Raising Mentally Tough Girls

IMG_9316We are at the beginning of a new sports season and this is my last sports season of high school. I am both happy and sad.  I will be exiting high school sports as a parent and we are looking forward to watching our daughter play her sport in college.  

I began my coaching career before I had a teaching position in 1995.  I was appointed as a JV high school softball coach at my alma mater. It was a new program that year when the powers that be decided to have ninth and tenth-grade girls not be on the Varsity team so they would develop properly as players.  From there, I coached over 10 years on the softball field or on a volleyball court while I also worked in the realm of education. I have watched sports evolve for over 24 years as a coach, educator, and parent.

Every week, in our area, the high school stats come out in the paper.  I know the small buzz that this creates on a high school team. Stats and numbers are very important in our world.  We are led by data everywhere we turn. But do the numbers paint the entire picture when we are looking at a student, let alone a student-athlete?

There is one stat that you will never see in the paper, yet, it is the most important stat of all.  The mental strength of the player. Athlete development becomes much more than knowing drills and skills.  Underneath every play on the field is a scope of mental skills that an athlete must practice at various levels and situations. This mental toughness is shown by displaying resilience, focus, drive, confidence, instant decision making, and the management of physical and emotional pain.  

As a coach, I learned to plan my practices around competition.  Every drill was an opportunity to compete for points. This put the athletes in the arena of competition daily.  As a parent, I knew it was my job to also help my daughters become mentally strong and that didn’t just happen in practice, that happened in our home as well.  Mental strength can be developed in every player no matter what their athletic skill. Isn’t that one of the main goals of sports?

“Win well.  Lose well.”

Winning is easy.  Losing stinks. Game night at our house was intense.  We actually had an “I Kicked Your Butt Board” and wrote out the wins and losses.  But ultimately, you learn more when you lose than when you win. Teach your child from an early age to learn to lose well.  Losing well means learning why you lost. Losing means not calling yourself a “mistake” but learning how to learn from your mistake and growing your weaknesses.  Losing shows you what you need to work on and it not only grows your athletics but your mental game as well.

“Your Language Matters”

The game is won or lost in your head.  It plays out before you even step on the field.  What you say to yourself matters. Mentally tough athletes do not quit mentally or physically.  They train and perform at the upper range of their ability no matter what the circumstance. Athletes that consistently perform at high levels have an attitude that says, “I will.”   You play how you practice. So, if you practice at 50%, you will play at 50%. If you mentally quit in practice, you will mentally quit in a game. Athletes can change their language in their head.  

Instead of thinking:                                       Begin to think:

I am not…                                                           I am…

I can’t…..                                                             I can…

I do not….                                                           I will…

It all starts in your mind.  Your language matters.

“Rise Out of Discomfort”

This is a hard one.  What do you do with discomfort?  Do you quit? Do you rise? Mentally tough athletes are the scientists of their own bodies.  They know that their minds cannot always dictate what their physical body can do. It is overcoming your mind in the sense that when you want to quit, you do not because you can do more physical work than you think.  

We have a saying in our house that developed when we were dealing with my husband’s health issues and the girls were learning to lift weights in the basement. We say, “We push through the suck.”  This is a physical analogy and it correlates to life. When things get hard, we do not quit. When you push through mentally and physically hard obstacles, that is when you get stronger. If you are tired when you are running and quit at the first “feeling” of being tired, you will not get stronger.

I know in life that numbers matter in order to prove yourself in a ranking system.  As an adult in my child’s life, I need to focus them on the effort and mindset behind those numbers.  I never know the stats of my kids. To me, it doesn’t matter. Did my kid hustle? Did my kid improve and learn from the last game?  Did my kid pass the ball? Did they have a no-quit attitude? Were they coachable? Did they adjust their play if they were having a bad game?  These questions matter in building the mentality of a player and if you focus on that, the rest will take care of itself.

 

Mentors Matters

“You are too much of a clown to go to college.” ~my high school guidance counselor

“I am calling to check in on you.  I heard you were in the hospital.” ~my high school principal after I graduated and was admitted for my eating disorder.

“You will never start for me.  You are not a team player.” ~high school coach

“I know you need a chance.  I know you need an opportunity to grow.” ~my dance instructor offering me a job to teach dance.

“You are crazy.  Who do you think you are?” ~my mother

“I am not sure why you are in this group (talented and gifted).  You do not follow directions, talk constantly and are a nuisance.” ~Mrs. Bowers, my 4th-grade teacher.

“I do not understand this but you are welcome in my home as long as you need.” ~my best friend’s mom when my mom kicked me out of the house at 19.

If you are an adult and you work with students.  You are a mentor.  Your actions and words impact students.  In the above quotes, I remember exactly what my teacher, coach, parent, or principal said to me.  I remember their body language.  I remember their tone.  I remember their influence.  Each mentor had an opportunity to impact me as a young person.  Each mentor had an opportunity to encourage, grow and nurture my younger self.  Some of the comments were not kind or positive but the negative words were also used to fuel and grow me, too.

Lately, I have been helping my daughters navigate life from a distance.  They spend more time away from me than they do with me because they are growing up and becoming young women.  As this transition happens, I depend more on the people in their lives outside of my home.  I depend on the teachers they are with daily, their coaches, other parents and even their choices in friends but mainly I depend on other adults in their lives.

My mother in law recently asked me what I do now where I have such flexibility.  In the simplest terms, even though my title is an educational consultant, I mentor people.  I have grown into what I needed the most when I was younger.  I spend most of my time in work mode mentoring others to become better at their jobs and build relationships with their students.  I also spend a tremendous amount of time sitting back and observing people.  My one daughter tells me it is my superpower.

I do not claim to be the mentor of the year.  If you spend any time with me, you know that I learn from mistakes.  It is my number one learning strategy.  Also, just like above, not every mentee relationship I have had has been positive. In those situations, it is okay to say you are wrong.  Being wrong helps everyone to grow.  I have learned much and if you have any contact with children, you may want to ponder some of these ideas.

Buddy or Boss?

Most adults approach teens with two different mentalities.

Mentors may approach their mentee wanting to be their friend and have the teen think that they are cool.  I call this the “Buddy Zone”.  This zone will only tap the superficiality of a relationship.  The point of a mentor is to be able to build a deep relationship where vulnerability leads to growth.  In this approach, it is hard to have these conversations because then the student will not think you are cool.  The relationship will be mainly about doing “fun” things and not getting to the heart of character growth.

A completely different approach is the boss mentality.  The boss is similar to a boss in an employment atmosphere where they expect a product.  Adults use this approach with individuals as they seek a project.  “I am going to fix this person.” I have seen adults use this technique to manipulate a teen to do something that will benefit the adult more than the teen, for example, come to church, join a team, or provide a service.  The goal isn’t the growth of the child, the goal is to profit the adult in another way and the adult uses their influence in a negative way.

You do not have to be cool to mentor someone.  You do not have to have all the answers.  You have to be willing to grow a relationship to promote the growth of your mentee.

Slower and Smaller is Better

In a world of quick fixes, 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and Snapchat “streaks”, our teens need deeper and meaningful relationships.  In a Review of Educational Psychology, titled, “Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practices” the following insights were found:

  • Students that believed their teacher cared for them believed they learned more.
  • Teachers’ interpersonal relationship skills were significantly associated with students’ achievement, motivation, and self-esteem.
  • Mentoring increased teachers’ sensitivity to at-risk children and to children as individuals, and it improved the teachers’ ability to cope with difficult situations.

Our children need life on life mentoring.  They do not need meaningless award ceremonies celebrating their character.  They need strong adults that will cultivate real relationships based on trust, honesty, realistic expectations, nurturing and intention.  We often think mass production when it comes to students but in reality, they need smaller interpersonal relationships that develop and grow over time.

Seek to Understand

When I listen to parents over the age of 35 that have kids, I may judge a little when they say, “I do not do all that technology stuff. I can’t understand it.”

As my youngest daughter says, “That is so 1900’s”

If we are to lead, grow, and influence the next generation, it is not going to be done by staying in the past.  We cannot invite them back to the 80’s.  They are wearing our decade as Halloween costumes! We have to reach into their world and meet them where they are right now.  This isn’t us trying to be their “buddy”.  This is us trying to see the world through their eyes so we can help them see the larger picture that is necessary when growing up.

I like to remain teachable.  I like to seek to understand a student, ask questions, and listen.  It is that simple.  My goal in the upcoming year is to talk less and listen more.  I can’t listen when I am talking.

Just like anything, there are good mentors and bad mentors.  Each person has an opportunity to grow their mentoring skills when working with students.  I have found that authenticity rules.  Kids know if you care about them.  Kids know if you like them.  Kids know if you are to be taken seriously or not.  Even if you do not feel that your mentoring muscles are ready, if you have kids in your life, you are mentoring.  Start where you are and be willing to learn.  That is always the best place to begin.

 

 

 

Ready or Not….The Holidays Are Coming

It is that time of year again where EVERYONE gets crazy.  If you are a recovering perfectionist that has kids, no matter how far you have come, you feel the anxiety and perfectionism slowly take hold of you.  That can be me.  Honestly, no matter how cool I play it, if I do not fight it really really REALLY hard, perfectionism and unrealistic expectations will ruin Christmas EVERY DANG time.

First, let me tell you something.  My husband thinks I am old enough and mature enough to have Thanksgiving at our house.  And I agreed.  I am not sure what planet I was on at the time but I responded with a “WOO HOO!  YES!  Let’s do it!”  Then, when I was wide awake at 3 am one morning…..like a slow vine it began to sink in…. I, me, the girl that my mom refused to eat any of my food when she came over, is going to prepare, host, etc…an entire holiday for people.

How does a perfectionist that has had all kind of hurt happen at Christmastime ACTUALLY enjoy the holidays?  HHhhmmmm…. I am not really sure. I will share what I have learned.  I will be direct.

There is a Facebook Christmas and the REAL Christmas.  Know the difference.

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This picture is my family standing by our soon to be Christmas tree.  You do not see me.  I am taking the picture.  I am also NOT speaking to my family.  In my opinion, John was acting like a jerk BUT I am pretty sure I was the biggest jerk of all.

I only spoke to them to tell them to get in front of the tree because I was going to show everyone how great our Christmas was.  Also, John was actually with us this year and not in bed sick.  We were SUPPOSED to be holding hands, singing songs, and dancing around the Christmas tree like the movies.  But that didn’t happen.  The good news is we were talking to each other 24 hours later.  Some days it takes me that long to calm down.

Behind every perfect staged Facebook post is a real story that isn’t told.  Be aware.  Depending on my mood, I may be responding to posts in only Grinch GIF’s if applicable.  This is your warning.  Also, we say that we know this about Facebook but we also need the reminder.

Be a Grinch or Martha Stewart….but be you and do not pretend.

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In the course of a day, my attitude and mood can fluctuate.  I can wake up feeling like Mary Poppins (I almost spelled it Poopins and that could be correct, too.) and in 10 minutes with kids, dogs and husband can feel like Cruella Deville.  If I look at the world around me I could imagine that I am the only person like this but because I talk to so many women, I know that I am not alone.   My goal is to not always stay in the Cruella Deville stage but I do give myself a couple moments there to own it and then move on.

If that is me on a daily basis with the normal amount of stress from life, what happens when you add shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, etc….  with a big scoop of perfectionism on top to that?  You get ugly.  Then you try to pretend that you are Martha Stewart when on the inside you are the Grinch and you get a woman that is going to explode on a close family member that never ever saw it coming. (That may or may not have been me a time or two.)

You are not responsible for anybody’s happiness.  Not your husband’s.  Not your kids’.  Not your in-law’s.  You are responsible for you.  If your family does not enjoy themselves, that is their problem.  If they have a bad attitude, that is their problem.  If they are not appreciative that is their problem.  Their attitudes, moods, and opinions are more about them than you.  Now, if you act like a jerk to them and yell, you will have to apologize and make it better.  I have missed many moments because of a poor attitude and self-pity.  That is on me.  Nobody else is to blame and when someone else in your family is at that ugly place, understand that they have to work through that themselves.

Go small or go big….but it is your choice.

I like a big tree.  I like a really big tree.  A big tree is a lot of work.  Since I choose this, I can’t complain about it.  It takes all four of us to get it up.  Some years we have to anchor it to the wall.  Some years it falls over.  And when it falls over it is my fault because I always insist on the BIG GINORMOUS tree.  I take full ownership and I do not complain when it goes bad.  If you choose to go big and things do not go perfect, own it.

The tree is the only thing I go over the top with.  I do not do elaborate decorations.  I do not do perfect wrapping for every gift.  I do not buy a present for every person that my family knows.  I choose small and intimate.  That is how I roll.  I do it because this is how I have chosen to do Christmas.  It works for me.  Moms make Christmas happen.  Each mom has a choice on how they do Christmas.  Are you trying to meet your expectations?  Are you trying to meet other’s expectations?  Why are you doing this?  Once you know your why, then do it.  Do what is important to your family.

When John was lying in bed that first Christmas, we knew he wouldn’t be with us on the tree hunt.  I suggested that we get an artificial one.  The girls cried and insisted that we get a real one.  To them, a real tree was so important.  So we did the real tree.  It was smaller but it was real.  We found one of our “must have” traditions.

Ready or not, Christmas comes.  Ready or not, your kids grow up.  Ready or not, we choose our attitude toward it all.  Some days I will be Grinchy.  Why?  I will be Grinchy because there are a lot of pressure points from life that hit me at the holidays: my hospitalization, watching one of those hospitalized friends die, John’s sickness, my father’s death, going “no-contact” with my remaining family, and Coop’s death.  Christmas can make me cry.

On the other days, I will say no to say yes to the people that matter the most to me.  I will make time for friendships that sustain me.  I will make time to hang with the family I was told I would never have and I never thought I deserved. I will grieve the losses and celebrate the growth made because of those losses.  I will laugh when I feel joy and cry when I feel sorrow.  All of these things make up life, so why do I expect them not to be there at Christmas?

I decided at 3 am that I would make Christmas the best that it can be not by any outward thing I do but by how God has transformed me through the hurt.  I will celebrate the hope that each day gives let alone each season.  The holidays always come and go, how I respond is always my choice and “perfectly imperfect” is my go-to response.

 

All or Nothing

“Nikki….you are all or nothing.”

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this.  It had echoed in my mind during the early stages of recovery, in almost every failed relationship, and even at work.  Every strength can be a weakness but this mindset of “all or nothing” kept me from living a life of freedom.  Instead, it built walls, kept me busy with my own agenda and kept me distant from relishing in authentic relationships.

Perfectionism thrives on control.  It is addicting and is a mindset that convinces you that your performance gains you love.  It tells you critically that your flawlessness and unrealistic expectations will make you the happiest you have ever been.  You become obsessed with the approval of others, your outer appearance, and your checklist of performance.  It ruins relationships and you become an excellent liar to cover up your imperfections.  The image is the most important.

I was a workaholic.  I was relentless in my expectations of myself.  I had tunnel vision that only focused on the outcome whether it was a grade, an evaluation, an award, or a number on a scale. I spent hours running myself into the ground with the expectation of being thinner than my body was meant to be. This obsessiveness choked out reason and reality.  Instead, it was replaced with self-absorption and self-criticism. I gave every ounce of energy to make it look good because if I did….then I would be loved.  I would be accepted.  I would be valued.

The problem with this is that my value wasn’t based on my performance, my looks, my weight, my title, or my accomplishments.  Discovering my value without these things took much learning and unlearning to become free.  I tried all the drugs….Prozac, Paxil, etc.  They treated the symptoms but not the thought processes.  Some made it worse because the suicidal tendencies were real and self-harm was my friend of escape.  I did not realize the prison I lived in until I tasted freedom from my extreme thoughts.

My goal to let go of perfectionism and become a realist began with identifying the lies.

Perfectionism whispers, “Do it all or you are nothing.”

Reality declares, “Do the small things now to grow the bigger things later.”

Change The List

If you are like me, you live by lists.  Deadlines, appointments, errands, groceries…the list never ends.  If you are a perfectionist, your value comes from the check offs.  I completed. I crossed off.  It feels good when the day goes as planned and the all the things get checked off.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow the list.  If we are honest, our list can get in the way of enjoying life.  I know.  I know.  If I do not do it, it will not get done.  What ends up happening when people get in the way of our lists?  You know….kids, husbands, friends, strangers…that can really mess things up.  Inevitably, my true colors  CAN come out when my day does not go as I have written on my list.  When perfectionism wins, usually people in my life lose.  It is just the way it is.  There are 24 hours in the day and if I expect it to go as listed or prescribed, I tend to miss out on the people I care about the most.

In the last two years, I went underground to search my soul and to heal.  While underground I discovered some severe character flaws that needed to be addressed.  I joke about them often. Friends that spend face to face time with me know that I say, “Well, I am going to put that on my list.”  My list consists of character traits that I am working on building:  humility, gentleness, setting boundaries, finding peace in chaos are just a few on the list.  I choose 2 to work on to grow.  I do not do anything fancy but as stress and daily life take place, I work on my small list.  Focusing on this list helps me to minimize the other list.  I have found that the to-do list is always there but character growth trumps everything.

 

Embrace the MESSY Process

Nobody likes a mess especially a perfectionist.

  • Laundry is only finished for a moment.
  • A clean house stays clean for 5 minutes if you have kids.
  • Dishes are put away only until the next meal.

I often think about the process of raising our kids.  The mundane creeps in….laundry, breakfast, dinner, cleaning, homework…it all has to get done but which parts really need to be perfect?  The laundry will never end.  They are always hungry.  The dust keeps coming back.  My kids are almost grown and if I am waiting for that “perfect” family moment in the midst of my goals, I am going to miss out on the most important moments.   Life isn’t all of nothing.  If we only live for the accomplished tasks, we end up missing most of life.  Life is lived in the process and in the mundane.   Life is lived in the moments in between the perfection.

Get Used To Feeling Uncomfortable

I was a dancer.  I danced or taught dance for over 20 years.  Imagine my surprise when my husband told us that he signed us up for swing dancing this past summer!  It was really great until the second class when the footwork became complicated, I wouldn’t let my husband lead, and you had to rely on somebody to do it with you!  Every person in the class was so frustrated.  Why?  Because we were uncomfortable, we were not perfect at it right away, and WE DID NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL.

Perfectionists do not grow because they do not take risks.  Risks are messy, uncomfortable, and out of our control.  True learning takes place after there is an uncomfortable struggle.  When we struggle, we learn.  As we age, adults do not want to risk being vulnerable or exposing weakness. We tend to stay in our comfort zone where things are the same, predictable, and routine.

In order to recover from my eating disorder, I had to begin recovering from my perfectionism.  As always, I started with the small things.  When I did this, I realized how often I told myself, “I can’t.”

I can’t eat that. I can’t go there. I can’t reach out.  I can’t have friends. I can’t get close to anyone. I can’t let anyone see what I am.  I can’t be spontaneous.  I can’t… 

The words, “I can’t.” held me back from growing, trying, failing, and trying again. When I took the time to tally how many times I said it in a day it was well over 200 times.  Those words limited me and limited my life.

Because I do not do things cold turkey, I changed my thought processes by saying, “I can’t do that now but I can do _______________.”  Baby steps are my best friend.  I can listen to my inner voice and I can identify if it is my perfectionism or eating disorder talking.  After 27 years, some days I can change the channel and other days I  can still let it ruin my day.   If that happens, a new day brings new possibilites.

Am I where I want to be?  No. No. No.  Am I where I was?  No. No. No.  I have learned that in the messiness of life, I can be a masterpiece and a work in progress all at the same time.  Perfection does not rest on my shoulders anymore.  Yes, it still does whisper in my ear but I have learned selective listening.   “All or nothing” does not own me.  Over a period of time, I have grown to be a little bit better and learned to rest in being a beautiful mess.

Letting Go…

I remember when I was holding my oldest daughter’s hands and she was ready to walk.  I wanted her to let go…I knew she was ready but she held on to my last finger for dear life.  Walking was such a sign of independence.  She was going to be great and we were going to do amazing things.

When my kids were little I was the most protective mom.  I had to do everything for them and I wanted them in the safe bubble.  I didn’t want their feelings to be hurt.  I didn’t want them exposed to the harsh realities of the world.  I wanted to be that perfect parent so bad.  My expectations were so high…unattainably high for me and them.

Through the 15 years that have followed that moment when she has learned to walk, the steps of independence have continued to be larger and larger.  I have been letting go of my perfectionism and I have also begun letting them go slowly with each milestone. I have learned to not say, “I will never…” in parenting or “My child will never…”  Again, I am an imperfect mom raising strong, independent, imperfect girls in an imperfect world.

In teaching, we use the term “the gradual release model”.  This is a process that shifts the responsibility of learning and teaching from the teacher to the student as they grasp new knowledge and apply it in various ways.  I like to compare it to teaching your child to ride a bike.  At first, you give them training wheels.  You see that their confidence is great with the training wheels, so you then take them off.  As they begin riding with two wheels, you hold on with two hands so tightly because they are so wobbly and cannot keep their balance.  Soon, you are just holding on to the back as they continue to wobble.  You do not want to let go but you feel that their balance is better.  You then tell them, “You can do this!” and you let go.  They fall.  You pick them up and look into their eyes, “Try again!  You can do this!”  After a couple more failures you are running beside them….they are riding… a little wobbly but they are doing it!  You are so excited!  They are smiling.  And then you stop and watch them go as their confidence gets stronger and stronger with each pedal.  They are ready. They are doing it on their own.

Over the years, I have watched moms go before me in gradually releasing responsibility to their children.  Moms that loved hard and loved big.  I have watched them let go graciously. I witnessed them letting their children go because letting them go means they have room to grow.  They made it look easy when I knew that it wasn’t.  One mom that I looked up to would say, “When they are ready.”  I have used this with my girls.  We do not have time frames when things will happen.  We will do it “when you are ready.”  Sometimes it is sooner.  Sometimes it is later.

For me, the time has come.  We sent our daughter to a private school close to home that was a perfect fit for her academically, socially, and emotionally.  In three years, she has grown more than I ever thought possible.  As a junior, we have decided to allow her to board.  We did not think this would happen so soon.  But she is ready.  Selfishly, I do not want her to be.  At first, we said no.  She is ready.

Your child may be going to college.  Your child may be going to kindergarten.  As parents, we are always in the state of letting go.  An amazing lady that I admire, Julie Gaver, has done this with her two sons successfully.  She recently posted a status at just the right time. “Hold on tightly.  Let go lightly!  There is both sadness and joy knowing that our children do not belong to us, rather merely come through us.  And sometimes that makes letting go less difficult.

We are packing up and getting ready to let go lightly.  We are here for her when she falls.  We are here for her when she flies.  This is her story and we are excited to watch her write it.  The tables have turned.  I am holding on to her fingers tightly and she is ready for me to let go.  And I am.

 

 

 

A Reflection on Marriage

 

We are celebrating our anniversary today.  18 years.  Not a 20 or 25 but in the grand scheme of all the vows….every year is a big year.  I told my daughters that my husband and I have a 6,570 day streak…not Snapchat but face to face (sometimes back to back) real life streak.

I remember when I first became engaged.  My best friend and mentor looked at me and said, “I am so excited for you but when you come off of cloud 29…..marriage is hard.”  Four months after the wedding, I was in her classroom crying because he did not want to eat cereal for dinner and did not want me staying until 8 o’clock in my classroom.

I am thankful for many women that have mentored me to become the woman and wife that I am today.  It has been a very long journey.  I remember someone saying, “If you have been married 20 years and have not wanted a divorce (but not acted on it) at least three times, have you even been married?”  I chuckle but let’s be honest and real.  Marriage is hard.

We come together to become one and vow to love one another for forever.  You stand in front of each other and repeat the vows:

I will love you, comfort you, honor and keep you in sickness and in health; for richer and poorer, and, forsaking all others as long as we both shall live.

Standing there, looking into each other’s eyes, you know that nothing will stand in your way.  You grasp hands and head down the aisle.  Happily ever after.

Then…..life happens.

Jobs. Long commutes. Spending. Money. Kids. Loss. Hobbies. Pride. Selfishness.

Finding a new normal beyond what you knew on your own.

Kids. Extended family. Pride. Kids’ issues. Jobs. Illness. Stress. Goals. Growth.  Lack of Growth.

You realize that all the vows that you thought would be easy are actually really hard.  The giddiness, love, excitement, and exhilaration are sometimes replaced with huge decisions about jobs, money, illness, and loss that you never realized that you would have to make.

I do not write this out of despair but wisdom that comes from choosing love on days I wanted to run away.  This comes from a place where I have had to humble myself and ask my husband for forgiveness.  I have not always been what I said I would be and yet he loved me through it and vice versa.  We have learned to say hard and honest things to one another.  Sometimes this stings, but the commitment to grow trumps pettiness.

And yes.  The love and respect go both ways.  I have forgiven, healed, and learned to communicate my hurts and my scars.  Each valley took us to a closer level of intimacy that only can be found in a marriage that is held together by two imperfect people and daily grace. Two people that know that they are imperfect and are patient enough to give one another the grace to grow.

I am thankful for a husband that wants me to be better. 

I am thankful for a husband that does whatever is necessary for our family.

I am thankful for a husband that forgives, forgives, and forgives.

I am thankful for a husband that does not keep records of wrongs.

I am thankful for a husband that allows me to be me not what he wants me to be.

I am thankful for a husband that is sarcastic and can laugh in the worst of circumstances.

I am thankful for a husband that seeks to understand me when I do not even understand myself.

I am thankful for a husband that loves God.

I am thankful for a husband that says…”Go…do your thing.”

I am thankful for a husband that sits with me in the darkness and holds my hand.

I am thankful for a husband that shows me grace upon grace upon grace.

I am thankful that we laugh and cry together.

I am thankful that I waited for him and he waited for me.

We are just two imperfect people raising two imperfect children in an imperfect world.  We are figuring it out day by day.  6,570 days to be exact.  I love where we are right now and I love that we fought well to be here. Happy Anniversary John. I love you.

 

 

Finishing Well

I ran a marathon.  Once.  It was a bucket list item that has been checked off and it will never happen again.  One reason is because I am not really a runner.  I tried to be for a long time but I run more like a giant….”Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” with very heavy feet.  Another reason is a tap dancer passed me.  When a tap dancer passes you at mile 19 uphill, you look for another way to find your inner athlete.   However, the marathon reminds me so much of the school year and as an educator and parent, I must be honest, I am ready for the finish line.

At the beginning of the year, just like the miles in a marathon, the days and possibilities are laid out in front of you.  Your goals are set, the excitement is contagious, and the energy of everyone involved is apparent.  At the beginning of the race, people are running extra miles just to get warmed up. (I am not sure why one would do this since you have 26.2 miles to get warmed up….but here again…I am not a runner.)  Teachers have their rooms prepared, the floors are shiny from the hard word of the maintenance department, and all the students have their new supplies.

Then there is May.  There is a point in the race that is called “THE WALL”.  This is the place where you want to sit down on the curb, take your shoes off, and begin throwing them at people.  In the race of the school year, every educator, parent, and child feels this way at least once if not many times in the month of May. The teachers have a to-do list that will never end on top of all of the end of the year items.  The students can’t even find their school supplies and nobody is spending any money on them now.  And the attitudes of EVERYONE involved can be an emotional roller coaster in itself.  The parents have even questioned if it is necessary to go to school the month of May because really, beyond field trips, field day, celebrations, etc…let’s just raise your hand if we should end it in April.  Overwhelmed is an understatement.

In the race of the school year, the Bowers family is limping…no crawling to the finish line.  We have hit the wall.  We have a saying in our house.  “The Bowers girls do not quit.”  Weeelllllll…. I am raising my hand because I have thought about quitting May and school several times in the past week.   Even though we might want to, we do not quit.  We finish well.  What does that look like?  You take every ounce of your mental and physical energy and you not only do what is expected, but you do it well.

The month of May is almost over.  ALMOST.  I see the end on my calendar but the events that have to transpire for school to be over is overwhelming.  May is the most bittersweet time of the year.  It means another year that our kids are older.  The older your kids get means there are many lasts, too.  Chapters are ending and we get a brief pause before the next chapter.  As if we just blinked, the hand that held yours walking into kindergarten is now waving goodbye as they pull out of the driveway.

The juggling of the bittersweet can cause havoc if you are a perfectionist. I feel like this but I should feel this.  I can’t do anymore but I have to do more.  It is a never ending cycle.

I have to force myself to sit and be still.  To linger.  To listen.  To enjoy.  To breathe.  To let go.  In the craziness of life, my attitude seems to be copied in our house full of girls and lately, my attitude has been horrible.  If my sarcasm is normally a 10 then when I am tired and stressed, my coping mechanism takes my sarcasm (and everyone with it) to a 15.  The problem with that is that it does not solve the stress, it adds to it.

We were at Hopkins last week and I was reminded once again how valuable every day is.  I have been angry and anxious, stressed and rushed.  The way that I have responded to everyone has been less than stellar.  My eye rolls per minute could set world records I am sure.

I came home, sat on our back deck and looked at this.

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God painted me a reminder that He finishes well.  I am expected to finish well.  The girls and John need me to finish well.

During the marathon, I hit “THE WALL” at mile 23.  I wanted to quit but knew that I couldn’t.  There is that part of me that always fights for that last mile, that last rep, the last moments to finish well.  There is a coping mechanism that I have learned in life.  The storm passes.  The hard part eventually ends.  The girls and I have a saying, “You can do anything for ___________.”  A month, a day, an hour.  You can do it.  Finish well.

Our girls are growing quickly.  We have 3 summers until my oldest goes to college.  I am not going to waste it being rushed and stressed.  I am not going to be anxious.  I might be tired and frustrated at times but it will not stop me from finishing well.  I have complete control over my responses.

The end of any moment gives you a time for reflection.  What have you learned?  How have you grown?  These questions I ask myself daily even if the day has not been wonderful.  I can always reflect and learn.  And if I am blessed, I get to take what I learned today and use it tomorrow.

Our days are really numbered.  The doctors always remind us that they still do not know what the future holds for us and can’t make any promises. Every day in our house is really a gift.  I can only take one day at a time.  No matter what emotions have caused chaos in the Bowers house, we finish well.  Have I loved everyone in my house as well as I could and do they know it? If they do, then I have finished well….not perfectly, but good enough.

Just do one day at a time.

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Just do now.

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Just finish well.

 

5 Ways I Found Freedom at 45

It seems that every five years things change drastically in my life.  So much can happen in just one year….five years can be a lifetime.  Five years ago, when I turned 40, life was much different.  Both girls were in elementary school.  I was a principal of a private K-12 school and my marriage was…..ehhhh.  We were so busy with our careers, kids, and outside obligations that we passed each other quickly and communicated mainly through email and text.  John even tried to plan a trip for my 40th and I refused to go.

Life is always about becoming but we often forget that we have to unbecome (I made that word up) to actually become more authentic.  The process of unlearning plays a significant part of growth.  We often just want to add to things to be better without removing things first.

The last five years brought me to a place where I have removed and unlearned sticky points in my thought process, character, and daily habits.  I didn’t do many of these willingly or quickly.  This has been an ongoing process, however, when John got sick, I realized how fragile life was and how the small things mattered more in our lives than the large events and goals.

  1. I stopped skipping the struggle.

Nobody likes pain or being in discomfort.  We will do whatever it takes to not feel the pain.  When bad things happen they do not come with a warning.  It always reminds me of a big wave at the ocean.  The one you didn’t see coming that has the riptide.  The lifeguards tell you to relax into it but panic makes you fight.  I have learned to relax into the struggle and I have realized that it eventually spits you out on land.  Fighting makes it so much worse.

When struggle comes, I try to control my anxiety and breathe.  I hate panic attacks….but I do get them.  They wear me out.  But I let it happen knowing I always come out of it just like the wave.  I am a disheveled mess but I am ok.  I am in one piece and that moment of struggle just made me a little bit stronger.

  1. I stopped apologizing.

I have spent most of my life apologizing.  I have been sorry that I talked too much.  Sorry for not dancing well enough.  Sorry for being big.  Sorry for not being as smart.  Sorry for being late.  Sorry for the inconveniences.  Sorry for bothering you.  Sorry for the mess.  Sorry for the problems.  Sorry I wasn’t what you wanted.  Sorry I was me.

I have apologized my way into living everyone else’s life but my own.  Guilt and shame have a way of doing that.  You are either not good enough or when you achieve something, you are asked, “Who do you think you are?”  I do not play that game anymore.

  1. I stopped the superficial.

I took off the mask.  I have been asking myself who am I for some time and the process to figure it out has been rewarding.  I do not do superficial conversations.  I do not ask people “How are you?” unless I really want to know.  I do not engage in polite conversation because I find it quite exhausting.   Instead, I may just say “Hi” or wave.

I also have been open about the messiness of my life and my demons.  With this openness and vulnerability, I have grown some authentic relationships.  I am amazed at how much time and energy it takes to pretend you have your s**t together.  I have taken the energy and time that I spent pretending and focused it on more authentic moments.

  1. I stopped peopling.

When John couldn’t do much, I didn’t.  There comes a point in your life when everything falls apart.  It is not if, it is when.  Nobody can be there for you 100 percent of the time.  There are times that you need to sit in the darkness by yourself.   At this moment, this is when you will grow a friendship with yourself and if you reach out, grow a relationship with God.   I love being by myself.  I love the quiet and I love to think and ponder things.  This used to scare me because being by myself meant I had to think of the bad things.  Now I push through the bad and have begun to discover the real me and it is freeing.  Absolutely freeing.

Instead of big groups, I choose more intimate moments with people.  One on one with a friend or small groups.  The intimacy and friendships that have grown are so much more rewarding.  I have discovered that time is very valuable so how and with whom I spend my time is very important to me.  I choose wisely because busyness does nothing for me and people can be quite exhausting.

  1. I stopped dieting.

Another time killer is hating your body and the constant mind game many women play out in their head.  These thoughts hold you captive.   I have written much about this but what you may not know is that I have weighed over 200 lbs. and less than 100 lbs.  Quite frankly, I have seen all the numbers.  I gained 80 lbs. with each daughter and each daughter only weighed 7 lbs.  You can do the math.  I did not walk out of the hospital in my before pregnancy pants.  I had to fight hard to lose every pound.

The idea of THIN has been forced down my throat my entire life.  It has been a 27 year process to grow, unlearn, and relearn a different way of thinking about food and my body.  My distorted thinking about this has been a lot to overcome but it has been worth it.  My body was made to be strong and do things.  I need to give it the opportunity to do that.

Over the years, I have worked with nutritionists and nutrition coaches to hold me accountable through these processes.  I am working with the best one yet.  One reason she is my favorite is because she is just as direct as me.  No sugar coating.  No excuses.  When I told her that I wanted to get stronger, I was told that I was still restricting my calories and that I would have to go into a calorie surplus.  She has “virtually” held my hand as I have done this and you will not believe how empowering it has been.  I am getting stronger AND in my calorie surplus, I need more calories because I am still not gaining.  DID YOU HEAR THAT?  LADIES….WE ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH!!!  I will write another blog about this and CrossFit at a different time.  But realizing you have been doing it all wrong for 27 years is quite humbling.  Overcoming your mindset of always losing and instead becoming more is priceless and freeing.

I have given up these things in order to gain more out of life.  These were all roadblocks for me that I battled in my head and kept me from living a life of freedom.  Our thoughts hold us captive and until we take the time to work through them they will always hold us in bondage.  The biggest take away from this is that I can contribute to my most important relationships better.  My marriage and my relationship with our girls have grown and improved because I have worked on MY growth.

Am I finished?  Have I arrived?  Oh no….. I am working on other things now.  Some of those things are humility, becoming a better listener, showing love better, etc.  The art of becoming never ends but I like that.  I will never arrive but I have embraced the process that will lead to constant and consistent growth.  I am modeling for my daughters so that they may learn to grow, unlearn, and become the best they can be just for right now.

 

Anger Is Sad’s Bodyguard

I love the renovation shows on HGTV.  I love seeing the process and the big reveal.  I like demolition day when they get out the sledgehammers, destroy walls and rip down everything to expose the studs and foundation.  I like to see the homeowners’ reactions when they realize that there are more problems under the walls than they originally anticipated and it is going to take longer to complete and more money.  That is when things get interesting.

That is exactly what has happened to me in my forties.  I have been under a renovation.  It is one that I did not ask for but was thrown into.  I am trying to swim instead of sink.   I usually write once I have things figured out but I do not have it figured out right now and that is okay.

My dad died at the time we were trying to figure out what was wrong with John.  At the time, John could barely stand up and his sight was questionable.  At the time, I went into auto pilot.  I took care of John and the girls.  I worked.  I worried.  I did the next thing in a fog.  I felt like I was climbing a gravel mountain trying to gain my footing but sliding down more than I climbed.  People would see us and comment, “Wow.  You are so strong.”  They had no idea.

I thought I knew what grief was but little did I know.  When the doctor told us that the blood clots would never go away and we would need to deal with this the rest of our lives, I got mad.  Adding to the fact that I never grieved my father, the walls began to fall down.

One day, I stopped the fake smile, looked up and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”  I wasn’t fine.  I wasn’t strong.  I wasn’t anything but pissed and it SCARED me.  The intensity of the anger consumed me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I was mad at the big things and the little things.  I was mad that people would say, “He looks so good, so glad he is doing better.”  I wanted to scream, “No, this sucks.  It is hard.  Just because someone looks good doesn’t mean s**t!”  I would see older men with suspenders like my dad and cry.  My heart hurt so much because it was broken.  I felt like I lost my two favorite men.

Anger has a way of consuming you and when not expressed and dealt with appropriately can take hold of your heart.  Also, the good girl in me tells myself, “You shouldn’t be angry.  This is wrong.  Get it together.”  Heaven forbid I feel any emotion.  That is a lie that many people believe and I refuse to act on anymore.

Just like the exposed wood and wires in a wall, our emotions can look very ugly. The surges of anger are real.  How I deal with the anger is the most important.  I went to counseling.   I also have a handful of friends that I confide in that I call “Friends In a Pocket”.  They do not judge.  They listen.  They let me vent and help me find the good in the anger most of the times through laughter.  I also stay away from people if I can.  It is not their fault and when I am out in public, I do not say much.  It is better that way.

I have found an outlet for my anger.  For me, it is lifting heavy weight.  I mean REALLY heavy weight.  I take my anger out on a barbell.  I push through the heaviness to rise up and that illustrates the reality of the messy process of grieving.  Once the anger is felt and processed it reveals what is really there….a deep and profound sadness.

Anger is sad’s bodyguard.

There is something happens when your raw emotions are exposed.  A raw vulnerability is revealed and something deep inside you changes and you will never be the same.  Death, sickness, divorce, or friendships that brought about great love when gone will leave a huge hole that will forever change you.  This change reveals true friendship, true character, and flaws that need to be worked on within yourself.

Anger gives you energy.  Sadness depletes you.  Anger helps you to get things done.  Sadness makes you want to stay in bed.   Anger pushes you through.  Sadness helps you retreat.  Both emotions are needed and necessary to grieve what once was and what may never be again.  Anger and sadness are part of the process.

As Christians, we feel that these feelings are something we should not feel.  However, I have learned that they are necessary and crucial to navigating the fallen world we live in.  I find myself drawn to the book of Psalms.  The book in the middle of the Bible that truly expresses the groans and pains of humanity.  It also expresses the worship and gratitude. The psalmists expressed every emotion and did not mince their words.  I love how those confessions brought forth a deeper relationship with God. Feeling pain is part of the journey and helps us appreciate the rise from struggle when it happens.

Life is filled with doubts, fears, angst, and despair.  Life is also filled with joy, hope, perseverance, and celebration.  Anger helps me persevere.  Anger helps me process my sadness.  Anger helps me grieve.

I am not ready for the great reveal.  My walls and studs are still exposed right now.  This remodeling project of myself is a bigger project than I realized.  I do not have a timeline of completion and I never will.  I will be taking the time to fix and mend the broken parts during this renovation so that my foundation is stronger than before.  My anger is the sledgehammer that reveals the deeper emotions of love that has been lost, changed, and renewed.  God often goes underground to grow us.  I need to remember the work God has already done in me.  I need to trust His faithfulness and accept the beauty of the process.  I readily admit that I am a work in progress.  I also realize that sometimes life is worth groaning about and I must be patient as I look for the fresh reserve to be able to paint beauty with the ashes again.

 

 

I Am Not That Mom….

I sometimes wished I was that mom that baked cookies and completed crafts.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was that mom that spoke in a soft and calm voice.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was the mom that planned elaborate parties.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was that mom that had the entire year organized.  I am not.

I sometimes wished I was the mom that said, “Golly gee kids!”  I am not.

I tried.  I tried for a very long time to be “that mom” that I thought I was supposed to be.  I looked around and saw everyone doing it better than me. How easy it is to get caught up in the comparison game.  It is so exhausting trying to be something you are not.

So I stopped.  It was like the scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump”, where he had been running and running across the country and he just stopped one day and said, “I am pretty tired, I think I will go home now.  And just like that, my running days were over.”

Instead, I said, “I am pretty tired, I think I will be myself.  And just like that, my comparing days were over.”  I can’t begin to tell you how freeing that was for me.  I just became tired.  It took so much energy to be something I was not.  So here I am.

I am the mom that makes mistakes daily, apologizes, and moves on.

I am the mom that offers chocolate during that time of the month.

I am the mom that yells sometimes.

I am the mom that doesn’t hug all the time but when I do, it matters.

I am the mom that gives my kids one trip to school the entire year when they forget something but the rest of the time they owe me in cleaning time if I need to make more.  (I have not made any this year.)

I am the mom that sometimes makes breakfast but most times I throw them a pop tart.

I am the mom that does not iron their clothes anymore.

I am the mom that yells sometimes….okay, more than I thought I ever would.

I am the mom that explains to my kids that many times my moods have nothing to do with them and more to do with me.

I am the mom that curses and allows my kids to at times because we have learned that some words can not even begin to explain the pain that you are feeling.

I am the mom that has dance offs.

I am the mom that accepts the challenge from my fourteen-year-old that wants to “take me down.”

I am the mom that does not give praise often but when I do, they know I mean it.

I am the mom that expects you to do your job and finish your job.  I will not settle for less.

I am the mom that follows through on what I threaten even though it is hard and painful.

I am the mom that has helped each child find their thing even though it is not my thing.

I am the mom that has spanked the wrong kid.

I am the mom that apologized for that one, too.

I am the mom that answers sex questions no matter how intimidating.  I have a National Geographic voice.

I am the mom that is so sarcastic that if a stranger heard our conversations they would be perplexed.

I am the mom that has her own friends, hobbies, and things I like to do.

I am the mom that will say no and calls them out when they are being manipulative.

I am the mom that gives grace when necessary and punishment when needed.

I am the mom that stopped dreaming for my kids and let them make their own dreams for their own lives.

I am the mom that drives them everywhere and love my car time with them.

I am the mom that puts my husband before her kids.

I am the mom that made my kids listen to all kinds of music because all music matters.

I am the mom that models imperfection because I want my kids to accept their imperfections and grow.

I am the mom that is struggling to get through the day.

I am the mom that doesn’t make excuses for myself or my kids.

I am the mom that prays for her kids but knows that they need to discover Jesus on their own.

During our last vacation, I realized my faults and told the girls that I was going to try to be more “June Cleaver” like because my edges can be rough and sharp.  It lasted one hour.  They told me to stop.  In their words, they said, “Mom, we love you.  Just as you are.  We can’t imagine you being anything but you.”

And that is just who I am….the messy mistake making mom that stopped comparing and started living. No apologies.  Just. like. that.