to his voice that made me hope instantly that he wasn’t a conversationalist. No such luck. But he stood in the middle of my room and kept pointing his middle and index fingers at his eyes and then at me. Big Girl, or BG, came in behind him. She was at least 6 feet tall and blonde, though no naturally, wore glasses made from the thickest lenses I had ever seen, and weighed 300lbs. She was intimidating but generally confused about what to do with her hands (Cue the Ricky Bobby reference). The nurses came in to help me transfer from bed to stretcher. BG stepped out of the room but Bubba stayed because – you guessed it, that streeetcher wasn’t leaving his siiiiights. So I thanked the good Lord for the 2nd time that Rob hadn’t stayed with me, left my modesty and pride in a hospital bed in Alabama, and submitted to the care of Bubba and BG, embarking on a quick 4 hour trip to Atlanta. I had made the trip countless times and felt confident I would sleep through most of it…

The nurse who drew the short straw was a lady whose name I can’t remember. She was old enough to be my grandmother but less than 1% as sweet as my grandmother. She was the only RN on duty who wouldn’t be forced into overtime with this fieldtrip and she wasn’t happy about it. Once seated on the hard bench of a seat in the back of the ambulance, she looked like a nun – or a statue of one. We’ll call her Mother Superior. She checked my IV and my blood pressure as well as the contraction monitor. She fitted me with a nasal cannula for oxygen, should I need it, and banged on the front window with a ferocity that startled me a little and had me abandoning my earlier plan for conversation and candy bars. I had nothing with me except for my purse and cell phone – which she said was a good thing because “that’s less to keep up with if you go into labor and there’s an emergency.” The panic of that thought was overshadowed by disappointment when we pulled away from the hospital without sirens… I was kind of looking forward to the drama of the sirens.

The Trip

Laying on my left side with my feet elevated, I couldn’t see out but it was already dark. Since Mother Superior was apparently in a statue trance and squashed any hope of conversation by immediately closing her eyes and dozing, I was left to my own thoughts for awhile. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. I prayed and reassured myself that none of those things they warned me about a 9 weeks premature baby would happen to Izzy. I prayed and took deep breaths and closed my eyes…

“HOLD ON!!!” BUUUUMMMPPP!!! “AAAAAAHHHEEEEE!!!!” This cry of exhilaration jolted me from sleep just in time to grip my IV pole and brace myself against the wall of the ambulance as we were airborne crossing a railroad track. It took me a second to register what had just happened, but more confusing was the hysterical laughter coming from the front seat and all of the MapQuest directions papers sliding across the dashboard. Jesus take the… “HOLD ON!!!!” We bumped again and you can enter your own colorful expletives here. I said them all. Mother Superior looked mildly annoyed and threw an irritated glance toward the front seat as she scooted over to take my vitals. “Your BP is a little elevated. Take deep breaths and relax.”

Who else just thought, “Thank God Rob wasn’t there. Seriously.”

The drive from Dothan to Atlanta is easy really… you just take 431N through Eufaula (yep, that’s pronounce ‘you folla’) until you get to Columbus, GA where you get on I-185 which takes you to I-85 and straight into Atlanta. If you have never traveled through or are not familiar with Enterprise or Dothan, Alabama you’ll need to know that if you ever do and have to ask someone for directions, their answer will likely include something about “getting not the circle.” Both Enterprise and Dothan have ‘circles’ that go all the way around town. Not all that different, I guess, from large beltways in big cities – like 285 in Atlanta. It’s also important to notice that there is no ‘circle’ in Columbus, GA. We stopped there for gas – because apparently they didn’t fuel up before they left??? – but I quickly learned we hadn’t stopped for gas. We stopped for Sour Patch Kids and a smoke break. Apparently, smoke breaks are appropriate when transporting a very pregnant woman who is actively leaking amniotic fluid and is also hooked up to free flowing oxygen in the backseat. I asked Mother Superior if this was normal – the stop, the smoking so close to the ambulance with the door open? I don’t think she replied but she went inside and came back with snacks.

CLEAR. LIQUID. DIET.

I only had a few minutes to worry about what would happen to Mother Superior’s coffee if there were more railroad crossings before BG started consulting 43 pages of MapQuest Directions and yelling at Bubba to “Git on the circle and find the big highway… I think it’s one eighty something and probably north. Or are we going east? Do you know where Atlanta is?” My inner monologue was taking a turn for the worst at this point. I was still on my left side which meant my left hip and leg were completely numb. The second railroad jump left me worse for wear, I’m soaking wet, and starving. There is a smell of something not clear or liquid wafting from the front seat – cheeseburgers! We took several left turns, made a U-turn and repeated the sequence. “Well this here says to take 280 East but ain’t we going North?” BG asks. “Does Atlanta look like it’s North or East from here? Where’s the circle?” After about 15 minutes and trips past the smoke break gas station it dawns on me, there is no circle in Columbus, GA. I heave up onto my elbow and peek out the window… we are definitely driving in circles. I decided it was a good time to speak up and be helpful. While I coaxed and explained that I was very familiar with this route and that there wasn’t a circle in Columbus, just 80 foot green signs to direct you to 185, I was told not to worry because they had “the MapQuest.” After 3 more turns around the same collection of roads and gas stations I finally caught sight of our turn and yelled OVER them, “GUYS!!! TURN RIGHT! THAT’S OUR TURN!!” “S’ok missy, we’re just gonna getcha on the circle and scoot right on up to Atlanta don’t you worry.” My voice might have bordered on hostile when I said “THERE IS NO CIRCLE IN COLUMBUS.” but I completely lost it when I was told, “OK but we ain’t going to Columbus – we’re taking you to Atlanta.” Mother Superior took my BP again and didn’t approve. I continued in my vain attempt to explain circle-less Columbus to Bubba and BG who, by this time, had abandoned “The MapQuest” and were just turning right. Forty five minutes later, we somehow managed to make the right turn and found ourselves on I-185 and headed northeast towards Atlanta.

Ten minutes outside of Columbus, the radio is up and there is a competitive banter going back and forth between Bubba and BG. Apparently, BG bought Sour Patch kids at the gas station and is boasting about how many she can put in her mouth at once. Bubba insists that seeing is believing. BG challenges him to a contest and they commence to putting the candies in their mouths one at a time. I looked to Mother Superior and asked if we had a barf bag or a basin – just in case – but she was dozing again. I swear, BG had 30 of those things in her mouth when I heard her start to gag. Luckily, Bubba conceded the victory and the topic of conversation shifted to Bubba’s relationship woes. I slept a little and woke to Mother Superior checking my vitals and telling me we were 50 miles from Atlanta. I looked at my watch. It was almost 10pm. We were 6 hours into our 4 hours trip. I firmly suggested that they take I-285 north east to avoid construction and even swore they would like it because it was Atlanta’s circle… no such luck. The MapQuest would determine the route. I recognized the lights from the airport and thought, “OK, we made it….”

The Arrival

A little while later, the chit-chat turned back into mild arguing over what route we’ll take. I had never been to Northside hospital, but I have been to Perimeter Mall and that’s just an exit down from the hospital and on the east side of the Perimeter. It’s at this point that I hear BG say, “There’s your exit. Four hundred, north.” 400? The TOLL road? Anybody ever seen an ambulance drive through a toll booth? Yah, me neither. To Mother Superior (who looks like she needs an exorcism at this point) I said, “Do you think they know that 400 is a toll road?” No answer, just a shrug and she turns away to get out the blood pressure cuff. I’m surprised that, by now, I’m not having a stroke. “Hey guys,” I say as we’re slowing down,“Four hundred is a toll road… but since we’re an ambulance, we won’t have to pay a toll, right?” The only response is, “We shoulda put the lights on. Got any change?” After Bubba, BG, and Mother Superior dig through their pockets for change, it is determined that among them, there are only debit cards. Bubba is talking to the toll booth attendant who is probably thinking, “Tough cookies, dude” and I’m positive that I can feel contractions. Bubba turns back to me. “Hey Kathy, you got any change on you?” Who the hell is Kathy? Gee, let me think. I don’t have on pants – no! I don’t even have on underwear! Of course I don’t have any change! Where would I put it? Before I can answer, Mother Superior gingerly hands me the purse I’d totally forgotten about, and I dig out 50 cents and pay the toll. FROM THE BACKSEAT OF THE AMBULANCE.

Shortly after the toll booth, we get off the interstate and after several turns Mother Superior informs me, “We’re here.” Praise God. We’re at the hospital in Atlanta. I can see that it’s raining – just a drizzle – and when they open the back door to pull me out, I find that it’s also very, very cold. BG and Bubba start to pull the stretcher out after Mother Superior pulls my blankets up which, by this time, are (you guessed it!) soaking wet. And it’s raining. And it’s cold. BG and Bubba are wearing their rain gear jackets and Mother Superior makes a beeline for an awning. BG and Bubba are discussing entrances, more specifically, which entrance we should use. I’m thinking this is a decision we should have considered before wheeling me and my wetness out of the ambulance into the icy cold drizzle. They decide to go for the Women’s Center Entrance, where we’re parked, and Mother Superior mentions that we should probably go through the emergency room exit since the other doors are probably locked. Bubba decides this is the best way to go because it’s where we parked. So we wheel up to thedoor and – shocker! – it’s locked. I am actively searching for something to throw. The nurse on the other side waves them over to the next door (about 20 feet away) that says “no entry after 10PM use ER.” The ER, in case you’re wondering, is on the other side of the building. But rather than load me back up, which, according to BG is just a waste of time, they decide to roll me around on the sidewalk in the rain, no umbrella and already soaking wet. We make it around to the entrance and finally… we’ve arrived.

“This here Atlanta, son.”

The next thing I have a clear memory of is my (first of many) room(s). Since the nurse could hear my teeth chattering from down the hall, they changed out by blankets immediately and said they would get me changed as soon as we got my initial paperwork filled out. As you’ve probably guessed, Bubba still has the stretcher I’m on “in hissiiiiights” and BG is off in search of a vending machine. When we finally roll into a room where I’ll be staying for awhile, a young nurse’s assistant, who we’ll just call “Awesome” because I cannot remember her name, comes in to take my blood pressure and temperature. She’s a young, very pretty black girl who is all business. She notes my shivering and wet hair after a few minutes and asks if I’m cold. “Warming up.” I say. “Looks like you been through it tonight. You couldn’t get nobody to give you an umbrella?” I glare in Bubba’s direction and find him smacking his gum and slumping his shoulders, fingers in his belt loops again. Awesome follows my gaze and gives a little grunt (I think in understanding). She informs me that my blood pressure is good, other vitals looks fine, and that she’s ready to help me get moved onto the other bed from the stretcher. This is that graceful, mortifying task I mentioned earlier that would have been made less awful if I had been wearing pants… When I start to scoot on the bed, the sloshing sound is obvious and painfully embarrassing. Bubba is watching and I’m all the way annoyed and exasperated. Awesome is a keen observer and says, “Sir, you’ll need to step in the hallway a minute so she can get into bed.” Bubba lifts his fingers, points them to his eyes and to me and Awesome. “That ther streeetcher, it cain’t never leave my siiights.” Awesome looks confused. “What?” Bubba repeats his sentence and the gesture. Awesome stands up a little straighter and glances at me. I sighed and noted all the throwable objects within reach and wondered if they would actually take me to jail if I knocked him out with a blood pressure cuff. I closed my eyes briefly and took what I hope was a steadying breath. When I opened my eyes, Awesome had turned her gaze on Bubba and is giving him a very slow once over. She lifts her two index fingers and throws Bubba’s gesture right back at him. “I’ll keep mysights on this stretcher while you wait in the hall.” Bubba shakes his head like an indignant three year old and insists something about responsibility. Awesome looks at me with a question in her eyes. “I want him to go” I say. She gives a nod and looks at Bubba. “Sir, you need to step in the hallway. Now.” Here comes the gesture again and Awesome’s patience waivers. She throws her hand out, gesturing around the room. “Do you see anybody in here that’s gonna take yo stretcher? We got our own. If they do they gotta go right out that door, right where you gonna be standin’, now go on out and wait. Give this woman some damn privacy!” Bubba digs his heels in and I think I really might break down and cry, or nail him with the bed pan, but Awesome puts up her ‘talk to the hand’ hand and says (and this is my favorite part):
Awesome: “Where you come from, sir?”
Bubba: “We came up from Dothan. Alabama.”
Awesome: “Alabama. OK well Imma tell you this since you don’t know. This here Atlanta, son. You gonna step out in that hallway and give my patient some privacy or I’ll move you to that hallway myself And trust me Alabama, you don’t want that.”
Bubba hesitates and to my ever-lasting glee, Awesome takes two steps to the foot of my bed and puts her hand on her hip: “Best to remember where you are. Now get out, ‘fore I PUT you out.”
See why I call her “Awesome”?

Valentine’s Day

And so, we made it. My mom arrived within the hour and made sure I got some rest – meaning that she told the nurses to knock me out. Stat. Ambien on a clear liquid diet is magnificent. The next day was Valentine’s Day and I spent most of it sleeping and having tests run and worrying about our baby girl… I wrote down this story that day, hoping and trusting that one day I would tell her about our wild night and crazy people in the ambulance. Despite the 17 near-death experiences it took just to get us to the right hospital, I’ll never regret that ride and I’ll always be grateful to Bubba, his stretcher, BG, Mother Superior, and Awesome who got me (and Izzy) into a warm bed in one piece. I may or may not buy her some Sour Patch kids for her birthday every year…

Eleven days after our wild arrival, on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 16:24 our Isabella Evelyn was born. 5lbs 11oz and as perfect as any baby has ever been… more on her birthday story in Part II…

Isabella Evelyn about 2 weeks old here...

2020: She Used to Be Mine.

“If you are speaking of music… it is of all subjects my delight. There are few people in England I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself…”
~Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride & Prejudice

Fun Fact: I am one of the greatest music lovers you will ever meet.  Music is most often a sanctuary for me – it moves me in ways that I cannot explain. If you ever attend a sporting event, watch America’s Got Talent, ride in the car, see a concert, are within earshot of my shower, or attend a middle school band concert with me, you will see me cry. It used to embarrass me, but I have learned to embrace the fact that music is one of the elements of life that speaks to me on a very deep and spiritual level. 

Instead of the usual New Year New You Resolution announcement, motivational post, the planner that’s gonna help you get it all done, the diet plan that is for sure going to work this time, the goal diagram, or the casual cynicism that claims “not much is going to change and that’s OK” – I’m going to use my greatest delight to illustrate the lessons of 2019 and the promises of 2020.

 Before you read on, if you haven’t heard it, click below to listen to a song by Sara Bareilles called “She Used to Be Mine.”

I have never seen the Broadway show for which it was written and at first listen you might think it’s about a waitress who was treated poorly by a man and is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, but I’m going to tell you that the song is actually about everyone who has ever outgrown a version of themselves and ‘given birth’ to a person they didn’t (think they) want or need. Change in life, much like a pregnancy, is inevitable. You will be different one day to the next, just not always in an obvious way. That song is about that inevitable change and the power that resides in saying goodbye to the versions of ourselves that no longer belong in our lives. Sometimes those goodbyes are highly anticipated and welcomed – like saying goodbye to the version of myself that was fifty pounds heavier – while others are mourned, missed, and leave us hopelessly disappointed with no choice but to move on – like the sudden loss of a relationship. If you look back on your life carefully, you will find that you have said goodbye to yourself many times without knowing it. You have experienced disappointment and loss and yet, here you are.  You have experienced moments of indescribable joy and excitement and still, here you are. 

The 2019 Katie is well summed up by Sara’s chorus:

“She’s imperfect, but she tries.
She is good, but she lies.
She is hard on herself.
She is broken. But won’t ask for help.
She is messy, but she’s kind.
She is lonely. Most of the time.
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie.
She is gone, but she used to be mine”

If you have ever had to or needed to let go of a version of yourself and in the process made hard, impossible choices, or endeavored to ride out the storm because it was the only choice – maybe you’re crying with me while you’re listening to those words. Growing through our life experiences is a necessity – one that is often painful – but I am here to tell you that every day that you continue to draw breath is worth the storms and struggles of the day before.  This is not a novel concept, but if you want to avoid the bitterness that is born of struggle, you better learn to grab hold of it and keep your eyes WIDE OPEN. Demand to know its secrets and lessons. If struggle were a sweater, I’d be wearing it most of the time. I am good at it. One of the most significant things anyone said to me this last year was this: “Katie, you have never been able to find the easy way. In everything I have ever seen you do, you have struggled.” There was a lot of pride and conviction in that statement. And healing in this one: “But I have never seen you fail. You always find your way.” 

There is no secret formula to success – not even when the calendar turns over and gives us the magic of a New Year. You just have to use what you have while you’ve got it and let go of it when the time comes. You’ll know when because it will either be a welcome release or a tearing away of your soul. Just know that the change is happening because life is growing inside you at all times and there simply isn’t room for the old. You’re going to need people to help you along. You’re going to need that planner, that budget, that personal trainer, that nutrition coach, that encouraging community, and that accountability partner – so go find them.  You’re going to stumble, struggle, and fail – but don’t doubt that what you really need is the life that is growing inside you with a mix of fear, dread, excitement, and promises.  I hope you acknowledge the you of 2019 for all of their lessons, experiences, victories, and failures.  And I look forward to the new you of 2020 – because that version of yourself is inevitable.  Expect them. Embrace them. And keep your eyes open. 

Dear 2019 Katie: I am so proud of you. You kept your eyes wide open. You stayed where your feet were. You believed in the inevitability of change and held onto hope. You walked away when it was hard. You paid the price. You accepted the reward. You embraced the wilderness in all of its many uncertainties. You were vulnerable and you were brave. You were so strong. I will miss you and I am grateful for you. I promise to make you proud in 2020. 

“And then she’ll get stuck.
And be scared. Of the life that’s inside her.
Growing stronger each day.

Til it finally reminds her 
To FIGHT.
JUST. A. LITTLE.
And bring back the FIRE in her eyes.
That’s been gone… but used to be mine.”