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 When you get a minute visit it. The idea is based on that old saying that if I knew then what I know know how it goes. Here is the letter I wrote to myself. I invite you to do the same. Amazing what we really knew back then...but were just afraid to unleash!

Year 2009

Dear Molly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, Molly.

Thursday, 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 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 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.