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:


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.