Friday, December 31, 2010

Parenting

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years." - Mark Twain

So...no one said that parenting would be easy. Actually no one said anything much about parenting. What I heard from most folks was how having kids would fill my life with boundless joy. Somewhere in all the mix of that conversation, no one spent much time conversing on the topic of parenting itself. Surely, when I was pregnant and joyfully ingnorant about what lay ahead did anyone say, "Good luck, sister. Parenting is hard and at times you will question the very foundation upon which YOU have built your entire life."

I write this morning smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. My children are nestled in bed...well that's not totally true...one is nestled underneath a blanket on a couch in the living room, cell phone hanging by its cord half way off the couch next to her and the other is nestled in the guest bedroom of his best buddy's house, my last contact with him was at 1:20 a.m. this morning.

I am the mother to two teenagers. That alone makes those who have been through it shake their heads and then respectfully offer up the secret handshake as former members to the "parent-to-teen" fraternity. Before I entered the land of teendom I used to say things like, "Oh...it can't be that challenging. I have an open relationship with my kids. They know they can trust me to be a resource for them when they are troubled" or how 'bout this little ditty. "I actually look forward to the challenges of the teen years. It is through those challenges that we will find strength. It is through those challenges that the hard edges of our exteriors are worn down to reveal the shining light from within." (Is this where the sappy music plays and the playful giggles of children dances upon the air?)

Yep...all the glory of language and the mantra of collaborative parent-child parenting worked so well...at least while things were easy and my kids were still...well...little kids.

But I've got news for you. It's not easy. The first line in one of my favorite books of all time "The Road Less Traveled" states that "Life is difficult."

Ironically, what I'm discovering, though, isn't that life is difficult, but that accepting that life is difficult is the difficult part (Does that make sense? Please tell me that makes sense!)...especially when you are a teenager and you haven't lived long enough to see that "this too shall pass" and that everything really is gonna be okay. As the mother to teenagers nothing is harder for ME than seeing my children grapple with the difficult parts of THEIR lives and their resistance to accept that it is difficult and is just gonna be really hard at times. Maybe its about time I accept it, too.

I'm not sure why I find myself writing about this, this morning. I know that whenever I post a status on my Facebook page such as "Hang in there" or "This too shall pass" or "Life is hard--accept it and then the hard isn't something to dread," I get literally dozens of "thanks you's" from people who need to hear it too.

And so this morning, I'm not sure who I'm writing to or for. Maybe it's you or maybe it's me. Or maybe my teenage children or yours...but the fact remains. Life is hard and can feel SO hard that we get frustrated, impatient and at times downright shaking-in-our-boots fearful; but I know, having lived to the ripe ole' age of 50,that interlaced somewhere in all that hard, icky stuff really does lie a soft chewy middle--something my teens and I will eventually sink our teeth into--something that really will push us to a deeper center and a place of greater joy and richer, more meaningful connections--something that will undoubtedly taste so good and be so sweet, if we just stick it out.

So...the secret is out. Parenting is hard. So is life. Secret handshake revealed.

Gratitude comes in the strangest of places and at the most interesting times.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Circuits of Our Highest Potential















“There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.” Rusty Burkus

I am a very visual person. I immediately react to images as they come in through my eyes. I also do my greatest works of creation with my eyes closed. I can spend minutes a day, “picturing” what I wish to see in the world.

I’ve been attending many of our New Balance Girls on the Run 5k’s across the nation. Our numbers have been growing exponentially. Thousands and thousands of people are coming to the events. Virtually every city that hosts a New Balance Girls on the Run engages multiple tiers across their communities. We are no longer just impacting girls…but entire communities.

When I started Girls on the Run, my vision, while detailed and focused on the individual girl, also encompassed a larger viewpoint. In the very first materials, I discussed frequently of “the Girl Box” and the restraining limitations it’s placement over our bodies, voices and spirits had on our potential. I spoke often of “shattering that Girl Box” and creating a world where all girls and women are free to be themselves. The Girl Box was a metaphor for the gender stereotypes that cultures/societies/religions/political systems/familial systems (basically people) use to place others in a subordinate group in an effort to elevate themselves to a position of dominance.

Ironically, what I didn’t know at the time was…that my belief (along with constant conversation on the topic) in the Girl Box’s control over girls and women was actually a form of supporting its continued existence. The more I spoke of its control, the more control it had. When I viewed an airbrushed and dramatically altered image in a magazine, I was enraged. When I learned that one of my friends had chosen to “enhance” her breasts, I was both angered and judgmental of her. When I saw (at the time) Britney Spears and other teen idols perform with little to no clothing, I was furious. I was furious at them for “caving in” and I was angry at a culture that suggested that caving was the way to success, popularity and fame.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was how much all that anger was simply a form of giving the Girl Box more power. The angrier I got at it, the more it seemed to come up everywhere. The more I resisted it, the more it seemed to wedge its way into my life. The more I spoke of its existence, the more frequently I found it in people, magazines and circumstances. The Girl Box “context/filter” was affecting every byte of data coming into my reality.

Over the last several years has come a softening of that resistance. I’m not angry at it anymore. I just choose not to focus on it anymore and to focus on those instances, people and circumstances which free us, love us and lift us up. I think that Girls on the Run was the universe’s way of providing me with that freeing and unique perspective…one that I had trouble finding all on my own.

“That image is airbrushed and altered. How interesting that someone would consider this beautiful. Beautiful to me, is a woman draped beneath her natural skin. Character lines across her brow, around her eyes and lips, tell the story of a life well-lived. Breasts that naturally fall upon her chest are there to share the wonder of her changing femininity and the depth of her evolution. That image is airbrushed. I give it no attention, power or meaning.”

“My friend chose to get her breasts enhanced. How interesting. I love her so much. She helped me through a difficult time in my early sobriety. She has been a symbol of strength for many in how she managed her husband’s untimely and early death. She is a woman on her way, evolving, as I am evolving with every minute that passes.”

I pass up on the entertainment magazines that compare, gossip, bully and pass judgment on entertainers and opt for publications that tell stories of their perseverance, dedication to their craft and noteworthy performances.

Interestingly, I thought it would take decades and decades to eliminate the Girl Box…but ironically it doesn’t exist in my life anymore. Alright, so occasionally it will crop up…more so around my age these days then around my gender. It usually comes when I’m tired, ungrounded or too rushed…but I just recognize that the beliefs attached to it are those I can either choose to accept or not…and of course I choose not to accept them. Why would I choose to spend time with anything, person or situation (even a thought) that would limit the magnificence of who I am and what I bring to this world?

I find that I am no longer angry. Anger at the existence of the Girl Box or any other limitation on us suggests somehow that we have no control over those limitations. But the truth is…we do. We can control our thoughts and our actions…and every small action, word and thought I have which gives power to those things that enhance my potential is in essence not a shattering of the Girl Box but the elimination of its existence at all.

I stand at each finish line and watch the exuberant and radiant girls as they lift their hands high and realize that the Girl Box, not only has no control over her, but doesn’t EVEN exist in her reality. Our task, as leaders within this organization is not to resist or be angry at the Girl Box, but to join HER in her reality and recognize, once and for all, that the Girl Box is simply a figment of our culture’s imagination.

In her world, limitations don’t exist. In her world, we are free, limitless and able with each thought, action and word we choose to live our lives as she does…exuberant, radiant and with our arms, hearts and souls held high for the world to embrace, honor and celebrate! As a matter of fact, we expect nothing less. Look at me!!!! I’m amazing and so are you!!!!

Isn’t that why we are all somehow attracted to Girls on the Run? Here we can unravel from the imaginary world we’ve believed was real and connect to something that is truly real, pure, box-less and authentic. How has Girls on the Run helped you recognize and achieve your potential? What limiting (and imaginary) beliefs did you choose to accept before you came to Girls on the Run? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Letter To My Younger Self

Recently our local NPR station re-broadcast a show featuring Ellyn Spragins. The show featured her book entitled "Letters to My Younger Self." At that time, I was asked to write a letter to my younger self, that would be featured in a local publication entitled "Charlotte Parent." This led me to re-read the letter. As I've suggested, something about the holidays seems to lead me to a space of memory...certainly to an array of emotions that are deeply felt. In honor of that space I'm re-delivering the previous blog (from a couple of years ago) entitled Letter to My Younger Self. I encourage you to write one. There is something quite cathartic and even healing about writing it.

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 http://www.letterstomyyoungerself.com/. When you get a minute visit it. The idea is based on that old saying that if I knew then what I know now...well...you 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, November 25, 2010

The Simple Things...Gratitude Runs Deep















I’m not sure why the melancholy comes during the holiday season. Perhaps it’s the remembering of an unsettled childhood…or perhaps it’s the recognition of things left undone or that can never be. I know that the holidays provoke within me a deep sense of sorrow, gratitude, yearning, wonder, love, tenderness, peace. The amalgam of emotions is so…so…diverse it’s hard to settle on just one.

I am grateful for so much…my life, in many ways, feels like a fairytale. I often feel as if much of what IS happening is a bit surreal. This small baby of mine, Girls on the Run, is growing exponentially thanks to the support of so, so many loving, passionate and caring people.

And yet, now as I write to you I feel this tug to remember, honor and celebrate those individuals who have given much to me over the years…who are often not directly linked to my work…but who have impacted it without even knowing. The list is infinite but here goes a small first try:

Hank: My boy, my son, young man. You have given much of your time, your story and your own life…so that your mom can travel the world sharing her heart with so many others. I know it’s hard sometimes being my son. You are trying so hard to navigate the waters from little boy to strong man, just as any young man would, but to do this in what often feels like a world with a thousand eyes watching…I know this can be challenging. I love you my boy. I am grateful for your strength.

Helen: My girl, my daughter, young woman. You have joyfully shared me, your Mom, with thousands and thousands of other girls…and at times I know this was challenging for you. Yet now…yes now that you are a young woman, I’m beginning to see you joyfully share yourself with the girls in Girls on the Run. I am grateful for your willingness to step up.

James: My ex-husband….yeah YOU! We’ve been through a lot over the years, but I think we’ve graciously come around full-circle to the place we now occupy. I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately about the early days of Girls on the Run and frankly, my friend…it would have never had the wings to fly had it not been for your willingness to, at least for the short term, release your own professional aspirations so I could heed the call. I am grateful for the lessons we learned and the space we now occupy.

Connie…James’ wife. Surprised? Not really. You are so strong. Take away the connection we have through my children and just give me you. You have served as a role model for me in so many ways. You are a strong assertive and noble woman who has shown me, more times than you realize, how to stand up for what I believe in. I am grateful for your power.

Lacy, my dog, my friend, my confidante. Honey…you’ve been through all of it with me, my new life as a single mother, the fears, the tears and the growth…and remained loyal, loving and present. You are an old woman now and your leap isn’t quite what it used to be. You tire easily, but you are always right there next to me, even now, you rest at my feet as I write. I love you sweetie and am grateful for your unconditional love.

All the children, spouses and “extras” connected to Girls on the Run. I recognize the work we do is intense and at times, pulls your wife, mom, father, partner away from time with you. I honor you for allowing them to do their work and change the world. You are as much a part of that change, as they are. I am grateful for your understanding.

Chase, Matt, Maggie, Suzy, Tripp,Josh, Blake and the many other young men and women who have helped care for my children when I travel. I’ve often said that it takes a village to raise my children. You have all, in your authentic and uniquely-spirited way shared a piece of yourselves with my children, who have through knowing you, grown, matured and become the people they are becoming. I am grateful for your ability to love my children and to be there for them, when I cannot.

Gloria, honey I saw you yesterday and maybe that’s why you are on my mind today…my homeless friend, who sits with me and my children, for an hour or more, to share a cup of hot chocolate, on those occasions when the world brings us into the same physical space. You are so bright, so genuine and so beautiful. You have welcomed me and my children into your unique and sometimes frightening view of the world...the turmoil of your childhood, the choices you had to make to just survive it...you remind me, my dear, of why my work is so important. You have brought more gratitude into the minds, bodies and souls of Hank and Helen than you realize. I am grateful for your beauty.

John, the caring and tender “bag boy” at our local grocery store who always asks about the kids first and then my work. People like you are the salt of the earth, my man. Your disabilities soften you, open you and reveal your vulnerabilities in a way that comforts, soothes and welcomes others into your space. You keep me grounded, hopeful and recognizing how contented we can be. Over the years, your kindness has garnered quite a following. You help me to see how we can change the world…by how we treat one another…in the space we have been given. You remind me that my work is simply the accumulation of one relationship after the other...each as important and meaningful as the other. I am grateful for your hospitality.

My evolving relationship with Big Mama. Big Mama is the big me, the Divine me, the One who has stuck with me through thick and thin. The older I get the more I come to appreciate HER presence in my life. She is nameless really, but a powerful, powerful force which has carried me through it all. I am grateful for Her/My/Our evolving connection to and love for one another. Big Mama, we are in this together aren't we? My work exists because You do. What's next to challenge, love, push, pull and enrich us? I love you.

Oh…the list could continue forever. Really. Forever. The gratitude within me is welling up, over and flowing from every cell of my body! Joy to follow, Love to lift and Peace awaits! Who are a few of the less-often-thanked individuals who have impacted you? Will you have some time today to thank them? If not for real..how about in thought? Go on. Give it a shot. Happy Thanksgiving Ya’ll.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bullying and the Art of Catching a Softball













"Hate and force cannot be in just a part of the world without having an effect on the rest of it.” Eleanor Roosevelt

We’ve all been bullied…at least everyone I’ve ever talked to has experienced the painful attack of a bully whether it was directed at them or someone they knew.

When I was in fifth grade, we moved to a new neighborhood. Walking the new route home one day, some kids--about six of them waited in the bushes outside one of the houses on my route home. As I approached, they rushed out, pushed me to the ground, took off my shoes and my socks and ran off with them. I had to walk home the rest of the way in my bare feet.

Now this may seem like no big deal…but the truth was I was incredibly self-conscious of how “skinny” I was. In my mind I was the skinniest girl around and my legs were the skinniest in the whole universe…so skinny in fact that I always wore thick wool knee socks whether it was 20 degrees outside or 90 to camouflage both my thin calves and my insecurity showing them. (We had a dress code that required us to wear skirts or dresses every day.) Somehow the embarrassment I felt for my body had become evident to some of the kids in my new neighborhood and they capitalized on it.

For weeks, I altered my route home. I would take a different route each day, sometimes adding as much as ten minutes to my estimated time of arrival back home. I made every effort to avoid the girls at school, often holding back a much-needed visit to the bathroom to avoid running into them in the hall.

And then the bullying just stopped. One of the girls, the girl who had actually been the ringleader didn’t show up at school. For two weeks, she was absent. I remember feeling this incredible sense of relief. School felt safe again.

What I didn’t know at the time, but discovered later that year, was her older brother, a tenth grader at the local high school, had hung himself on the back porch of their home. She had found him when she came home one afternoon. Apparently, he had been struggling with his sexuality. Rumor had it that his father had repeatedly humiliated him for his apparent lack of masculinity and the kid just couldn’t live with his family anymore, much less himself.

We are all well aware of the effect bullying is having on kids. The news we hear on the topic tends to often focus on the extreme cases: The recent suicide of a Rutgers student after being videotaped without his knowledge; the young girl who committed suicide after a nude photo of her had been passed through hundreds of cell phones at her high school; a group of high school students (both boys and girls) who ruthlessly beat another girl to near death; the violent tug of a ponytail, by an opposing teammate, during a much publicized soccer game.

What we don’t often see or choose to give any attention to is the significant amount of bullying that goes on in the adult world. We either are oblivious to the fact that it occurs or we don’t want to fess up.

I admit that I’ve all but completely disengaged from the entire political debate because I am no longer willing to listen to the hateful and derogatory comments from all sides that are ultimately unproductive in and irrelevant to finding solutions.

I am excited by much of what is coming out of Hollywood these days; but am also challenged at times to find television shows, movies and news coverage of the Hollywood industry that don’t at times glamorize and glorify bullying behavior.

We, as adults, are becoming lazy. We bully the bully. We bully ourselves. We bully each other. We choose the easy route…the one that sieves it down into a few easy words…words which alienate…a quick fix to help us feel safe over here on our side…to feel connected to each other…even at the expense of those who don’t always fit our cultural, social, political or economic standard. We fight, claw and force our views on people with the language of anger, defensiveness and aggression because we need to win…win at all costs…to be right, victorious and vindicated.

Is it any wonder, based on the anger being expressed by adults in our culture that our children are bullying? Where we put our energy, time and conversations is where our culture and society will land. We create our reality with where we choose to put our vision. Children see and learn from the world around them. They are not inherently mean, racist, sexist, homophobic, or evil. They are simply the long arm of our own adult views. They are what we are. They see what we allow them to see. They become us.

I have never forgotten something Ms. Godfrey, my P.E. teacher, shared with me, not too long after the sock-stealing incident. She described the proper way to receive a softball in your bare hand. Rather than allow the ball to come straight into your hand…you should gently move your hand in the direction the ball is traveling, as you receive it. This way the impact is not hard, direct and painful to your palm…but instead the additional space it travels serves as a cushion, a buffer— a little extra time and space for the hand to absorb the impact.

I remember making the connection, even at that young age, that giving a bit of space between the harsh words of a bully and their impact to my spirit…was not only a good thing for me, but for them as well. To recognize that bullying is not okay and to confront bullying behavior in a healthy and assertive way meant also NOT “throwing it back” --that to receive the ball, deal with it assertively, constructively and with love rather than throwing it back with anger, words, name-calling and vengence was without question the bravest and most courageous contribution I could ever make to humankind. My impact is that great!

I realize now, that it is ALL just so darn connected. Of course, the issues surrounding racism, sexism, age-ism, homophobia, some elements of poverty, even war are very complex, but deep down I wonder if they aren’t really all the result of insecure people feeling the need to elevate their own status through the use of bullying words, actions and images, and that to end its painful and often life-threatening results someone has to be brave enough, secure enough and loving enough, to catch the ball and simply not throw it back.

And as I write to you now, I realize that I have much gratitude for the girls, who hid in those bushes, waiting for me. They showed me that being hurt doesn’t feel good and that years later I would, thanks in part to the pain I felt and the pain they felt consider creating a space where ALL girls and women, including them, could come together and know that they are loved—that part of being human means figuring it all out—evolving to a high place whether we are the bullied or the bully.

It’s not easy to be THAT secure and rooted in our own self-worth to view with compassion rather than judgment the anger and hurtful words of the bully, but I’m willing to try. How ‘bout you come along with me? Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we start a program…where all people can join…feel safe and know that they are loved. What do ya say?

What is your immediate response to this? Feel free to post. I’d love to hear.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Being Me. Being You. Being Us.

”To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. E.E. Cummings.

Lauren Kaminsky works in our Girls on the Run-Chicago office. You need to check out her blog sometime: www.chicagonow.com/outsidethegirlbox Back in July, I made the trek with Katy Brown and Liz Kunz, from the International office to announce our exciting new partnership with Garmin. I had the opportunity to meet Lauren. I also had the opportunity to meet Olivia.

Olivia rocked! She was vibrant, fun, a little nervous, honest, real, present and best of all her fabulous OLIVIA-SELF. Last week Lauren shared with me a beautiful tribute that Olivia wrote to share her thoughts about our experience of meeting each other.

Here it is:

Hi, my name is Olivia, and I am a Girls on the Run participant. I have had a wonderful experience by meeting Molly Barker, the Founder and Vision Keeper of Girls on the Run. When I first found out that Molly was coming to my town I was so excited, but then all my joy was drained when I found out my parents couldn’t take me. I was so upset, I thought that would be the perfect time to meet my hero. Then out of nowhere my guardian angel appeared and offered to take me. She was planning on going and had to pass my house so she picked me up!

Once I got to the Garmin store in Chicago, Illinois, I knew it was a day to remember! There was a giant Girls on the Run poster and all the employees were wearing Girls on the Run t-shirts. I ran though the door and I was overwhelmed with excitement. Then we were led upstairs for the main event, when I caught sight of Molly. Her smile filled the room with glee. And then it was my turn to meet Molly. I was definitely anxious, and I had butterflies in my stomach, but as soon as she spoke my anxiety was gone. I started to smile and immediately we got into a deep conversation. She kept saying things like “I love to meet Girls on the Run participants!” and I was so excited that I was finally able to qualify in that group. Then when we were in the middle of a conversation of “silly bandz” it was time to listen to her speech.

Molly talked about girls who had a wonderful experience in Girls on the Run and girls who accomplished great goals and all that she said was inspiring to me. I was sitting in the crowd thinking. Thinking how Molly has helped so many girls my age with so many problems that can be solved with a life changing run. And I realized that I wanted to be like Molly when I grow up.


Wow. What can I say? I share this with you because it made me cry. It opened me up. It made me realize how important being true to ourselves is as we push the mission of Girls on the Run forward. It reminds me of how important our work is in the lives of little girls.

It reminds me of my humanity!

Speaking at the Garmin event and/or any large event is something I truly enjoy! I have found that revealing my innermost self is, ironically, a much safer thing for me to do with a large group of unknown folks, than with those I know intimately. There isn’t the same chance for being hurt. If someone I don’t know rejects me…well…I can handle that. It doesn’t matter…at least not at the same level of “matter” that I risk if someone I know, respect and love, rejects me.

And yet…truthfully? There isn’t a single person within my circle of intimate friends who would reject me should I share myself completely. Not a one. The ability to be that open rests not in their response to me, but in my fear of a response that never will be.

And so…lately I’ve intentionally and almost forcefully had to make myself be a friend…not only in being a good listener, but in being a good talker/sharer/revealer. It’s been a little bit scary to admit I don’t have it all together…that I still have self-doubt…still struggle at times with relinquishing the Girl Box messages…that I sometimes feel as if I’m blazing a trail on my own and without direction…to admit that I feel anxiety at times…wonder if I have the strength and courage to mother two teenagers…confused, cry at night and shout out in anger.

I’ve noticed, though, that the more open I am, the more I receive. It’s like the blockages which have limited me from sharing my fears have been removed and made room for more “others” to feel safe in sharing theirs with me. The depth of my conversations with people…all people…not just those I know intimately, now well up from a beautiful and richer space. We get to the stuff that matters more quickly. There is an immediate comfort with each other, simply because I am more comfortable with myself…all of me…the raw, the real and the vulnerable…the strong, the brave and the courageous.

I credit Olivia, you, the girls and the spirit of Girls on the Run for this transformation…a space for me to practice self-acceptance and the power of trusting others …and then finding the courage to translate that into my personal life…to step outside my comfort zone and get real..I mean REALLY real with those closest to me. To admit my humanness and love myself not in spite of it, but because of it.
What ways has Girls on the Run helped you become a better friend, partner, spouse, sibling, daughter, person in your intimate relationships. Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm Scared and Excited, Both at the Same Time!

"Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable." Dr. Joyce Brothers

Alright folks. Remember a few weeks ago when I was incredibly nervous, overpreparing and thinking WAY too much about my TEDx talk. Well...here it is. In lieu of a post of any kind, I'm going to opt for sharing this. I have to admit it's a little bit scary putting myself out there into the universe like this...but where I keep coming back around to see...is that all of us, whether we are young, old, man, woman, left-brained, right-brained...we all just really want to know that we are loved.

And I am now willing to see and know that I am, without a doubt, loved and therefore know that sharing my story and the depth of WHO I AM is okay, safe and may possibly serve as an invitation for you to know that you too, can do the same.

Please feel free to share with others. I'd love it if this helped grow Girls on the Run and allow others to see the depth of our work. Or perhaps to see something new about themselves and in the process, set themselves free.




http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDxCharlotte#p/u/0/R85waJqmucQ

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Red Boot Unification Project

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelet

My Red Boots (note capitalization) are causing quite a stir…Not a serious one, but something about the boots is connecting with folks.

Last week I was having coffee in Caribou and a woman walked up and asked, “Are you Molly Barker?” I responded, “Yes.” She pointed at my boots and smiled, “It’s those boots.”

If you don’t know why the boots are important to me, let me pull up a few words from a previous post to put them Into context.

Today I turn 50 years old. My daughter bought me a pair of bright red cowboy boots. There is something significant, for me, about getting red cowboy boots on my 50th birthday. Fifty used to seem old. I am not old. Old people do not wear red cowboy boots. Kids don't buy their mom red cowboy boots if they think she is old. I recall an interview with Gloria Steinem. The man interviewing her said, “Well Ms. Steinem, you certainly don’t look 43 years old.” Her reply? “Well, honey…this is what MY 43 looks like.”

On the bottom of one boot, my 12 year old daughter wrote, “I love you so so so much.” And on the other boot she wrote, “Now there is just more age to love.”

Throughout the many years of delivering Girls on the Run I am always moved by the stories of the women and men who share themselves with our girls and our program…the stories of what it was like…confined and limited by their buy in to the stereotypes, behaviors and fear housed within the Girl and Boy Box…and what it is like now, free of those limitations. The specifics of each story vary, but rooted down at the core of each one rests the universal and irrational belief that “Who I am, is not good enough.”

Awareness is such a funny thing. The expression that a “fish doesn’t know it’s in water until it’s not” is just so true. The older I get the more I realize that I’ve spent so much of my life confined by the box…a box that is often defined by my gender…which is a whole other box altogether…not even aware that I was in it.

I started to push against the walls of the Girl Box when I began to fight them. Alcohol, excessive exercise, men, work, self-loathing…what I didn’t realize back then…that fighting the Girl Box was unnecessary and futile. Fighting only fueled it more. Giving any of my energy and attention to my anger at it and toward those I felt perpetuated it, bought into the belief that it existed in the first place.

In reality, the whole thing is made up. There are no Girl Boxes, Boy Boxes, restrictions on our potential. Where the mirage comes from would take days to analyze and list. Advertising? Yes. The media? Yes. Our families? Yes. Our culture? Yes. Our social circles? Yes. Our need to fit in? Yes. Our fear? Yes. But the reality is this. The Girl/Boy box is a lie, an untruth, an imaginary made up context/filter that we fuel with our belief that it is real, that it matters, that if I don’t believe in it, I am crazy and will be left behind.

Take a minute…and imagine…imagine what it would be like if you were free to express yourself. Imagine how it would feel and how you would show up to the world if you knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you were brilliant, magnificent, strong, and beautiful, just as you are.

Now, rather than imagine it, believe it…because you are. I am. We are. The only “thing” between you and your own magnificence, beauty and potential is your believing that you must be, act and conform to a set of standards that are non-existent, imaginary, make-believe.

The only thing between you and your highest self is you.

And that’s where those crazy Red Boots come in for me. Yeah…they are nothing more than a couple of boots, with a red pigment applied to them…but they represent my POWER…my power to step away from the irrational beliefs I’ve found myself buying into lately that I am getting “old” and that “old” means settling down, dimming my expressive self and slowing down somehow.

I am not done. No way, brothers and sisters. I’ve got a lot of work left to do in this world and these boots were made for walking…walking here, there and across the globe!

So I ask you…what talisman/token will you carry/wear/own that represents your willingness to shine, to be, to express yourself…to at last be free of the irrational thoughts and limitations you’ve allowed yourself to believe. What will you carry/wear/own that reminds you of your magnificence, brilliance and beauty. Go get it, find it, wear it TODAY. Why wait? WHY WAIT?

I know I often ask for responses, but in this case, I’m not kidding. Let me know. I need to know that I am not alone. Is it red boots? A gratitude stone to carry in your pocket? Is it a feather in your back pocket? What will you choose to set yourself free?

Let me know, right here, right now.

And while I've got ya...here’s a little psyche up song to get you on your way!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Girls on the Run Effect

“When we tire of well-worn ways, we seek the new. The restless craving within our soul spurs us to climb, and to seek the mountain view.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I came across this video a couple of weeks ago. It fired me up. It awakened something I hadn’t felt for a while. Restlessness. Take a minute and watch it.

Oh…I wish. I wish I could find a home for the restlessness in my spirit. It definitely ebbs and flows…but right now… I feel it strong, pulling, and tidal in its effect on me.

The spirit housed within Girls on the Run is immense, powerful and magnificent. Do you feel it? The wave? The movement? The call?

I remember the first visual tug of it. I was sitting on the porch of my Uncle’s beach house. November 1st, 1995. My son, Hank, was nestled softly into my arms. He was just six weeks old. The cold wind of approaching winter swirled around us while the sun, like soft down tucked into quilted comforter draped across our two bodies… persuasively warming me and my baby to find comfort in sleep.

We slept for a time…my feet firmly planted on the floorboards beneath…leaning back ever so slightly on the hard rocking chair. He and I were occasionally stirred by the creaking of old wood wrestling with the powerful strong wind.

I drifted in and out of sleep…the pull and push of much needed new mother-sleep with the overwhelming joy of wanting to stay awake and know the new life resting there in my arms.

When it just came--the vision of it--somewhere in between the conscious space of this world and the other one. I’m still so amazed by the clarity of it:

I was running…over fields and streams, fast and deliberate…first on the soft landscape of nature and then onto the hard asphalt of city streets and alley ways. When out of nowhere, they emerged…little girls. Tall, short, small, little, black, white, brown, long hair, short hair, ribbons, baseball caps, dresses and shorts. They were laughing, smiling, ponytails flying, arms pumping. They were breathing with intensity, smiling with joy and bounding with strength. Thousands of them came--from every corner, every alley, every street, every field, until I was lost in the sea of them--the movement, the joy, the push, the pull, the tug and lift.

We ran up what appeared to be an infinite set of steps to peak high atop, with our hands in the air, leaping for joy, running in place, smiles on our faces and a feeling of ONE. Our strength and power uniting us.

I feel a sense of that now with the breadth of the program and its incredible reach. All of us--coaches, council directors, volunteers, GOTRI staff—we are all running in that immense span of change, hope and love.

And yet to still feel this restlessness…to know Girls on the Run, to know that what we have is so beautiful, magnificent, transformative and available while so many girls are still tucked away, both realistically and metaphorically in alley ways, isolation and withdrawal.

I sit here now, oddly peaceful with the fact that our work will never be done, but hopeful enough to never, ever stop believing that it will be.

Where are you with your life's calling? Is there an ebb and a flow? Do you fire up and then bring it down? How do you balance your frustration, anger and restlesslessness with your hope, love and optimism? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm 50! I Can Kick, Stretch and Kick!














“Fifty years: here’s a time when you have to separate yourself from what other people expect of you, and do what you love. Because if you find yourself 50 years old and you aren’t doing what you love, then what’s the point?” Jim Carrey

Today I turn 50 years old. My daughter bought me a pair of bright red cowboy boots. There is something significant, for me, about getting red cowboy boots on my 50th birthday. Fifty used to seem old. I am not old. Old people do not wear red cowboy boots. Kids don't buy their mom red cowboy boots if they think she is old. I recall an interview with Gloria Steinem. The man interviewing her said, “Well Ms. Steinem, you certainly don’t look 43 years old.” Her reply? “Well, honey…this is what MY 43 looks like.

I come from a long line of very youthful folk. My mom was running and practicing yoga until the day of her death. She actually did run and practice yoga on the day of her death! My father, an avid sailor and squash player, was inhibited a bit by his years of cigarette smoking, but he would walk a brisk 18 holes of golf, in no time at all.

My brother was (and still is) an elite cyclist and my two sisters, are both athletes, but did not have the same benefits that I did…both being born long before Title 9.

The youthfulness of my lineage isn’t only in the way our bodies show up, but also in our attitudes. You can see it in our eyes. My mom, known for her progressive attitude and authentic spirit had a sparkle in her eye that was very child-like. She approached life with a youthful curiosity and a willingness to share her vulnerabilities. As she grew older, there was a tendency even toward being “wacky”, a characteristic that most people who knew her would definitely mention.

My dad, less open, at least until he got sick, always seemed older, but once he knew the years remaining in his life were limited (he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 60) he, too, became more child-like, open and fun-loving. There was the return to his eyes of a beautiful and youthful twinkle…something I had never known existed, until then. I am so grateful.

In honor of turning 50 and the growing freedom I feel to come home to my younger (and real) self, I thought it might be fun to list the top ten things I have learned from the girls we serve…and then in the next few weeks, attempt to do every one of them in celebration of the last half of my life!

So here goes:

TOP TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED BY WORKING WITH 8 to 13 year old girls!

1. When you are happy, it is perfectly acceptable to stop whatever you are doing and go into complete “Dance, Dance Fever” mode. Don’t think too hard about this. Allow the dance to be interpretive and come up from your soul. If this means doing a full-blown “worm” on the floor, go for it. If it means, cartwheels and/or break dancing, don’t hold back, brothers and sisters. Dance, until you can dance no more!

2. When you are sad and you feel like crying…cry. There is no reason in the world, not to. Crying is not anything to be embarrassed about or to restrain yourself from doing. Crying can actually feel good.

3. When you are hurt, either physically and/or emotionally, let someone know that you need their help and their love. Don’t be afraid to say “Hug me. I’m hurt.” You’d be surprised how much that helps in the healing process.

4. When you are angry, let someone you trust know first. Tell them everything. Get all the mean parts of your anger out of your body before you actually confront the person who has angered you. Being human isn’t always a piece of cake and sometimes we think really mean things. That’s okay and just part of being human.

5. Trust yourself. If something doesn’t feel right, trust whatever it is that is giving you that feeling. Nine out of ten times, you are right.

6. If you have something to say, say it. Why the heck would you ever want to hold back an idea on your insides when there is plenty of space outside for the idea to live? Share your big ideas even if they seem utterly undoable or ridiculous. You’d be surprised at how many other people might also have the same idea, but just not know or have the words to express it.

7. Daydream. So, maybe sitting quietly isn’t something that adults do very often, but lying on your back, watching butterflies and making shapes out of the clouds in the sky all provide direct routes to the deeper ideas in your imagination. Your destiny is found in your dreams.

8. Stare at people. Sure, this will make them uncomfortable, but every once in a while a stare leads to a connection and a connection is where friends are found. (The best place to stare at people is on an elevator, so says my daughter, Helen Barker.)

9. As you get older, the fashion magazines and the “age police” will tell you what to wear and how your body should look. They just make that stuff up. Wear whatever you want to wear. If you feel like wearing red cowboy boots with a pair of running shorts, this is perfectly acceptable. Don’t think too much in this category. The human body is pretty cool. Take thirty minutes sometime and just see what your body can do. Leap. Jump. Fly. Skip. Dance. Amazing! Let your spirit be your guide!

And last but not least… the topper, the whole enchilada, the icing on the cake and the cherry on the sundae…

10. Love people. Love them “just because.” Love them with all of your heart. Tell them you love them…tell them a lot. Tell them every day that you love them. Love them with your words, your body and your eyes. Tell them you love them with cards that you decorate yourself, with gifts that you made with your own two hands. Love because you are love. Love. Love. Love.

What would be the top one or two things you have learned the children in your life? What inhibits you from being child-like? What one or two things do you promise you will do this week to celebrate the child in you? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Circulate Love!

“She realized as a girl of eight that if she sat down and wrote her stories, she could escape the parts of life she did not like, embroider the parts she did and thus control the life she had.” Dudley Clendinen

This week I am prepping for what may be the talk of my lifetime. On Friday September 24th I will be presenting at TEDx Charlotte. I will have 18 minutes to share THE big idea…behind my life’s work.

Yesterday I had an afternoon coffee with a good friend of mine. His daughter, now a grown woman and preparing for her wedding, was in my first “middle school Girls on the Run” group. (We didn’t call it Girls on Track back then!)

Per his usual self (which is fabulous by the way) he called me out on something…always direct and to the point he looked me dead in the eye and said “you think too much.” I smiled. Is this the part where I’m supposed to be shocked? As if he is sharing something with me that I (and every single one of my friends, family members and Girls on the Run colleagues including YOU) didn’t know?

I wanted to start laughing loudly…”I think too much? (Now put emphasis on the I...) “I think too much?” I repeated back to him with a huge smile on my face.
That’s what I do…I think…I think sometimes until it hurts. That’s why I practice Yoga. That’s why I run. That’s why I write. That’s why I enjoy spending time with the girls in our program. That’s why I dance with my daughter Helen. That’s why I can sit for hours with my son Hank and laugh at ridiculous YouTube videos. That’s why I created Girls on the Run. That’s why I meditate. I gotta give my thinking brain a rest every once in awhile and just be…allow…love.

So prepping for this TEDx speech has really kicked my thinking brain into high gear. What is the Big Idea behind Girls on the Run? How are all the dots connected?
When I look back over all I have written, done, sought, desired, found, allowed and been, one theme rises up. What do we provide to girls and all those connected to our program? What do we REALLY GIVE them?

This is where the laugh begins…somewhere around my solar plexus and then works its way up my spine. This is where I’m almost embarrassed to admit that the idea isn’t big at all…I’m astounded by its simplicity and baffled by why what we provide and do for girls isn’t provided and done by everyone.

What do we do? We provide an experience, where the stories, filters and contexts we individually buy into (and culturally and socially promote) are eliminated and spirits are free to thrive. We offer up a space where those who enter are loved, welcomed and invited to be…be angry, be happy, be joyful, be scared, be loved…just be. We mutually (girls and adults) share our vulnerabilities and in doing so create a safe space, a space where how we showed up yesterday may not be how we show up today and so each hour together is an opportunity to “start again”, “create again”, “begin again”. We grow, evolve and explore the many facets of being human while being rooted in and aware of the mysterious power of unconditional love.

The challenge though to creating this space…is all that darn thinking we do…the stories we construct…the STUFF we begin thinking around middle school because we think everyone else is thinking it. (Unravel from that one will ya?) The amount of time we spend analyzing, figuring out, justifying and rationalizing our STUFF gets in the way of and totally distracts us from being available to be and see the love that is available to us at anytime…if we just allow ourselves to receive it. Turn off the thinking and turn on the heart!

I mean think about it (so much irony again…in all this darn thinking.) Have you ever once thought that maybe…just maybe you are beautiful just the way you are? That all those definitions of beauty are an imaginary construct and that we create these constructs to distract us from our real purpose because we are afraid of our own power? We’ve been so brainwashed into thinking (see there’s that word again) that there is a perfect beauty…when really the whole thing is completely made up…a story we believe because if we really do accept our own beauty, worth and love we might just really be beautiful, worthwhile and loveable ? That we are magnificent beyond our wildest dreams and that our magnificence really isn’t the dream; the stories that restrain us are.

The idea is simple and been revealed in many ways over eons of time:

Love opens hearts.

Open hearts bring forth love.

Someone has got to get the ball rolling. Why not let it be you? What space will you create today to open hearts?

Share with me what circumstances, situations and/or moments (they could be VERY simple moments) where you have felt and feel love’s presence.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Father's Hands

I don’t talk or write about my Dad much.

I think for a while, it hurt too much…or maybe there was some unfinished business there.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about him a lot.

Through my child-eyes back then, it appeared to me that he was always working. He was an insurance salesman, who did well financially. His ability to connect with folks was something, that many years after his death, people would mention when his name came up in conversation. He was a politician, consummate gentleman and community activist. He served on the City Council for several years and ran for mayor of Charlotte, in 1976.

But what I remember most about my father…were his hands. They were strong, weathered from years of hauling line through winch on his beloved sailboat…the telltale signs of sun and wind left age spots there that I thought were beautiful. I was always intrigued by his hands…their strength. I loved to hold his hand during church or feel them throw me high into the air and know that they would be waiting safely for my return as I fell back to earth.

And yet there was something strangely delicate about his gestures when he spoke. I distinctly remember the way his fingers would hold a cigarette…it was poised there between index and middle finger, his wrist slightly cocked. He would slowly bring the cigarette to his lips…inhale deeply and then exhale with lips closed…the smoke would exit slowly from his nostrils, swirl around him, with his eyes often squinting or closing until the smoke had lifted.

The memories I have of him, I could probably count on two hands. Like the time he made me eat all the squash on my plate. I hated squash. I was seven years old. Somewhere in my attic, rests a photo of me, sitting stubbornly at our dining room table with that plate of squash goo on my plate, my mom standing to my left with a martini and a cigarette and my sister standing behind me, smiling.

Or the time, I was in sixth grade and was sick with the measles. My mom was out of town and the rash first appeared across my little-girl chest and belly. My dad respectfully observed the rash where it was safe, in the space around my belly button…aware of my pre-teen angst around developing chest (or lack thereof).

When he sat on the floor of my bedroom and cried…sobbed really, his shoulders uncontrollably rising and falling with each inhale and exhale…sharing the news that he and my mom would be separating.

Or as he lay on his hospital bed…the night before his surgery. He was only 60 when the brain tumor brought him to his knees, both literally and figuratively. I was just 20. I held his hand and we said the Lord’s Prayer together that night…the night before they determined that he had little time left…maybe six months.

He lived another two years. Hank Wilmer was that kind of man…strong, determined and stubborn.

For some reason, I had a hard time loving my dad. He wasn’t around…when I was a little girl. My mom struggling, with her own demons, was completely unavailable to mother even herself, much less me. Unsure and poorly equipped, my dad simply disappeared. He emotionally and physically checked out. He lost himself in his work and his political life…he lost himself out there and I often questioned, as many kids do, whether I did something to push him away.

But now, I recognize that my father is fast becoming one of my greatest teachers. My anger or lack of understanding for him has gently slipped away in recent weeks. How liberating to see him as a man…a man simply doing his best to deal with life on life’s terms. I don’t know specifically what drove him away…but I do know that he, like me, you, my son and daughter share this experience we call human.

If I’m honest with you….really honest to the point of revealing something I’ve been a bit ashamed to admit but can do so now with tenderness and understanding of myself, the anger I’ve had for my dad has spilled over into other areas of my life: my work in the early years, my marriages, my personal relationships, my own need at times to escape or seek the love from others I felt lacking from my Dad and also from self…but thanks to Girls on the Run and my continuing journey out of my own Girl Box, I’m recognizing that the boxes we allow to confine us aren’t restricted only to women. Men have them too and as limited as I often allow myself to feel by the Girl Box, the shackles that restrain men are as powerful and scary as those that restrain us.

I only now am beginning to understand and gently accept his humanness…the pull he felt to be a man, a father, provide for his family and how scary it might have been watching your wife crumble and fall…feeling unequipped because you were…because men after all, at least in his generation were supposed to be strong, capable and sufficient.

I miss my Dad…he would have been so proud of me…but I get a do-over every time I see one of our girls cross the finish line with her father. I am deeply touched by a father’s love and can celebrate my own Dad again and again at Girls on the Run. I think in ways, I do not even yet understand, my father is becoming my greatest teacher. Teaching me to love in spite of what hurts…to love in spite of what feels missing…to love inspite of feeling unloved at times...to love because he loved the only way he knew how…don’t we all?

Who has been a person in your life you have struggled to love? Is there a way to shift your understanding in such a way as to see him/her as a teacher perhaps? How does your humanness show up? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Girl Panel














“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.” Henry Ward Beecher

Alright…go with me on this. I think children should be involved in every major decision ever made in the universe.

Let’s pretend that every time we need to place someone in a position of “power” (I use that term very loosely) we should have a panel of children as the final hurdle over which the individual must jump to receive the position.

I can see it now. A CEO is being hired for a major corporation. He appears before the panel. Questions begin:

“Do you have any pets?” “Where do you go on vacation and who goes with you?” “How many kids to you have?” “Why do you wear that suit when its 95 degrees outside?” “What is your favorite flavor ice cream?” “Is that a wig?””What do you eat for breakfast?” “Does your mother kiss you every night before you go to bed?”

The content of the questions doesn’t really matter…it’s the manner in which the responses are given that will either resonate (or not) with the kids.

Here’s another example. A person is running for Congress. She wins her district but has to appear first before our panel of experts (kids). Questions begin:

“What color is your hair? It looks kind of multi-colored to me.” “How old are you?” “What’s your favorite food?” “What do you love to do and why?” “Why do you wear that suit when its 95 degrees outside?” “Do you own any fur coats?” “What board games do you enjoy?” “Did you like school?” “Do you smoke?” “Do you skateboard?”

Kids are just so downright honest. They are beautifully transparent, honest and “unfiltered.” They haven’t yet made up stories (or been pulled into stories) about how people “should be, look or act”. They are instinctively and intuitively plugged into their born-into-this world innate ability to just be…here I am, there you are, let’s spend some time together, the world is okay.

I am reminded of Katherine. She was only nine years old and a typical tomboy—hair unbrushed and usually covered by a baseball cap worn backward. Her high-tops were worn and faded.

A couple of weeks into the Girls on the Run program, Katherine told me (quite nonchalantly I might add) that she had a special gift that only a few people in the entire universe possessed. Of course, I was thrilled by her willingness to share this with me. “Katherine…that’s so exciting. What is this amazing gift?”

“I can fly,” she replied…a sly smile on her face and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

“You can fly?” For one brief second, I considered rebutting her, but I reconsidered. Who am I to know? Maybe she really could fly. I mean… heck why not?
“You wanna see?” she asked.

Katherine took my hand and escorted me to a small hill, adjacent to the school’s driveway. “Wait here,” she stated, pointing to a spot (which felt as if it was reserved just for me) at the bottom of the hill.

She took in a few deep breaths, shrugged her shoulders and marched the 25 yards to the top of the incline. Her eyes tight, nose scrunched, and arms held out at 90-degree angles, she concentrated really hard for a minute. Then with absolutely no warning at all, she began flapping her arms like a huge pterodactyl and started running full speed down that hill. At the bottom, just before it leveled out, she leaped high into the air, and for that moment, breath held, time stopping, Katherine, my nine-year-old friend, took flight. And for that moment I took flight with her.

Katherine can fly. She hasn’t yet bought into an outer world that suggests otherwise. Her freedom to be, along with the other girls I’ve met over the years, has re-introduced to me the world I knew back then, but had stepped away from around middle school. In this world there simply are no limitations… I can run in the rain, sing in the car, cry when I feel like it, yell when I’m mad AND love every aspect of myself (and others) in the process. They’ve shown me that there really are no boxes that confine me; it’s all been made up…a lie…a story… and one that I can choose to buy into, OR NOT. They live in a world where real is real, love is love and hope is…always.

So, to get you in the kid-mood, watch the following video and then answer the questions which follow it.

What have you learned about yourself spending time with kids? What do you hope the children in your life say about you now and when you are no longer here? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reunited and It Feels so Good!

Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
Veronica A. Shoffstall


Last week I ran into an old friend. I was eating dinner with my sister Emily at an awesome local Thai restaurant, when she came in. I felt her presence several moments before I actually saw her. She was radiant…full of light and just as I remember her from long ago…filled to the brim with unconditional love.

I knew her back when I was a kid. She was a kid too…but somehow always seemed a bit wiser…there was a grace about her…a word I wouldn’t have used then to label her, but an ease that just made everyone around her feel comfortable, safe and warm.

In sixth grade we parted ways. I began to heed the voices of the outside world…seeking the love I thought was missing from my life…in things, people and circumstances. During that process, she slipped from my life, as quietly as she came into it. Over the course of my sixth grade year, she would occasionally check in with me…humbly, patiently and without force…just a reminder that she was still my friend and always there for me should I need her.

Finally, in seventh grade, she disappeared altogether. I might occasionally think of her and receive in my thoughts a dim memory of our connection, but quickly I would redirect myself to the pull of adolescence and the rules of growing up.

When I was fifteen, I started running, first with my Mom and then by myself. It was during those solo runs that my ‘recalls’ of her began to escalate. Inevitably, somewhere during a six mile run, I would hear her voice--quiet, strong and loving. It was as if she and I were running together through the woods: in autumn, listening to our feet on red and dying leaves; in winter, feeling wet snow on our eyelashes; in spring, hearing the first call of cricket’s at sunset; and in summer, smelling the sweat of humid noon. At run’s end, I would with bittersweet tug of heart, leave my memory of her along with my running shoes on the back porch and head straight into my house of things, people, circumstances…hoping that somewhere in there I would find happiness, contentment and satisfaction. Somewhere in that house of pretty is as pretty does I would surely find the love I had felt when I was with her and would recall so sweetly during my time on the trails…the kind of unconditional love that heals, inspires and reveals our own brilliance.

When I was giving birth to my children, she dropped me a quick “Hello, I love you” kind of connection. Her words would sound out frequently in my thoughts, especially during those precious mother-moments of nursing, changing diapers and babies taking first few steps.

The first season of Girls on the Run, I ran into her enough that I began to think it a bit odd. I would see her while I coached. She would run by in a blur and call out my name from across the track. We would wave and for the hour I was with my girls I could feel her love rain down upon me, as if she was there. Her warmth was infinite and her presence was felt even though only in my memory of her.

So, when she walked into the restaurant and sat down with me and my sister, to stay for while, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I had become increasingly aware of her presence and I had thought of her frequently. She had been a significant part of my life, even though I hadn’t told her so. She had been a source of strength for me…a reminder of love’s power and its ability to nourish joy…pull it up from seed to stem to blossom.

When she sat down to join us, I remember feeling for the first time in many, many years, the way I felt when I was friends with her back in elementary school. My heart felt as if it would lift right out of my chest and the immense amount of energy I felt was clearly palpable and present to those around me, particularly my sister.

The love I felt from her and for her was like a tidal wave washing through every cell of my body, each beat of my heart rising and falling with the joy of our reunion. When dinner was over, we walked out together, drove my sister back to her hotel and chatted some more. I poured my soul out to her, the fears I had felt for so long--the longing I had deep down in my soul for love and tenderness toward self and how elusive my search had been in outside sources…the frustrations I kept coming up against, trying to find it in people, things and even at times my work at Girls on the Run.

She held me close…that kind of embrace where loves flows from spaces never touched to those never known…and then she whispered.

“I’m so glad you let me back into your life. You know? I’ve always been here. I’ve always loved you. Always.”

Her name? Her name is Molly. She is the one who is with me now…right here inside…one in the same...unconditionally loving herself…right here, right now…as I am.

Her name...is Love.

What does unconditional self-love look like and feel like to you? Do you give it to yourself? What holds you back from giving it to yourself? Fear? Anger? Messages you received from the the boxes you allow to confine you? Why Is self-love important? What do you think?

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Set 'Em Free"

“I know not how I seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with.” Plato

Okay…so I preface this blog posting with an apology to my male friends, readers and colleagues. The content of this may bore you, embarrass you or simply seem irrelevant, but I’ve got to “go there” because I’ve been “going there” a lot lately and when I have to “go there” that means I’ve got to write about it, talk about it and then if I’m really moved by it, do something about it.

What is the “it” I’m talking about? I’m talking about the physical ways the Girl Box continues to show up in my life. When I started Girls on the Run I was 36, right in the thick of it…only then coming into an awareness of how the Girl Box held me captive. Slowly but surely, things that I thought were important have simply fallen away. My need to conform to the unattainable standards of the Girl Box are joyfully surrendering to an attitude of “who cares” and I’m becoming child-like again…less concerned with the status quo. (Pretty soon I’m going to be that lady wearing the sweat pants, red hat, striped toe socks and Birkenstocks. Whoo Hoo!)

So what am I trying to say? Dare I say it? Does it matter? Alright so here goes…I’m beginning to let go of my “morning ritual.” What do I mean by my “morning ritual?” That daily process I undergo of putting on my game face...you know that thing I/we do every morning to tackle the day. The list goes a little something like this:
1.) The drying and straightening (or curling) of the hair;
2.) The application of make-up and wrinkle-defying creams;
3.) The application of numerous body lotions. There are now lotions specifically designed for feet, hands, face, belly, cellulite, elbows and knees…keeping track requires a journal.
4.) The choosing of (this can take hours) and stepping into clothing that is relevant for whatever the day brings. This could be a suit or perhaps something a bit more frivolous but however it lands on the frame it is sure to accentuate certain body parts;
5.) The choosing (this process can often determine the choices made in number 4) and climbing into shoes that may be terribly uncomfortable but are really cute
6.) And yes (alright guys, here’s where it gets a bit awkward) strapping on the bra, that lovely contraption that holds ‘em in, pushes ‘em up and in some cases makes ‘em bigger! There are bras for every occasion and these often can, according to fashion experts, make or break that first impression, whether in a professional business meeting or on that first date.

Undergarments apparently have a lot of power over other people.

Now before everyone goes running for the exits, let me explain what’s really going on here. Lately, I’ve found myself returning to the world of the girl. I watch with wonder the way an 8 year old girl navigates the world. With eyes wide open, she sees things as if never seen before. There is an open stance, a fresh approach, a completely untainted and “unstoried” perception of the world around her.

What I love, too, about girls are the various physical ways they show up for life. They appear to me to be very much in charge of their morning ritual. Every one of them has their own unique style. You can on any one given day see lots of: pink, curly hair, straight hair, unbrushed hair, T-shirts, plaid vests, giggles, seriousness, smiles, tears, high-tops, glitter, purse, no-purse, sunglasses, bows in hair, baseball cap, knee socks with sandals, Halloween costumes, princess tiaras, skirts, pants, lace, jewelry…there are as many ways to show up for life as there are 8 year old girls.

And as I write to you, I find that somewhere over the last five to six years I’ve allowed myself to be, even in the work that I do (how ironic!!!), more tangled up with some of the physical expectations of the Girl Box. The need to appear as if I’ve got it SO together has restricted my ability to laugh, dance and get goofy.

I’ve been more inclined to shake hands rather than hug, hold back rather than speak up and actually found myself afraid to do an energy award even when I feel this intense desire to do one! (Any upcoming sponsors don’t know what they are in for!!!!)

So…while make-up, hair traditions and pushing ‘em up in a bra may appear to be mundane and seemingly irrelevant acts I carry out each morning, what I’m discovering NOT going through the process is how liberating it is to let them go. I find myself physically walking/running/skipping/hopping through the day like an 8 year old girl…totally comfortable in my skin, unafraid to be who I am.

This physical freedom manifests in my actions. I really am more inclined to dance through the grocery aisle (particularly if my daughter Helen is there), laugh out loud and for several minutes during Yoga, sing really loud in my car with the windows down and walk up to an older couple and tell them that the way they are lovin’ on each other has totally rocked my day.

So I invite you to see what it feels like. Seriously, try eliminating one piece of your morning ritual (if you have one) or if you are willing to go full-on, skip the whole thing! Go without the suit and wear something that feels easy and unrestrained. Skip the mascara or foundation, blush or lip gloss. Don’t burn your bra, but leave it at home. Set those puppies free and see how it feels. Let your hair air dry and see what it looks like, feels like and how it shows up. You might be surprised. Be aware of how AWESOME it feels to show up for life, like an 8 year old…unstoried, uninhibited and best of all un-boxed…and see if something else has space to emerge. A laugh? A tear? A dream? A totally new perspective perhaps?
What part of your morning ritual are you willing to release? What have you been holding back, afraid that others will thing you too child-like, unrealistic or maybe even “crazy”? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

(Postscript: The moment I posted this, someone sent this to me. I had to share. Smile, won't cha?)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flow...There it Goes.

“Experience has taught me how important it is to just keep going, focusing on running fast and relaxed. Eventually it passes and the flow returns. It’s part of racing.” Frank Shorter

I’m in route to Washington D.C., enjoying a night’s stay at a Hampton Inn in Henderson, NC. Today’s it’s a full day at a conference sponsored by Ashoka. That means the attention my weekly blog entry typically receives is limited. I’m feeling a bit fragmented. Which leads me to the topic of this week’s commentary…FLOW.

As I’ve shared in numerous blogs lately, I’ve become a Yoga groupie. Everything about it enhances my life. Everything about it also enhances my running life. Running has taken on more vibrant hues of gold, yellow, orange and red. The space seems bigger, broader and more available and the air seems richer, more tangible, Oxygen-rich and cleaner.

Getting into the space of “is-ing” is often referenced as flow. The last two days I’ve spent time with 25 women…representing 8 new councils. The conversation seemed to migrate toward the place of flow…the space where all systems are go...the separateness we feel with the world simply slips away and the fragmentation of our experiences disappears. The space where time becomes nothing but background noise and we just are…present and worthwhile.

Spending time with our girls at Girls on the Run is like that for me. I love how the hour and fifteen minutes seems to float by…I’m available to every girl in my group, aware of other challenges in my day, but not tangled up in them. I am on…immersed in the experience.

Running and yoga provide that same sense of flow as do time with my kids, a really good book, burying myself in blankets beneath a cold-aired room or opening myself up to the sun, waves and salty air of a day at the beach.

When I was much younger, flow came intermittently. The noise of my life was much louder than my willingness to quiet it and so flow seemed to just happen, sporadically and often unexpectedly. Now, thanks to Yoga and an intentional desire to find the quiet corners of my experiences, flow can happen anywhere…it’s my willingness and my awareness of its presence that allow it to occur.

What activities bring you to the space of flow? How can you bring flow to other areas of your life? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why It Matters: The World I Live In Starts With Me

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” M. Gandhi

I am on vacation. Today I watch and allow. The rain taps on the windows of the beach house where I am staying…a “hi how are ya?” from the sky above.

My days have consisted of little other than waking, meditating, thinking, running, yoga, eating, watching and allowing—a divine chance to reconnect to the Self, the one who takes risks, steps out and with right-brain fully engaged, believes that she can change the world.

I am struck this morning, by why it matters. Why I matter. Why you matter. Why Girls on the Run matters.

It matters to the 12 year old girl, from Peoria, Illinois, who for three years has struggled with anorexia nervosa…nothing left to house her spirit other than bones and skin. Her eyes are wide, intense and uncertain. She is starving herself to become beautiful, unaware that she already is, bones, skin and spirit; wanting to know that she is loved. It matters to the 12 year old girl in Ethiopia, torn from the inside out while giving birth to her baby, urine and feces from her body stain her clothing, she and her baby dying from malnutrition. They are starving, cast out from their village, wandering, wishing and seeking the love of just one other.

It matters to the fourteen year old girl in Atlanta, Georgia who, after a few beers with her friends reluctantly has sex with her boyfriend… unintended, but so it goes. At least in her mind, he will love her, maybe. It’s worth a shot, so why not? It matters to the fourteen year old girl in Somalia, carrying water with her sisters back to their village, overtaken by a group of boys. She is brutally raped. No one wins. The boys do and know only what they have been shown by the men in their lives. They know not what they are missing, the tender touch of a woman, the love between two…The real and raw of it; the transformation possible.

It matters to the nineteen year old girl in Burlington, VT who for graduation wants nothing more than breast implants, to be loved, accepted and alive, be one of the pretty girls…popular, attractive and powerful…to be desired by many…seeking love in that mix somehow. It matters to the woman-child in Mali Africa, tied down and restrained while her clitoris is removed, cut, mutilated. Her body disfigured, but her spirit intact; eyes wide, scanning the space for one loving person.

It matters to each of them, each time I choose to speak negatively of myself, my age, my body or my character. It matters to each of them, each time I choose to judge, criticize or condemn without seeking first to understand, be compassionate, gentle and kind.

I watch the rain fall from heaven above, feel the thunder in the wood boards of the house where I sit, see the lightening bridge the space between here and there, me and you, us and them and know, without question, that what I do, what I say and who I choose to be matters…to them.

I yearn to love that much.

The world I live in starts with me.

What actions will you take today to create the world you wish to live in?

Thursday, July 8, 2010














“I exist as I am. That is enough.” Walt Whitman

This weekend I had a moment of insight that shook me up from the inside out.
I was talking with my friend, Cris. We were discussing the space in our lives where we felt the most real, accepted, loved, secure and present.

This after a discussion around a personal issue that had me feeling fragmented, unsure and downright angry at myself. Cris had gently revealed a blind spot in my life, which I had intuitively known was hiding there, but was afraid to confront. His “third eye” view along with his ability to tenderly remove the blindfold of my unwillingness revealed an area of my life that required some attention…attention I had been avoiding.

The voices in my head were all clamoring for lead vocal in what I would call the anything but harmonious “You blew it again” choir. “You are not dealing well with this,” one shouted. “Run away. Just don’t deal with it,” another shouted louder than the first.” The final and loudest of all, “Come on Molly. You simply are inadequate when it comes to this issue. Give up.”

So…in an effort to QUIET the shouting cacophony of the “You blew it again choir”, Cris encouraged me to ask the question, "Where do I feel safe, real, accepting, loved, secure and present?"

My answer to where this space existed for me was immediate…requiring absolutely no thought whatsoever.

“Girls on the Run.” Even just the mere mention of the words brought a peaceful feel to our discussion.

“Well then,” he suggested. “Go there now. You don’t have to be at Girls on the Run to feel Girls on the Run.

So…I just started thinking and feeling Girls on the Run: accepted, warm, loved, un-judged, welcome, present and encouraged. I was able to see that my willingness to examine the scary stuff, the stuff that has limited me from evolving, growing and becoming my greater Self was a very positive and very brave thing to do. Stepping outside my comfort zone and seeing behaviors that limit me (but have in the past felt safe simply because I have known nothing else) is what Girls on the Run is all about.

I am not inadequate. I am unfolding, revealing, blossoming, evolving.

The next time the “you blew it again choir” (or any of the other top 40 hits of the Girl Box” start singing in my head) I simply need to go to the “Girls on the Run” playlist and hang out there for a minute or two. The Girl Box can’t survive there, what with all the love, acceptance, support, joy and willingness harmoniously sharing their voices.

I am reminded of a letter I received from Ashley not too long ago.

Dear Molly,

I just read your book, Girls Lit from Within and I have to say, it made me cry. You may have been in the Girl Box at a few times in your life, but you are incredibly wonderful. I had one foot in the Girl Box when I started Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run welcomed me into the family even with one foot in the Girl Box. When I am at Girls on the Run I feel loved and hugged. Since I started, I have not felt The Girl Box’s darkening affects again.

I met you once at a 5k celebration. Light flows from you and you can see the positive cord plugged right in to the top of your head. I see the positive cord plugged into my head too. Girls on the Run gave that to us.
I love (add lots of little hearts) Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run rocks!!!!!!!

Be beautiful girlfriend,

Ashley

(The operative word there, at least for me, is be.)
If you are involved with Girls on the Run, what feeling does the space give you? How do you feel when you think about Girls on the Run? If you are not involved with Girls on the Run, what spaces do provide you with a feeling of being loved, accepted and embraced? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Boxes that Confine Us












"By watching the mechanics of the mind, you step out of its resistance patterns, and you can then allow the present moment to be." Eckhart Tolle

This will be a quick hello accompanied by a VERY quick post. I've been practicing Yoga a lot lately. I was initially attracted to Yoga as a means to enhance my running...a little something to even out the tightness that accompanies long distance running.

What I have discovered, though, is much richer, meaningful and far deeper. Yoga takes me outside the physical, cultural and societal boxes which attempt to define and confine me and into the powerful space of being empty, open and receptive to whatever the moment brings.

So here is an invitation. (Thank you Debbie for sharing this with me!) The next time you are thinking too much, overanalyzing, anxious, depressed or stuck in a thought pattern that is...how shall I put it...driving you bonkers, try this:

Breathe...Relax...Feel...Watch...Allow.

If Yoga isn't your thing, try this while on a run. Write each word on a finger tip and kick your heels up and out the door! I promise...yes I said PROMISE without a doubt, the sky will not appear brighter, but be brighter, the objects within your view will not seem more vibrant, but be more vibrant and you will experience something marvelous, real, free and untethered...YOU!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trust is Love in Action














“The best proof of love is TRUST.” Dr. Joyce Brothers

Hank is fourteen years old. Last night he spent the night with his best buddy Sam…I’m quite certain there were at least three other boys hanging out with them. All I can say is “Thank Goodness” for the cell phone. How did my parents EVER survive without one? At any moment, I can text Hank and engage him in a conversation that eases my concerns and lets me know that he is alright.

Here’s what it looks like:
Mom: Where r u?
Hank: Sam’s house
Mom: What r u do n?
Hank: Hanging out.
Mom: Cool. Sweet dreams.
Hank: Sweet dreams 2 u. I luv u.
Mom: Luv u 2.

That’s it. Certainly no literary prize for expressive writing, but at least some peace of mind. Hank is safe.

When I was 14 years old there could be huge gaps of time between conversations with my Mom. Bonnie and I would go to the swimming pool at 8:00 in the morning and not get home until 9:00 at night. My mom just had to trust that I was where I said I was, as well as safely there. There was a tremendous amount of trust required to let me go, explore and evolve. Sure, I made some decisions that in hindsight may have appeared to not be the best or the most well-considered. But over time I have come to realize that each of these experiences, whether perceived at the time as “bad or good” have moved me toward increasing levels of strength, courage and self-awareness. Now, when in the heat of a a seemingly negative experience, I can, see that these are not “bad or good” by nature; only opportunities for growth and self-examination. I can trust the process. I can trust the experience to teach me something. I can trust that something wondrous will be rooted in the outcome.

Trust has been an area of focus for me lately. It seems to currently be a consistent thread woven in and throughout the encounters I’ve had lately, not only with others, but within myself. To trust or not to trust. I can, if I am not intentional allow too much thinking come in; let the previous experiences of my life shadow my willingness to open my heart and just trust…trust that if my intentions are rooted in love, then all will be okay.

I think this is why Girls on the Run has been such a life-changing experience for me. Yes…lately I’ve been featuring our coaches, parents and girls in the blog, but after months of travel and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life's work and the beautiful Power this program brings to the world, I realize that I’ve changed immensely since I started it...and where the change has been most obvious in my life, is in my ability to trust. To trust our volunteers and our colleagues, to trust those within our GOTR International Office, to trust myself. This ability to trust has trickled out into my personal life…trust in my children, trust in my friends, trust in my significant relationships and trust that the experiences I’m having are (whether they feel like it at the time or not) conspiring in my favor!

When you get down to it, the program, both in curriculum content and in organizational structure is built on trust. The girls learn it in the lessons and we experience it in our exchanges with one another. Trust allows us to openly confront, share out opinions, be ourselves and know that no matter what we will be loved, respected and valued. Trust allows us to admit we are wrong, apologize and be vulnerable. Trust allows us to ask for help, lean into the support of another and rely upon others. Trusting ourselves allows us to give our word, be accountable and follow-through.

Thanks to the immense amount of trust the girls have in ME I am courageously learning to trust and in the process gaining the ability to examine thoroughly my role in situations where I am afraid to.

How is trust showing up in your life? Are there patterns of resistance to it or do you trust freely and easily. What thoughts do you conjure up that support your ability to trust or not trust. Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.