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A Lesson from My Eyebrows

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Something shifted this year. Perhaps it’s climbing closer to 40 or teetering the fine line of almost having to shop for all three kids outside the toddler department, or maybe it’s the fact that nobody ever asks for my license anymore when I’m buying beer. But I feel like I’m stepping into another world, out of the young mom of babies one and into the middle-aged world where kids grow in triple time and moms can’t get away with shopping at Forever 21. In fact, last time I shopped there, I was with Heidi and two feet into the store–right past the first rack of crop tops and behind the size negative 4 mannequin dripping in Coachella style–she stopped.

“Wait, what are we doing here? We have, like, no f@&*ing business shopping here, Kelle. It’s called Forever 21. 21, okay? Not 37. We have to face it eventually.” She pointed to the closest article of clothing–a butt cheek-grazing pair of fringe shorts. “I mean, seriously. Are we going to wear that to the girls’ ballet class?”

“What are you suggesting?” I asked in horror. “That we walk down to Sears? Because I’m not going. I just want to look at their hats real quick.”

“Fine, look at the hats, but then we’re out of here.”

I found a hat with wearability that extended beyond the driver’s training crowd, but on the way back to our car, through the maze of kiosks and department store sales, I stopped at a makeup counter, lured by my current obsession and what I really wanted–another brow pencil.

“Jesus–you and your eyebrows,” Heidi laughed.

“No seriously, you have no idea,” I explained as I picked up a tiny brow kit with doll-sized brushes that promised to take your brows to “Wow!”–whatever that means. “It makes the hugest difference when you take time to fill them in.”

This brow thing is fairly new, but I admit I’ve had issues with my eyebrows ever since I was fifteen–when my cousin who had just returned from a nannying stint in New York City and was thus fully qualified as Knows All Stylish Things convinced me and my sister to pluck the motherloving heck out of our pretty little brows that had just finally grown into their natural shape.

“Thin is IN,” she told us. So we closed our eyes and winced as she tweezed every last hair, leaving nothing but a tiny line that arched high and left us looking permanently surprised. They never did grow back right, so now they’re a little crooked with some sparse spots, and I swear the left one is just half hanging there. I didn’t ever care or notice much until this brow craze started taking over fashion–oh, and that one time an Instagram commenter took the time to create a fake account to leave these eloquent words: simply “Your brows are F@*KED.”

And then I was Frida Kahlo for Halloween which gave me the excuse to really exaggerate my brows and play with penciling the heck out of them. I made them fat and bushy and realized just how little they are as the eye pencil tip grew flatter and flatter with all that space I had to fill. I looked so completely different–an amusing realization that got me hooked on this new eyebrow craze–and I admit, I took it too far.

I read up on brow techniques, started playing with products, hit the brow bar in Ulta. There are wands and waxes, powders and pencils, and I’ve tried them all–not without failure, of course. Texting before and after pictures of pre-filled and post-makeup eyebrows became a thing. I sent them to my sister (“What the hell? Too dark,” she texted back. “You might as well just use a Sharpie marker.”). I sent them to Heidi (“Wait–so are you looking at my brows every time you talk to me, thinking they look like shit?”). I sent them all the way to California to my friend Claire (“Did you send me a brow kit?” she recently texted me, “because one arrived with no note, and all I could think was ‘Kelle’s so obsessed with her eyebrows, I bet this is her way of telling me mine need help.'” I did not send the brow kit, by the way. And Claire’s brows are beautiful, just as they are.).

So what has all this brow fuss taught me? A few things, actually.

1.) Nobody cares about your damn eyebrows/face/body/parenting style/etc. except you.
2.) Don’t let temporary crazes consume you. Because THIN might be IN again soon.
3.) Find your middle. I know for me that moderation is where I find my happy. Still playing with youthful fashion? Fine–run in Forever 21 real quick to get a hat, but don’t leave looking like you’re headed to the Teen Choice Awards. Want to play with filling in your brows? Great, have fun, but go light–a little shaping and shading. You’re not Cara Delevingne for crying out loud.
4.) Face the music. Every year, things are changing and aging. So what, brows are f@*ked. And bodies morph. And babies turn into toddlers turn into children turn into sassy teens turn into adults standing in your kitchen someday, holding your age spot-speckled hands, asking for your advice because if you’re lucky, you’ve lived long enough to give it. And they’re still calling you mom.

There’s a playground of brow pencils and red lipsticks and morning exercises and slimming skirts and new recipes and home trends and fashion magazines with fun articles on how to fill in your arches and add more yellow to your wardrobe. I love that playground and am glad it’s there to accessorize our days, but the real heart of life that beats and keeps me alive is much bigger than that.

I returned to one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems recently–Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches? It was like reading it for the first time, and I typed a few lines, printed them and taped them above my desk, a closer reminder to keep for a little while:

Well, there is time left. Fields everywhere invite you into them…

Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?

…Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.
I climb, I backtrack.
I float,
I ramble my way home.”

Some bits from that beating heart lately:

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*I get asked about these Magna Tiles every time they show up in a post. An investment, but one you won’t regret. By far, the favorite toy in our home over the years and one that everyone plays with, from the littlest to me and Brett.

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Now don’t go staring at my eyebrows in all my pictures now.

Happy Tuesday! Don’t breathe just a little and call it a life…inhale deeply all that is good.

The “Can’t Also” Crisis and Sorting Out Identity Issues at 35 Years Old: also known as A Great Many Things, Part 2

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When I was fifteen years old, my then stepdad reprimanded me once for listening to Kenny G. My stepdad was a kind man and was only following the trends of our church, but even so, I was pissed.  “It’s too worldly” was his case, perhaps justified by the fact that Peabo Bryson had to pop in to the Breathless album and sin up a perfectly good instrumental song with the lusty lyrics “Let’s take a slow and easy ride, just lay back and let love take us over.”

But still—Kenny G, worldly?! He’s like Jesus with a saxophone—a wholesome alternative to the lasciviousness other kids my age were listening to. And yes, we casually used that word to describe Top 40 Hits.

The Kenny G Kibosh left me with Steve Green, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir—my mom’s favorite—and Amy Grant, but only the El Shaddai years before she slid over to The Other Side.  The bottom line was Girls Who Love God can’t also love secular music. 

So begins the Can’t Also Crisis.
Also known as:  Why I Struggle with Identity Issues at 35.

It’s not just Faith vs. Sexy Tunes.  It’s Everything.  I often pigeonhole myself into categories, as if a woman who wants to change the world can’t also love cute shoes.  Or a mom who sings of the joys of holding a sleeping baby can’t also want to learn more about business.  Or an advocate for a cause of great importance can’t also advocate for a cause of little importance like wearing lipstick or buying art or making crafts.

This little crisis has followed me my entire life, so much that when the Spice Girls hit stardom, I actually stressed out about who I would want to be if I had to be a spice.  I loved Posh’s style, but some days you just need tennis shoes, you know?  Sporty Spice is fun.  And Baby Spice?  I love babies!  And then there’s the bold, can’t-mess-with-me badassness of Scary Spice.  I wanted to be them all.  Which probably explains why I love Allspice so much—Mmmm.  Hot wassail.  I digress.

Who said Posh can’t also be Sporty?  We intersect areas of interest in a million different ways all the time, and that’s fantastic.  We certainly don’t have to be everything (and trying to be is a whole ‘nother story), but if we want to explore a little bit of everything, that’s okay.

So why in my mind, even after thinking and writing about this so many times, do I still treat my loves and areas of interest like people who can’t let their food touch on a plate?  Motherhood and business and fashion and faith and family and world-changing and creativity and community awareness and activism and advocacy and home decorating and politics and having fun should all be able to be cooked up in a tasty casserole that isn’t nitpicked by my own need to compartmentalize all these passions that a woman might have.

I think a little bit of analysis is good—it makes us contemplate our beliefs and ascribe some accountability to our choices.  My sister and I recently got into a discussion about the ways we teach and model to our children what we believe about beauty.  “I teach my kids that what’s most important is inward beauty—that it doesn’t matter what they look like on the outside, and yet,” I argued, “I went to the MAC store twice this week because I’m hung up on the fact that the orange tones in the red lipstick I just bought make my teeth look yellow.”

Maybe it has nothing to do with what I think and more to do with what other people think because, listen—I care what other people think.  I just do, even though I’m learning not to so much.  Trained as a child in the religious world to analyze and reanalyze every action and thought to make sure every dot connected and lined up perfectly to God, I find myself still struggling to painstakingly find equilibrium with every choice I make today.  Make sure everything adds up, aligns, checks out with what you believe. It’s like I’m looking for errors and contradictions in my own life, and there’s a word for people who do that in other people’s lives:  Assholes.  I’m being an asshole to my own self, and I need to quit.

Do I live in a way that contradicts what I preach?  Maybe in some ways I do, and that’s okay.  Everything doesn’t have to line up perfectly.  Things will align eventually.

I started reading How to Live late last year (haven’t finished it; it’s a slow but good read), a biography on the essayist, Montaigne.  On page seven, I highlighted in yellow crayon (because I couldn’t find a marker) this paragraph about contradiction that resonated deeply with me:

“Mantaigne lets his material pour out, and never worries if he has said one thing on one page and the opposite overleaf, or even in the next sentence.  He could have taken as his motto Walt Whitman’s lines:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes)

…Even when his thoughts are most irrational and dreamlike, his writing follows them.  “I cannot keep my subject still,” he says.  “It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.”  Anyone is free to go with him as far as seems desirable, and let him meander off by himself if it doesn’t…(and here’s the clincher)…sooner or later, your paths will cross again.” (Sarah Bakewell)

I’ve come back to that phrase—“sooner or later, your paths will cross again”—so many times.  Shielding, defending, purposely preventing natural human contradictions just to make sure our identity lines up perfectly outwardly is exhausting and, frankly, a waste of energy that could be poured into our loves of life.  When we truly let go and love what we love, without worrying if all of those loves line up, the contradictions will eventually cancel each other out, and our paths will cross again.

Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful…and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.” -Zadie Smith, On Beauty

If I’m normally inclined to keep the food on my plate separated, then this weekend I made one helluva casserole with all that I love.  Amid Googling “mint green loafers,” searching for a DJ for the Naples Buddy Walk this year and swaying my baby to sleep under the moon in a precious motherhood moment, I discovered Makers.com, a collection of powerful women’s stories where female clothing designers, global activists, youth empowerment organizers, authors, CEOs, educators, entrepreneurs, architects, comedians, actresses, musicians, athletes and scientists are all recognized in one place for making an impact—for affecting the female human race.  Talk about Kenny G meeting Jesus.  All of these areas of interest that I normally exhaust myself in trying to connect the dots to dissolve contradictions?  They’re having an Empowerment Potluck together, and I’m only invited when I let go of my shit.

Here’s the thing:  when you stop trying so goddamn hard to make the dots connect, they’ll connect.

Be who you are.  Love what you love.

As my friend Wylie said just today: “When you’re not being who you really are because you’re trying to make sure you’re being real, then you’re denying who you are—that, in turn, is phony.”

Don’t try to be good; be good. Don’t try to impact the world; impact the world. Don’t try to connect the dots or dissolve the contradictions or explain what it is you love and why. Just do your thing. Be your good.  Love your loves.  The dots will connect, and a beautiful picture you’ll create.

As I started writing this post this morning, I checked into Instagram and landed upon this update from an international blogger I follow, @soynuriaperez–a redeeming confirmation that social media, when assembled appropriately and even when luring you away from what you need to be doing at the present, can hold truth and beauty and exactly what you need to hear:

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Translation:

 “The simplicity that you obtain as a result of controlling your complexity is most satisfying.” Steve Jobs

How do we control that complexity?  All those loves, those interests, those contradictions?  We stop trying to control them.  We invite them all to a party and trust that they’ll get along with each other and find connections naturally, without our micromanaging.

Fashion, meet Faith.  I think you two might find something in common.  Motherhood, meet Wants to Change the World. You two are totally going to hit it off.”

Play Pharrell’s “Happy” because that will get everybody dancing.
Order a glass of wine–just one–and sip it slowly.
Stand back.  Quietly take it in.
Don’t freak out if not everyone is choosing to act crazy on the dance floor.
Let all those people, all those areas, all those loves, all those parts of you come alive on their own time, in their own way.

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A charismatic dancer can also sit quietly and watch from the sidelines.
A nurturing mother can also know all the words and moves to “Ice, Ice Baby.”
A humble thinker can also take silly selfies.
An analytical CPA can also dance barefoot in a puddle.
A world traveler can also burrow into the safe comforts of home.
A critical scientist can also write deep, reflective poems.
A woman can read and discuss Newsweek and also The New YorkerMarie Claire, Christianity Today and Scrapbooks, Etc.

Embrace it all.

My dad reminded me tonight, “Do you realize you just defended your right to use a swear word in a blog post in the same conversation that you told me you cried when you heard a preschool class sing Jesus Loves Me?”

You’re right, Dad.
I am a great many things, and I’m proud of it.

I cry when I stare at my sleeping kids–I can’t believe they belong to me, and the quiet moments when I get to watch them breathe and contemplate their every smile, how they need me, how they’ve changed our lives–it overwhelms me.
I swear like a sailor and censor it all for this blog.
I believe in God, and communicating with him and connecting myself to his purpose is an important part of my life.
Sometimes, I question if God exists.
I believe strongly in owning your voice and making a meaningful impact in the world with what you have to offer.
I often feel vulnerable and unworthy of making an impact.
I am passionate about changing people’s views on disabilities and making the world a more accepting place for marginalized individuals.
I read fashion magazines and stress out when my toe nail polish gets chippy.
I love classical music.
I love techno music.
I love ballet.
I love dirty dancing.
I care about the environment.
I use a lot of paper towel.
I respect Buddhist faith and Jewish faith and Muslim faith and Christianity.
I love my atheist friends.
I dream of living on a quiet prairie,watching my children run in fields of wildflowers,smiling in the hot sun.
I dream of living in the big city, hosting parties, visiting museums, hailing cabs to our next big adventure.
I want to help people, connect with people, make the sad feel loved.
I like to buy stuff.
I like to make stuff.
I like to give stuff away.
Sometimes I feel so pissed off, I could knock walls down with my anger.
Sometimes I feel so weak and weepy, I could crumble if you looked at me funny.
Sometimes I feel so strong, I’ll say whatever I think and not give a shit whether anyone agrees or not.

But all the time, I am complicated–maybe even contradictory.

Ladies–all the Ladies, let me hear you say:  We are a great many things.


Come back Wednesday when I’ll teach you how to turn a stiletto heel into a Bible cover that doubles as a diaper bag and a drink flask.

The Art of August Nesting

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I bought a box of pencils yesterday. We don’t need them; we could build the world’s tallest Jenga game with the pencils already overtaking our junk drawer. But that chemical they pipe into the Back-to-School aisles (they do that, right?) wafted over to me, and suddenly I had an urge to buy pencils–not cute ones, definitely not mechanical ones (the horror), but the classics, their long hexagonal bodies painted that sleek school bus yellow that perfectly matches every back-to-school accessory. Pencil Yellow against Marbled Composition Book Black? On point. Pencil Yellow with Eraser Pink? A pair made in heaven. Pencil Yellow complimented by the pleasure that is Faded Sky Blue Lines Against Crisp Notebook Paper White? Fall fashion inspiration, if you ask me. Googling Pencil Yellow Sweaters stat because my weathered blue jeans are begging for the color of the season to pair them with, and if I can’t satisfy the express-yourself-in-pencil-yellow craving, I will be tempted to wear this, and I’m not even kidding.

Wait, I found this. Whew. We’re good. And because my literal interpretation of seasonal fashion needs to wave its flag, I’ll add these. That’s a half staff flag, down from the full-flying alphabet cardigan, thank you. Moral of the story? I’m August Nesting, a bit like prenatal nesting but the school version. Because sending kids to school is a lot like having a baby–you prepare for new routines, you buy little clothes, you pack a bag, you get all excited the night before “due date” and then you push them out into the world and you cry about it. And, for the record, I take nesting to the moon. If you need an example, I suggest you read the brussel sprouts and wall-painting episode, pre Dash, 2013. I needed an intervention.

We’re in similar territory now, illustrated in a conversation this past weekend that went like this:

Me: “I’ll be right back. I’m going to run to Target for a drawer organizer.”
Brett: “I thought you just bought a drawer organizer yesterday.”
Me (spoken fast, fluid and without a breath in true Vince Vaughn monologue fashion): “That was for Nella’s underwear drawer and this is for the girls’ hair stuff, but I think I’ll get one for Lainey’s sock drawer too because she wears socks on P.E. days and remember how awful those mornings were when we searched for socks, and SOCKS! Oh my God, I need to order more socks and P.E. shoes, I should probably wash those up or do you think she needs new ones? And speaking of P.E., what do you think about tennis lessons this year because you know if we’re going to do lessons we’re going to need to get things lined up now and ballet? What do we think about ballet? And Nella, should we try it again? She needs new tights, we need a better place for Lainey to do homework, I should line up some dentist appointments, I need school lunch ideas, where’s the pencil sharpener, and oh my God are you sorry you married me?” Cue long gasp for more breath. Exit stage right. 

And the weird thing is, I love it. I love this crazy feeling. I love sniffing pencils, I love running my hands over smooth pages in new notebooks, I love using my most perfect handwriting to fill all the dates in my August calendar, fully aware I’ll never look at them and show up late. I did the same thing packing perfect diaper bags my kids’ first week of life, knowing weeks later I’d just shove a diaper in my purse, wet some paper towel for wipes and call it a day. But the nesting! We’re mama birds! We must nest!

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Who cares what happens in November. In August, our drawers are full of socks, our lunch Thermoses are mold-free, our designated homework spots do not include shoving stacks of bills aside and scratching week-old peanut butter off the counter.

We will face the motherhood ritual of sending kids back to school fully prepared, wearing cute pencil yellow sweaters that will soon be buried under mounds of laundry. But not today.

Here’s a fun hint. Give the big teacher gift up front. First day. Don’t wait for Christmas or Teacher Appreciation Day (do it again then). Attach it with a note that says:

In case our enthusiasm and preparedness withers over the year (it will), this is to remind you that we are still in the game. We may lose homework folders, forget money for the Book Fair and make up the lower quartile of the Annual PTO Wrapping Paper Sale Contest, but we already appreciate what you do every day and are committed to trying our very best to support you. Feel free to remind us if we need to step up our game. Also, please fill in the following and send home so we know how to occasionally make your day a little brighter throughout the year.

Favorite Starbucks Drink:
Favorite Candy Bar:
Favorite Online Stores:
Favorite Candle Scent:
Favorite Lunch Spot and what you order there:
Favorite Magazine:
2 Things You Need for Your Classroom: 

P.S. Please make note of our daughter’s clean backpack today, her organized desk and the fact that we are on time and ready to go on the first day of school. We are those kind of people regardless of how we may or may not slip up. Remember that.

Two weeks until game time. You know what that means? Today’s back-to-school craze is just Braxton Hicks.

This little one is going to be doing a couple days of preschool this year, and he’ll be facing it with ferocious shoes that screamed “Dash.”

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Chuck Taylor Creature Shoes

And for those who’ve asked, Nella is moving up a level at her preschool and completing another full year there, a decision based on the same criteria we use for all of our kids–what we as her parents feel is the best place for her to thrive. We are excited to learn more and grow more, and next year we’ll be equally excited to take that learning and growing to kindergarten.

And one more flap of the festive back-to-school flag. I bring you cool lunch boxes! Shop away. Don’t forget the drawer organizers.

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1. Cat Pack by Little JJ Cole
2. Bright Stripes by Wildkin
3. Waterproof Dishwasher Safe Personalized Labels from Minted (LOVE these and just ordered them for all three kids. We lost a couple Thermos cups last year and got someone else’s cup sent home once.)
4. Road Trip Zippee Lunch Tote by Sugarbooger
5. Log Cabin, Birdhouse and Diner Lunch Bags by Jane Jenni
6. Insulated Thermos Drink Cups
7. Unicorn Lunch Bag by Skip Hop
8. Vintage Alphabet Lunch Sack by Sugarbooger
9. Iguana Lunch Bag by 5 Sprouts
10. Police Car Lunch Kit by Thermos
11. Newspaper Lunch Bag by Good Bag
12. Fox “What’s For Lunch” Bag by Hanna Andersson