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.”

That is AMERICA.

If you’re scrolling through social media today, you have probably seen posts about the American troops that have rapidly deployed in big numbers this week. I don’t know the statistics, but it seems like it has been a while since we’ve seen this kind of quick reaction and deployment on such a scale as 3,000+ troops. And the reactions are already rolling in…

I don’t watch much of the news as a general rule when it comes to military movements and events. I have a pretty reliable source for that – and while so many people are reposting articles about the soldiers leaving, talking about how the block holiday leave has been interrupted for so many, and expressing their concern for our troops and their families… still others persist with yet another reason to disagree and cast blame.

Watching video of the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division march out on that airfield, army green against a beautiful blue sky, with that ominous C-17 looming in the background, I get goosebumps. Knowing where they are headed, my eyes fill with tears. The ones taking those pictures, watching those soldiers walk away from them, make my heart ache. Writing these words I am filled with so many memories of the same and my first instinct is to squeeze those tears back and pray every prayer I’ve got for their safe return.

You know what else I feel though? Maybe it’s just me, but I hope not. It’s so hard to describe, but I’ll try…

Those men and women in uniform – walking away from their holiday break, their families, their homes and neighborhoods, their daily comforts, their way of life – represent a level of pride and hope that you can’t put words to. They come from different backgrounds, neighborhoods, and beliefs. They don’t all follow the same sport or have the same favorite team. They might like country music or hip hop or Chopin. They probably voted for different people and have plenty to say about the state of politics in this country. Yet somehow, miraculously, these thousands of diverse human beings are all walking together under a blue sky towards an unknown outcome. Why.

Because that is AMERICA.


AMERICA means our military men & women stand ready and willing to hop that C-17 to God knows where or what, because they believe that this country and this way of life are WORTH THE RISK. You. Me. Our children. Millions of people these men & women will never set eyes on – we are worth it. Imagine believing in something with such conviction that you are willing to set aside what and who you hold most precious and say, “ME. I will go.”

Just a take a moment, please. Imagine squeezing the hand of the girl of your dreams – the woman you married, made a family with and fought through all the ups and downs with – the late nights & early mornings, long drives, unexpected changes, the fights, the firsts, the holidays, the plans, the losses, the unexpected bumps and the best days ever, imagine squeezing her hand one more time, kissing her one more time, looking into those eyes as familiar as your own – one. more. time. – Maybe a wink. Maybe a nod. “Be right back.” And then walking away with only the hope of coming back to her and all the promises you made to each other. What conviction would it take? What bravery? What strength?

TELL ME. Who among us can say we would take the risk?

You’re looking at them. On your newsfeeds and Facebook walls. Those faces you don’t know and never will. The eyes that are watching them walk away that you will never have to face. THEY walk boldly away from the dreams and opportunities the rest of us will continue to tuck safely under our pillows tonight with our prayers. THAT. IS. AMERICA. That is pride built on something more than the opinions, politics, politicians, or whatever social movement of the day is current. Without them, there are no causes, no opportunities, and no dreams to unfold.

Do you feel it yet? Do you feel the power in their choice to STAND and GO? I do. And it doesn’t make me sad. It makes me shake with pride and cry tears of gratitude that I can bear witness to such unbelievable selfless SERVICE and COURAGE. That I should be worthy of such bravery. That this country, so treacherously & hatefully divided, should be so unified by them. Do you feel it? Can you see it? THAT. IS. AMERICA.

HOPE. These stories and pictures shouldn’t inspire deeper disagreement or finger pointing or blame. They should inspire HOPE. That is what I feel when I see those pictures and find myself smiling at them – no matter the state of the country, the politics, or who sent them – THEY. GO. For us. For all of us. That kind of love and conviction should be celebrated & emulated. It should UNITE us. It should inspire us to make THEIR AMERICA a better place.

Take notice. Smile for them. Cry for them. Pray for them. Believe in them. Wait for them.

The Strong Ones

November 2015 / Deadlift 345 lbs

I started this entry out as a quick-ish synopsis of my experience with weightlifting and how its lessons translated into so many other areas of my life. It really got me thinking, though, and that is a dangerous thing. This is when we find ourselves in “short story long” territory. My husband has always been patient in my story telling, but he will also encourage me to “make the point” when I stray off course. In the case of “the strong ones,” there was simply too much to keep it readable for one post but over the past couple of days I have realized this was the direction I have been headed all along.

A few years ago I asked a group of ten people who, at the time I felt knew me well, to describe me in one word. Eight of them said “strong.” That came about during a time when I was feeling everything but strong. Here’s an excerpt of something I wrote then: 

I cried. Every time I saw that word, I felt like a fraud… and yes, we are strong, but we are also human and in the moments that I read that same word over and over again all I could think was how tired I was of being strong... We all have to go through some tough times, make hard decisions, and experience a little heartache in our lives. Those lessons are the ones that teach us the most about who we really are & can be. I don’t think that process has an end in sight for me, but I’m learning to respect it, enjoy it, and believe in the promises it brings. Recognizing when you’ve had enough is one (thing) I’m not so good at – you know, because I’m strong.

I’m chuckling at the girl who wrote that. True, she had had enough but there has been so much more since, it makes me curious… how do we continue on when life gets hard? Well, the answer is we find the strength. And that has me down a deep dark rabbit hole of wondering over the meanings and types of strength. What are some specific scenarios where I felt strong? The answers surprised me because they ranged from a high school weight room to a delivery room, then to a flooded basement or a NICU, the end of a year-long deployment (and then another), even further on to a 345 lb deadlift, to walking away from a toxic environment, to helping my friend bury her dog, and to burying friends, marrying friends, moving… and moving… and moving… All of these examples made me realize that strength isn’t just as defined: “1. the quality or state of being physically strong or 2. the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.” There has to be more to it! So we have come to the ‘short story long’ version of “The Strong Ones…”

This year has been what I have termed my “snow globe year.” My whole world got turned upside down and then shaken vigorously. The beauty in that level of “falling apart” is that in the righting and settling of the world, everything changes. Nothing will ever look the same, feel the same, BE the same. Once you get right side up again, you have a choice to either keep looking at the world as what you lost in the change or you can walk in the knowledge that you are STRONG enough to withstand the ‘snow globing’ of your world and not only continue on, but find purpose in the changes, gratitude in the small moments, and faith of greater days to come. The strong ones put all the burdens of life on their backs and keep moving forward.

One step at a time.

Why? Because they know that their legs aren’t strong enough to carry them by accident. They know that their eyes were designed to focus on what’s ahead of them, not what they are passing through or have left behind. They know that they have and will see worse, but their desire to keep moving forward is stronger than the load they carry. STRENGTH does not come to anyone in any form easily or by accident. In this season of life my strength has been earned with the pain of disappointment, the sting of failure, the tears of betrayal, the fear of being left behind, and the risk of losing. The strong ones know all of those things well, but they also know that what lies on the other side of disappointment, failure, and betrayal is greater…

As Maya Angelou said “…the price is high, but the reward is great.”

As I like to say, “Life is going to be hard… be strong anyway.” It’s worth it.

Strong Anyway

The first time I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up was in the second grade. My response:  “Author.”  For a second grader, it wasn’t a very exciting choice and I cant remember why I chose that, but it stuck with me through most of elementary school.  I also wrote my first book in the second grade. I don’t remember what it was about but I bet I could dig it out of my mom’s basement.  I do remember that computers were extremely new and barely in use at school but the technology teacher helped me print my pages out and bound it for me. Gosh I was so proud of that. In fourth and fifth grade I wrote more stories, one with my friend about a girl who traveled to Hawaii to visit her dad and one in the fifth grade about a girl whose sister was killed in a car crash… kind of heavy stuff for a fifth grader.  Throughout middle and high school I kept journals and diaries, writing out my feelings, fears, tragedies, and secrets. In my senior year of high school I wrote a novel for my senior project. I still have it and recently bought a floppy disk converter so I could start reading through it.  In 2009 when my daughter was born, I used to sit up with her for hours at night – she required absolute silence to sleep and would do so only if I was holding her. I wrote a book in my head that I have written over and over for ten years – it’s a trilogy by now – but I’ve never written it down. 

All of my life, for as long as I can remember, I have loved to read stories, write stories, and have written about my own life and experiences. I have no idea why I didn’t pursue that passion as a college student and often wonder what I might be doing if I had.  For most of my adult life, people have told me I should blog or write a book, but truthfully, I’ve never felt sure that anyone would read anything that I wrote. Blogging is so common and any story I can tell has probably already been told, right? I have had myself convinced that (a) nobody cares and (b) it’s already been done and (c) a lot of people wont like what you have to say – you can do without that kind of rejection in your life. The steps I’ve taken in the past year towards “putting my stuff out there” have been less like cute wobbly baby steps and more like being dragged through mud by your teeth. This year, I have found myself in great need of wisdom, guidance, understanding, affirmation, truth, purging, and peace. That describes what? 99.9% of us (if we’re honest)? 

In the past two months the last two steps towards this beginning were planted firmly in front of me:  First a friend who is a wizard at all things websites graciously said “I can help you with that.”  And then… she did.  Second, in a “Target moment” (you know, when you go to Target to buy toilet paper but then buy everything else?) I picked up Brene Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness” because I was sick of hearing how great she was and desperate for something relevant and life altering.  The first chapter is called “Everywhere and Nowhere” (ding!) and the first line says how fearful she is every time she sits down to write (ding! ding!)  She clearly wrote anyway, despite her fears, and she’s changed so many lives for the better – because of her fear. My takeaway from the first few chapters of that book was that it doesn’t matter who reads what I write, what I say or don’t say, or what anyone thinks of it. Write it anyway.

So to Chandler, who is patient, kind, funny, REAL, and a true wizard… thank you for the push. I bet you didn’t even know you did that, but I needed it and I’m grateful. 

To Dr Brene Brown… you already know your work matters, but your chapter “Everywhere and Nowhere” changed my life. At a time in my life where I felt so desperately insignificant, inadequate, and invisible, your words made me feel seen. Thank you.  

I am a big advocate for expectation management… so here’s what you can expect from me:

I can be funny, so it won’t be somber and serious all the time. 

My husband is going to do some writing with me. HE. IS. AWESOME. I know you probably think that I’m biased but in this case I’m also right. He is. 

I have been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist for 12 years and have worked with the very young, the very old, and everyone in between. My experiences as a professional working with kids, their parents, and adults in this field have provided a wealth of teaching and learning experiences that have added so much value and countless stories to my life.

I’m kind of into fitness. The story of this journey is pretty cool.  You’ll hear from both of us on this topic!

I am a mother to two kids. Parenthood is a hot topic and one I am very passionate about. There is plenty of room to laugh, learn, and share stories here.

I am a military spouse. I sort of cringe at that label, but our lifestyle has provided so many opportunities to learn about ourselves. I promise not to be a cliché. 

I have dogs. Two. They are ridiculous. Or I am ridiculous. Yes, I’m that “dog person,” but they are wildly entertaining so you’re welcome in advance. 

I guess that’s a good start as far as introductions go?

It took me 37 years to ‘grow up’ but I’m determined to make my second grade-self proud… here we go…   lets write it anyway.

~KPAL