A note of thanks to my divorced parents

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My parents are divorced.

Usually when I tell people this, they break eye contact and sigh before uttering, “oh” as if this newly shared information is entirely negative and somehow reflects my past experiences, current relationships and future decisions.

This common reaction used to cause me to simply ignore the topic altogether. Now that I am an adult, married and with two children of my own, I have a new perspective and am thankful for my parents and their endless love; but more for their ability to make a decision that has changed my life for the better.

When my parents got divorced, I was a freshman in high school and it wasn’t always fun or exciting. There was confusion, misunderstandings and sadness caused from the new changes. But, there is something that has never changed since that day – their commitment to our family and their four children.

Since the divorce, there have been weddings, break ups, grandchildren, deaths and celebrations; and both of my parents have both been a major part of all of them. They don’t sit at opposite ends of a room; talk negatively about one another; or require their children and grandchildren to make entirely separate plans during birthdays and holidays to appease them. Instead, they respect each other, their role in our lives and are supportive and encouraging.

Last year, my family scheduled a unique spring weekend getaway which might be unheard of in other families. We spent a weekend – my mother, father and their significant others included – all spending two nights in one remote cabin. Together, we played games, cooked meals and enjoyed each other’s company. Unique, yes. But also admirable.

My parents were both raised with parents who were not divorced. They were not thinking about divorce on their wedding day or five years into their marriage.  But sometimes, things change. And, as difficult as their decision might have been, their choice to modify rather than terminate their relationship has and continues to make me a better mother, spouse and person.

And for this, I am thankful.

Two things children have that adults have lost

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As the mother of a three-year-old, I am keenly aware of the challenges that come with helping a toddler navigate a world which looks much different in her eyes than from my perspective. Tantrums, check. Stubborn comments, check. Odd requests to sleep with a flashlight or measuring tape? Double check. She asks a lot of questions and comes to many conclusions which, at the time, usually don’t seem to make much sense.

She’s curious and asks seemingly random questions with no real concrete answer or for no particular reason.

While recently helping her a public restroom, she suddenly looked at me with her bright blue eyes and stopped.

“Mommy, who painted your eyes green?”

I answered, but was intrigued by her question and began paying more attention to her inquisitiveness.

“Why are the cars stopping?”

“What is that lady’s name?”

“How does he do that?”

I usually have an answer, but her questions always catch me off guard.

Why?

Our daughter has a green headband she’s had for more than a year. The hair piece is in rough shape, but still sports two silver antenna-like springs on top with a sparkling four-leaf clover attached on each side. The headband is infamous in our household for making its way into restaurants, soaking in the bathtub and resting on my daughter’s head during naptime. She proudly wears the green headband wherever she deems appropriate, with its latest appearance at our church waving in the air as my daughter performed her own interpretive dance from within the congregation.

Children her age don’t seem to worry about public embarrassment or have a fear of judgment from others. They are innocent and authentic. They are genuine, finding ways to move forward in their own way without hesitation.

Why?

I recently took my daughters – ages 3 and 10 months – with me on an airplane trip. I hate flying, but am finding I prefer to fly with our three-year-old. She has no concerns about the plane crashing or how long the flight will take. She thinks of the ride as an adventure and parallels turbulence with experiences she’s had in a bouncy house. We passed the time playing hide-and-seek with flight attendants; they didn’t know we were playing, but she didn’t care.

While parenting her can be challenging, I am inspired by our three-year-old’s unique view of the world. She uses two things regularly that, unfortunately, I find, we as adults, too often ignore: innocence and curiosity. We fear exhibiting innocence is the equivalent of being naïve. And, we think being curious means we are behind.

Somehow, as we age, we start becoming less innocent and more jaded; less curious and more stuck in our ways. It’s as if we are born with a spiral of confidence, goodwill and authenticity, but throughout the years and experiences, slowly unravel.

We accept things as they are and stop believing in change. We continue comparing ourselves to others and rely on faulty excuses to keep us going.

But, why?

The Strawberry Patch

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I have been trying to make more of an effort to expose our two year-old and four month-old to new experiences – regardless of their young age, the weather, my mood or any other excuse I make up to avoid the chaos that results from a public appearance with unpredictable sidekicks. I figure if we don’t go now, chances are we will instead spend countless hours staring at Dora the Explorer feeling like lethargic zombies all day.

It’s the beginning of summer at our house which means the sun is out and the heat is on. It also means fresh strawberries are ready for picking a few miles down the road from us. I know the idea of voluntarily picking fruit in the middle of a field under the hot sun with a toddler and infant may seem like a recipe for disaster, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

After applying many globs of sunscreen (or “sour cream” as my two-year-old calls it), we loaded up and were on our way. We arrived at the patch and it appeared only a few others decided to brave the morning sun with us. Hats were strapped on and the baby was nestled tightly in a carrier on my chest. Our toddler ran up to a mound of white baskets and decided which one was suited best for us before following one of the employees to our row.

Whew, we made it.

And then it hit me: do they accept debit cards? After asking, the answer was “cash or check only.”

I convinced my daughter we must turn around, leave our basket at the stand and load back into the car. This is more difficult than it sounds. The two women working at the patch offered to watch my girls while I went to find an ATM. It was a very kind gesture, but the thought of staying with a stranger, understandably, didn’t sit well with my daughter.

We loaded back into the car; out of the carrier and into the car seat. Hats off, seatbelts on.

After finding an ATM and making a withdrawl, we ventured back for round two.

The nice ladies smiled as we returned and prepared, again, to enjoy our first strawberry patch together.

My daughter identified what she believed to be the white plastic basket she had claimed as ours moments before, and we were on our way. The nice women, again, showed us to our row and explained that only berries red to the tip were ripe for picking, and with the grin on her face being shadowed by a pink baseball cap she was wearing, my daughter did it. She picked her first strawberry. And her second, and third, as I took it all in. She then did a little dance and uttered a few short, but moment-halting words.

“Mommy I need to go potty.”

I smiled.

We quickly turned back to the path we arrived on and skipped our way to the front of the patch. On the way, I noticed the only restrooms in sight were those housed in a warm and sticky vertically standing structure – a portable toilet.

One of the employees kindly asked if she could hold my youngest daughter while I went into the cramped space with our potty training toddler. I obliged and we began our walk over to the toilet.

As I took a step up to confidently show my daughter how to use the plastic tower, my sandal caught on the front of it and I tripped, taking my daughter down with me into the door. I quickly stood up and attempted to act as though I had everything together while my two year-old stared at me with confusion.

I smiled.

My “pull it all together” act must not have been very convincing, as my daughter expressed concern for me while using the bathroom.

“Mommy, make sure you don’t fall in.”

Yes, dear.

After returning, the woman holding my four month-old baby half-jokingly said she would love to curb her “baby fever” by continuing to keep her up front while my toddler and I went back and finished picking.

I smiled.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe two of us made it back to our row, spending time together just the two of us for the first time since our newest daughter was born. We spent the next 15 minutes picking the reddest of the strawberries, eating a few along the way.

We returned filthy and hot, but happy.

While I wasn’t sure how the morning might turn out, we ended up experiencing much more than a strawberry patch. My daughter learned how to use a remote, public bathroom and I received a lesson in patience and flexibility.

The best part, though, wasn’t the strawberries; it was my daughter’s bright red and juicy smile at the end of the morning.

Sweet.

To my daughters: 15 truths about being female

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avniainsleyI was convinced I was having a boy. Complete strangers at coffee shops predicted it too, confidently sharing with me their unsolicited predictions while I was carrying my first baby.

Prepared for conversations full of gory villains and disgusting bowel movements, I imagined our closets would be filled with a tiny wardrobe of grass stains. In a few months, I thought I would comfortably hand off the leadership reins to my husband for him to share lessons of chivalry and tie tying, while sneaking in a few pointers about how to use cologne without smelling like a sock.

Later that September, I gave birth to a baby girl. I suddenly felt unprepared and quickly realized it would be my job to teach our daughter what it means to be a strong, independent and caring woman in a world filled with never-ending stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and unhealthy diets. Dove recently conducted a social experiment and showed just how critical women are of their own beauty.

Fast forward two and a half years. We have welcomed another little girl into our family and our toddler has no trouble wearing grass stains. While I know society will do its part to leave an impression in their young minds, I can only hope some of the advice I share with them about being a female in our society stands out a little more.

  1. It’s OK to get dirty (even in a skirt). Throw a baseball; dig for worms; sleep in a tent. Your clothes can be washed and won’t last forever. Memories will.
  2. Clean and cook because you want to, not because someone else expects you to. Knowing how to do both well will give you peace of mind.
  3. Don’t expect flowers.
  4. If you’re hungry, eat. It’s important to take care of and listen to your body. Eating will keep you healthy (and much happier!). Splurge on some chocolate every now and then, too.
  5. Be who you are. If you like science, great. If you would prefer to write a poem about the purple flowers blooming outside your window, that’s fine too. But, whatever you do, don’t be who you think others want you to be.
  6. Invest in a good bra.
  7. There’s only one man who loves you the most. Your Daddy loves you in a way no other man can. Even if he doesn’t always seem to know how to connect with you, he still loves you.
  8. Men don’t get it. They don’t understand females and it’s likely they never will. It’s hard enough for us to grasp the idea of periods, child birth and mood swings. It’s best to give them a break.
  9. Challenge yourself – physically, emotionally and mentally. Your body is more resilient than you can imagine. Find ways to test your limits and allow yourself to fail. Once in a while you might be surprised and do something you never thought possible.
  10. You will cry – sometimes for no good reason. There’s also a good chance you will fail to cry when others expect you to. Bring eye drops and thank your hormones.
  11. Speak up. Share your thoughts without apology and instead exhibit confidence, respect and tact. Anything you believe in is worth the fight.
  12. Be alone. Live by yourself and find out who you are. Find happiness and success by standing on your own two feet.
  13. Find an older brother. Well, not really – but, really. Every female should grow up with an older brother, and since you don’t have a biological older brother, find a male to stand in. While their pranks, burps and punches might not seem like an advantage now, you will thank them later.
  14. Wear comfortable shoes.  
  15.  Age is just a number. We are all in this together. Whether a teenage girl or a woman in her 80’s, all females share a common thread. You can choose to reject our differences or embrace the similarities.

I will always be a few decades older, ready to navigate this world alongside of you.  But for now, I am going to work on removing the grass stains.

 

Dreaming for the Future

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If you were to ask me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have confidently stood up and shared with you a glimpse of my future – I would someday become the President of the United States. If you were to ask my older brother the same question about my future, he would have quickly insisted there was no way I could do this because I was a girl. My parents never let him have the last word and left no room for confusion while explaining we could be whatever we aspired to be. In other words, they encouraged dreaming.

I recently attended the first TEDx Greensboro event, one of the many Tedx programs hosted around the world to share ideas, foster learning and inspire communities through a series of speakers. The particular focus of this event was dreams, with topics ranging from the future of aviation to the building of community through the act of turning strangers into neighbors.

tedx_briggsOne of the speakers, Dr. Cyndi Briggs, shared her personal and professional thoughts about dreaming through introduction of the Imagination Installation Project, a social capital movement that harnesses the collective power of community. As one of the organizers of the grassroots effort, she invited all attendees at the event to participate by finishing a statement beginning with “Imagine when…..” to tap into imaginations and initiate dreaming. The cards included each contributor’s name and were then posted on a wall for all to view throughout the day. The results were fascinating, thought provoking and interesting.

Even more interesting, though, was the nervousness and lack of confidence I felt (but didn’t expect to) seconds before mustering up enough courage to write down my own initial response on one of the cards. According to Cyndi, I was not unlike many of the other adults she’s witnessed participating in the exercise. In her presentation she explained that dreaming is a major part of childhood, but somewhere along the road adulthood we lose confidence to share ideas and future aspirations. Sad, but true.

Every morning I ask my  two year-old daughter what she dreamed about the night prior. I can usually count on a response including one of the following: doggies, Dora the Explorer or sunshine. She’s at a fun age with a budding imagination. Most days, she informs me that Dora and her friends are at our house and joining us at the dinner table, using plastic containers to hold their invisible food. I often drink invisible coffee out of toy buckets for her enjoyment and act surprised the seventeenth time she delivers a plastic farm animal to me as a new piece of “mail”. She’s just beginning to scrape the surface of her imagination and dreaming, while I am at an age it is no longer encouraged by society.

While I no longer believe I am headed to the White House, I am now a mother of two young daughters who will need me to encourage them to dream as they age, just as my parents have into adulthood. But just as important will be the reminders I share with them, pointing to the positive events, relationships and conversations in their life that they might not have dreamed of. These moments, along with their dreams, will shape their future and help make possible what once seemed impossible; simply by imagining when.

Clearing the Happiness Fog

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In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin accurately describes the way I’m feeling these days taking care of a defiant toddler and newborn baby – extremely happy, yet in a fog. It’s something she calls “fog happiness,” described as being the kind of happiness resulting from activities that, at the time, don’t seem enjoyable.  Instead, feelings of happiness are delayed and appear once the fog clears. For example, hosting a party may bring happiness, but it’s not usually until after the party that we realize it.

This is exactly the way I feel about parenting; enjoying every single moment, yet not realizing much of the happiness until about 11 p.m. each night when the house has settled down. After watching and listening to coffee shop patrons, I found I am not alone. My favorite example of this concept was the exchange between a father and son one morning.

The man rushed in the front door, wearing a flannel shirt and stained jeans. His hair was fluffy and uncombed. At his side was his son, a toddler with curly blonde hair. The boy was fidgety and impatient until his Dad brought him a scone to eat. As most toddlers do, he wanted to eat the treat at his own pace, his own way.

The Dad, noticeably impatient, began helping the young boy.

“It’s OK if it’s broken; you’re only going to eat one piece at a time,” he said softly.

The boy didn’t seem to care and wasn’t ready to take the advice and instead continued taking his time.

“Eat it, throw it away, or put it in a bag to take with you,” the Dad said before picking the boy up and carrying him out of the building as if resembling a human airplane.

While the Dad might not have thought so at the time, I found his words to be helpful and applicable to parenting experiences. Accept them, get rid of them, or take them with you to look at once the fog clears.

 

 

Sharing life’s cinnamon rolls

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Are you an innie or an outie?

This is the question a middle-aged woman posed to her friend as they sat down together at a local coffee shop. Noticeably pregnant and well into my third trimester, I couldn’t help buty wonder if she was directing the question toward me, talking about the belly button emerging from under my shirt.

I then noticed the woman point to a freshly baked cinnamon roll sitting on the table in-between them.

“Do you like to eat it from the inside or the outside?”

They were sharing the treat and it was clear from the excited look on the woman’s face that her friend answered with the preferred answer.

“Outside.”

I smiled at their shared logic, and also felt relieved not having to engage awkward dialogue about my bulging abdomen.

The conversation between these two friends reminded me of a quote I have posted in my office as a daily level-setting prompt: “Find yourself in everyone you meet.” I wish I remembered where I heard this for the first time, but regardless of its origin, the statement has continued to impact the way I look at the world. I’ve found that the more we can find ourselves in others, the easier it is to be understanding, kind and empathetic when it seems most difficult.

The two women found themselves in each other, but also celebrated their differences as complements – even if in a very small way.

On a separate occasion, I sat near an elderly couple who were a fine example of teamwork, friendship and love. The two sat close to each other, sharing one cup of coffee with a table full of large books in front of them. The wife read, while he pretended to be engaged in the words she was mumbling. Their actions were the true definition of marriage – laughing together one minute and bickering the next.

He held up a shiny iPhone in his hand with a seemingly defeated look on his face before turning toward his wife and handing her the device.

“It says you go ‘bink bink’ and you’re on your way, but I can’t figure it out.”

photoAfter speaking into the bottom of the phone, the wife stubbornly held up the phone as if trying to take a photo. Her husband held his hand up to stop her and then removed his glasses and smiled. Nothing happened.

The couple continued reading the books in front of them, all with titles aiming to help beginners navigate use of Apple products. Every new “trick” they stumble upon called for a minor celebration.

After burying his nose in a small, white paperback manual the size of a worn-out novel, the husband jumped up excitedly.

“Wallpaper!”

The wife seemed more frustrated than impressed, asking her husband how he found the new tool. He leaned over, taking on the role of teacher, while she eagerly watched him navigate to the wallpaper feature. An earlier scene began to play out again, as the wife snapped a photo of her husband with intentions of using it as ‘wallpaper’ on her new gadget. As the wife fumbled with the phone, her husband stood up and began heading to the restroom – but not without sharing newfound wisdom with his wife.

“Don’t forget wallpaper means it will be behind everything on your phone.”

She rolled her eyes. The two continued to work with their new mobile devices for more than an hour, together celebrating and secretly competing to be the first to find reach a new milestone.

“Oh, look here! I found the messages,” the wife said. The husband was silent and seemed to be avoiding the fact that his wife had beat him at his own game. He decided it was time to leave.

“We need to get going. We’ve been here too long.”

While attempting to navigate chaos during the holidays, we sometimes take for granted those closest to us, forgetting how they reflect a piece of who we are. Finding others as complements is not always easy, but it is necessary. This holiday season; remember to take time to think of how those in your life play a part in making a better you. After all, it doesn’t matter how you choose to consume your cinnamon roll, it’s finding a way to share the frosting that makes experiences most memorable.

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