The plane was full, and we were in the very back row. I acquiesced to my husband’s request for an afternoon flight this time instead of the cheaper tickets that required a pre-dawn wakeup call, knowing that it could be touch and go with holiday delays. Indeed, both flights were delayed and we were flying through dinnertime.
We approached our seats, and my husband was in the window seat a row in front of us, my son and I in the middle and window just behind him. Confused, our son wanted to know why he couldn’t sit by Daddy. I explained to him that we were unable to get seats together, and he suddenly exploded like the old-fashioned snake-in-a-can gag gift.
“I WANT TO SIT BY DADDY,” he shouted, crying. He glowered at the woman in the aisle seat in our row. “I DON’T LIKE THAT LADY! I DON’T WANT TO SIT BY HER.”
Thank heaven the woman was the mother of four grown children and she just smiled.
Flushed and feeling desperate, I pulled out every trick: Reasoning. Lecturing. Pleading. Bribing. Cajoling. Threatening to take away toys. Silence. Nothing worked. It’s one thing to practice patience and let him ride it out in the quiet of our own home, but on a plane full of strangers, it’s quite another challenge. Finally, I got him to laugh, and we were fine until he decided he didn’t want his seat belt on anymore, and we started over an hour later. I was left bewildered at the behavior of my usually-great mini traveler, who has been on more than three dozen flights with me already. This is just a phase, I chanted to myself.
Bedtime was a struggle the week before that while on vacation, and my logical, adult mind knows that he was having trouble because we were at my parents’ condo in Florida and because it was Christmas season, when everything is topsy-turvy.
On the second night of procrastinating and one-more-book-ing and I-need-another-glass-of-water-ing and I’m-not-going-to-listen-ing, my frustration built. I had things I wanted to accomplish and everything felt like it was taking an eternity. My focus was elsewhere. I lost my patience, used short and harsh tones with him, and felt like an ugly human being.
I am an adult. He is four. He is going through a period of big feelings and he is trying to harness them all. In theory, I should have mastered mine.
After he fell asleep, I went back to the room and cried into his soft little-boy hair as I fell asleep myself. I am hard on myself, knowing that I can be better.
We were surprised, ourselves, as we sailed through the terrible twos and trying threes without a problem. No tantrums, no toddler throwing himself on the floor in public, no forcible removal of a child from a Target store. My husband and I jokingly gave each other high-fives on our excellent child-rearing and example-setting; we thanked our lucky stars that we were blessed with a child who has such a great temperament. We’ve got this.
Four was a sucker punch.
Four is trying the edges of my patience. Four is pushing the envelope and trying out the limits of what he can get away with. Four is telling us “NO” and “I won’t do that!” and pouty lips and the occasional screaming. Four is “hold me” and “don’t hold me” and “I’ll kiss your boo-boo” and “don’t kiss me!”
I ask my mother for advice and she smiles and says, “This will pass.”
The truth is that I have been spoiled. My little boy is showing signs of imperfection; I worried about my skills as a parent. How does his behavior reflect our parenting? What if people think I am a flawed mother who spoils her child? Am I not preparing him well enough to handle his feelings? What am I doing wrong?
Even as I think that, I tie a little balloon to those thoughts and let them go into space. First of all, it’s not all about me. Second of all, he is human and he is a child and he is imperfect. And I am too. I remind myself that I can and will do better tomorrow.
I brought up my frustrations with my Listen to Your Mother colleagues Heather and Leigh Ann, and Heather said the word that has been sticking with me. Surrender.
He won’t be this age forever. Surrender.
Find a way to stay calm and roll with it. Surrender.
When he rages, hold him and let the moment wash over me. Surrender.
If he says something that hurts my feelings, know he doesn’t understand or mean it. Surrender.
I am imperfect and should give myself grace when I lose my patience. Surrender.
Surrender to the imperfect.
I don’t have to surrender my beliefs, or surrender to his whims. I am still the parent and I still must guide him. But I can guide him in a way that is gentle and loving and less frustrating for me if I surrender to the fact that I can’t control him all of the time. I will work to better surrender to the moment and let the waves wash over me. I have control of my emotions even when he does not. I can teach him that he is safe here in this haven of home. He, then, can surrender in relief when he feels comfortable. I can help him by ensuring that he is fed on time and in bed early enough so he has enough fuel and sleep.
So often, I talk about the beautiful moments I share with my son, and there are many. Sometimes, however, it’s messy and confusing and I’m stumbling toward the place where I think we need to go, together.
I always love him with all of my heart. I always appreciate what I have and am thankful for him every day. When he is sleeping, he still looks like a baby. There is so much more joy than anything else; the loud moments sometimes become a roar in my ears until they fill up the space and take up more room than they should be allotted.
Today, I did a better job. And I will try to give myself the space to be imperfect, as I give him the space to be imperfect too.
To the joys and the frustrations. To childhood.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
When he was twelve years old, Robin was climbing up Lookout Mountain in Colorado on his first road bike at 12 miles an hour long after dark one night. He heard a siren, and a police officer stopped him; it was way past curfew.
“What are you doing, son?” he asked.
Robin stopped his bike and sat up straight. “I’m training for the Tour de France,” he said, looking the man in the eye. He defiantly cocked his non-helmeted head and got ready to flee. The police officer, stunned, let him go.
This heads-down, no-helmet approach to life has suited him well, so far.
However, Robin has been thrown over the handlebars a few times. Growing up with a single working mother in a small house near Aspen Park, he didn’t have an easy childhood.
I’ll never forget a friend of mine, Matt Durbin. Our coach said we should start cycling, so we took on a ride from Denver to Evergreen, about 20 miles. We were 8 or 9, and I did it on a BMX bike and he was on a road bike. That whole summer was spent riding our bikes. We entered a bike race and I was beating kids that were 13-14 years old; that’s when I knew that I wanted to race bicycles. My brother and I were taking care of each other, and I would do the craziest stuff. I’d leave in the middle of the night with no helmet and no lights, and would go hurtling down a hill at speeds a car wouldn’t travel on mountain roads.
“There wasn’t even a TV when I was small in the mountains,” Robin said. “My mom never made much money, and we spent most of my childhood barely scraping by. I was lucky to grow up in Colorado, because I spent all of my time outdoors with my friends, absorbed in athletics.”
He could have felt sorry for himself, but he didn’t.
When Robin was 16, his mother was in the process of getting a divorce from her second husband, and needed some distance for herself and her new baby. So she made plans to move to Albuquerque, and Robin stayed behind. When his mother left, Robin had to move out of the house where he lived, and was considering quitting high school and starting his cycling career in Europe.
Robin told Bill, his cycling coach, and Dana, Bill’s wife, about his plan to move overseas.
Dana said, "Whoa. Whoa. You’re not quitting high school; you are going to move in with us." They were young and didn’t have any kids, and I was riding 400-plus miles a week when I was 16. I used to joke that they bought a gallon of orange juice a day for me. When they took me in, I went from being a C student to an A student pretty much overnight. This helped me immensely later, getting into college.
Robin graduated from high school under the caring roof of Bill and Dana and went straight to Europe. He signed with a Swiss cycling team, spending four years on their team before moving on to college at Colorado University in Denver at age 22. He continued to ride 10,000 miles per year, but quit racing to focus on school, and ultimately graduated from CU with an MS in Finance.
He was alone. He could have given up, quit school, and gotten into trouble. But he didn’t.
After getting his graduate degree, Robin kicked off his professional career, spending 14 years working for Lipper, American Century Investments, and Wellington Management in Boston. And opportunity was starting to knock.
In 2006, I was in a cycling trip in Europe, and we were having dinner and someone said, ‘It would be great if there was a website so I could know the roads, like a travel guide.’ I immediately had this idea and bought a domain while still in Europe. I wrote a huge specification document, and when I returned I called a few friends and asked them if they wanted to help.
Then I went to lunch with a friend and he mentioned that there was a similar product for runners. So I called this guy in San Diego, Kevin Callahan, whom I had never met, and asked him about MapMyRun. At the end of their conversation, Kevin offered to sell it. My developer had quit right at that time; so I called Kevin back and asked him if he wanted to quit his job and work with me, and he immediately said YES.
At that point, he was still working full time for Wellington, and Kevin was working full time for newly- formed MapMyFitness. They saw the mobile revolution, and their app was one of the first 200 in the store. Today, there are more than 22 million users.
Starting a business is daunting for anyone. Robin said that his best advice for someone starting a business is to fail fast. You’ll learn from what you’re doing wrong, and you can correct it quickly.
In 2008, Robin met a woman named Sara at a running conference in San Diego; she was running a sports charity for St. Jude, and they happened to be at the same place on the last night of the conference. However, although they had clicked, they didn’t exchange numbers and lost each other in the crowd. Shortly after their meeting, Robin hadn’t joined Facebook yet, and decided to join FB so he could understand social networking better for his business. Robin’s first Facebook message was from Sara on Valentine’s Day, and they started dating. Five years later, they are married with two children.
“Sara is really the love of my life,” Robin said. “She’s so patient and great with our kids. She took to being a mother so naturally. Our relationship is truly amazing; she is my rock.”
He could have given up on love after a childhood observing failed relationships, but he didn’t.
Robin Thurston is the CEO and co-founder of Austin-based MapMyFitness – the umbrella company over popular apps MapMyRun, MapMyWalk, and MapMyRide. At the end of last year, he sold his company to athletic wear giant Under Armour. Since the moment I met his wife Sara, and she told me his story, I have been fascinated and impressed by his story, and I knew it was worth telling.
He could have said no, I don’t have time to talk to her, I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar merger. But he didn’t. And we started talking about the future.
“There is a great saying I have heard people use, that is that you often overestimate what you can do in a year, but you underestimate by a lot what you can do in 10 years. People should take that perspective – set really, really big goals for 10 years. If you set the goals too low, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
“I don’t know that I’ll send my kids to college,” Robin told me. “They’re welcome to go, but there is a bigger opportunity to impact the world at a young age. The restrictions that I had in my mind at 18 were almost nil. Your mind tells you that you can almost do anything. I will tell them to take on bigger problems earlier. Because I went to Europe young, I speak four languages and learned to believe that anything was possible. When you’re young, you’re willing to take more risk, and I think it will serve them well. I will risk encouraging.”
He could teach his children to take the easy road. But he won’t. He’ll teach them how to be brave.
“The reason I always ride hills or mountains in the morning, is because it makes the rest of the day easy. I climbed a 2000 foot mountain this morning, so any problems seem small. I’ll teach my kids to take on a challenge early in the morning so that the day is easier. Set goals, because that helps you see that goals will help you overcome the next.”
Monday, February 3, 2014
I grew up in the Midwest, where autumn announces itself with jewel tones of crimson, maize, and burnt umber. There is no question when fall has breezed into town on a cold front. Here in Austin, the season is much more subtle, with muted tones and a splash of burgundy here and a lone tree ablaze with yellow fire there. Sometimes, the people I meet are more like the autumn of Indiana: forthright and open. And sometimes, they are as surprising as a Texas fall.
I thought I knew him on the surface, this former colleague who had called to tell me about a contract opportunity for which he thought I would be perfect. I was flattered by his confidence in me and agreed to fly to Canada to interview with his new employer the following week to speak with them about the part-time project.
He is 64 now, just six years younger than my father. I started with our former employer not long after he did, and he took me under his wing to show me around. He is very tall, with a deep baritone voice that boomed down the hall from his office. I grew to like him, despite the fact that he interrupted me often like an excited child, and he exhibited a good-old-boy swagger that belied his soft heart. This is the man, along with three of my co-workers in his age group who banded together like the three amigos, who put an “I love Hooters” sticker on my cubicle wall. We laughed together that he is a dinosaur, a faux-chauvinist with a 1950s heart but a generosity of spirit and caring under the brassy exterior.
He called me recently with a mutual acquaintance, a consultant on the project, to discuss the logistics of my trip north of the border. We talked about the schedule and the scope of the project, and I listened carefully, taking it all in and hoping I understood all of the moving pieces. As we wrapped up the call, he jumped in with one last thought.
I read your blog, he said. I saw the link in your email signature and I started reading; I read the whole thing.
The whole thing? I asked, incredulous.
Well, maybe not the whole thing. But a lot. You’d be surprised how much we have in common, he said.
I was curious but doubtful. What could we possibly have in common? I searched my memory to see if I had written anything that might qualify.
When I saw him the following week, he greeted me at the top of the escalator and kissed the top of my head in a grandfatherly, benevolent way, as he had always done for the years we had worked together. Two others joined us for dinner, one European who was incredibly jet-lagged and quiet; when the two other people at the table started speaking French to each other about a challenge they were having, I turned to him.
I asked him, What did you mean about my blog? What do we have in common?
I waited as he paused.
We both had to start over, he began. He retold me parts of his story and added new details I hadn’t known. At 52, he suddenly lost his beloved wife of 26 years to a heart attack. They had four boys, two still at home, and two in college. His youngest was in 7th grade, and the loss stunned all of them. Not long before that, he lost his business in the aftermath of 9/11; they were in the process of securing a $30 million funding round for his wireless business with 100 employees. He had to start over not only with his business, but with his life.
Then I understood what he meant. Our stories were not the same, but the result was similar: I was 33 when I had to start over, in a different way. How did you get through it? I asked him.
You need to cry for a few months, he said. And then you pull yourself together, put one foot in front of the other, and decide to live again.
A year or two after he lost his wife, he met the woman who would become his second wife. She had two daughters and lived several states away, so they dated long-distance until he decided to move with his teenage son to be with her; his other three boys were all off to college and careers. He told me about how difficult it was for his son and his wife to adapt, at first. With a lot of love and patience, they are now close.
I always say I got lucky twice, he said.
They have been married for over a decade now, he and his second wife, and I can see the glow on his face when he talks about her, even when he is lamenting the cost of the new rug she purchased or the dogs she named cute little girly names that sound funny in his tough-guy voice. He keeps the memory of his first wife alive too, and he tells me the story of when they decided to have their fourth child. He laughs as he recalls their conversations, and he has a healthy optimism about love and life when you pick through his complaining and kvetching about everyday annoyances.
Put one foot in front of the other, and decide to live again.
Beautiful advice I never thought I'd hear from this man, a place I least expected to hear it.
It’s hard to tell how special someone is on the surface. You never know what you’re going to have in common with someone. You never know who has "brave" written on his heart.
It is in that way that I appreciate the subtleties of the Austin fall, with pops of color in places you don’t expect: between two houses in a neighborhood, or perched on an outcropping of limestone on the highway. There is no division between summer and fall; it is hiding there, in plain sight. The beauty is there if you know what you’re looking for. People are much the same.
Friday, January 17, 2014
He was 16 and riding in the car with a friend who was two years older. Driving on country roads in northern New Jersey, they didn’t think anything could hurt them, these two first-generation Dutch-Americans.
The details are sketchy, but the newspaper reported speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, and the car hit two telephone poles, 150 feet apart.
One of the boys walked away from the accident, unscathed.
The other woke up in the hospital, missing his right arm.
At 16, he had to figure out how to do a lot of things in a new way. The son of a farmer, his parents worried about how he would support himself and what he would do. They worried about his future and whether he would find a potential mate.
He used to jump in the pond with his sister and three brothers and milk the cows on their farm. He used to play baseball and basketball and have chicken fights. He used to be right handed.
He finished high school and went off to college to study accounting, and did everything everyone else could do, but with one hand. When he was 21, he was set up on a blind date with a woman named Virginia via mutual friends, and married her at the end of the summer, two years later.
He learned how to bowl. He joined the Jaycees. He volunteered in the community. He bought a house. He was promoted to controller of a large company based in a northern town in Indiana and moved his wife and two young daughters there, and they built a wonderful life.
The girls laughed when their daddy would sit on the bed with them as he put on his artificial arm and pretended to close it on their little fingers. They could hear the mechanical whirrrrrr as he flexed his arm muscle at the stump and the plastic fingers touched and eased apart. It was normal, to them.
When the oldest girl had her first date with a boy named Simeon Lanier Archer III, a good southern boy relocated to the Midwest, her dad reached out shook the boy’s hand with his real hand – his left. And the boy didn’t miss a beat but said, “Nice to meet you, sir.” The girl’s heart soared, because it wasn’t until that moment until she realized that shaking her dad’s hand might be a little different.
Never, not ever, did they refer to their father as disabled. He was just Dad.
And maybe, as a result of growing up in a house with a dad with an artificial arm, they learned to be a little more sensitive to others. They learned to make eye contact and to say hello to everyone, no matter their appearance, and not to stare at people with unusual physical challenges. They valued that their mother took a blind date with a man she knew had only one arm, and she didn’t think anything of it.
So what CAN you do with one arm?
So what CAN you do with one arm?
They learned that their dad can drive with one arm. Even manual shift.
They learned that their dad can fix anything with one arm and a utility hook. The bionic hook, they called it.
They learned to take for granted that their dad could do just about anything but tie his shoes, and even that he can do with some effort.
They learned that their dad has more love in his one arm
than many have with two.
than many have with two.
I’m his oldest daughter. That’s my brave and strong dad.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
I’m on vacation, and the siren call of social media is calling me, pulling me into its web. I itch to look at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and it feels like an addiction, this need to check in and see what is going on in the online world. And then I look around; no one in my extended family has a phone in his or her hands. No one is checking anything but the scene unfolded in front of us: the blue sky with scant clouds skipping across the sky above the line of the Gulf, the sand mermaid some visitors had created near our umbrella, the four cousins playing in the surf.
I take some pictures, and then bury my iPhone in the backpack until later. I have days to enjoy and connections to make with people in person. Not online. I’m trying to unplug. I’m doing better as I disconnect from the online world and connect with the people in front of me.
It helps that I have a book to read on this vacation that has changed the way I think about connecting and how to keep it balanced. I have been referring to it all week.
The author of this book is a very special person and good friend. I found her through another friend who pointed me to her blog with this message on July 12, 2011: “I love this blog and often think of you when I read it, because it's so thoughtfully and beautifully written. The author's point of view about focusing on what's important in life is motivational to me! Love, Christine”
The blog Christine told me about was just getting started, with about 1000 fans on Facebook and a small but loyal following. I wrote to the author, telling her how much I enjoyed her essays, and we slowly and gradually built a friendship. Last year, I finally had the chance to meet her in person, and we had lunch in a beautiful restaurant halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta and talked non-stop for two hours.
Rachel and I had forged a friendship built on mutual respect and encouragement. We brought each other up when we were feeling down. Now, two and a half years after I first opened her site for the first time, Rachel’s blog – Hands Free Mama – has launched essay after essay with millions of readers around the world. Her Facebook fan page has over 90,000 likes. Her first essay on The Huffington Post, "The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’” broke viral records for the publication, with over a million likes. That’s a lot of people nodding their head saying, “Yes, yes. I understand this. This is something I needed to read.”
I received my advance reader’s copy a few weeks ago, and I smiled as I started reading the pieces that were both familiar and unfamiliar to me. See, it’s not just that I enjoy and respect Rachel’s writing, but it has affected my parenting on an everyday basis.
When I got to the acknowledgements, I was reading along and I saw my own name there in print. The pages grew blurry as my eyes blinked back tears.
Kristin Shaw came across my blog in its infancy. She saw an initiative worth endorsing, and she did, with every fiber of her being. As a fellow writer and blogger, Kristin became my confidant in times of frustration and doubt. On one particularly rough night, I considered deleting my blog. But instead, I sent a message to Kristin. Kristin’s response inspired a profound revelation that forever ceased outside negativity from impeding my journey.
A beautiful paragraph that was one of the highlights of my year. And in fact, it’s Rachel’s gifts to me that make me a better mother and a better person.
I hear Rachel’s gentle voice asking me why I’m in such a hurry. And I slow down.
I remember Rachel’s message about distraction, and I put my phone away.
I feel unpretty, and I recall Rachel’s story about the way she looks in the eyes of her children. And I take out my hat and go.
I think about the sweet messages Rachel and her girls left for their garbage collectors, and think about ways I can make someone’s day.
Every single day, one of Rachel’s essays rings in my head. And I listen.
Rachel’s way is not to tell parents what do say and how to act. She relays stories from her own experience and describes the effects on her own family – for better and for worse. She doesn’t hide from her mistakes of her past, and that’s what makes her so real.
As I have seen Rachel’s star rise, I have wanted to burst with happiness for her. My friend Melissa has a saying she likes to use on a regular basis: all ships rise together. In other words, by supporting and encouraging each other, we all win. All of our ships prosper and rise above the waves. All of us make it to the shore of our choosing. As a woman, it's wonderfully gratifying to hear others talk about ways to help each other.
This is where Rachel excels; her words lift us all up, as parents, and as women. As she says on her site, “The truth hurts, but the truth heals.” As I face my own shortcomings, I remember Rachel’s stories and know I can always improve.
I hope Rachel’s book breaks every record on Amazon. I hope she sells out of every bookstore. I will be right here, cheering her on. Her success proves that good things come to good people.
Hands Free Mama: A guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters launches this week on Amazon.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
In the middle of November, I received an email from a Babble editor with great news. They had chosen me as a finalist for the Babble 100 list, and one of only 10 in the “Love and Relationships” category and asked me several questions so their readers could get to know me better. I read the message four times before I would believe that it wasn’t spam.
One of the questions was “Tell us about a time that you were happiest,” and I didn’t have to think for long about it before I came up with an answer.
I have never been happier in my life than I am right now. Like most people, I have seen my way through some challenges in my life, but I’ve come out on the other side stronger and better and (hopefully) smarter.
And today, on my 43rd birthday, I celebrate my happiness, my health, and all of the love, family, and friends in my life. There are moments of frustration, and anger, and sadness, or even regret, but they pass. I find that the older I get, the less I regret, and the more I appreciate.
I appreciate that I was almost 39 years old when I had my son. I am more patient than I was even 10 years ago, I am more content with my life, and I have a better idea of what balance means. I am a better mother than I would have been as a younger mother. I have younger mother friends who are doing an outstanding job, and I applaud them for knowing themselves better than I did at that age.
I appreciate that I found a man who loves me unconditionally, and there is never a question in my mind whether or not he will be there for me.
I appreciate that I have two parents who have been married 46 years and exhibit so much love for each other, my sister, and me.
I appreciate that I have a sister who is my best friend – she makes me laugh and she is my rock and my support.
I appreciate the friends I have, all over the world; I could not get through life with the same amount of joy without my friends. I have discovered that friendship shifts all the time. They shift in and out of my life, but that doesn’t mean that the friendship itself has been forgotten. It rekindles and simmers on the back burner and sparks when I least expect it, and it brings so much light into my life.
I appreciate my health and the health of my family members. I can walk, run, jump, and breathe. Life is so good.
I appreciate that I care less about what people think, at 43. I’m more confident about my body, my face, my intelligence. I am not perfect, but I strive to be better all the time. I want to forgive faster, forget more easily, and be more patient. I want to give more and ask for less. I want to be less afraid. I want to be the best mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend I can be.
Don't let anyone tell you that life goes downhill at 40. To me, it seems to be getting better all the time.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate every single one of you.
P.S. Since this is a birthday theme, take a look at a friend of mine's gorgeous picture book, hopefully printing early next year! The illustrations are gorgeous and the words catchy and fun.
P.S. Since this is a birthday theme, take a look at a friend of mine's gorgeous picture book, hopefully printing early next year! The illustrations are gorgeous and the words catchy and fun.