Why we should live more like Gumby

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A few years ago, I received invaluable advice from a respected business leader: when in life you are presented with the opportunity to stretch yourself, take advantage of it. In other words, she was saying live like Gumby and embrace vulnerable situations.

After hearing these words, I began noticing something; these opportunities appear for all of us, and more than we recognize. Nearly every day, we are faced with decisions – personal, professional; large, small; easy and difficult. Those that seem more difficult are that way because they are unfamiliar, and therefore, will force us to experience something new.

Have you ever noticed it seems easier to take on a task or enter a new situation once you’ve already had a similar experience? That’s not a coincidence.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has studied the topic of vulnerability for more than 10 years. Her work has been featured on national television, major publications and in multiple TED talks.

 

She says when people are vulnerable, they are willing to let go of who they thought they should be to be who they are and fully embrace vulnerability, believing it is what makes them beautiful.

I think she’s on to something.

When thinking about her definition and my own vulnerability, a few recent experiences immediately come to mind.

  • Signing up for a co-ed kickball team, not knowing there was such a thing and without knowing anyone playing, only months after moving to a new city. Did I mention sign-up was at a bar in a college town on a night my husband worked? Or that I realized on my way there that I didn’t know what the team captain (or anyone else for that matter) looked like? Yes, that awkward woman standing near the pinball machine scoping out the packed establishment with baby in tow was yours truly.
  • Meeting someone for coffee for the first time and not knowing what they look like. Asking other seemingly lost customers if they too are looking for their coffee date until the fourth person finally says yes.
  • Taking our two-year-old daughter to her first friend birthday party for a classmate at a local kid play zone, only to realize we were relying on her memory to help us navigate bouncy houses, slides and tunnels to find the little girl.

We all have the opportunity to place ourselves in vulnerable situations, to spark uncomfortable feelings and potentially embarrassing moments. However, instead of taking the plunge or enjoying the splash of a new experience, we continue repeating only those experiences we know and then wonder why we feel bored.

Now that I’ve embraced these situations, I want to have a few words with what used to be feelings of vulnerability. Sign me up for another kickball team. Schedule a meeting over coffee with a stranger. Invite my daughter to a birthday party at the local kid zone. Been there, done that.

The next time you have a chance to move your muscles and gain new experiences, give it a try. You don’t have to turn green; just wiggle your arms and get ready to stretch.

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Raise your hand if you’ve had a miscarriage

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Almost 25 percent of all pregnancies are lost to miscarriage and chances are if you’ve been part of this statistic, you’re not raising your hand. Not because you don’t remember the experience or because it happened many years ago. Instead, it’s likely your hand is staying down because you have feelings of failure, guilt and embarrassment caused by the experience. Not because it’s right or makes sense, but because it’s a natural reaction caused by stigma associated with miscarriage in our society. Those who have not experienced a miscarriage likely know of someone who has and begin to feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the word.

After visiting my doctor alone during my second pregnancy, I was delivered devastating news that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and from that moment, I started on a long and lonely road many women quietly travel.  Rather than face the issue head-on, I found myself attempting to hop back on the fast train in life as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t continue thinking about what was happening, but at the time, it was the only way I knew how to cope.

Four days after the news, I hopped on a plane like “super mom” to embark on a week-long business trip I had committed to many months prior. Leaving my two dogs, husband and one-year old at home, I traveled a few states away, secretly hoping the hole I was feeling would no longer be there when I returned.

It was.

The painting we had made, now hanging in our playroom in memory of our “firecracker”

I continued living in a fog for a few months until it eventually began to dissipate and I started searching for books on the topic. The selection was surprisingly limited; a first indication to me that there is something odd about the way our society approaches miscarriage. In short, we don’t. We duck, hide, whisper and ignore the topic to shield the pain, misunderstanding and confusion from our lives.

After browsing numerous bookshelves, I read I Never Held You, by Ellen M. DuBois. The book is personal, real and was exactly what I needed – confirmation I was not alone. Just as an article in the Huffington Post reveals, miscarriage does not discriminate. The article shares news of television anchor Lisa Ling’s recent pregnancy announcement and includes details about the feelings of failure she experienced after suffering a miscarriage in 2010.

If miscarriage happens to so many women every year, why did it take so long to find a book? Why is the topic of miscarriage off limits to talk about? Why must we stifle our voices to a whisper?

In the weeks following my completion of the book, I decided to break the rules, finding ways to share my experience with others – both men and women –when appropriate. Initiating a conversation appeared to relieve others of weight they had been carrying after they themselves or someone they knew had also suffered a loss in miscarriage.

This is the part I find fascinating. Here is an experience many women and men are faced with in life, but at some point are made keenly aware it is not a topic to talk about; at least not publically.

So here I am, 25 weeks into my third pregnancy, raising my hand and sharing this journey with you. If you’re still sitting on your hands, don’t worry; moving them is the first step. For those of you with a hand in the air, try this – keep your hand up, move from behind the computer screen and begin waving, even if only to one other person.

R.I.P. Halloween Costume

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Without thinking about it too hard, what was your most memorable Halloween costume? I’m not asking for your favorite, but rather the costume sticking out in your mind like a thorn among the rest of the black and orange roses of childhood. Perhaps it was the oh-so-original orange pumpkin or pink sparkling dress your mother stayed up until midnight making the night before. Or, maybe you felt your best approaching a stranger’s doorstep behind a grim reaper mask stained with fake blood.

Either way, why is it your most memorable?

My most memorable Halloween costume also found itself placed in the ‘most embarrassing’ category while I was fearlessly navigating my teenage years. In those days, every outfit was required to match, fit perfectly and follow the current trends. As a child, however, that was not the case.

Halloween cat costumeAround the age of seven, my parents did something as a teenager I vowed never to let my child do – wear an outfit I wouldn’t choose. Seems a bit controlling, doesn’t it? Yes, but I also didn’t know yet what it meant to be a parent, either.

That year for Halloween, I was convinced I’d be dressing as a cat and not just any cat; I wanted to prowl the neighborhood streets as a feline in black tights. This doesn’t seem too unreasonable except for the fact that my version of wearing tights also included a one-piece black leotard, black ears and nothing more. The costume was so creative, in fact, that it shared a peek of my oversized little girl Lion King underwear. I didn’t mind and walked proudly up and down the streets of our Colorado neighborhood fetching candy for my stash.

Now a mother myself, I realize the best part about my costume that year was not the ensemble itself, but instead the way my parents allowed me to make my own decision – tights and all – without worrying too  much about the harmless underwear seams showing though.

My daughter is now two and will be dressing as a ladybug this year, complete with thick black and red striped tights. The costume wasn’t exactly her choice, but made its way into our home following an after Halloween clearance special last year.

I, too, will be joining her on a hunt for treats this week in our neighborhood, but this time leaving my own tights far behind.

Finding faith in unexpected places

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Sometimes faith can be found in places we least expect. A church or place of spirituality seems to make sense, but what about a coffee shop? Before this past week, I might have sided with the thinking that witnessing faith in a coffee shop may seem a bit bizarre or unlikely, but after a few recent encounters, I’m finding the aroma-filled establishments to actually bring out a soft spot in all of us. It’s a person’s willingness to share the said soft spot that sheds the light on faith.

It was a cool morning in October and on this particular day; I was head down at a local coffee shop, eyes glued to the computer screen in front of me. Only peering up every once in a while to check the time, I hardly noticed others sitting around me. I was working to meet a deadline and having a rough morning, questioning my parenting skills after arguing with my toddler about wearing a jacket to daycare.

An elderly lady sat down at the table located next to mine and was quick to strike up a conversation. After complimenting me on my typing skills, she saw a little girl with her father at the counter and began sharing stories with me about her four children – three girls and one boy. There was one story in particular that nudged my faith.

Her youngest boy, 18-months-old at the time and wearing nothing but a diaper, was outside in their family backyard helping his mother in the garden. She ran inside the house for a brief minute to fetch something she had forgotten and just after stepping foot inside the door, heard a noise no mother wants to hear – a child screaming. After rushing back out the door, she found her son next to a beehive, covered in black and yellow bodies. She grabbed the little boy and brushed off the bees, removing the stingers as quickly as possible before taking him inside the house.

“I couldn’t get ahold of his father or any of our neighbors, so I did all that I knew to do and prayed harder than ever before,” she said. “That little boy was so special to us.”

The lady, now probably in her upper eighties, went on to tell me how, after an hour passed since the horrific bee sting incident, her young son did not have one single mark on his body. She also said, to her knowledge, he has never been stung again since that day.

Faith.

That same week, I was engaged in small talk with a young woman who seemed to be having a morning similar to mine a few days before. Her hair was in a pony-tail high on her head, complementing the white collared shirt half-tucked into a pair of wrinkly tan dress pants she was wearing.

After exchanging a friendly greeting, we were both signaled by the barista to step aside while they brewed a new batch of fresh coffee. I asked the woman, about my age, if she was at the coffee shop to work, too. Her posture became more relaxed, eyes looking down at the floor.

“I am going through a rough time right now,” she said. “I was my way to work this morning but decided after crying nearlyhalf of the trip that it would be better for me to take the day for me. I ended up here.”

Showing empathy, I told her we all have bad days and then our drinks were ready.

The woman sat at a table to the left of mine and we each went on to finish what it was we came there to do. I was finishing up a writing piece, she was reading a Bible.

About a half hour later, a middle-aged woman passed by but then began backpedaling, stopping in front of the young woman’s table. I was close enough to hear their exchange.

“I don’t know you or what you are going through, but here is a card I just found that I got at a Bible study. Hopefully it will help and you will get through this,” the older woman said before leaving with her coffee in hand.

As the young woman opened the large piece of paper, I peeked over to read as if trying to cheat during an intense game of Poker.

I’ve never been good at Poker – or cheating for that matter – and this was no different. During my five-second peek show, I was only able to make out the first line on the index card. It read:

He will not allow your foot to slip; your…

Regardless of what the remaining text said, this message was coming at a perfect time and seemed to cause some relief for the young woman. Although we never said another word to each other, her willingness to share a moment of vulnerability with me was important in helping confirm something I know is true, but often forget.

Faith, in various forms, appears when we are willing to look for it – in ourselves and also in each other.

Blowing out quarter-century candles

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Birthdays are a good reminder of time and the realization of how fast hours, days and years pass by without warning. The saying “time flies” is not anything new, but it’s the truth.

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday. During a phone call with my Dad that morning, he made sure to remind me that any day after my birthday would be “sliding down the hill to thirty.” What happened to a fatherly rendition of singing happy birthday in front of a well-lit cake?

You know what though? He’s right. I’m no longer in the twenty fifth year of my life. I’ve shut the door on childhood, teenage rebellion and college living and have entered the next quarter-century of experiences, pitfalls, challenges, friendships and celebrations. As I sat down that evening feeling more exhausted than at any previous birthdays, my mind swirled with memories of the past year.

My daughter and I almost a year ago

Since becoming a parent, I’ve promised myself to jot down stories, frustrations and insightful memories to share with my children when they are older. This was no exception. On the back of my daughter’s daycare newsletter, I began scribbling – in no particular order – the lessons I have learned during the past year leading up to turning twenty-five.

  1. Traveling 13 hours with a tired husband, two dogs and baby to see family, even if in a few hours notice, is well worth the trip.
  2. The southern translation of passing gas is “poot”.
  3. Kickball is more than just a game played in gym class. There are leagues of teams playing eight-week seasons, complete with playoffs and concession stands.
  4. Being a parent is the most rewarding, complicated and fun profession out there.
  5. It is possible to make edible hard-boiled eggs in the oven.
  6. Spending Christmas without family (or snow!) is as difficult as it sounds.
  7. Some farmer’s markets sell “throw away” peaches at a discount; all you have to do is ask.
  8. Potty training is more difficult than it sounds.
  9. Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, N.C.
  10. Every pregnancy is different.
  11. Contrary to the way I was raised, many children will never known what it’s like to eat food out of your own garden.
  12. Ponytails can be fashionable.
  13. Babies grow way too fast.
  14. Meeting new friends without comparing them to others is impossible.
  15. There are never enough photos.
  16. Growing grass is similar to spending your paycheck on clothes without bringing anything home.
  17. It’s important to donate – anything.
  18. A routine drive to work and daycare can be a good opportunity for a toddler to learn colors of cars.
  19. If accidentally locked in a pantry, my Border Collie will make a mess.
  20. It’s possible to lose sleep excited for someone else.
  21. Two-year olds are smarter than people give them credit for.
  22. My husband needs to throw away fraying shirts he still has from high school.
  23. Waking up thirty minutes early to sit in peace before the day begins makes a world of difference.
  24. There is nothing like Michigan in the Fall.
  25. Strangers will surprise you, in more ways than one.

Reflecting on the last year of life has helped me appreciate the knowledge we learn from each other. I’m ready to start the next quarter-century full of experiences and lessons, but think it’s best I light the candles before cutting into the cake.

Happy National Coffee Day!

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Happy National Coffee Day! This year I’m celebrating by coloring and sipping a cup of joe with my favorite little lady.

Parenting musical chairs

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There are many benefits to being a parent, and more specifically, a new parent. The unforgettable first moment of seeing your sweet baby; the first smile; the first word; a belly laugh. All of these are commonly referred to as milestones in a little one’s life. But, I’d be remiss if not to mention the art of playing parenting musical chairs.

You may remember playing a competitive game of musical chairs during your youth, breezing by fold-up chairs in a circle as if running an important race. Once the music stopped, you were left scrambling to find an empty chair to avoid being ejected from the game. The key, of course, was to keep an eye on the empty chair, secretly hovering during each round.

As a new parent, the rules are the same, but the playing field is different. Sometimes the music is soft and easy going.  At other times, it can be fast and unforgiving. In both situations, it’s important to react. I recently encountered one of the challenging rounds while searching for an empty chair – literally.

Before heading to my daughter’s swim class, we planned to meet with friends of ours for a cup of coffee. I thought I would out-smart the logistics of preparing a baby for swim class by putting on her swimsuit and pool outfit before grabbing coffee. I was sure this would eliminate a few steps and make our morning less stressful. I was wrong.

While I am known for my tardiness, this time we arrived before our friends (they went to the wrong place first, but that’s beside the point).  After ordering coffee, I waited at the counter only to look down and see my daughter had spilled her cup of water all over the floor of the busy entry way. I smiled at the customers, used a few napkins to soak water in an effort to make the mess look minor, grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

We found a seat outside by ourselves. After situating my daughter, laying out her apples and new cup of water, I sat back and took my first relaxing sip of caffeine. It was then I noticed my daughters chair was leaking. I quickly made the connection to identify what was dripping onto the ground. Thanks to what I thought was being overly prepared, she had a swim diaper on, not a regular diaper. For those of you who are parents know there is a significant difference between the two in the way they absorb. My daughter was peeing her pants and there was a small puddle under her chair.

After rushing back inside, I learned there was no changing table in the bathroom. My daughter and I returned to the car for a quick diaper and clothing change.  I wiped down the chair and exchanged it with a dry chair from a nearby table just before our friends joined us for coffee.

Parenting moments like this one have taught me an important lesson. Life is not about choosing the music we listen to; it’s about learning a new dance to the same tune.

It’s important to continue the race, just make sure you find a clean empty chair when the music stops.

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