Friday, June 29, 2012


2 a : an account of incidents or events
3 b : the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work

Some stories just stick with you.  I recently read Wherever I Wind Up, a book by a baseball player from Nashville.  It was a good book (aided by the fact that I used to be in bible study with the author's wife), but it was a great story.  It wasn't so much the content of the story that made it great, but that he told his story, complete with traumatic events and poor choices on his part, without shame.  I felt a lot of things as I read it - among them, envy.

Over the years, I've managed to tell part of my story to people.  I've even managed to share some difficult parts aloud.  But to do so without shame is still largely outside my grasp.

This weekend, I am driving my daughters to Wisconsin for a long weekend with their grandparents.  While they visit family and soak up time together, I'll be on a personal retreat at a nearby center run by Dominican nuns.  This will be my first retreat without a spiritual director with me.  And I've pondered whether to use one of the spiritual directors available via the retreat center.  But ultimately I feel I would be better served spending these days exploring my story - attempting to remember the things my subconscious has hidden away, the things I wish had never happened, the things that still make me flush with shame.

I think it's important to know and own my story because as much as I want it to not be so, my story is not just my story, but my children's and even those who know and love me, but are not a part of my family.  Because our stories are interconnected.

This summer, Cheekwood has seven tree houses based on literature.  One of my favorite houses is based on a short story that I haven't read (yet).  But I will read it, because here is an excerpt:

“He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale.” -- Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, 1991 

My story weaves in and out of those around it in ways I can not even begin to grasp.  I can't control that or change that (and I'm not sure I would want to), but I can take one end of the string and slowly but surely work my way through the knots and twists and turns to know the rope of my story better, to accept it as my own, to try to see the beauty and the value in it.  And to maybe even come to see that my story supports me and, joined together with other stories, helps me go places that I couldn't otherwise go.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


2: to give relief or deliverance to for a time

I find myself exceptionally grateful today. 

When I looked at my calendar on Sunday, I saw very little white space: an appointment Monday, coffee with a friend Tuesday, orthodontist on Wednesday, another appointment and piano on Thursday, ballet every afternoon and a trip to Wisconsin to end the week.  It stressed me out a little to see it all laid out, but even more than stressed, it saddened me.  I've been longing for time to do what summer is all about (to me): the lake, the zoo, Cheekwood, the park, the pool, the museum.  Basically, a day that features a picnic, friends and a frozen treat is a great summer day.

Combined with my own desire for down time were two girls who wanted friend time.  B's friend C had invited her on a birthday outing that B missed.  A's friend had been out of town.  With K at day camp all week, this seemed like the perfect week for a big girl outing.  So I did what I could: I e-mailed my friend to see if we could reschedule our Tuesday coffee.  I checked with A & B's friends.  I checked the weather. 

And I was granted a reprieve.

My friend was gracious and understanding.  The friends were free to join us.  The weather was delightful.  (If you don't live in Nashville, you might wonder why a high of 90 feels like a reprieve.  If you do live here, you know that a high of 90 feels lovely when it's been 98 for several days.)

So this morning after getting K off to camp, A, B and I packed a picnic.  There were sandwiches, sun chips, watermelon, grapes, even Oreos (a treat around here).  In addition to food, a book, sunscreen and a blanket went into the bag.

The reprieve was relief.  Relief from an overscheduled summer.  Relief from feeling trapped indoors by sweltering heat.  Relief from sibling bickering from too much time together, not enough time with friends.

Friends and Sisters

Yet the day wasn't what I had imagined beforehand.  My girls are so comfortable at Cheekwood that they move freely from tree house to tree house, from pond to pond without feeling the need to tell me.  So while I talked to a friend, they moved on.  And on.  Often by the time I caught up at one tree house, they were ready to move to the next one.  In short, it wasn't a day of mother/daughter exploration.  Instead, it was me catching up with a few friends and lots of playing in the pond, swinging on ropes and walking and talking for my girls.

But as I sat on the picnic blanket after lunch while two girls played in the waterfalls and two girls visited the Oriental garden, I realized this is exactly how it works with tween daughters.  They want room to safely explore the world, with mom nearby (but not too nearby), a friend along for the fun and lots of open road. 


My daughters needed a reprieve today, too.  They needed a reprieve from the very things that make our summer busy - a chance to be just A the friend, not A the dancer.  And I needed a reprieve from not only the busy schedule, but my own ideas of what summer should be.  I'm thankful not only for our day, but for the clarity with which I saw it.  I'm constantly learning and re-learning how to parent and I'm grateful for the moments when I can be grateful for a reprieve and learn from it.

Aboard the Jolly Roger - Argh!

Seeing in color at The Giver tree house

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


2 b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

This weekend J and I went to a friend's party celebrating his recent American citizenship.  Appropriately enough, while there I talked to another friend about a recent article on why American women still can't have it all.  At the time I hadn't yet read the article, but when I read it the next day, my overwhelming thought was, "I'm not sure I want success if this is how it's defined and what it takes to get there."

Sometimes I am utterly content in my circumstances - thankful for the gift of three daughters, grateful to spend a large portion of my time teaching them, joyful preparing food they eat with delight.  Other days, I wonder whether the things I do are a complete waste of time.  Is anything I do going to have lasting impact?  My daughters will not remember whether their laundry was clean on Wednesday, whether they ate fruit salad or fruit roll-ups for snack, how sine differs from cosine.  After a decade as a parent, I've come to more or less accept this cyclical satisfaction/dissatisfaction.  In some ways I even welcome it, since I tend to subscribe to the theory that the unexamined life really isn't worth living.  If I'm not routinely questioning and evaluating what I'm doing, I'm probably not doing it right.

So I'm thankful for articles like the one in the Atlantic Monthly that make me think about whether I'm on the career and life track I want to be on.  There was a time when I worked full time, traveled frequently and made a fair amount of money.  I can remember being puzzled as my company threw more and more money at me any time I was unhappy.  Yet I was never really unhappy about compensation - I wanted to do work that was engaging, interesting, enjoyable. 

When I question my life's work now, it's not because I long for more interesting work to do.  I worry more about what other people think about my choices than my own disillusionment.  I have interesting work.  I have engaging (if sometimes infuriating) subordinates.  The pay's not great and the hours can be long, but the flexibility can't be beat.  Perhaps most importantly, my current work affords me the time and space to pursue God and be pursued by Him in a way that I think would be difficult or impossible if I were still working full-time.

Since college, I've considered myself a feminist.  I still do - though you likely wouldn't know it to look at the choices I've made with my life.  But the fact remains that they were my choices - not an inevitable path I was forced to take.  In addition to ending this article thinking that I wasn't sure I want success, I was struck by another thought - that I should let my daughters read the article.  Because I don't necessarily want them to make the same choices I've made.  Instead, I want them to make the choices that are right for them.  I feel sure there will be both similarities and differences - we aren't the same people, after all.

What about you?  Are you successful right now?  Does the idea of success drive you to a large or small degree?  How do you measure success?

I've decided to once again try to set aside what the world says success is and instead find my own way there.  I'd like to chart a path to success that leads me closer and closer to who I really am, that gives me space to create, breathe, pray and play, that shows my daughters there is more than one way to any destination.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


:the number of books I've read in the last month

I don't know about you, but I can tell a lot about my life by the number and kind of books I'm reading.  Because I'm always reading something - as are most people in my family.  Here's a conversation from my van this morning:

A: "Is it weird to have a comb in my purse?"
Me: "Why do you care if it's weird? Some people might have a toothbrush in their purse.  Some people might think it's weird to take a book with you wherever you go."
At which point K exclaimed: "What?! Why?"

So a conversation that started out being about the contents of A's purse (and why she can keep whatever she wants in there) ended up being about books.  We devote a fair amount of time and energy to selecting, reading and discussing books around here.

I've learned over the course of the last few years that I can use books to escape instead of using them to entertain, educate or encourage.  So does the fact that I've read a dozen books in the last month mean I'm on the verge of a breakdown?  Things are never quite as simple as they seem.  Because the last month has also held the start of summer break, a family vacation and more free time than I have during the school year.

Yet I would be misleading you - and myself - if I didn't admit that I have moved swiftly from one book to the next.  Part of this certainly has been a summer indulgence.  Part of it has been a physical tiredness that has left me wanting more time curled up with a book.  And part of it has been trying to find a way to cope with some disappointments in the way our summer is shaping up.

I do not mean to indicate that I'm going to stop reading.  I'm not.  But perhaps, even during the summer, I'll take a breath between books and make sure I'm not checking out on life when I check out at the library.

For interested parties, here's a quick review of the twelve books:

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore - the author's anti-marriage agenda overshadowed the cumbersome, twisting plot for me.  (But you might want to read Graceling, if you haven't already.)

Wherever I Wind Up by RA Dickey - a book that made me long to shed my shame about my story and that made me admire RA's perseverance and Anne's support of his throughout

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - a book that is beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful all at once

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - the best book I've read this year - searingly honest, touching and unexpectedly lovely

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - not as magical as I wanted it to be (perhaps because I read it during the heat of summer - save it for November or December)

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - two baseball books in one month is definitely a record for me - this one's setting of a small liberal arts college and what success means made it worth my time

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card - a fairy tale princess and a modern decathlete experience time travel and find the truth behind our myths

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond - a mystery that is also a story of living life as the survivor

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver - a sweet, magical look at grief's place in our life

Once was Lost by Sara Zarr - the daughter of a pastor asks honest questions when tragedy occurs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - the cover is better than the book

The Fiddler's Gun by AS Peterson - featuring a great heroine and set during the Revolutionary War

Anything you've been reading that I should add to my to-read list?  Please let me know.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


: an idea formed (as an opinion) prior to actual knowledge or experience

Last week, I ordered A & B's next math book.  This week, I received the used copy of K's math book for next year.  This morning, I reminded the girls that we're going to start math next week.  B was. not. pleased.

Frankly, she's been like this for weeks anytime I mention school work.  While we'll be doing a smattering of math throughout the summer in order to keep our momentum (and math facts), I plan to officially launch our school year in late July with a unit study on the 2012 Summer Olympics.  A, K and I are excited.  B, on the other hand, leaves the room anytime we talk about it.

So today I laid it out for her.  She can go back to public school - to homework, wearing standard school attire, following someone else's schedule, studying the assigned subjects - or she can be homeschooled.  What she can't do is have the best of both worlds.  She can't take a public school summer break and get shorter homeschool days during our school year.  She can't follow their calendar only until it suits her to switch to mine.

I said this to her firmly but with compassion.  Because I have my own set of preconceptions that have rocked my idea of what summer is and should be.  As I explained to B, I wish our summer contained long stretches of completely unplanned time.  I would like nothing more than to alternate trips to the lake with trips to the library all summer long.  Instead, A has ballet Monday through Thursday and K has speech Tuesday through Thursday.  So those long stretches?  Calling them weekends would be more accurate.  This isn't A's fault.  Nor K's.  It just means that B and I have to try to match our preconceptions with our reality.

To do this, I try to picture holding my preconceptions in my two hands and slowly opening my clenched fists.  Some of what I want will slip through my fingers.  I can either spend the summer mourning the things that fell through the cracks - or I can be thankful for what is left there in my open palms.

B has some choices.  She can choose to enjoy the summer we have or spend it bemoaning what's missing.  She can let her idea that the Olympics aren't a school subject dampen her experience of the games or she can take joy in learning more than Bob Costas will tell her.

I'm the same way.  This summer I'm trying to not only find a rhythm that works, but take joy in what comes my way and only momentarily grieve the things we might miss out on this time around.  Because summer will come again - and sometimes the moments we receive surpass those ideas formed without actual experience.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


3 a : movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements

With the start of any new season of our life, I struggle.  I don't consider myself a terribly rigid person, but I need routine, I crave stability, I long to find a rhythm, if not a schedule.  Summer is no different.  For years, I've loved summer - fun-filled days with my girls, more books than usual, hanging out with friends.  But this year, summer already feels short and after starting our summer with a week in Philadelphia, I am having a difficult time settling into a summer rhythm.

Here's what I long for summer to be: days that start with a solitary morning walk, breakfasts accompanied by good books, afternoons at the lake or Cheekwood.  Instead, there are liberal doses of reality: dance for A four afternoons per week, speech therapy for K three days per week, Fun Jar on Fridays, summer camps sprinkled here and there.

What I want is a fantasy, not reality - sort of like the life I imagine in the farmhouse in this picture:

I look at this picture and think, "I could breathe if I lived there.  Life would be like one long, slow inhale and exhale, not this shallow breathing I do everyday."  But I don't live in that farmhouse.  I live in a fairly urban neighborhood.  Even more importantly, I have three daughters who love dance, friends and staying busy.  I'm sure if I lived in that farmhouse, it would be packed to the rafters with friends, activities and dance barres.

Because no matter where we live, my daughters would still be who they are.  And I would still be trying my hardest to help them be who they are.  This means a different rhythm for my life than I would choose without them around.  But at least I'm not dancing alone.

Maybe one day my summers will be as slow paced, peaceful and restful as I imagine.  Until then, I'll just pray for the grace to let go of my own preconceived notions and go with the flow as we search for our summer rhythm.

Monday, June 4, 2012


2 a : the organized physical substance of an animal or plant either living or dead: as (1) : the material part or nature of a human being (2) : a dead organism : corpse
b : a human being : person

Do you have any issues with your body?  With the way it looks?  The way you think others perceive it?  If you're a woman and you're reading this blog, perhaps the question should be "What issues do you have with your body?"  Because do any of us really make it to adulthood with no body image issues?

I certainly have body image issues, but I've worked hard to see my body's strengths and purpose in recent years.  I've found that exercise offers me great opportunities to speak kindly to myself instead of critically.  I've worked towards accepting the things I dislike about my body and focusing on the things I like rather than the things I dislike.  Perhaps most important of all: I rarely verbalize my criticisms of my body.  This last strategy, at least, seems to be working.

Last summer, I took the girls to the pool a day or two before J and I departed for a week in Tobago.  All of my favorite swimsuits were already packed for the Caribbean, so the one I donned in the dressing room was a bottom of the drawer kind of suit.  When I put it on, A and B said, "That's a cute suit.  I like it!"  "Do you?" I asked doubtfully.  "I think it makes my stomach look big."  B looked at me in surprise, "You mean moms worry about that sort of stuff?"  I figured I'd already been transparent enough about this issue, so I merely affirmed that yes, moms do worry about that sort of stuff.  But in my head, I was thinking, "I must have done something right if this child is 9 years old and she's never heard me talk this way about my body before."

I may be doing some things right, but you can be sure I am getting things wrong as well.  Because the same daughter who at 9 was amazed that I worry about how I look in a swimsuit is now insecure about her own body and worries about how she looks in just about any article of clothing.  So what's the best approach?  Dismiss her fears?  Tell her that she's beautiful?  Play up her physical assets?  Remind her that she's so much more than just her body?  Encourage her to do something about her body if she doesn't like it?  Help her remember portion control when she's eating a meal she likes?  Compare her to others who are less attractive?

I've tried all of these (except the last one - I was joking about that!) to varying degrees, but I don't know the best way to handle this particular parenting issue.  Even A, who is older but more confident in her dancer's body, worries that her legs are too big.  I've tried reminding her that those legs are the thing that help her spin, leap and move the way she wants to.  Weak and thin legs do not make a good dancer.

Should I try being more open about my own body image insecurities or will that only feed the idea that they should dislike their own bodies?  Can I ever hope to counter all of the media images that bombard them every day?  Does that bombardment mean I shouldn't even try to help them deal with the disparity between what the world tells them they should look like and the reality of what they do look like?

I know some of what the textbook approach to this is: girls who play team sports are sexually active at a later age and have better body images.  Yet only one of my daughters shows the slightest inclination to play a team sport.  And my gut instinct is that any advantages provided by playing would be completely negated by the fact that they would be participating against their will.  Maybe they'll find the right niche eventually.  In the meantime, we ferry B to and from basketball, which she is willing, if not excited, to do.  Will running up and down the court eventually help her to enjoy the feel of the floor squeaking beneath her feet?  I'm not sure.

As with many parenting issues, I struggle to know how much parental intervention and assistance is the right amount when it comes to how my daughters view their bodies.  Invariably, I err on the side of inaction.  Not out of laziness, but out of a kind of first-do-no-harm mentality.  This means I try to model healthy eating and let them see that I exercise, but I don't eliminate sugar from their diets or push them to increase their activity levels.  I err on the side of letting them have ownership of their bodies, in the hopes that eventually, they will see how very beautiful they are.