Monday, August 31, 2009


2 a : a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest

I have a crazy side. An irrational me that emerges unexpectedly, as a result of unforeseen prompts. Last week, the prompt was A's first batch of standardized test scores. Before I get started on my craziness, let me explain that these scores are quite important. In our school system, they determine whether a child is eligible to apply for a magnet middle school, which often determines whether the child is eligible for a magnet high school. And these Very Important Scores are the results of the first standardized tests given in our system. So there's no gimmee. No safety test to make sure your child understands how the process works. No second chance if she has a cold the day of test-taking.

That said, there was little reason to worry. A is a bright child. She reads well above her grade level, has never received a B on her report card and did fine on all of the pre-tests they did to prepare for the standardized test.

So it was illogical for my pulse to race a bit as I tore open the envelope that A so casually handed me at 7:30 on a Friday morning, right before we had to walk out the door for school. I scanned the paper quickly, looking for a percentile to get a quick gauge of how she did. Seeing numbers below 90, my eyes widened a bit and I heard A say, "What's wrong? Did I do all right?" Luckily, that simple question (momentarily) brought me back to my senses. I put the papers away and resolved to look at them once the girls were safely ensconced in their classrooms and I had a cup of coffee at hand.

Unfortunately, caffeine did not make these test scores easier to understand. Percentiles were, in fact, nowhere to be found on the results. The numbers that had alarmed me were unique to this test, with little relevance in assessing how well my daughter had done overall. There was one column that was labeled "advanced, proficient or below proficient." A was advanced in every category for all four subjects tested, but this did not give me enough information. I wanted to know how far above average she was. Did she barely squeak by in a subject? She should have scored well above proficient on any reading assessment, so if she didn't, I needed to know. Math, however, wasn't her strong suit. But was that only in comparison to her reading? I couldn't tell based on these scores.

Now, the reason I say I can be crazy is that my mind was swirling as I tried to process all of this information. Both my husband and I were great test takers, back in the day. I can remember thinking in elementary school that standardized tests were stupid. Why give us all a test if you always scored 99%? It was only years later that I glimpsed someone else's results and realized that not everyone got the same 99s every time. I didn't have the healthiest attitude about all of this as a child or high school student.

In fact, my orientation to grades was decidedly unhealthy. I thought the only thing I was good at was taking tests. I thought the only value I had or ever would have was found in the classroom.

So this long-held psychosis that grades are the measure of one's worth came raging back as I tried to interpret A's scores. I called a friend. One who would not judge me. One who had, perhaps, been a bit crazy in her own past. Like me, her craziness had stemmed from a desire to please an implacable father, who rarely (if ever) offered praise. Unlike me, she had some distance from the current crazy state of my mind and offered me sound advice. She understood how quickly my mind went back to that original orientation of good grades = self worth. She also knew that equation wasn't true and she reminded me of that.

I gradually calmed down and figured out a way to actually interpret the scores and A did fine on the test. She did, as expected, knock the reading portions out of the park. And she wasn't borderline on any of the assessment categories, so she should be well prepared for middle school. All of this is well and good and incredibly irrelevant to your life.

But what I want to share that perhaps does matter to you is how a lasting inclination that we know in our hearts to be wrong lies latent there instead of being eradicated. Are there paths that your thoughts unwittingly take that astonish you with how right they feel, even when you know logically they are wrong?

I really thought I was over my perfectionist strive for not just perfect, but better than perfect grades. I have worked very hard to not pressure my daughters to get good grades. In fact, when A was preparing for her standardized test, I did not quiz her. I only encouraged her and reassured her that she would do just fine. But I still turned into the old me when the scores were in my hand.

This makes me sad. It makes me angry with myself that I can still think something so wrong. It makes me wonder what I really think of myself, deep down. Because I have long since ceased to excel in anything. While I tell myself I am at peace with that, do I believe it? Or am I just waiting for the right time to berate myself for a mistake?

I want to change my orientation. But the definition of the word itself points to a long term process. In order to truly have a healthy orientation regarding grades, tests and their relevance to self-worth, I will have to remind myself again and again of what is true. My head will have to tell my heart over and over that my daughters are wonderful people who are meant to use the gifts they have, not be what someone else thinks they should be. Even harder, I will have to show myself grace and mercy when I fail miserably, as I surely will.

Monday, August 24, 2009


past and past participle of bind

My daughter B's full name means tied or bound. Being the free spirit that she is, she's never been a big fan of this. I think she would prefer to live her life untethered and I wonder whether there is a man out there who will make her willing to set aside her freedom to join her life to his. I love this about her, but I hope that in time, she will like the meaning of her name. Because we are all bound, whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Maybe having the name she does, B will also have the wisdom to bind herself to the right things, in the right ways. Hopefully, she will bind her heart to the Lord and stay closely knit with Him her entire life. Hopefully, she will tie her heart to another and feel that tether give her strength, rather than tie her down. Hopefully, her passion to be herself will bind her actions to her heart, so that she lives authentically. I likewise hope that B will actively choose the these bonds rather than tie herself to things that others - including myself - might think right for her.

Not long ago, I queried the meaning of B's name on a more comprehensive baby name finder and found another meaning: exceedingly beautiful. I happily shared this with her, hoping that it would please her. It did and it thrilled my heart. I think B's name suits her. She is not a traditional person and the spelling of her name alone sets her apart. She is already exceedingly beautiful to me because of the unique combination of traits she possesses (and, let's be honest, she's my daughter - of course I think she's beautiful). As she turns 8 today, I look forward to seeing her beauty emerge in new ways and to seeing what she binds herself to and what bonds she throws off because they can not hold her back. Happy birthday, B!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


2 : the end toward which effort is directed : aim

While Tuesday was my first day with all three daughters in school all day, today was my first day alone at home without them. Events conspired to keep me busy and away from home until today. In honor of my first day at home alone, I set a goal: to write an essay to enter into a magazine contest before I pick the kids up from school.

I've known about this contest for several weeks (possibly even several months), but haven't had the time, energy or decisiveness to sit down and start writing. I've spent some time thinking about what I would say, but hadn't written a word down. Today, I took a deep breath and started. It's not a finished piece at this point. I'm not ready to dash it off to the editors. In fact, I'm not really sure it's what they're looking for. They said essay, this is a bit more fanciful. Still, it's finished. So now I'll start editing and preparing myself to send it in, although I am certain it will never win.

But the important thing to me right now is that I reached the goal that I set for myself this morning. There were other things that I could justifiably have done - laundry amongst them. There were plenty of other worthy tasks calling my name. But I refused to be distracted, I refused to feel guilty for "wasting" time writing and I refused to stop until I finished.

I am so proud of myself! Now, check back with me to make sure I submitted the silly thing...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


1 a : lack of agreement or harmony (as between persons, things, or ideas) b : active quarreling or conflict resulting from discord among persons or factions : strife

It's funny how the definition of a word doesn't always match your use of the word. I had planned to title this post conflict, but when I read the definition, discord seemed to fit better. I am not a fan of conflict or discord. I would much prefer to just bury any lack of agreement and avoid active quarreling. But I've finally learned after thirteen years of marriage that a little active quarreling can lead to more harmony, both inner harmony and inter-personal harmony.

But not always...

Last night, J and I had a phone conversation with a couple that I'll call C and B for the purposes of this post. On Sunday, B sent an e-mail to J and I that hurt my feelings. The e-mail was written in a pretty businesslike tone and was designed to set expectations about an upcoming event, specifically to remind us of C & B's boundaries for our involvement. I responded pretty emotionally to J that evening, sharing with him that I was offended that B would even feel the need to draw this particular boundary with me. I think most who know me would agree that I'm not an intrusive person. I think most introverts aren't intruders. I don't barge in on people, I don't knowingly intrude on someone's privacy, I tend to stay well on the side of your business being your business. In short, I'm a pretty respectful gal. So it hurt to be told by someone who's known me for about 17 years not to cross an obvious boundary.

One of the things I love about J is that he sometimes feels protective of me. Growing up, I rarely felt like my father protected me and I often felt like I needed to protect myself from him, so it's a new feeling to have someone I trust who looks out for my emotions the way J does. I think the e-mail had frustrated J, too, but it was really my reaction to it that upset him. So he sent an e-mail on Monday venting to B that he was out of bounds. A few e-mails went back and forth and C & B suggested that we talk things out on the phone to clear the air before the upcoming event where we'll all need to interact.

Now, for most of my life, my approach to discord has been remarkably like an ostrich. I prefer to just put my head in the sand and pretend nothing happened. If I wait long enough, others tend to forget as well or at least become willing to play along. So a phone call to "talk it out" was a stressful event.

I tried to prepare myself. I mentally evaluated where I had been in the wrong, so that I would be ready to freely admit this. I immediately owned up to feeling hurt by the e-mail and that my emotional reaction was largely to blame for J's own reaction. The conversation continued from there, with J and I explaining and apologizing as necessary. I was relieved when the conversation was done and spent no time analyzing it - I just wanted to forget it ever happened. But it kept coming back to my mind, niggling at me, until I finally realized that at no point in the conversation did B or C ever admit to doing anything wrong. All blame was laid squarely at our feet and they ended the call feeling much better. I, on the other hand, feel much worse.

What is the point of conflict and strife if I feel worse after the fact? Why even bother? It seems my old standby approach of avoidance would have been infinitely preferable. I'm not sure this is the healthiest reaction to have. But it is honestly how I feel. So if you're reading this, how do you deal with discord? Do you work to regain harmony in the relationship or wait for the ship to right itself after rocking on emotional waves for bit? Is it easy or hard to talk through conflict? Does discord in your relationships hinder your inner harmony?

Friday, August 14, 2009


2 b : a noteworthy happening

Today my youngest daughter, K, started Kindergarten. Our family has been anticipating this day for months - from the panic of losing her school acceptance letter to buying school supplies to eagerly planning what I will do with all of my time alone. Today was the big event.

But, honestly, it felt a bit like any other day. I dropped the girls off at school, came home, worked on some stuff for the art teacher and mopped the kitchen floor. Not an earth-shattering event, by any means. Hardly even a noteworthy happening.

K was excited to go to school this morning. Last night, she met her teacher and her recent ambivalence evaporated. She hugged her teacher, explored the classroom, looked at her name tag, chose her favorite floor pillow. Today, she was vibrating with excitement. While J and I were still bleary eyed and in bed waiting for the snooze to expire on the alarm, K tromped upstairs, already dressed for school. She had no hesitation about telling J or I good-bye in the classroom:
When I leaned down to kiss her good-bye, I said, "Have a good day and remember to obey Mrs. M."

"Which one is Mrs. M?" K said, questioningly, looking around the room populated with parents. I pointed out her teacher and K nodded, then returned to making her fruit loop necklace.

"I love you," I reminded her.

"Love you, too," she replied, without looking up.
So today wasn't really the event or the pivotal change I've been anticipating. Instead, I think that will happen in the days to come. The novelty of school will wear off. The joy of choosing special school clothes will turn in to the job of choosing from only standard school attire. The excitement of doing things the way Mrs. M says will give way to a desire to do things her own way. And, slowly, bit by bit, this will be the event: my five year-old will grow up. She will change from a little girl into a bigger girl. One more self-sufficient. More in control of her emotions. More quintessentially K.

One day, I will look at her and marvel that she once was so small. One day, I will smile as I recall the momentary insanity that made her decide to cut her own hair to "look like a boy" less than twenty-four hours before she began school for the first time. One day, I'll realize life is not really about the events. It's the little things that change us all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


1 : one that heals: to make sound or whole

Today is J's birthday. We have often joked that he is ill-suited to a name that means healer. When he gave blood years ago in preparation for a surgery he was having, he passed out. For the births of our first two children, he left the room during the epidural, smiling apologetically to me as he made his exit. For K's birth, he merely turned his back so that he wouldn't have to see the needle slide into his wife's back. Once, as I read to him a vivid description of what asthma feels like, he nearly hyperventilated. He was not designed to be a "healer" in the medical sense of the word.

But as I think about celebrating him on this day, it is true that he has healed me in many ways. I have spent much of my life feeling unloved and, worse, unlovable. J has shown me the fallacy of this thinking and has spent thirteen years proving day in and day out that he loves me, whether I deserve it or not. He has made great strides in making me a whole person instead of a shell of a woman. For that, I am grateful.

Happy Birthday, Honey.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


2 a : depression of spirits : dejection b : a pensive mood

I've waited too long to post about the great trip that J & I took to Louisville a few weeks back to see one of our favorite bands play their final show. I'm not sure I can capture why it was so great and what I loved about it. Nevertheless, I'm going to try:

The show was ten days before our 13th anniversary, so it was a special night for a lot of reasons. It was fun to share the experience of driving a few hours north just for a concert. While it took a lot of planning to get the girls farmed out to spend the night with various friends, it felt spontaneous, young and fun. J and I have been to Louisville a few times and always enjoy the city. It was a quick trip, but spending the night in a nice hotel and having dinner at a bar followed by a concert felt more distinctive than an anniversary date here in Nashville would have been. We soaked up the time together.

It was also special to be a part of The Muckrakers' final show. A few months ago J told me to check out the blog of Rob Carpenter, the lead singer of The Muckrakers. I was skeptical that I would enjoy his blog. To say that I am not musical is an understatement. So what was I going to have in common with this guy? If he blogged about writing or playing music, I was likely to be confused, bored or both. Instead, I found a very real guy who wrote in an authentic voice about his life. Yes, he's a singer-songwriter, but he's also a dad, a husband, a baseball fan. Prompted by various posts, J and I had each corresponded with Rob via e-mail prior to the final concert. J introduced himself to Rob before the concert began and we were able to chat with him for a bit before the concert.

Since I'm not a huge music fan, there has to be a good motivator for me to go to a concert. I do enjoy small venues because I can often hear the lyrics better live than recorded (lyrics being the only reason WordGirl listens to music). The motivation for this concert was the time alone with J, the shared experience we would have after this anniversary road-trip and getting to see someone I've gotten to know via his blog play music.

In spite of the fact that this was a concert, there was a touch of melancholy in the air. It was, after all, their last concert. Rob, his wife and daughters were leaving Louisville not long after the final show and this was the last time these four guys did their thing together. It was a great show. They played all of J & I's favorite songs and then some. They came out into the audience and did a campfire style sing along. The band cried some. I cried some.

On the drive back, I told J that I was thankful that I didn't know I wanted to write until recently. It would be so hard to be Rob Carpenter and walk away from not just on the dream of this band, but his gift of writing and performing. While I don't know him personally, I get the feeling from all he's written about it that the timing of this is right for him. I hope he'll continue to write - music or something else. But it was somewhat sad to know our first Muckrakers concert would be our last.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not, if you know me), the touch of melancholy this concert embodied made the trip even better for me than another concert would have been. It made me thankful that these four guys shared their gifts with the crowd that night. It made me hopeful that they will find other ways to use their gifts. It made me long to stretch myself and reach for dreams that seem out of my grasp.

Monday, August 10, 2009


1 : the quality or state of being alone or remote from society : seclusion

I've spent most of this summer with at least one person with me at all times. This was partly by choice: taking July and August off of work meant that I would need to give up childcare for K. A & B still had a few camps, but I was rarely without all three of my daughters. This is normally a recipe for exhaustion for me. I crave a certain amount (ideally, 30 minutes to an hour) and kind (the quieter, the better) of solitude. It's actually been a great summer in spite of the lack of solitude. I have thoroughly enjoyed my daughters and we've had lots of fun together.

That said, I will be ready for August 14 to arrive and school to start. One of the things this signifies to me this year is the return of solitude to my daily routine. I am craving this. One reason I've posted so little to this blog in recent weeks is that I haven't had time to think, much less write. When I have had time to write, I've found that my mind is quiet (empty?) and no words are there, waiting. Most of my blog posts feel more like transcription than writing. I often spend several hours composing the piece in my head, so that when I sit down at the computer, I just type in my thoughts. Obviously, this requires that I think...

I've missed having quiet moments to think and ponder. I feel a bit adrift, having spent so little time in self-reflection. I'm looking forward to studying some of the names of God this fall. I look forward to solitude used contemplating who God is, who I am and what I should do with my life, specifically and more broadly. I find when I spend time pondering these things, I feel more complete. It's almost like I've taken the time to center myself on the pottery wheel, ensuring that I will be whole and symmetrical at the end of the day, instead of off-kilter and unusable.

Hopefully, as you read this post you're alone. If so, take a deep breath and savor it. If not, may you find or make a spare bit of time for some solitude today.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


1 : the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded

I am currently reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Another book I read this summer referenced it and a dear friend read and loved it. I've only read about a chapter and a half of this slim volume, but Lindbergh's words are rich and her thoughts resonate with my heart.

In the second chapter, Lindbergh talks about finding a simple, beautiful shell formerly occupied by a whelk. This shell bore the mark of its creator in its beauty and simple utility. Unlike the shell, the author feels she is barnacle encrusted, dragging around unnecessary junk, instead of carrying only what she needs. She goes on to say that this is common for women, especially American women. We take on too much.

One reason my sabbatical this summer has been cleansing is that I took time to purge our home of unnecessary items. My youngest child starts kindergarten in less than a week and it was joyous to sell the crib that our three daughters nestled in, each in her turn. I was glad to shred papers from the first year of our marriage, when it cost less than $50 to heat and cool our small apartment. It was freeing to scrape off the barnacles of clutter in our basement and elsewhere in our home.

So how do I do this in our daily lives? How do I nurture A's love of dance through classes and make sure we have dinner as a family? How do I expose B to art, music and theater - how do I feed her creative soul - and still nourish our family with home cooked meals? How do I help K transition to kindergarten and thrive socially through dance and sports while protecting her need for rest and unstructured play?

How do I nourish my soul as I tend the seeds God has planted in the hearts of my daughters?

I don't know the answers to these questions, beyond the fact that I must consistently seek and pursue simplicity. I must model for my daughters the necessity of choosing the thing that makes their heart sing over the thing that clamors the loudest for attention.

It isn't simple to choose simplicity, but how can we hear the quiet, still voice in our souls if we are never quiet nor still?