Friday, April 18, 2014

Daniel Blue

I first heard the name Daniel Blue after last year’s Write Doe Bay retreat. I knew he was an amazing musician, a creative force, an alluring combination of talent and story and rockstar. I found his Seattle-based band, Motopony, online, listened to his music before heading into our experience last week, and was equally captivated by his songs and intimidated that I was presenting directly after him.

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Photo by Jesse Michener


Daniel and a friend pick me and Heidi up from our Seattle hotel and drive us two hours to the ferry and into Orcas Island.

Enslaved to Comparison, I measure our differences immediately. Two of his nails are painted a deep metallic blue. He’s wearing a scarf. So am I. Mine’s from Target, and I’m pretty sure his isn’t. He speaks like a poem. He kicks doors open with his foot. He doesn’t seem to care about anything but the song that’s playing right now, and I, without even realizing it, make the choice to label him as mysterious and distant, too interested in being cool. He’s a rockstar.

He entertains a group of presenters and early arriving participants in our cabin that night. He tells stories that make us laugh and delivers them as soulfully as he sings his songs. He acts them out, owns every word, every flaw, every amazing thing, every awful thing. He hides nothing, submits to nothing. There’s a sort of freedom that he breathes as if the gates between his true creative self and what he expresses are not just open--they're non-existent, and I envy it. Someone asks him to sing a lullaby before we head to bed.

“This is the first song I ever wrote,” he says. He sings as if he’s telling a story, and I swear his voice is the only sound on the island at that moment. He sings about his mother, and I cry.

Daniel opens the workshop the next morning, and I no longer see mysterious and distant and cool, but kind and vulnerable and confident. He tells his story through his music and his writing and his gift of quickly drawing in every different person in the room with his preacher voice. He tells his story with his blue nails and his rockstar boots and the song he sings about his mother.

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Photo by Jesse Michener

“You know why people write?” he asks the group later.  “Why we sing, why we share, why we put ourselves out there?” People throw out answers. We want to help people. We want to connect. We want to get better at things. We want to entertain. We want to accept things.

“We want to be seen,”
Daniel answers.I want to be seen.”

Blue nails don’t bullshit.

He hides nothing, submits to nothing and in doing so, removes all barriers, all voices, all censors to his creative self—what he really wants to say.

I hug Daniel before we left. “You’re the real deal, dude. Thank you.”

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Photo by Jesse Michener

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Photo by Jesse Michener

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Photo by Jesse Michener

I knew I was going to share what Daniel brought to the workshop, and after hearing from the songwriters who participated, I have a much deeper appreciation for music and lyrics and the processes we share in transforming what’s inside to words and melodies and books and essays and songs. My Motopony album has been on replay since I’ve been home, and I’m eager to share it (Wait for Me—download it. Trust me.), but I wanted something more personal from our week to share with readers.

“Can I share the lullaby you sang?” I asked Daniel.

He had never recorded it, but within the four days I’ve been home, he made it happen, just for you.

We are not defined by our titles, by what we want people to see, by what we think people see. We are defined only by who we are inside. And if we can let that flow freely in our work, in our writing, in our songs, in our conversations and interactions, the way we love our children, our lovers, our friends, our communities—that would be awesome.

A lot of work goes into writing and producing songs—a lot of emotional work. I value that art so much more after last week and want to be better about sharing good music.  My creative world is better for having Daniel Blue's craft beside mine, and I hope you'll believe the same when you hear his song, his music. Luckily, a vehicle for support and connection to musicians exists in Ziibra--a way to sustain artists who change our worlds with their gifts alone. Dig deeper into Daniel's story and connect with him here.

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I’m thrilled to share the art of Daniel Blue with you and hope you enjoy.


Daniel's story of his lullaby:

This is one of the first songs that comes to me. I am in a warehouse I had rented in gritty Tacoma WA.  It's after midnight on June 30th, 2007 and I'm feeling totally alone and really lousy for having chosen to be a starving artist in such a seemingly pragmatic blue-collar city.  

Alongside the typical "fake-artist-loony-worthless" thought trap, I am simultaneously filled with grief for my mother who we lost to pancreatic cancer five years previous on that very night.   I'm not quite sure if it’s the anniversary that is triggering the loneliness or the loneliness that is making the anniversary unbearable, but either way I'm in for it.   What I like to call an "episode".  

At this phase in my life I see myself as a poet and a fashion designer, but for the moment I'm just a child who is faking manhood in a decaying brick husk of an industrial boom town. I'm truly alone and with no one to call and ask for encouragement or direction. 

Now comes fear. 

I'm starting to get the creeps and jumping at shadows and phantoms (there are a lot of dark corners in this old trash heap). This shadow theater winds up to a fever pitch while I'm throwing myself around the cavernous spaces, rearranging furniture and binge cleaning and running from my own thoughts. Suddenly I'm filled with a desperate sort of hope as I see an old dust-covered pleather guitar bag in the corner and pretty much rip it open to claw at the songs I can almost see glowing inside.   

I have no idea how to play the guitar but I know what music sounds like and so I turn the knobs on the cheap thing until it sounds good when all the strings play together. It’s missing some parts and I have no clue what I'm even singing about, but I've nothing else to combat the looming death in the empty places of that night and somehow filling my enclave with such simple sounds seems to transform the doom. 

The noises I'm singing start sounding like words, and the words start to shape themselves into a story, and the story starts to truly soothe me. I sing this lullaby to myself over and over again, really believing that I am not alone. I know that whomever is singing "I am here, my son" is using my own voice to sing it to me.  

I'm crying and asking whatever power is offering me this song to also allow me to remember this night and this song so that someday I'll be able to share it and the peace it brought me in that moment.  

Six months later I am recording a "demo" that I will never use, but I'm full-time learning to be a musician mode. I have decided to sing my own songs for a living, and I give away the contents of my warehouse. 

Two years after that I'm in NYC at an industry showcase having just signed my new band Motopony's first record. We are playing to a full house at a legendary (to me) rock club called the Mercury.  The lullaby didn't make the cut, but that’s okay with me since I want to be a rock and roll band. 

Several years later, I am nearing the finish line on the band's second album.  I've toured the country several times and had my songs on cable and network television and even in a few movies. When a friend asked me to come and teach a workshop on creativity for writers, I jumped at the chance.  I absolutely love talking about and teaching the creative process. 

This is where I meet Kelle and before we head to our cabins on the first evening of the retreat, someone asks me to sing a lullaby to cap the night. This song springs up at me from my heart, but I haven't sung it in years so I hem and haw about the lighting while I get ready to be so vulnerable with strangers. Someone turns all the lights in the room out....and I just sing. 

I know the words like they were written on the back of my eyes. "I am here my son", my mother and my maker sing to me from beyond the veil of death....with my own voice. It was a powerful kind of moment, when the lights go back on, there are quite a few tears graciously decorating the beautiful faces around us.   

A few days later Kelle and I are talking about the moment, and she says that she wants to share the song. I sheepishly realize I've never properly recorded it. Inspired by her desire to share it, I take the money that I earned from playing music at the retreat and book my friend Graig's studio for the next day.   

That was yesterday morning.   

When I sit down to record I take a sip of my tea and try to get my mind and body to cooperate with one another. Recording is kind of like coaxing a goat onto a bicycle. You take something wild and naturally ornery like a performance and try and get it to sit just so and balance just so and play nice with the microphones and the amplifiers. For whatever reason, I just don't feel right.   

I’m suddenly inspired to "go jog around the block" (which if you knew me would surprise you as much as it does Graig). I plod out of there thinking that I just need to get my blood going, and head directly down the street toward what I think is a park on the next block. The tall wire fence around the park seems a little fishy but for whatever reason there is a me-sized gap right where the road dead ends into the grass. I'm already through the fence and a few steps in before I realize I'm not in a park at all and my mind does that funny flip-flop feeling while it registers what it can’t seem to compute.  A huge headstone looms out from behind a tree with the word "MOTHER" blazing in granite from the top.   

I kind of just stop there.   
Stop jogging.   
Stop posturing.  
Stop trying to "get my blood going".   
This isn't about my blood.   
It’s about my heart.   

I'm a child again, pretending to be a man.  

I sluff about the graves for a bit like a wet muppet. I'm seeing the "mother" word over and over. Instead of asking myself how there could be a whole graveyard of mothers down the street from Graig's house, I find a bench to sit and consider the magic that has lead me to this moment.   

They aren't all mothers you know, sometimes you just see what you want to see.  I totally believe in this kind of magic; in fact it happens to me like this all the time. I take it in. The death, the memories of being alone in Tacoma, the tears I saw when I remembered the song.   

I let myself be grateful for the past seven years, and realize that this day is sort of an answer to a prayer I prayed when the first song came. I head back to the studio in a kind of daze and spend the rest of the day really letting myself feel this song for you. Letting myself believe that I have the right to share it with you.  

It has taken me seven years to record this and I now understand why.  

That night seven years ago I felt so much peace from the song, and I instinctively hoped and asked that I could be the kind of person who was able to share the same peace with people.   

It may seem obvious that the way one would share that peace is by singing the song, but I guess it took me a while to see myself as a singer who has the power to channel something that wonderful, even though I had just been the singer that channeled it for myself.  

How do I get to be the person that is willing to believe that much in myself?  How do I stand in the shoes of the man who brings peace and healing and hope into the world?  

So much of this industry is built on sexy rock-star dreams. There is this pervasive idea all around me that I am a machine to make money. Fans are for using and taking fame from and songs are for selling automobiles and cellphone carriers.  

But that’s not how it started for me. I wanted to HEAL! Just like the music was healing me. I guess I'll have to listen to the voice in me that says I am not alone, the voice that says I was loved before I was even realized.  

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to share this song with you and for Kelle seeing it for what it was. The reminder of who I am at my core is precious and I will thank her for it for the rest of my career.  Please enjoy and share it with anyone you know who needs to be reminded they are not alone.   

"A wizard is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to."  -Gandalf the Grey

Hero's Lullaby:

I found a quote on Motopony’s site that ironically pulls it all together. It’s about the music, but it also explains our experience—last week, today, tomorrow: “A lot of the harmony I see in nature is that strange juxtaposition of worlds that don’t seem like they should collide, that effortlessly seem to be happening in tandem and you can’t take out one piece. You can’t run from it.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Finding Your Voice: Write Doe Bay

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
—    Anais Nin

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Well, hell. I guess it’s time to write a post.

There’re 3,400 miles between where I’m sitting right now and where I spent the bulk of last week. That’s a lot of space, and I’m swimming in it—treading water somewhere between a living room on Orcas Island where I shared an incredible experience with 36 people, and the living room of my own home where two kids are currently being pushed in a laundry basket, their laughter a different kind of music than what accompanied us last week.

Write Doe Bay was an experience. I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect walking in, even though we wrote our intentions on that first day—intentions like “find my voice” and “remove my creative block”—but I do know I personally didn’t expect to be so stirred by the weekend and the people who shared it with us.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener

I’ve tried to put my finger on what it was exactly that has left so many of us in this “Wow” haze. I mean, I dropped Nella off at preschool yesterday, noticed Dash was asleep in the back seat, and I drove. For an hour. To nowhere in particular--north four miles, east three more--listening to music, honoring the space of peaceful thought in my head.

Of all the memorable elements of Doe Bay—the landscape, the vulnerability, the stories, the meals, the music, the deep discussions on art and sharing and the creative process, the notebooks that opened blank and closed full of stories—I keep coming back to connection. We want to connect. We want to see and be seen.

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Detached from the noise of the outside world, surrounded by cliffs and ocean, bonded by music and shared meals, confined to cabin space that held both hilarious stories and secret insecurities, we connected last week. And that felt really good. When we missed our kids, when we questioned what we wore, when we evaluated what we write and why we write it, when we took a different look at the life we left at home to travel far, when we scanned the room and searched for shreds of "you're just like me", when we asked questions, searching for answers that would line up our differences, when we felt out of place and uncomfortable, those connections we made felt good. Assuring, forgiving, uplifting, honest, relatable, insightful, hopeful--all of the things I want my writing to be.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener 

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Connection is where writing begins. Maybe not writing, but story-telling.  Anyone can write—study great sentence structure, learn about perspective and tense and details, say something interesting—but story-telling begins with connection and telling one's truth. If we can do that in our writing—connect to a person, an experience, an emotion, a new perspective— we possess the ability to affect someone else's story. Writing connects people.

We shared stories last week.
Words and music.
Pain and mundane.
Sorrow and celebration.
All of it was important.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener
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Thank you so much to my friends at Blue Q who stand by this whole "what I really want to say..." bit. They sent socks for every Write Doe Bay participant, so that whenever we feel creatively blocked, our feet can speak for us.

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More on Daniel Blue tomorrow. I learned so much from this artist and song writer.

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Realizing I was hanging on to some memories from the weekend that heightened this idea of our experience as "another world", I remembered my skydiving experience from my twenties today. Surprisingly, I was one of the only dive rookies on the plane, surrounded by die-hard free fallers.

Sky diving was their life—waking up every morning, checking the weather, calling friends to confirm that flights were still a go, packing chutes for the two hundred forty-seventh time.  They lived to dive and dived to live. Some of them even worked the food stand outside the skydive center in exchange for free flights. The thing is, they found something in that experience—something they didn’t find in real life—or at least not to the extreme they felt while skydiving. Combined—the sense of family created between friends, the thrill of overcoming fear, the freedom of sky and space and a limitless view of the world beneath them, the clarity that came in those clouds, the wind prevailing over all the confusing noise of the world—it was so good, they decided this is what they wanted to do in life. Dive out of planes every day to feel brave and free and aware of their place in the world. After my dive—the one I was terrified to make in the first place—it all made sense. The freedom I felt was addicting, and for a split second I thought that maybe I too could take a year off and work the food stand. Become friends with Ace and T.J. and all the other dive guys who ditched their real names when they traded a career and family for the repeated experience of free fall every day.

I felt that a little bit coming home. I wanted to dive again. Head back to Doe Bay with my family. Return to the security of those walls, that island, that space--the perfect subculture of vulnerability and exhilaration, freedom and friendship. But real life is here, and everything we experienced fully concentrated and at our finger tips on Doe Bay can also be found right where we are. We just have to be willing to see it. So we bring our truth, our voice, our vulnerability and our trust to the people around us. I'm looking forward to weaving everything I learned last week into new experiences right here.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener

Fifteen minutes before our plane landed back in Naples (after a red-eye, 8-hour, 2-flight experience), I told Heidi, "We never wrote intentions for how we're going to go home--what we learned. Quick--get a piece of paper." Grabbing pencils, we both dug through our purses for paper scraps. On the back of my boarding pass, I wrote the following intentions:

I intend to be more present with my family and make conscious efforts to say "no" to noise.

I intend to confidently stand by my work, my beliefs and who I am.

I intend to stretch beyond my stereotypes of others, who I think they are and work hard to understand their underlining story. I intend to recognize that when I perceive people are very different from me, it's often based on my own insecurities.

I intend to make more time for my own free writing. No excuses: "Bitches get shit done," as a lovely participant put it.

I intend to find more ways to implement what I love to do--the specific gifts and talents God gave me--into my life and work.

I intend to create more opportunities to quietly and attentively focus on my own needs for creative space.

I intend to fully accept myself and my own story; when we truly do that, the less we need love and the more we can efficiently give love.

What does this have to do with writing and creating? For me, everything.

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Of course, I give myself room to be human. But it felt good to write them down.

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Hats off to every story-teller who showed up to Doe Bay last week. You traveled far, you showed up, you listened, you shared, you trusted, you each brought something different, something needed to the experience. I'm still unwrapping the gifts your stories brought--your serious, your funny, your kindness, your strength, your questions, your quiet--you've all left your mark. Every one of you.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Michener

We write, we create, we tell stories to leave a mark.
What will your mark be?


Last week's contributions about leaving my kids for this trip:

Quieting the Things to Do List over at BabyZone


Leaving Kids Without Guilt over at eHow

Monday, April 7, 2014

Long Live Childhood Magic (Just Cushion It With Some Botches)

Lainey lost her second tooth this weekend, its exit from her smile made with a clean snap, no blood, caught between her fingers rather than landing in a pile of broken shells this time. She was wiggling it, examining its position in the bathroom mirror, when I stepped into the shower; and by the time I was lathering my hair, it was out. Calmly holding the tooth between her fingers, she tapped on the shower door to show me.

“Just now?” I asked.

“Yep. Look.” She flashed an underbite to reveal the cavern, the lost tooth’s successor already pushed through and making its way to the front.

I congratulated her on her new smile and hyped up the tooth fairy’s arrival.

Spoiler alert and Tooth Fairy Rule #1: Don’t hype up the tooth fairy’s arrival if she’s not going to arrive.

This was our second chance to give the tooth fairy thing a good start, so you’d think we’d be on high alert to do it right. That said, fast forward to yesterday morning when Lainey woke up and announced, perplexed, that maybe the tooth fairy didn’t come because her head wasn’t on a pillow.

Seriously, only second tooth in and we’re already screwing up?

“Oh, I bet you’re right,” I agreed. “No worries, Lainey. We’ll make sure it’s under the pillow tonight and I’m sure she’ll come.”

This was all fine and dandy until an hour later, Brett came running in the kitchen frantically whispering, “We forgot about her tooth! I went ahead and put a dollar under the blanket and told her to go check again.”

“For real?” I asked. “I just told her the tooth fairy probably looked in the wrong place and would come back tonight.”

Rule #2: Cross-check bullshit stories between spouses before implementing recovery plan.

Following Lainey into our bedroom, we watched while she picked up the very obvious posed blanket to find a dollar, our cue to proceed with Operation Bullshit: “See! The tooth fairy did remember. The dollar was there all this time. You just didn’t see it.”

Rule #3:  Don’t blame your kid for your failure.

She stared at the dollar, her amazement/thrill/curiosity/excitement all buried in the cutest little smirk I ever did see.

I kissed the top of her head, in love with her innocence. “Now you have TWO tooth fairy dollars! Let’s go put it with your other one.”

Suddenly, Brett’s head snapped in surprise, a look of horror swallowing his face. “Nooooooooooooo!” he mouthed, his hands flailing above him like a referee.

I realized the horror. Oh my God. He TOOK THE FIRST TOOTH FAIRY DOLLAR FROM HER PIGGY BANK TO PAY FOR THE SECOND TOOTH. For the love of God, how come we never have cash in this house?

Rule #4: (you’d think this would be a given): Don’t steal from your kid.

Rule #5: Keep cash on hand.

At this point, there was nothing I could do but laugh.

“We suck at this,” I whispered to Brett before swooping in to distract Lainey from fetching the first dollar.

We recovered well, but I’m pretty sure we used up all our Get Out of Jail Free cards. She has to be on to us. We’re one mishap away from The Jig Is Up—from blowing all of it—Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the freaking Elf on a Shelf. We’re too laid back, we’re too forgetful, we’re too gung-ho-at-first-but-fizzle-out-later for this shit.

I retold my story to Heidi this morning.

“Dude, you have a lot to learn,” she said, “Let me give you a few more tips.”

By the way, her tooth fairy credentials: 14 teeth.

Heidi continued, “Don’t sprinkle glitter, don’t write a poem, don’t write a note. Just leave the dollar and walk away. If you don’t, they’ll expect it every time. Trust me. I’ve heard one too many times ‘How come there’s no glitter?! She didn’t leave a note!’”

“Oh this is good,” I said.

“And here’s another thing,” she continued, “Don’t fall prey to one of those stupidass sites where you pay $10 to upload a picture of your sleeping child so they can Photoshop a fairy on their shoulder.”

“Oh Heidi, you didn’t. $10?”

“Okay, it was $15. Don’t judge. Also, don’t let your kids see The Tooth Fairy with the Rock or you’ll have to answer all these %$#@ing questions. I mean, seriously, the Rock as the Tooth Fairy?”

“I guess this is a good time to admit something,” I jumped in.

“What’d you do?” She started laughing before I even told her.

“That last tooth? I overcompensated for the shell disaster. Hours after she found her dollar, I read something about tooth fairy footprints, and...”

“Kelle, stop,” Laughter.

“Heidi, I stamped a Barbie’s foot in an ink pad, stomped it all over paper and then dragged Lainey in to see it. It didn’t even look like a foot! Barbie doesn’t have any toes!”


“She has a whole mouthful of teeth to go, how long can I keep this up?”

“You have three kids,” she said, “be prepared to burn out by Kid #2.”

“For real?”

“Hey, it happens.”

The crazy thing is, I was so excited for that first tooth. Years before even having kids, I thought about how we’d do the Tooth Fairy, how fun it would be to plan a kid’s birthday party, how I’d continue the Christmas traditions my parents did to make Santa as real as he could be even if I cursed ever starting that make-a-reindeer-hoof-stencil nonsense, and this was all before Pinterest. I played out these magical childhood scenarios in my head much like I took notes while student teaching—writing down all the cool classroom ideas I collected, storing project sketches, making promises to myself that when I taught the Boston Tea Party lesson? I’d build a ship in my classroom and let the kids act it out.

There was an article that went viral last week about how childhood is magical in itself, and we shouldn’t try to make it more magical. I laughed and shook my head with an, “Oh my God, so true!” but later felt a little voice, perhaps my own insecurity in wanting to defend our sometimes outlandish and yes, highly unnecessary, attempts to create magic. I mean, a North Pole party? Really? “Defend the magic!” the voice whispered—an ironic plea, considering our Tooth Fairy magic was a big fat flop days later. It’s just that, even though we mumble and complain about how ridiculously far we’ve gone, even though we set ourselves up for failure more times than not, even though it often seems too much (sometimes it is), even though we curse the mom who created the list of 101 Things to Do With Your Elf on a Shelf, sometimes trying to create magic is…well, magic. It was to me the night I stayed in my classroom wee hours of the night, rigging flaps of butcher paper to the ceiling to build a ship for our Boston Tea Party lesson—an overzealous teacher not yet fully poisoned by benchmark demands, standardized tests and people who thought that the Boston Tea Party was pretty entertaining in itself, so stop trying to make it more. Teachers don’t have time for this. Stop purposely adding stress to your job. You're making us other teachers look bad. Kids are going to expect this. They're losing their ability to independently find magic in books.

I get it, I get it. There's a point there. But, you know what? I hope somewhere in the line of competent, benchmark-conscious teachers (“all good things, all good things,” as Olaf would say), my kids will have some overzealous ones too—ones who go beyond “Education is magical in itself” and maybe take a page from the student teaching notebook and build the damn ship. Take on the added stress. Song and dance it once in a while. If we’re creating magic from Pinterest pressure or to Facebook one-up or because we think our kid’s childhood has to have a dog-and-pony-show for happy memories, then yes—not good things, not good things. But don’t throw Peter Pan out with the bath water.

Maybe the “epic fails” like forgetting to put the dollar under the pillow or starting Elf on a Shelf and canning him three days later are exactly what balances all this out, toughens up our kids, allows us to create magic now and then without becoming one of “those parents.”

We’ll forget about teeth again in the future, I’m sure. We’ll complain about how late it is on Christmas Eve when we still have to sweep up the reindeer food. We’ll say, “Look at us, we’re ridiculous, what a joke” while we drop Easter Bunny poop all over the yard. But you know what? We’ll also admit that we like it (sssshhhhhh). That we’d do it again in a heartbeat. That while we curse the fluffy holidays and the stories of what other parents are doing, we might actually enjoy, even for just a moment, dipping our toes into magical childhood while we knock down chairs and dye shit green the night before St. Patrick’s Day because, “Oh My God! Look! The leprechauns came!”

Will our kids need therapy? It’s likely. But it’s likely without all these shenanigans, so what’s one more thing? Just think—the stories we'll tell around the Thanksgiving table someday. One of them will be that one time when Dad stole your dollar to pay you for your tooth, and my, how we'll howl and slap the table.

Long live the (messed-up, ridiculous, story-rendering, stop-with-this-nonsense) magic.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Spotting Headstands

"Spot me, spot me, Mom," she says, her legs awkwardly kicking into the sky, her hair spilling over prickly grass, her upside-down smile revealing that top row of baby teeth intact for just a little longer. I run over to help straighten her flailing legs and pull them together so that they line up perfectly with the rest of her body and point up toward the sky. Without even looking, I can feel her happiness and pride. The headstand is the newest of Things to Be Conquered--number #479 in the line-up of victories that have filled almost seven years of growing up--victories that I've spotted in some way or another along the way.

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"Don't let go," she instructs, her smile close to crossing the line into a hearty giggle but quickly reigned back into concentration mode.
"I'm not going to let go," I promise. "I'm not going to let go until you tell me it's okay to let go."

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Over and over and over we practice. I offer a steady hand to lean against while she finds her balance, a mix of shaky elbows and pink cheeks from the head rush.

"Hold my feet, Mom," she says for the eighteenth time. I hold her feet.

"Try resting your knees on your elbows," I offer. "That's how I learned. It will help you get your balance before you put your legs into the sky."

"Okay, but don't let go," she says again.

"Lainey, I'm not going to let go until you tell me to," I assure her again.

She's determined. She throws her legs into the air again and again and again, always just a hair too reliant on my support to keep her from mastering an unassisted headstand. I stand beside her though, committed to just however many kicks it takes until she's ready.

I watch as she eventually takes my advice, balancing her knees on her elbows, forming a tripod--a shaky one, but steady enough that she doesn't call out for me to spot her. She can't contain her laughter, completely satisfied with her ability to hold her own weight upside-down.

"See, I told you. You're doing it," I say. I wait for her invitation to spot her. I take my mark, ready to step in with steady hands to hold her legs. Any time, now. She's going to need me.

She stretches the right leg up first, jerking it into place when it dances for just a moment to the left.

I'm ready to jump in. Spot you, right? Just say it, I'm here.

Her left leg leaves its position to join the right leg while her face grows redder and her smile seeps deeper into the milky skin of that face I love.

I'm here. Say you need me, and I'm here.

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I wait to jump in and steady her legs, but she pulls them upright on her own. Her right toes touch her left toes for just a nanosecond, and those legs we've referred to as noodles and sticks and toothpicks are, for a moment, steel beams. High-rises. Strong and supportive.

It only lasted a second--that perfect aligned headstand she's been dreaming of, toes pointed to the clouds--but it happened and I saw it.

Legs quickly fall out of place, tumbling down like dominoes--knees falling into elbows, elbows into shoulders, shoulders into neck, neck into somersault and giggles and silky blond hair that kisses a thousand blades of grass before it shoots back up into a victorious dismount.

She did it. She did it for only a second, but a second that exponentially grows into infinite measure because she did it alone. Without me.

I waited to spot all three of them this week.

Just say the word. I'm here. This is my job.

I watched from the sidelines, arms outstretched, on their mark, ready to swoop and scoop, align and assist.

..but those babies stretched out on their own. No "Spot me! Spot me, Mom!"

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They knew I was there. Oh, I know they knew I was there. I'm kind of loud and obnoxious when it comes to "I'm right here, baby!"

But I sat on my hands and smiled, so proud of their independence, so reminded of the fact that we all need space to spread our wings.

When they did it? When they mastered #62 and #235 and #469 on their list of Things to Be Conquered, do you know what they did next? They turned their heads, looking for me, checking to see if I saw it. I saw her look to see my reaction when she nailed that headstand. I watched her run to me when I picked her up from preschool, waiting for my high five on the best day ever. I caught his grin when he let go of those hands and put that right foot forward.

Do you see me, Mom? I can do this on my own. You taught me how.

I see you, kids. Keep going. I'll spot you when you need me. And when you don't, I'll clap and wave and maybe even pick up a book or two to catch up on some reading. But I'm always here.

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And, hey.
When you forget how to do it? When you forget how to stand alone?
Come back to me. I'll show you.

You got it from your mama.

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Don't you forget that.


Tapping into some baby style-loving with contributions this week:

At BabyZone with some of our favorite shops: 10 Complete Hip Baby Looks for Under $50

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...and over at e-How with tips on combining baby style fun with budgets: Kids and Clothes: How to Shop Without Breaking the Bank

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And if you haven't seen this yet...we applaud Honey Maid for their #thisiswholesome campaign and the way they beautifully stood by their ads. LOVE WINS. So does brilliant creative marketing that sends positive messages. Meet me at the campfire...S'mores for all.

Happy Weekend!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Good in the Trenches

Today was the last day of spring break. Though we didn’t really go anywhere out of the ordinary this past week, the notion of “last” still roused the same scarcity sensors that initiate swiping the last brownie and ordering a drink for last call.  Lap It Up Before It’s Gone seemed to whisper everywhere this morning, even though I’m smart enough to realize we can create these days whenever we want, and “before it’s gone” is an entirely overdramatic phrase regarding doing fun stuff with the kids on the last day of spring break. Nevertheless (how awesome is that word?—I mean, it’s three words in one.), Mercury’s not in retrograde until June which means life’s dramatic flair might need some kindling. So I’m going to go full throttle Suck the Marrow on this one: Spring Break, Spring Break, wherefore art thou, Spring Break?

I dedicated the day to complete enjoyment of the kids and our surroundings and called time of death on any and all work/to-do list tasks at 9 this morning which left the entire day to carpe'-ing the diem.  So we set out to do just that, planning a very rough outline that looked like Have Lunch Together, Drive Somewhere Fun. We packed a blanket in case our fun destination required sitting and a stroller in case our day extended into naps.

Lunch turned into park, park turned into beach, and beach eventually turned into pool at home.

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Today was calm and redeeming--both the perfect end to spring break and the perfect beginning to a new week.

A new week sounds lovely because last week can be summed up as nothing less than "Aw, hell naw"--the low point reflected in that scene at the local bakery where I met my cousins from Michigan for what was supposed to be a nice lunch and ended up being a 20-minute trailer for that imaginary documentary, The Trenches of Parenthood. The scene ended with me asking, "Can you help me get to the car?" because I honestly couldn't manage my kids by myself. Crying jags, flailing limbs, one who insisted on wearing a beach blanket as a cape, macaroni and cheese that one wanted but then didn't want but then wanted again but then didn't want, and a baby who couldn't accept that climbing on booth tables was uncouth. We were the restaurant spectacles, and everyone knew it.

But it's over as quick as it begins. And for every "God, I'm going to lose it today" conversations I have with my sister, there's ten more stories that follow--Did I tell you what Nella said today? Dash just fell asleep on my chest. Lainey wrote another poem today. One's my favorite age. Four's my favorite age. Six's my favorite age. 

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Throughout our adventures today, we happened to witness a few unfortunate mishaps--a fender bender, a minivan door that accidentally opened and spilled belongings all over a parking lot, and a girl on the beach that took a hit to the face with a volleyball. I didn't realize Lainey was keeping track until after the volleyball incident. "Mom, we keep seeing bad things happen," she noted. "We saw three. I wonder what the next one will be."

My, how easy it is for all of us to give notice to the bad things--to add them up, to give them thought, to wait for them to happen and fear their arrival.

"Bad things happen every day for all of us," I told her, "but good things happen too. Instead of waiting to see what the next bad thing will be, how about we start looking for good things that happen, or better yet--we could make something good happen."

"Like you buy me something?" she asked.

Okay, that wasn't what I was thinking.

Lainey tripped and fell later in the afternoon, scraping her knees and alerting our entire county of her tragedy in the process. I waited for her to make note of that fourth bad thing, but she never did. We had shells to categorize and sandy shoes to shake out, and Nella said "Elsa butt" which, according to Lainey, was the funniest thing that happened this year, ever.

Bad things happen.
Good things happen.

Some photos of the latter...

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Outside picnic table allows for reasonable climbing
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When Grandma takes kids to Target...mermaid Barbie follows.
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Braid hair
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Good night.
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