Saturday, February 28, 2009

Owning My Run: A Woman's Perspective

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”
Ludwig Willgen-

I have finally found the words that explain why running is an act of power for me. When I run I have complete ownership of my body. I feel safe in that womb of sweat and movement…as if insulated from the world around me. Each breath that I breathe is mine, each step that I take is intentional and every thought that passes through my mind is available to me and only me.

When I run I feel beautiful, powerful and real. The pieces of myself that I share throughout the day are all assimilated back into one beautiful tapestry…one amazing piece of experience that is mine and mine alone.

Lately I’ve been putting a lot of thought toward living my life intentionally. And running is a tremendous part of that experience. There is a magic evoked when I run. The physical-ness of it provides me with a powerful reminder that my body is capable, powerful and MINE. Every time I run, I make a statement to the world, “I own my action, my body, my thoughts and my experiences. I am intentional.”

A fundamental outcome of my work with young girls through Girls on the Run is to provide an experience for our girls to help them recognize and embrace their gifts and intentionally create a life that will move them toward their greatest human potential. One component of that is teaching them to honor their bodies through the act of running. However, we live in a culture that far too often does not honor women’s bodies, but instead objectifies them. Today, I have decided that , I am a Woman-ist!

I am declaring right here and now that I will intentionally make efforts to honor my body by:

1.) Doing my best to improve my awareness of body-hate or body-age talk. This means when I begin to say or think something about my appearance that is negative in content I will take a few deep breaths and replace those words with ones that honor something I value and respect about my body. I will share these words with others when appropriate.

2.) Greeting people with a comment that focuses on their internal strengths rather than external appearance. “Wow, you are one happy woman these days. I’m glad to see that you are doing well.” “Wow, you are definitely putting your best self out into the world. How are you feeling these days?”

3.) When I hear another woman speaking negatively of herself, I will find something positive about her to share, right then and right there! I will honor her by providing positive words rather than focusing on negativity through dismissing it or bonding over it.

4.) Putting my money where my mouth is: I will intentionally seek and choose products that use advertising strategies and images which honor women. I will ask myself, “Does this advertising strategy shame me or lift me up? Does this image demean women or honor them?” I will make a conscious effort to purchase products that utilize marketing strategies that lift me and my sisters up.

5.) Choosing to encircle myself with publications and music that honor women’s bodies. I will turn away from many of the magazines that line the grocery store check-out lane and choose publications that honor me, my body and my daughter’s body. I will choose publications that tell the stories of strong women, healthy women, REAL women. I will listen to music which elevates my soul, expresses the beauty and wonder of our femininity and honors the female image.

As I write, I feel a well of emotion. Everyday our girls are bombarded with harmful messages that we as a gender continue to support, perpetuate and cultivate because we fail to fully examine the detrimental effects of these images, media and products,.

Today, I claim my intention to remove these items from my emotional, mental and physical desk and make room for the positive female images, media and messages that I’m quite certain will become more obvious, more visible and more prevalent, if I am intentional about seeking them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Get Your Gratitude On

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

Today I am filled with gratitude. I am so grateful in fact I thought it might be fun to just make a gratitude list…something I encourage you to do…real quick and right now! Don’t think too hard about it….just go…just write…just let it flow!

Alright so here goes…simple, to the point, not planned and straight from me, in this very moment at 4:50 p.m. on Thursday.

Today, right this minute I am grateful for:

The New Girls on the Run Council Training I was part of yesterday (and the day before) and the strength, humor and bravery exhibited by the women in attendance.

The amazing people in my life (both professional and personal friends) and their passionate belief in me, my gifts and my power.

My two children Hank and Helen. Hank for his tender understanding of the daily challenges I face as a single mother and Helen for her uncanny ability to constantly remind me of “what can be.”

My legs…their strength and their ability to move me across 6 miles of asphalt with very little difficulty.

My age…all 48 years of me…and my genuine desire to joyfully embrace the wisdom and perspective that comes with each passing year.

My 51 year “boy”friend, Richard, who celebrates my strength and encourages me to dream.

Chocolate…I love chocolate. Need I say more?

My arms. I like ‘em. They are strong.

The army of women who have gone before me…courageously laying down THE foundation that allows our efforts to in-power girls and women to be embraced, honored and valued.

You…for reading this blog.

So now, it’s your turn. Right now, right this minute, shoot back in the comment section with at least one item that brings you gratitude. Come on now…do it! You’ll be surprised how good it makes you feel!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Running a 5k in My Cowboy Boots, a Mini-Skirt and Fairy Wings

Alright, let's face it. There are as many variations in style, intention and motivation as there are people who do it. And yes…I’ll admit my motivation for running has changed over the years. Some years I ran to maintain weight. Other years it was a sneaky attempt to meet cute guys. Then of course, there was and still is the “quiet time for myself” motivation that every mother, whether single or married needs!

Thirteen years ago, rounding out my last Ironman Triathlon, I made a decision to celebrate the “center” I feel while running by helping young girls develop that “center” at an early age. This way when the tough times of adolescence come along, they will be better equipped to handle them. Instead of running around or over life’s challenges, they will tackle them head on, learn from them and become stronger in the process.

What I didn’t expect were the many lessons I have learned by working with the 3rd-5th grade girls in our Girls on the Run Program. The Type-A, competitive, grit your teeth and furrowed brow kind of runner I was in my early 20’s and 30’s simply wasn’t prepared for the slow-pace and laid-back style of a 3rd grade girl.

So, when I get caught up again in the stress of training for that special marathon or dropping my personal best a second or two…I refer to these real “Rules of Running” as provided by a group of gregarious 3rd graders in Girls on the Run.

Rule # 1: If you shoe lace becomes untied during a run or race, never (and I mean NEVER) under any circumstances, tie it back. The distraction of the shoe lace makes the miles go by much faster and your cardiovascular functioning is improved dramatically as you attempt to avoid tripping.

Rule # 2: It’s absolutely acceptable to run in your cowboy boots, skirt and hat. As a matter of fact, this is a good thing. Running shoes are totally over-rated. Adding a pair of fringed chaps really adds to the look.

Rule #3: Bedazzle your outfit. Glue guns and felt monkeys on your running clothes make them a lot cuter. Stitching various jewels, charms and stuffed animals to a pair of shorts makes for a beautiful and head-turning ensemble.

Rule #4: To better compliment the bedazzling of your running attire, earrings and jewelry are fully acceptable. Multiple bracelets lined up on the arm and earrings that hang to your shoulders provide nice “sparkling touches” to your already winning smile as you are photographed crossing the finish line.

Rule #5: Dragonflies are good luck. Never squash, run over or leave behind a dragonfly. EVER! You will live to regret it and be cursed, by the evil dragonfly witch, for the rest of your life. Dragonflies must be gently placed upon the index finger and carried slowly across the entire course, EVEN if it means it takes you an hour and a half to complete the 5k event.

Rule #6: Stray dogs really do want to come home with you. Plus chasing after them during your race actually improves your cardiovascular functioning.

Rule #7: Wearing fairy wings to a competitive track workout or a race makes you run faster and makes you cooler than anyone else on the planet. Period. Conversation over.

Rule #8: Carrying a large sequined, over-the-shoulder purse for your essential girl items, like tic tacs, bubble gum, lip gloss and hair barrettes during a run or race is absolutely acceptable if not completely necessary.

Rule #9: Wearing as many hair accessories as possible holds the hair in place better than one simple ponytail holder. To further compliment the look, consider painting your hair, pink, green or purple. You don’t paint the hair, however, to look good or cool. No, you paint the hair because it makes your sweat look like the stuff that comes out of Mia Hamm or Michael Jordon in those really awesome Gatorade ads.

Plus if you are in middle school it scares your parents into thinking that you have joined a band and will soon be leaving for Southern California.

Rule #10: Carrying Cheetos, potato chips, blue pop rocks or any other totally non-nutritive substance in a plastic ziploc baggie, stopping to unzip, sample a few, and then re-zip while in a running event, is a good and sound nutritional plan. (See Rule #8 to round-out the experience.)

Rule #11: Throwing up at the finish line means you have finally made the big leagues.
Only accomplished runners throw-up. What’s really cool about this can be better understood if you read Rule #10.

Rule #12: Watching and waiting for the little brown bunny, with the white tail and white paws and cute little nose to come back out in someone’s front yard, at the two mile mark, is fine, even if it adds 15 minutes to your 5k time.

Rule #13: Why bother with an Ipod? Reading a large, hardback illustrated picture book, while running across a dirt trail is a helpful way to discourage boredom from overtaking your long runs.

Rule #14 (and by far the most important and useful rule): When in doubt…and at any point during a workout or race, when you just don’t think you can go on anymore, no matter WHERE you are, lie down.

Rule #15: Be sure you know how to spit before you actually try it. This rule is very, VERY important to your teammates and the other people running beside you.

Rule #16: Everyone has a unique talent and finding that unique talent during a long run is a perfectly acceptable and very likely place to discover it.

• Burping the ABC’s;
• Jump roping, while running the track;
• Playing the guitar like a chicken and running at the same time;
• Singing opera like a cow.

So there it is. Calm down, chill out and run your next 5k…Girls on the Run STYLE!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Boy and His Earring

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
Benjamin Spock

Alright I admit it. I don’t have this whole parenting thing down to any kind of science. As a matter of fact, I sometimes get a little bit scared that I missed the class. You know…THE ALMIGHTY PARENTING CLASS…the one that magically exists in some land somewhere that provides all the mothers and fathers of the world, a tried and true approach to every circumstance they encounter with their children. All answers that rise up from this tried and true approach are of course always right and always productive.

Hank is in eighth grade. It’s been fun watching him mature, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and socially over the last year. He’s made some major decisions lately that show he is really thinking through to the consequences of his behavior.

Not too long ago, he walked into my room. “Mom, I’m old enough for an earring now. I’ll even pay for it.” I looked up from the book I was reading, peered over my reading glasses and quickly rolled through the rolodex of possible responses. Because I couldn’t find one that satisfied me I went for the tactic all parents use when they don’t have a response, which is the “repeat verbatim response.” “Oh…okay…so…mmmm…Hank, you think you are old enough for an earring and you are even going to pay for it.”


Seeking more time to thumb through the parental rolodex, I slowly closed my book and pulled my glasses to my lap. Still stuck, I panicked and went to the “when you have no idea” category and responded with the second most used parental phrase in the universe…the “lemme think about it phrase.”

“Hank, lemme think about it.”

Of course I was hoping that he would forget that he had ever wished for an earring and the entire request would just magically go away.

Well…no such luck. He got his report card a couple of weeks ago. On it were the results of this young man’s very hard work. Holding the report card he moved in for approach number two. “See? I’m mature enough now. Check these grades out. What do you think Mom…about the earring now?”

It was clear the earring obsession was here to stay. “Alright, if you are willing to pay for it, tend to the physical care needed and you feel pretty sure that you are an earring kind of guy, I say go for it.”

This past weekend he did. He got his ear pierced at the mall with his best bud Sam. He didn’t go for a small demure little black number or even a small silver stud. Nope…not Hank. He got a big ole’ heavy diamond knocker that pulled his earlobe down a few millimeters closer to his shoulder.

He got in the car, with his hat on.

“Let me see it,” I said trying to be as nonchalant as possible.

He lifted the brim of his hat upwards and revealed the sparkling gem. I longed for a camera to mark this delicious moment in his adolescence…the photo I would show at weddings (if there ever was to be one), reunions and of course, to his son when HE requested an earring.

“How does it feel to be sporting an earring there buddy?” I asked, trying SO hard to keep any semblance of a grin tucked beneath the brim of my lips.

He was quiet for at least thirty seconds.

“I’m not sure I like it,” he said.

“Alright then. Live with it a while and see how you feel.”

Two hours later, I’m in my room folding clothes when I hear the words I knew were coming…just sooner than I had expected.

Hank is standing in the bathroom, staring at his reflection and he is shouting, “Who am I kidding? Who am I KIDDING? WHO am I kidding? Mahhhhhhhmmmm…will you come in here and help me get this thing out?”

After some prying and prodding to his tender earlobe, the earring was removed.

“Do you feel better?” I asked.

“Yeah…more like myself. I’m just not an earring kind of guy.”

Whatever the outcome had been, I’m thrilled to know that my son is beginning to as Plato strongly encourages each of us, “know himself”. I’m grateful for the open relationship we have with each other, one that honors him as he digs through life’s “dress-up box” to try on different “outfits.” Some will be discarded, others worn for only a brief period, but how joyous and beautiful the moments when he lands on those hats, boxers and those metaphoric (or real) bright yellow skinny jeans that will stick with him, develop him and honor the man he is becoming.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Letter to My Younger Self

Several months ago I was asked to write a "letter to my younger self" for a magazine. The concept was based on a fabulous book authored by Ellyn Spragins entitled "What I Know Now: Letters to my Younger Self." Her website is When you get a minute visit it. The idea is based on that old saying that if I knew then what I know know how it goes. Here is the letter I wrote to myself. I invite you to do the same. Amazing what we really knew back then...but were just afraid to unleash!
Year 2009
Dear Molly:

You are quite remarkable, you know. Everyone around you sees it. That sparkle in your eye…it was there the day you were born and is irrefutably the most beautiful part of you.
I know, though, that at such a young age it might be hard for you to see it. As bright as your spirit is, the world tells girls, especially girls with a wild and wonderful side, that how you look is more important than who you are. But Molly, I’ve got a wonderful and powerful secret for you. Anytime, you feel less than, ugly or somehow unworthy, you can (and I know this is hard to believe right now), listen to the inner voice inside of you that knows better.

I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that because I’m 48…and it looks like I’ve got it so together. But truthfully, in many ways, I’m no different than you. I have fears and doubts just like you. Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that I scream and shout and cry so hard I think my heart will burst, but the beauty of growing older and living a rich and often troubled life is the perspective it provides. “This too shall pass” was an expression your mom used to always say, and I didn’t quite understand what it meant until I got older and realized that the goal in life wasn’t always to be happy, but to be content.

Yeah…I’ve got news for you. Life isn’t always easy or fun. Sometimes it hurts so much you will feel like you want to scream and shout and run away. The pain sometimes will be unbearable. But you will survive, because that little inner voice is never fully gone. She is just waiting for you when you are ready to rediscover her.

Boys? Oh my God. In several years you’ll discover the power of your own sexuality and how easy it is to use it to get the attention the outside world tells you, you need to be pretty, popular and happy. But truth is, you already have everything you need to be whole. Oh, but I forgot you already know…that inner voice reminds you of that every morning when you head out the door for your morning run. When you are alone with the sunrise, the chilled morning air and the sound of your footsteps on autumn leaves, you hear her, talk to her and love her. But once the school day starts and the noise of the ”should and ought to” voices take over, she gets tucked away. That’s okay. Running will be your sanctuary, the window in your day, when you hear her and your power, beauty and strength are celebrated.

There is much irony in writing this letter to you. I want to tell you that you will be okay and that all the pain, fear and self-doubt you will feel and that will challenge who you are and at times in your life actually challenge your willingness to live, are going to lead you to your life’s calling, the wonder of parenthood and even your serving as role model to many, many girls your age now. But I can’t. No matter how much I want to protect you, warn you and tell you that you are beautiful, whole and powerful, this is something you will have to realize in your own time and in your own language.

Just know, Molly, that in those darkest moments, those most vulnerable moments, those moments when it’s hard to breathe and the ability to see outside the moment is blinded by self-doubt, you are not alone. I’m waiting on the other side…the powerful you. The woman you have become. Empowered, beautiful and overwhelmingly grateful that the life you are creating is mine.

I love you, Molly.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Danica Patrick, Beauty and Why It Matters

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."
-Tom Peters

I must be paying attention because I’m really, really confused. My son Hank receives Sports Illustrated in the mail and this week’s issue is the swimsuit edition.
Interestingly enough, it was resting in the trash can next to the mailbox when a small photo on the upper right hand corner caught my eye. Danica Patrick who made her Indy Car debut in 2005 was, for the second year in a row, one of the women gracing the interior of this week’s “sports” edition.

Danica Patrick, 26, became the fourth woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 and was the first to win an Indy Car race, taking the Indy Japan 300 title in 2008.

Danica Patrick has also appeared in Playboy Magazine, Maxim and FHM.

So here is where my confusion sets up for competition, two voices each gearing up for the race to the checkered flag. One shouts “She sold out. She caved to the overpowering and seductive ploy by the men in power who profit from treating women as nothing more than objects. Individually she gains money and attention, but in doing so negates and demeans the efforts of every other female athlete, who has worked hard, persevered and honed their athletic talents to achieve amazing accomplishments. She has minimized her athleticism and reduced herself to nothing other than a sexual object …a two dimensional photo with no voice, no intrinsic talent and no meaningful contribution to the world, other than inspiring men to lust, want and objectify her for their sexual needs and fantasies.”

The other voice calmly suggests, “She is only 26. What would you have done? She is leveraging the power she has in the male-dominated sports industry to achieve financial independence and power. Sure, she is allowing herself to be objectified, but isn’t she somehow gaining power in doing so? She chose to position herself as an object. What other alternatives are there for a young woman in her position? Most male athletes are receiving multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals. It is highly likely that the only way she could solicit that kind of income from sponsors and endorsements is by doing exactly as she has done. She is laughing all the way to the bank. “

At age 15, I ran my first 3 miles. I was the basketball team manager and during practice one rainy, dreary winter day, I set out focused and determined. I covered three miles on the dirt track at my school.

I walked back into the gym as practice finished up. The boys noticed me…striped with dirt up the backside of my body, rivulets of water streaming from hair ends, strands of it carelessly tossed about my neck and shoulders. Dirt and grime were trapped on eyebrows, between teeth and behind my ears.

Not a single boy said a word…but their coach did.

“How far’d ya go, Molly?”

“Three miles,” I replied. He shook his head with positive disbelief.

“Amazing,” he sighed.

I felt the most beautiful I had ever felt in my whole life.

My daughter Helen is on the cusp of womanhood. She is in fifth grade. She is radiant, alive and joyful. She is very good at being. I love to watch her do the things she loves to do…acting, writing, playing with our dogs, running with me. I am struck by how beautiful she is. The way the sun magically sparkles in her hair when she is running beside me; the way the first drops of sweat that arise on her skin shimmer and shine. I am struck by how simple it all is…how beauty is just a way of being…it is sharing our most real and authentic self with others. True beauty is allowing others to see the dirt, the cracks, the crevices, the flaws, the sweat and the profoundness of WHO we are, uncovered, genuine and emotionally bikini clad, leaving one or two mysterious slivers of who we are covered for only us to know.

I am aware as I write this that my confusion rests not in why or why not Danica Patrick and other women give in to the plastic definitions of beauty--the definitions that portray us as flawless, empty, sexual objects. No I’m confused as to why I care so much; why I’m angered by it. Why I’m infuriated by it really. I’m confused as to why it hits me like a kick to my gut. Why each time I take a lap around the emotional track of this conversation, I’m angry, then sad, and if I’m completely honest with you jealous. Jealous that one of MY sisters opted out…she somehow cheated me by cutting the turn too close and in doing so left me in her dust.

But as I watch Helen, poised right there at the starting line, firing her engines and preparing for adolescence, I realize that what I really want is to embrace a deep level of tenderness toward Danica and all of my sisters…I yearn to obtain a welcoming understanding that what we all want really, is to feel beautiful, fully accepted and unconditionally loved just as we are.

I will continue to honor Danica for her athletic talents, her courage to compete in a sport that is dominated by men, her incredible hand to eye coordination and her willingness to challenge the status quo on the race track. I will also honor her as my sister, complete as she is and as a woman free to make choices that confuse me…and that have me wondering if she believes that by posing as an airbrushed bikini-clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, she can somehow be more beautiful than she already is.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Body...My Property

Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself. ~John Locke

What motivates us to run? In the early day, what motivated me to train for marathons wasn’t what it is now. There was this kind of physical self-loathing that put me through the rigor of training…this unrealistic and tough expectation of myself, rooted in the need to prove something to somebody. I would get easily irritated when something interfered with my training schedule. Injuries were a nuisance and I would have them frequently, not willing to slow down long enough to let them heal. What I ate, how much I slept and what I did on Friday nights was largely determined by the long run I would take on Saturday mornings.

In 1993, on July 7th all that changed. A sudden increase in awareness during a 6 mile run revealed to me what I'd been seeking in all that marathon training and even in the self-loathing. A need for oneness, a union between body, thought, action...the revelation that running provides for me the one time in my day where I have complete and total ownership of every cell, every thought, every breath. Running is THE space in my day where my body is not an object...separate from the "me". It IS me, my thoughts, my flow, my essence. I own it and no matter what surrounds me, I own the space, the breath, the voice, the body, the spirit that is uniquely mine.

I know I'm not alone in that experience. Sierra was in fifth grade. Sierra was a big girl--some of the other girls in her class called her fat. Sierra was about five two and probably weighed about 160. When Sierra read magazines, all the models were thin, beautiful and sexy. They all had really nice cars and didn’t have to work when they were fifteen. All those actresses wore makeup, smoked cigarettes and confused her because her mama, a good strong woman told her, “That stuff isn’t good for you,” but she thought maybe if she tried it she’d be beautiful too.

Sierra was in Girls on the Run.

Two thirds of the way through the 12-week program the girls get a chance to practice a 3.1 mile run or walk. Sierra did not believe she could do it. While the majority of girls in the group were running by her, I could see Sierra look on with envy. “My body can never do this.”

While Sierra had stubbornly drudged through two miles, all of the other girls had finished and were already socializing on a nearby picnic table.

Among them was Jordan. Jordan was the fastest runner. She was skinny and in third grade. Jordan always finished first. Jordan noticed something special on that day. She noticed that Sierra had gone further than she ever had. She walked to the edge of the track. “Sierra, you’ve gone further than you ever have. Come on, you can do it,” she yelled joyfully.

And in that moment, I witnessed a light—THE light—sparkle in Sierra’s eyes. The realization that “I can do this” transformed her stroll into a jog, her attitude into a kick and her body into a machine. With every ounce of her being, Sierra started jogging first, then running, huffing and puffing every step of the way. She smiled with each step--moving that big, strong, bold body effortlessly around the pavement.

Before the last lap was complete all 16 girls had joined her. She had done it. The body that never would--could. A smile, as big as California, stretched across that beautiful brown face; sweat glistened on her brow.

On that day, Sierra took her body back. She took it back from the magazines, from the movies and from the MTV images. She took her body back from the teacher that told her she was lazy and from the girl who called her fat. Big. Strong. Beautiful. Bold. Her body was her body and she took it back.

What motivates us to run varies as much as those who run. But for me, thanks to Sierra and the other beautiful and diverse girls that I celebrate at finish lines all across the country, I now run for joy, wonder and gratitude for this remarkable thing we call the human spirit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

That Voice is My Voice

“…and there was a new voice.”

Mary Oliver

I’m in the beautiful state of California and have been here for almost a week. Wow. Sunshine, warmth AND a chance to spend time with our GOTR-Sonoma County folks. Am I lucky or what? I had the opportunity to speak at a kick-off breakfast for the “Human Race.” When you get a chance. Check out their video. Very powerful, very fun and a very good idea!

Right now it is 4:52 a.m., California time and I’m preparing for a busy day of travel. The day brings rain and I can hear the traffic already building on the interstate adjacent to my “airport” hotel.

On my way here I read a book about prayer and meditation. I find that my need for quiet time seems to be on the rise. Sometimes amidst my busy day it’s nearly impossible to find it. David Keller, the author of this book, Come and See, suggests that we can find quiet in our daily work by simply applying an intention to what we are doing. EVERY experience provides an opportunity to connect with that internal voice…the quiet one that we often CAN’T hear when we are surrounded by all the noise of our have-to, should and ought-to voices.

This morning I came across a poem my Mom sent me some time ago…when I was in the midst of trying to determine which path to take at a tough time in my personal life. I was stuck at what many would call a fork in the road and I simply could not make a decision. The burden of not knowing which route to take was consuming my thoughts…and truly distracting me from the simple joys in life.

And so, as a way to honor the busy day that I have ahead of me and to seek the quiet that rests in between the suitcases, shuttles, airplanes, flight attendants and conversation with the person in the seat next to me, I want to share this poem…for those times when we are stuck…unsure…confused and anxious about where to go and to whom we should listen.

So…take a few deep breaths…three would be great…and enjoy.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— Mary Oliver

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Visit with Silence

Some time ago, my daughter, Helen asked me what being
“high mainte-

“That’s easy,” I said. “I am NOT high maintenance.”

I explained that the expression high maintenance was a term which refers to a woman (more often than not) who spends an inordinate amount of time on her appearance.

I went on to explain, that other than monthly highlights to hide the little bit of grey in my hair, I was very low maintenance. I have all of my original body parts. I use no additives, fillers or preservatives to smooth the approaching signs of age across my face. I don’t get pedicures or manicures, other than an imaginary one during “beauty parlor” hour with Helen; AND I am proud to report that I can get from the finish of a run to work-ready clothing and appearance in less than 25 minutes.

Helen thought for a minute. “Mom, I think I’m just maintenance, then.” Leave it to an 8 year old to find the space of in-between, neither high nor low, but perfectly balanced between the extremes.

Several years ago I was dealing with a very stressful personal situation. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I was frequently sick, often irritable for no real explainable reason and was having this strange sensation under my skin like pins and needles. I went to the doctor, hoping in some kind of perverse way that he might reveal some hidden disorder that was causing my skin irritations, frequent outbursts and overall malaise.

“Are you stressed, perhaps? More than usual?” I remember wanting to laugh out loud, thinking, “What? Do I look stressed? Two kids under the age of 4, I’m training for a marathon, I’m sick and tired all of the time, I’ve got this business I’m trying to get started, financial strains are inevitable and this other thing that is on my mind 24/7 is eating me up from the inside out? What? Me stressed? You’ve got to be kidding.

“Maybe, a little.” I responded.

“Well, let’s consider this prescription.” He quickly scribbled out something that started with an X (and it wasn’t xylophone, the only word, until then, I had ever been aware of that really started with the letter X), handed it to me, and sent me off with, “This should help.”

Darn it, I thought. No severe illness, immune disorder or digestive malfunction. I was…like many other new mothers well-done, cooked and stressed out to the max.

The car ride home was no fun. I felt defeated, deflated and a little bit afraid. There was no sound at all, other than the hum of my car’s engine and the choir of voices in my head, all competing for lead vocal.

“See? You really are stressed out,” the sympathetic one agreed.
“Poor thing, you’ve got so much on your plate,” the enabling one chimed in.

“You are pathetic. You are completely incapable of managing your life,” the shaming one declared.

Yet, mysteriously, one voice rose above all of the others. This voice was different. She was quiet, hollow and delicate; seductive, powerful and resilient.

She was the voice of Silence. I hadn’t heard her for years…not since my chaotic life had pushed her aside. I wanted to visit with her again.

So, the next morning, I drove to the cross country course at a nearby college and ran 8 miles across paths I’d never known existed. I heard the squish of my feet on wet, black leaves, my breathing as it fell in sync with my footsteps and my heartbeat when I paused at the crest of a hill. My fingertips were white with cold and my body was sweat-drenched with effort.

I thought of nothing. I thought of everything. I thought of sorrow, loss and fear, as I ran beneath dry crooked kudzu vines clutching tree limbs made barren by winter’s cold. I thought of gratitude, wonder and anticipation as I ran across brown grassy fields soon to be warmed by the chilled red light of winter’s sunrise.

My friend Silence was there, on that run and in those woods. I found comfort in her strength…the way she gently led me from the world outside myself to an internal space where time was suspended and demands on me and my time were eliminated. I just was: running…breathing…listening…peaceful.

Now, I take a long run in the woods at least once a week to visit Silence. I always find her in the woods, nestled in behind the soft scent of honeysuckle in spring or rising up in the dry red dirt of blazing summer sun. She tells me things that the demanding external world doesn’t, like: I’m a good mother; in time all will work out as it should; be grateful for what I have; celebrate this run, this day, this breath.

So while I’m not big on maintaining my nails, skin or hair, I won’t let anything interfere with my regularly scheduled appointment with Silence. The prescription I opted for was to meet with her every day now…sometimes it’s thirty minutes in the morning before my kids are awake or writing as I’m doing now, but always and forever during my weekly run in the woods.

I’d like to think I’m just “maintenance,” like my daughter, Helen. But I’m not. I’m a high maintenance woman.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Self of Steam

Of course, one of our main objectives is to help girls hold onto their self-esteem through the middle school years...but for this fabulous eight-year old...her self of steam is pretty powerful too!