The defining checkpoints.

September 23, 2015 

They filled the classroom bead jar for good behavior. GO KIDS. And like a well run democracy the group voted for pajama day as their reward. Not gonna lie, my friends, there are days I would definitely like to put pajama day up for a vote. 

^^ There is the six year old love of my life right there, walking into school in his unicorn jammies. A bright and colorful and fun My Little Pony long-sleeve top and fleece pants. He totally rocks those things.

But, it will get into the 80s today so I made several attempts to steer him in another direction. What about these pajamas, I’d say, while putting the hard sell on Mario or Angry Birds or Toy Story. But, these are his very favorites and no amount of sunshine or sweat or pressure from me was going to squelch his enthusiasm.

And, for real, why should it?

Then I realized something. Although convenient, the weather wasn’t really my concern. I mean, fleece in September may be a tad aggressive, yes. But it wasn’t REALLY my motivation. It was that knee-jerk reaction. The urge to shield him from judgment that rises in me, so swiftly. Perhaps you’re familiar with this urge, too.

The weather was my excuse for convincing him to not be authentic. To not be HIM. Because *fitting in*, well let’s be honest here folks, it is just less hard.

Judgment, he’s a real jerk that way, right? Because we choose to believe that he matters. Why do we give him so much power anyway? And then, the really tragic irony is that we subconsciously fight him by layering judgment with MORE judgment. And then it’s like that undeserving schmuck wins twice. Bleck, that is uggggggly.

“I like what I like. How does what I like affect you?”

^^ His response. What he said when I asked him how he would respond to the “that (color/ style/ character/ ANYTHING) isn’t for (boys/ girls/ insert endless list of other labels here)” remarks.

And in a dozen words he reminded me, yet again, about what really matters.

Kindness. Compassion. Authenticity.

I’m convinced a full and happy life sits at the intersection of these three powerhouses, friends. And, I hope this kid NEVER stops rocking unicorn pajamas, or whatever it is that makes him joyful. And, if he inspires even one person to feel brave enough to choose kindness over hatred, compassion over judgment, authenticity over fitting in, well….

*******

September 23, 2016

Life doesn’t define us. We define life.

What do you think, friends. Is it true?

A year ago today will always and forever have its arms wrapped tightly around my heart. Let’s call it a defining checkpoint. And such a big and important one in my evolving and shedding and BECOMING as a person.

A day that looked and felt much like any other, really. A bunch of kids that didn’t want to wake up with all of the associated moaning and hiding under covers and just-leave-me-alones and that confetti of toast crumbs sprinkled across my clean floor which I’ve come to rely on and me all YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE and ice packs inserted in lunch boxes and the begrudging brushing of all the teeth and me pleading JUST STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER IF YOU CAN’T BE FRIENDLY and socks forgotten in drawers and toddlers forgotten in high chairs and me sweating and stealing hugs and all HURRRRRY UPPP, PEOPLE. You know, just your average weekday.

But, this one was anything but average. In fact, this day looked me squarely in the eyes and said simply, “Choose.”

Will it be LOVE or FEAR?

Will you run towards authenticity or cower to conformity?

Will you be relentlessly brave and courageous EVEN AND ESPECIALLY when judgment and unkind words and hurtful actions beg for your silence?

Will you be part of making sure every human feels MORE THAN, or will you stand by and watch as ego has his way with our world?

And I chose. And I really recognized for the first time how much children teach us about ourselves, if we are listening. And I defined life. And it changed me, in all the best ways.

Go and be brave today, friend. Define it. Reap the rewards of becoming. Let love win.

The only way to shine.

Hey there, friends. 

The pause since my last post has lingered a bit longer than I’d intended. But, you know, when I started this little space the contract stated in bold font: NEVER FORCE IT. And it is a binding commitment signed in ink and, well, it also makes a good point. Blogs, as in life, should never be forced. So, here we are. It’s so nice to connect with you again.

These summer months have been a blur. But a magical blur, for sure. We mastered the art of a perfectly cooked bonfire s’more and buddied up with chlorine and sunshine and layer-upon-layer of SPF and soaked up special time with cousins and ate our collective body weight in ice cream cones and wore out all of the welcomes at our neighbor’s swing sets and racked up miles on our oversized familywagon visiting new and customary spots and pressed *ever so gently* on each other’s last nerve and got our money’s worth on all of these electronic devices and read books (amateur tip: modify your goal to zero and those five books spread across a trimester will feel GOLD STAR worthy) and burned energy and tossed kindling on imagination at day camps and went to battle in the backyard with plastic pistols and bottomless tubs of water balloon ammo and **FULL DISCLOSURE** slowed the cadence on showering and teethbrushing and sleeping. Psssh, we were far too absorbed in dodging rules and order to give attention to such details.

In recent weeks, my oldest son and I had the opportunity to visit Scotland with a small group from our soccer club. And holysmokespeople talk about MAGICAL. Glasgow, Stirling, Loch Lomond. As though lifted directly from the pages of a beautifully illustrated novel. Or really any and every scene from the movie Brave. Either way, it was love at first earful of bagpipes and biteful of delicious fish and chips. And Edinburgh, my love, a piece of my heart was left there with you and I can only assume it is now lounging blissfully on Archer’s Seat relishing in that magnificent 360 view. Swoon. Unforgettable moments with my firstborn that will be deposited in the happiness memory bank for eternity.

I had big plans to write my way through this summer, you guys, documenting all the big and little and painful and glorious. But, instead, I just lived it. And I’d give this exercise in detachment a rousing two thumbs pointed toward the sky along with this review:

  • Make space for simply witnessing.
  • Allow all to be as it is.
  • Reap the rewards of presence.
  • Find your place to feel inspired and GO THERE OFTEN.
  • Breeeeeeathe.

I garner much of my inspiration from nature. I guess it’s that exquisite coupling of Mama N’s undeniable majesty wed with the deepness and focus that can only be unearthed in the quiet of listening and finding and admiring and allowing. When wind makes trees dance or clouds part like stage curtains giving way to a harvest moon or a caterpillar edges slowly across the sidewalk or birds sing or soar or blow-our-flipping-minds by doing both at once or anything whatsoever to do with the sun rising and falling in the sky. Whenever I stop, REALLY STOP, to feel and see these moments, I understand life better. It all becomes clearer. Generally, I end up laughing (or sobbing) about at least 127 of my chosen reactions from earlier in the day. And after that self-discovery is behind me and I’ve dried my eyes from all those joy or sorrow tears, I notice it: 

There is a clarity to things that had gone blurry for a short or long while. And it all feels, lighter. More focused. More loving.

School starts for us this week. And based on the recent deluge of adorable and especially dapper backpack-wielding young people bringing smiles and heart emojis to my social pages, I sense a good many of us are rowing in the same back-to-school boat. I’d also wager that during this twelve week hiatus from a structured existence we have *maybe* at points found ourselves eager to jump in this boat and feverishly row these small people out of our homes. ANYWHERE BUT HERE JUST PLEASE TAKE THEM. But now, we’re holding these oars and ready to push off from the dock and suddenly the boat feels a little, unstable. And we feel less certain. You know?

Like, yesterday was all:
WOOOOO. I CANNOT WAIT TO GET MY KID(S) IN THIS BOAT AND START PADDLING. YIPPEEEEE, SCHOOL YEAR HERE WE COME!!! BUCKLE UP, FOLKS.

And, today is more:
What an exciting journey ahead! Kid(s), go put on your fancy clothes (yes the ones laying on your beds that after today will remain buried in your drawer forever now please for the love just go and don’t come back to me until they are on your bodies). And also toss those 45lb bags on your back because it’s time for school. WEEEE!! Oh geez. Okay, the boat is a bit tippy. I’d forgotten the waters are unpredictable out here. Will my kid(s) be safe navigating this tide? What if there is darkness or storms to weather? What if they hit choppy water and I’m not there to row them back to safety? And is my churning stomach excitement or trepidation?! (Psst… It’s probably both).

As the summer weeks have dwindled to days, I’ve noticed that familiar sensation rising in me. Perhaps you know this feeling, too. I wanted on that boat but now I’m wondering about things. I’m wondering whether my kids will have teachers this year who really get them. And I’m wondering if our elementary school credo priming kids to Be Respectful, Responsible, and Safe is, enough. Does it leave room to also teach and celebrate compassion and empathy and kindness? ARE MY KIDS READY. Will my 8th grader be brave enough to stand up and choose his own path when something doesn’t feel right in his gut? Will my 6th grader field enough comments to convince him that his small stature defines his character in any way other than perfect EXACTLY as he is? And is my sweet second-grader ready to resume defending his heart and soul to those that question how and why a boy could possibly love dresses and bright colors and all things that sparkle and shine? Is this the year he will decide it is just easier to be someone ELSE’S version of him to avoid the side glances and comments and judgment? Will any of them feel compelled to hide their true selves? 

All of the wondering. 

And then, I grabbed some distance to unplug from the wondering and saw this:


The sun was hiding behind a thick blanket of clouds, as it sometimes does. As we sometimes do. And while I stood there and stared at its shadowed figure for a long minute, I again began to wonder. The Sun is always the Sun. Totally not profound. But stay with me…

Do you suppose any planets or moons or asteroids or comets or other members of the solar system ever ask the sun: WHY DO YOU LIGHT THE EARTH? I mean, how come you have SO MUCH hydrogen, anyway? It’s weird, Sun, all of that hydrogen. Why not more helium? And seriously WHAT IS UP with your chromosphere? Eww. Why can’t you be more like the Moon? And Sirius is soooo much better than you at EVERYTHING. You should try to be more like her. 

No matter how unlikely, just sit with that for a moment. Let is steep a bit.

So, when I got home I decided to pose this to the 7 and 10 year olds (G & B). And as they both pondered the idea I followed with, “Do you think this might explain why the sun sometimes hides behind the clouds?” 

“Maybe,” they said.

So I pressed on, “What if when the clouds parted you noticed that the sun had changed into a moon or a comet or something else entirely?”

G: “That would be so weird.”
B: “But we need the sun to light the earth.”

This exchange took us on a twenty minute off-roading adventure that I desperately wish had been caught on hidden camera because we went down some hysterical paths: the Sun as a soccer ball or stickman or unicorn sparkle princess or Sylveon the mammalian Pokemon who evolves from Eevee (no clue) or a cheese pizza or a butt. Yes, a butt. And YES, we obviously lingered on this last one. Kids are so awesome.

Me: “Can you imagine the Sun being anything but the Sun?”

Collective, “Nopes.” Well, except the butt because we all agreed it would be HILARIOUS to see a butt in the sky. But, only for a minute and then we would want the real Sun back. I digress.

“Me neither, guys. The sun may hide, just like you and I do sometimes. But it never changes. The Sun is ALWAYS the Sun. Right? *Heads nod* And that’s good because the Sun is his very best and truest when he is shining brightly in the sky. Just like you are best and truest when you are being YOU. And if anyone ever tries to convince you to be or say or do anything other than what you feel inside, I hope you will be brave like the Sun. I promise to be brave, too. Let’s make a pact right here, right now: to celebrate our authentic selves and claim THIS IS ME AND I LIKE WHAT I LIKE as our battle cry and hold our heads high even and especially when it feels hard. Okay? And let’s never answer to fear. Let’s choose love instead. Because who gets to decide, fellas?

We do. Always. Just like the sun.

Why I’m raising soft kids.

Life, recently.

Sweet mother of all that is holy and good, you guys, my heart has been so weary.

It feels like my skin is flipped inside out and I’m staring wide-eyed directly into the blazing hot sun during hurricane-grade winds that just will not let up. So many of our brothers and sisters are hurting. Deeply hurting. And it’s making everything feel so raw and rough and threatening. The dark moments have blurred into one endless teardrop and we are sad and scared.

Here is my recall on recent days in a series of brutal soundbites:

A four-year-old boy slips away from his parents at the zoo. Perhaps you know this feeling, too. If you don’t, allow me to humbly confirm that it is excruciating. In the moments to follow, this little explorer makes his way into a cage where he meets eyeball-to-eyeball with silverback gorillas. Can you even imagine it. The eldest gorilla, Harambe, is shot dead by zoo staff to ensure the child’s safety. The boy is returned to his parents with only scrapes and bruises. Thank you, God. Social media explodes. We’re outraged that the gorilla couldn’t be saved. We argue about whether the zoo staff is competent to do their jobs. We are critical of the parents for being so careless and terrible at life. We blame the zoo for faulty cages. We form strong positions on how WE would have managed these circumstances if the shoe were on the other foot, and when people don’t agree with us we simply scream louder. And, with all the noise we sort of forget about this little boy and his parents who just experienced something horrific and were no doubt crippled with an intense and unimaginable fear as this situation unfolded.

A college student rapes an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. He is tried in court by a judge who offers terribly misguided empathy in the form of an abysmally short jail sentence. Social media explodes. We’re outraged that the judge went so easy on this criminal. We hate this rapist. We despise this rapist’s family. We spend a good deal of time discussing his picture and swimming career and passion for the culinary arts and his failing appetite. We toss around some memes because they have taken over the space where nervous laughter and awkward silence use to exist. We argue about whether we should use the term assault or rape. Attempts are made to shine a light on this victim and the brave young men that contacted the police. But, then more darkness strikes and we sort of forget about this girl who was left wounded and vulnerable and no doubt crippled with an intense and unimaginable fear in the wake of the attack.

A talented musician is shot dead after a live show. We are shocked and sad but only for about a minute because the evil that hits next sends us directly to our knees and we sort of forget about this beautiful soul taken from earth much too soon.

Friends and lovers are dancing and enjoying life at their favorite nightclub when a man opens fire, spraying bullets into the crowd. People run for exits. People collapse into pools of blood. People are trapped in small spaces. People desperately text loved ones but then the messages just stop coming. Can you even imagine the receiving and then the waiting. There is panic and screaming and helping and rescuing and sacrificing. The murderer is shot dead by police. Forty-nine people are dead. Many more are injured. The worst mass shooting in our country, ever. In an instant, everything is changed forever. Social media explodes. We’re angry about loose gun laws. We’re angry that people want to take our guns away. We argue about guns. We yell about mental health. We blame Muslims. We blame terrorists. We blame gay people. We blame the government. We blame the POTUS. We’re scared for our children. We’re scared for us. We’re scared for ME and MY CHILDREN. It maybe becomes more about protecting ourselves than we might be willing to admit. And while we’re shouting at each other we sort of forget that forty-nine funerals are being planned. Fifty if you include the young musician that we’ve already forgotten about.

A family is vacationing at the most magical place on earth. Millions of families have visited this very spot. But on this night at this time, while wading in shallow water by the resort, their toddler is attacked by an alligator and they watch on in desperation as this giant reptile drags their son out into dark water. Can you even imagine it. Police recover the child’s tiny, lifeless body. Social media explodes. We write more articles about perfect parenting. We write more articles about empathy. We blame the hotel for faulty signage. We blame the parents for being just the worst ever. While we are distracted with tidying up our glass houses we sort of forget that SOMEONE’S BABY WAS JUST KILLED BY AN ALLIGATOR.

And, you guys, how about the many among us who are quietly mourning life’s hardest moments from somewhere off camera, tucked away from social spaces? The five-year-old girl who just lost her battle with cancer. The mother who is saying goodbye to her transgender son who committed suicide because the bullying left him feeling absolutely unworthy. The blissfully-in-love young couple whose vehicle is struck head on by a drunk driver, instantly erasing their plans for a beautiful future together.

The hurting is always there, with or without our yelling and blaming and anger and righteousness. Isn’t it?

And all of these hateful and ugly things are making people frustrated and defensive and scared. And I absolutely get it. I’m frustrated, too. It is frustrating that we use up precious real estate yelling at each other. Space where love could live. And all of our finger-pointing and asking for our problems to be solved outside of ourselves leaves me feeling discouraged. Because the only difference we can ever really truly make is an inside job. I’m frustrated by our unwavering desire to be right. How can we possibly HEAR anything over all of our rightness? I’m concerned by how much we allow fear to lead us. A lot concerned, actually. It’s disheartening that humans all over our world are still regularly persecuted for attempting to be their authentic selves. There is so much hurting, everywhere. I’m frustrated that privilege is still power and it continues to make parts of us feel less than.

But, honestly, our frustrations aren’t helpful unless they motivate us to actually HELP. Right? And our choices are so important. Like many of you, I am acutely aware of how my reactions to life impact my kid’s reactions. They see us. They hear us. They mirror us. What reflection do we want staring back at them, even (and especially) when life feels unkind?

I recently read a sentiment that suggested we have “gone soft” as parents and this has led to a generation of wholly ungrateful and undisciplined and disrespectful young people. Our young people. And while the message didn’t resonate with me, that’s okay (it is more than okay, actually). I’m grateful to this friend for sharing because it made me stop and think deeply about what I really want for my kids. And it is this:

I want my kids to be soft. 

I do.

In a world full of rough edges and sharp corners, I want to raise humans who are gentle and kind.

When life is dark, I want them to always ALWAYS look for the light. And when fear’s grip tightens (which will happen because fear is a controlling a–hole), I want them to know that FEAR IS NEVER LIGHT. Ever. And this is the part where I hold their face in my hands and say, This is most important, baby. Please listen. Because fear is so convincing and it will take every ounce of their strength to remember in those hard moments that fear is never loving. Or kind. Or generous. Or compassionate. In fact, fear can’t survive in proximity to any of these things. When the world asks them to be scared and angry, I hope they are brave enough to lead relentlessly and unapologetically with love.

When they feel helpless and ready to toss up their hands to it all because they can’t do everything, I want them to remember that not everything is never a better or more helpful choice than at least something. And I hope the something they choose will be in support of WE not ME. And that they define WE as EVERY PART OF US. Because if their own comfort requires someone else to suffer, then that’s not really about us. That’s ego, and he is tooootally self-centered. And saying no to ego will be one of their most challenging life lessons. Because what could be more tempting than ensuring life feels great for ME and conveniently forgetting that all of those people over there are actually part of the very same humankind? Sweet child(ren) o’ mine, please BE HUMAN KIND.

I want them to know that life is mostly (read: completely) defined by our reaction to it. And this is a biggie, right guys? I mean, if we could band together and train up a giant flock of kind champions who also have the awareness needed to question their thinking and reaction to life, doesn’t that seem like some serious parenting triumph??

I want them to not only imagine what we would be capable of TOGETHER if we listened more than we defended, reached out more than we pushed away, celebrated our unique viewpoints more than we insulted our differences. I want them to DO and BE these things.

I want them to know that the path to peace is one paved with love. Love isn’t the solution. It’s how we get there.

The world needs our softness, kids.
Let’s do this thing.

The love we cannot hear.

image

^^ This cloud right here, you guys. ^^

She single-handedly brought me back to center yesterday. And I desperately needed it. My thoughts were reeling and I felt a bit unraveled and in need of a good head clearing so I opted to use a lifeline. 

I’d like to phone my friend, Mother Nature, please.

I collapsed into a chair on the back patio and that cloud and I just sat there together. Silently. Well, her silently. Me with relentless and wholly unproductive brain chatter about things like saving the world and being the change and raising kids who aren’t a–holes, and such. You know, small stuff. And as I welcomed more air into my lungs and admired her moving and shifting and melting into the seams of the cobalt sky, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination and calm sink deeply into my troubled heart.

Ahhhh, yes. Thank you. I waved at my new friend as she disappeared from view and before standing to get on with my day I took a moment to quietly affirm the one-and-only thing that I am absolutely certain of in life.

We’ll get back to that in a sec.

You see, I want to always notice and honor the good and the kind and the loving. Silver linings are my go-to and eternal optimism is my thing and yes of course I believe in unicorns and when asked to rate my day on a scale of MEH to AMAZING I am the Pollyanna that will always and forever swing for the fences because I am alive. And if you’re reading this *quick fist bump* because that means you are, too. My eyes opened this morning and I’m breathing air and I get to experience this day and seize these moments. Yes, even the hard ones. And I def-in-it-ely fall down and feel exposed and unsure and just ovvvver it sometimes. I believe in unicorns and f-bombs equally. *wink* But, I get to be here. WE GET TO BE HERE. And it is miraculous. Isn’t it?

It is everything and it is enough.

But then, there is all of this other noisy, human-y stuff. You know what I mean? And I am not immune (like at all, folks) to the ugly parts of our existence. The ways we speak to one another without listening and sling wasp nests full of words that sting at anyone and anything that dares to threaten our rightness. How parts of us wear privilege like a suit of armor and a birthright and somehow this has proven over and over AND OVER to actually be a legitimate way to make others feel less than. WHY IS THIS A REAL THING? And the ways we protect and justify this righteousness.

Ugggggggh.

How we READY >> FIRE >> AIM at each other with our thoughts and words and actions from behind tinted windows and then wag our finger and demand that the blame belongs OVER THERE. How we offer an objective lens toward data until and only until the facts no longer defend what we believe to be true. And then all bets are off (hey, memes and reckless insults, that’s your cue).

Our anger is so noisy and overwhelming that we forget why we are here.

We forget what matters.

We forget to lead with love.

Because for every ounce of beauty that exists in our world (and especially in our virtual communities), we create and consume five gallons of ugly. Don’t we? And on this day, I had just seen too much. The overtly wretched that allows one human to assault another and leave her engulfed in flames as he saunters away with nothing but ashes on his swim trunks.

TOO MUCH.

And the easilytucked-away reality that many of our fellow humans are hurting and desperate and alone and wounded AT THIS VERY MOMENT and, yet, we find ourselves angry and screaming at each other. While people all around our world are vulnerable and afraid and silenced. We attack each other with our fears and anger and need for rightness as though to say, we’ll see your hateful ways and raise you our vitriol. And all of our screaming makes it impossible to HEAR anything. And our tinted windows make it impossible to SEE anything.

Almost every time I read a comments thread a little piece of my soul dies. And I feel helpless to it. All the ugliness.

Perhaps you do, too?

But as I sat there with that cloud, you guys, the stillness and space allowed me to remember what my angry and unsettled mind just couldn’t.

We simply cannot drive out ugliness with more of the same.

Hate in response to hate is a losing game.

Let’s not waste another second allowing anger to guide us, friends. Let’s stop screaming so we can hear what kindness is trying to tell us from underneath all of that noise.

Let’s instead invest every ounce of our collective energy into linking arms with one another and EVERY HUMAN who has been made to feel vulnerable and broken and less than.

Let’s BE kind humans.
Let’s RAISE kind humans.
Let’s CELEBRATE kind humans.

Let’s love one another.

 

XO

JJ

 

Empathy is easy. Until it’s hard.

It’s been two years. Almost to the day, actually.

My second guy was 8 years old at the time and we were on our biennial trek to bask in the glow of that adorable talking mouse and his magnificent tribe. It was our day at Magic Kingdom and in typical Disney fashion the crowds were akin to 4am at Walmart on Black Friday. Just obscene. And not particularly ideal for us introverts, guys, but obviously Tinkerbell sprinkles the joint with feel-good-fairy-dust and her spell makes me blinded to even the most absurd congestion. I mean, a 90-minute wait for a 30-second ride seems perfectly reasonable, right? Ahem.

As per usual we had sufficiently over-indulged on everything the kingdom could serve up and when the sun began to dip low in the sky our crew, and 98,000 of our closest friends, migrated instinctively towards Cinderella’s Castle for what was sure to be the most beautiful fireworks display at the ball. We were staking our territory (read: 2-foot square of concrete) for the big show when it hit me suddenly like a hot brick to the face.

Oh, Jesus. Where is Brennan.
He was just here, right? Right?!
HE WAS RIGHT HERE.
Or, wait. Was he?
When did I last see him?
Didn’t we get off that ride together?
Wasn’t he behind me?

I blamed my older son for not staying by him.
I blamed my younger two kids for needing so much attention.
I blamed the crowd for making it hard to see or move quickly in any direction.
I blamed my husband for, everything.
And then I stopped blaming and I cried.

WHERE IS MY BABY.

The next ten minutes shifted into slow motion and thrust me into the most desperate of places. As I looked out across that sea of unknown faces and bodies all swarming mercilessly, I wanted to scream out EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU NEEDS TO MOOOOOVE SO I CAN FIND MY BRENNAN.

I came unhinged.

Was he safe?
Was he crying out for me?
Was he scared?
Sad?
Confused?
Alone?
Standing still?
Running?
Did he think I left him on purpose?
Did we have a plan in case we got split up? Oh my god we didn’t have a plan.

WHY DIDN’T WE HAVE A FUCKING PLAN FOR THIS.

And then the darkest of thoughts came rushing into my mind like snipers and in seconds they annihilated any shred of hope that was clinging to my heart.

What if he is hurt.
What if he is in the arms of a predator.
What if we don’t find him.
What if I never see his sweet face again.

WHAT IF I LOST MY CHILD FOREVER.

The what-ifs grabbed me by the throat and tightened their grip until I was left gasping for air. I hadn’t watched closely enough. I took my eyes off of him and in a moment he was gone from my side. I let my child down. I had failed as a parent. These thoughts strangled me until I could no longer see straight.

The parade would start in a few minutes and after that we’d be trapped on this island between the castle and the rest of the park. The streetlights began to dim in preparation for the show and darkness swallowed our view in every direction. We decided to split up and without words or a plan we moved in opposite directions frantically calling Brennan’s name into the night sky. I pleaded silently with the universe to give me another chance. I told her IF YOU DO THIS FOR ME I WILL NEVER AGAIN TAKE MY EYES OFF OF HIM.

With tear-stained cheeks and a rapidly beating heart in my throat I set off down a path feeling helpless but relentlessly determined. Just then as I looked up a group of people parted and in the space between, there he stood. My baby. Our eyes met and I don’t have much recall on those next moments, but I do know this: When he was finally wrapped in my arms again I instantly felt whole. Vulnerable and imperfect, but whole and OH MY LORD SO RELIEVED and just incredibly grateful.

Here is the part that has really stuck with me, though, you guys. In one of my lowest and most vulnerable moments as a parent and human I wondered WHY ME. Why MY child?! As though the pain would somehow be easier if it weren’t my own. As though the burden of that struggle would feel better if it just went somewhere else. ANYWHERE BUT HERE.  That is hard to write and even harder to admit. But then, when we create enough space to be brutally honest with ourselves we know that empathy is easy, until it’s hard.

Right?

Until it’s someone ELSE’S mistake. Until it is HER vulnerability and imperfection when she fumbles and takes her eyes off of that child for a minute and suddenly a knee is scraped or an eye is bruised or he slips away at the park or the mall or the grocery store or the zoo or the amusement park or for-god’s-sake from her own backyard. OR ANYWHERE. ANYTIME. Despite everything. And when we can distance ourselves from that discomfort it makes our rightness feel HUGE and that other person’s vulnerability small and insignificant. Maybe? It becomes so simple to say: DO BETTER. Instead of saying: I AM THERE WITH YOU AND I UNDERSTAND.

It could have been anyone’s child that went missing at Magic Kingdom on that day in June two years ago. But it was mine. And when it is HER turn for hard moments, or HIS, or YOURS, they are really mine, too. Ours. Aren’t they?

Because we are all imperfect. And vulnerable. And we all fumble and yearn for understanding from others. And empathy connects us. Right? It weaves together our hard moments and creates a safety net for us to land on when we stumble and fall. It reminds us that we are NEVER alone.

It says: I see your struggle, friend. I’m with you. And I understand.

Today, let’s be courageous enough to question our rightness and judgments and, instead, let’s offer this gift of understanding to one another. Even (and especially) when it’s hard.

XO

JJ

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.