The secret to being at the right place, at the right time, is knowing

Hello, 41.

Well, you guys, I made it. Another voyage around that glorious and life-giving star is in the books. And it feels good.

Really good.

For whatever reason, birthdays tend to make me rather contemplative. Or, maybe my tribe would suggest this is just me everyday. *wink* Lately, though, my senses have heightened around our human tendency to face each passing year in adulthood with a deeper sense of apprehension. With more trepidation. It may even be fair to use the word dread here, yes? There is often a palpable sense of just UGGGGGH towards it all as we get older, right?

What is that all about, anyway?

I mean, sure, there are definitely aspects of getting older that could just quit it already. Like, say, if we had authority to fire the random hip/ back/ neck/ foot/ knee/ {insert yours here} pain that strikes without notice and seemingly with no just cause, we would TOTALLY do it. I think we can agree she isn’t a great team player. Or how about those fine lines that creep across foreheads and from the edges of eyeballs and corners of mouths AND FOR-THE-LOVE DOWN ONTO NECK SKIN ALL THE WAY TO BIG TOES?!? It sort of feels like those guys just want to make sure we are crystal clear on who is really in charge, you know? And our direct supervisor goes by the name Gravity, friends, and he is a seeeeerious micromanager. And what are we to make of unexpected memory lapses (GAAAH WHY THE HEEEEELLL DID I WALK INTO THIS ROOM) and hairs escaping heads only to reappear in less desirable locations and ladies DON’T EVEN with these hormone changes. It never occurred to me that chin acne would make regular visits at this point in the journey, but boy-does-it-ever, like some sort of scary clown arriving unsolicited at your door and belting an out-of-tune singing telegram. Just. All. Kinds. Of. Wrong. Weight gets harder to lose and gray hairs become easier to find. Too many cocktails (read: that third glass of wine which FOR SURE seemed like the right next move) offer gratuitous anguish and, in a weird twist of fate, climbing into bed before 9pm or sleeping past 8am (read: 6am) is equivalent to finding a unicorn or the pot-o-gold at rainbow’s end or any situation’s silver lining. Nothing but HAPPINESS.

But, I don’t know, when I push back a ways from this noise it all just seems so small and insignificant by comparison to this BIG chance we get each day.

And it is big … simply being alive. Right?

So perhaps this is the spot where I should insert a list of some sort. You know, like “8 Ways To Adult Like A Champ” or “11 Steps to Stop Giving Into All the Noise”. But, since it seems a hefty portion of real estate on the social interwebs is already leased for this type of thing, let’s try something a bit different. Shall we?

Do you remember the Saturday Night Live sketch character, Stuart Smalley? YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. How about the impossibly soothing nature painter, Bob Ross? THERE ARE NO MISTAKES. BE YOU. Well today, or better yet how about ANY OL’ DAY that the critic (last name, Ego) threatens to steal joy, let’s all link arms and channel our inner Smalley and Ross. It could look something like this:

[E = Ego / TRY = The Real You]

E: My feet hurt when I get out of bed in the morning. I’m falling apart!
TRY: I AM HERE. LET’S DO THIS, SORE FEET.

E: More gray hairs?! Meh.
TRY: I AM ALIVE. WE ARE GOING TO ROCK THIS DAY, GRAY HAIRS.

E: These wrinkles make me look old.
TRY: I AM A BEAUTIFUL AND HAPPY TREE. YOU CAN’T STOP ME, WRINKLES.

E: Bleck, another birthday.
TRY: I AM A YEAR OLDER AND WISER AND IT IS AMAAAAAAZING.

E: I wish I was young again.
TRY: I AM NOT GOING TO WISH AWAY THIS DAY HOPING FOR ANOTHER. THIS WILL BE MY BEST DAY YET.

You get the gist. Let’s run this drill over and over (and over) again until we’ve crowded our minds with so much joy and self-love and acceptance JUST AS WE ARE TODAY that there simply isn’t space left for judgment.

A dear college friend has walked through fire this year and put up her dukes against many hard things. She is amazing. Recently, she shared this sentiment that I’d like to close with because there is just no way possible I could say it any better than this, you guys:

I have learned to surround myself with those that sincerely care for me, not to waste time worrying about the little things and be thankful for every single day I am given on this earth. I live in the little moments. Tucking my girls into bed is not a chore but rather a privilege! I am a changed person but hopefully for the better. Here’s to living BIG.

^^ Amen to that. Be extra kind to yourself today, my friend.

XO

JJ

There are two ways to be. (5)

Life, just as it is.

Teenagers. Right, guys?

If you don’t live with one currently you either remember living with one or being one or you have a tween or highly ambitious nine-year-old that’s on the fringe and providing you with ample glimpses of what lies ahead. In any case, what an utterly unique experience, huh? All awkward and jarring and whoa-these-hormones-mean-bizzzzznus. In one inhale there is closeness and sweet hugs from those gangly arms and bodies that somehow grew overnight and the next exhale dissolves to distance and escape and occasionally whispered but often thunderous requests to SERIOUSLY JUST LEAVE. ME. ALOOOOONE. *Cue dramatic door slam* There are limits pressed and battles for independence fought and dirty socks left on feet and clean shorts buried in laundry piles. Each and every moment drips with anticipation, like the plot line of an Oscar-worthy suspense film unfolding, as we eagerly wait to see what will happen next.

My thirteen-year-old is also the one who graced me with this Mom badge. Tyler made a noisy entrance into the world on an especially cold January night in Chicago, trailing his due date by just shy of two weeks. I was convinced he was NEVER going to make his escape from my uterus and I would be the first woman in the history of womanhood to tout a three-year pregnancy. Ahhh, a special shout out to wildly unstable gestational hormones for all of that glorious rational thinking you afford us. *highfives* I also recall my enthusiasm on our hospital release day being quickly obliterated by a big plate of trepidation served with a generous side of panic. His fragile newborn body was SO TINY and that air was North Pole grade bitter and so we acted sensibly and buried him under a twenty-seven blanket pile up (because twenty-six obviously wouldn’t cut it, folks) and set cruise control to 5 mph and HOLY HELL SLOW DOOOOWWNN became my battle cry for that menacing three-mile stretch. We lived in a one-bedroom loft at the time and had converted a storage closet (no joke) into a *fully-functioning* nursery. There was a crib and a changing table and a small dresser and just enough elbow room for one adult to delicately navigate the space for diaper duty. As a first-time mom and consummate over-achiever, I devoured ALL of the parenting books and I feverishly highlighted chapters as though studying for a high-stakes exam and I heeded all the warnings and tips and tricks and I rolled up my new mom sleeves and I was so ready to tackle this thing.

Bring it, motherhood.

And then our new housemate began to play his hand. And, oh-my-lord friends, his deck was stacked. Perhaps you’ve also given birth to a grizzled poker player with a bottomless bankroll. You guys, I was just so certain the Baby Whisperer authors were speaking directly to ME and MY CHILD and if I heeded their words and counsel it would carry us straight to the nighttime sleep schedule promise land. So certain, in fact, that even after months of testing every strategy with a zero percent success rate, I forged on completely undeterred for another several months. If anyone dared set that child in a spot other than DIRECTLY into his crib for nap time or bed time or at the mere inkling of a yawn or drooping eyelid and OF COURSE after activity time which was subsequent to eating time (babies are complicated) I’d follow with something level-headed like, Yes, I have eyeballs and I can see that he is sleeping soundly in that swing but it’s just ALL WRONG.*Cue wakeful baby* *And weeping, sleep-deprived woman*

I made plans, guys. big plans. But this renegade baby had an alternate agenda. One that included mostly wide-eyed amazement at his new world (always and especially when laid ever-so-gently in that FREAKING CRIB) and relentless testing of his voice box by way of high octane screams and definitely very very (let me be clear, VERY) little sleeping. We piloted so many well-intentioned parenting protocols on this kid, and thankfully despite an impressive track record of failed plans, we all survived. Well, all of us except that Baby Whisperer paperback. She found a happy new home at a used bookstore.

And now, thirteen years later, as I stand eye-to-eye with that same blue-eyed tow-head with the magnetic smile and perpetual spark and kind heart and competitive spirit (and continued take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards sleep) that I use to cradle in my arms, I can assure you this much is true…

I still don’t know what I’m doing.

And I still make a lot of mistakes.

And I still make plans that fight with reality.

I mean, us humans really LOVE a good plan, right? And we build these elaborate mental roadmaps of how we think things will go. And we don’t ask for much, really, we just want our thoughts to translate perfectly in real life. We simply desire for our vision of what should be to match what is.

But, life is our greatest teacher. And, friends, despite our best-laid plans and mental projections of what should be…

Sometimes, the due date is merely a loose suggestion.

And the birth plan is trumped by a medically necessary C-section.

And the baby just. will. not. sleep.

And the screaming infant can’t be soothed.

And the toddler will melt into a puddle over the purple cup when you DARE to provide that god-awful yellow one.

And the picky one seriously won’t eat that broccoli, you guys. Or those other 247 food items that are also disgusting.

And the young boy will come home carrying hurtful words and the fears of others in his backpack for attempting to be authentic in a world that craves conformity.

And the tween girl will get told that she isn’t welcomed at THIS lunch table because they don’t like her hair. Yesterday it was her shirt. Tomorrow it will be the way she talks. And she may consider changing these things to feel accepted.

And the teenager will stand near in one moment and hunger for space in the next. And he will say the wrong thing sometimes. Maybe a-lot-of-times. And all of these bizarre new emotions will frustrate him, but he may not know how to show it. And this boy who was once honest to a fault may start holding certain cards close to his dri-fit tee. And his intelligence and potential WON’T stop him from missing homework assignments. And he may not even SEE those clothes on his bedroom floor. And he will probably elect for faster escapes from the car when friends are watching. And he will make all of his own mistakes to learn from in spite of countless desperate attempts to protect him from ev-er-y-thing.

We love plans. But, when we love a plan so hard that it puts us at war with reality, we suffer. Don’t we? And in this painful place, it becomes almost impossible to see beyond our rightness. We get so consumed with protecting what we want it to be that we simply can’t connect with LIFE AS IT REALLY IS.

Today, let’s give one another permission to step back. Let’s breathe. Make plans. Make grandiose plans if it feels right. But, let’s also find moments to stop and create space for awareness. Let’s observe the it-is-supposed-to-be-THIS-way thoughts that are fighting reality. Let’s feel the pain and get irritated and allow our frustrations to run wild and free. And then let’s breathe again (like we really mean it this time, guys). Now stop, and notice it.

Life continues happening with our suffering, or without it.

*Cue warm, peace-filled hugs*

XO

JJ

 

Mothering.

Hi, friends.

Yesterday offered an unanticipated free moment to STOP and do nothing more than sit on my back porch. So, I took it. Because when the universe opens her hands and says “here is a quiet minute just for you, my dear,” always and forever SAY YES. And, guys, it was glorious. I admired the sun as it slowly melted behind trees and I took deeper breaths and I closed my eyes to soak in all the familiar. It sounded and smelled like summer nearing and even now just reflecting on it I can’t stop with all the smiling. Has anyone ever dumped a warm load of bath towels fresh from the dryer over your body when you were feeling chilly? Yea, summer’s big return is JUST like that to me. Warm and comforting and cheerful and GOOD LORD SUMMER DON’T EVER LEAVE US AGAIN. *Pretty please*.

As I sat there fading in and out of my rock solid intent to meditate, my mind stumbled onto this whole mothering journey. It is also one of seasons, right? But, instead of roughly four there are, let’s say, THOUSANDS of them. I mean, give or take. Many, many seasons. And higher tides to weather and more storms to wait out and bigger sunrises to marvel at and don’t even get me started on the earthquakes and toddlers, er, I mean TORNADOS, you guys. And all the marvelous and humbling and blissful and sometimes agonizing ways that these seasons intersect, often moment to moment.

Do you feel it, too?

Calming breezes can sit in the same space as cold and murky waters, uplifting bud-covered trees can stand tall next to tumultuous storm clouds. Our hearts can simultaneously explode with an overwhelming love, like doves cooing on rooftops, and be ripped in two by the brutality of loss, like a harsh and unrelenting tsunami that leaves us tattered and gasping for air.

Mothering isn’t static. Ever. It is the sum of many moving parts, endless shifting and changing seasons. It’s the toddler gently rocking a baby doll and the teen caring for younger siblings and the college student helping a roommate who desperately misses home. It’s mothering at the vet’s office and the pediatrician’s office and the nursing home and the rehab facility. It’s the elation that accompanies those two pink lines and the shoulder that supports tear-stained cheeks when the heartbeat is lost. It’s the magic marker line inching up the garage wall and the I-cannot-BELIEVE-how-much-you’ve-growns and the denial when your gaze must now point north to meet the eyes of that baby you once carried in your arms. It is feeding hungry tummies at 2am and healing scraped knees with magic kisses and cheering from sidelines and clapping-above-head standing ovations in auditoriums and letting go of hands and bike seats and car keys when it’s time for wings to be spread. Mothering is glorious and POWERFUL and warm and unpredictable and HAAAAARD and authentic and intimidating and sometimes brutal but also awe-inspiring.

That adorable artwork below was on the card my ten year old made for me today, guys, and like a crisp fall breeze it momentarily took my breath away.

Mothering is seasons. It is life. It is ALL OF US just caring for one another.

Mothering is AS BIG AS THE WORLD.

I hope the sun shined brightly on you today, friend.

XO

JJ

image

img_2575

Fear is a terrible chauffeur.

So, you guys, I’ve been thinking about proximity. And distance, in particular, it can make us feel unusually safe, right? I mean, let’s be real for a moment, all of that glorious space between ME and YOU offers a sort of unspoken immunity from whatever you may be dealing with. After all, when I’m WAAAAAY OVER HERE it becomes pretty effortless to tuck empathy safely in the shadows and convince myself that your issues aren’t also my own. Maybe?

And the labels. ALL OF THESE GOD-FORSAKEN LABELS. I get it. Life is messy. Labels offer order to a messy existence. Yes? And in our minds we create a world where anything we’ve assigned as *DIFFERENT* is just scarrrrry. And so we fear it. Because we crave order and we like distance and we want immunity from hard issues and, well, as far as I can tell fear has never been a friend to empathy or compassion.

And then, when social spaces meet hungry fingertips, or we step too closely to our discomfort and react with stares or laughter or unkind words or (worse) hateful actions, we unknowingly fan the flames of our ego’s work. And it isn’t pretty. It fractures us. The ground beneath us splinters into a million tiny pieces and WE becomes ME and various parts of us are left on lonely islands feeling less than. LESS THAN. And we think, man I sure hope it isn’t ME that ever feels less than, PLEEEEEASE GOD LET IT BE THAT OTHER HUMAN OVER THERE. Let them deal with it. We silence empathy. We put a muzzle on compassion. And we definitely turn our backs on love. And then fear and judgment, those devious and wholly unloving trolls, are once again triumphant.

Bleck.

My heart cracked wide open on a recent morning as I watched my six year old walk into school, you guys. If you’ve never met him, he is laughter and sunshine and rainbows and karate moves and unexpected sing alongs and the world’s tightest hugs and HAPPINESS. So much joy in that tiny body of his, it’s magic. But, as he made his way into the building his steps were slow and his gaze was affixed on the pavement and the smile that typically lights up his beautiful face was absent. His joy was, gone.

And the hardest truth is that it was because of me. Because of us. Because just three days prior while at a soccer tournament I watched a young boy on the playground tease him incessantly for wearing “girl shoes”. Because my steadfast practice in benevolence was upstaged in that moment by a visceral urge to either cry out GOOD LORD CHILD WHY ON EARTH DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE COLOR OF HIS SHOES or fold this little stranger into my arms and offer a sincere apology on behalf of grown-ups across the land for convincing him that “we know best” while modeling these unkind, unloving, judgement-laden behaviors. (Should you need confirmation that this one is on us, look no further than a 30-second scroll of any ol’ Facebook feed. That outta cover it).

Because on this day when he pulled the rainbow-colored dress off the hanger, my ego screamed WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU IF YOU DON’T PROTECT HIM and I suddenly found myself offering familiar excuses. Are you sure? I should talk to your teachers first, maybe. I mean, it’s kind of chilly out for no sleeves, right? Don’t you love this colorful shirt, though? How about we wear that dress another day?

Pardon me for a moment as I rescue my weary heart off the ground, friends, because that’s where I left it that morning. On the curb at my child’s school, where I “protected” by convincing him that his heart was less than. Over a PIECE OF FABRIC (yes, it physically hurts to write that). That his feelings and desires in that moment were in some way less valid, because they weren’t my own. I left it in the place where I answered to fear and judgment by fueling its ugly intentions with more of the same.

And yes, this post was surely inspired from a hard place. Because the world can be so cruel and we are so scared of each other. But it isn’t really just about my baby. It’s about ALL of our babies. EVERY human. And we know there are innumerable ways that we judge one another. This is waaaaay bigger than fabric. We let fear tell us what to do. We don’t lead with love. We make it about ME, not US.

How much longer will we expect parts of us (ESPECIALLY OUR BABIES) to shoulder the burden of our elected discomforts? When will we awaken from the vice grip of our egos and just LOVE one another EXACTLY as we are?

Fear sells us lies and attempts to stunt our growth. But, love…LOVE returns to our doorstep each day and waits patiently until we invite it into our hearts. Today is a new day and the Universe beckons us with a fresh opportunity to choose love over fear.

Today, let’s all stand a little closer. Let’s not be immune to one another. Let’s stare fear down and decide NO MORE. Let’s make sure joy is for EVERY part of us. Let’s quit it with all the labels. Let’s be JOY SPREADERS. Let’s be the reason that every human feels MORE THAN.

Let’s get this right.