Life Before You
It’s hard to imagine a life before you.
Sometimes, when I slow down enough to remember, I recall all the things I once wondered about you.
From the moment I heard your heartbeat, I tried to envision what life would look like with you in it.
Would I have a son or a daughter?
What would I feel when I finally held you?
Overwhelming love, fear, devotion; unlike anything I’ve ever felt?
(That’s what they kept telling me.)
What color would your eyes be? Would your hair be curly or straight?
I tried to picture your smile. I imagined your laughter and what your voice would sound like when you spoke your first words.
When would you first roll over; crawl; take your first steps?
I wondered what traits would color your little personality. Would you be hyper and silly or quiet and shy? Sensitive? Bold? Strong-willed? Laid-back?
I couldn’t wait to find out. I couldn’t wait to know you.
And then, all the “I wonders” started to change,
one by one,
from hazy visions conjured up in my head to tangible realities unfolding before my eyes.
We popped the balloon and the confetti was pink.
You came, I held you, and I felt it all.
All the love; fear; devotion.
(They were right.)
I watched your eyes turn from dark grey to light blue to a smokey sage green.
I noticed your hair curling up on the ends as it grew past your tiny ears.
I captured hundreds of your smiles, in my phone and in my mind.
You filled me with joy as your infectious laughter filled our home.
Rolling and crawling feels like ages ago and now you’re running circles around my tired mama heart.
You’re hyper and silly. Quiet and shy. Sensitive. Bold. Strong-willed.
Not the least bit laid-back.
I never knew someone so small could have a presence so big.
I never knew a short time could hold so much space in my world.
But now that you’re here, it’s impossible to imagine life before you.
Your spirit is so abounding it feels like you’re as much a part of my past as you are my future.
And what a gift it is to keep wondering just what else our future has in store.
Comfort-zone Kind of Girls
Here’s to the comfort-zone kind of girls who also dream big.
The ones who fear change but step out to embrace it. Who fancy their box but step up to break out of it.
To the shy. Reserved. Self-conscious. Unsure.
I get you.
You’ll never see me first on the dance floor. You won’t see me let loose til that glass of wine kicks in.
Words like “she’s a blast” or “party girl” won’t paint my picture.
I feel awkward in a room full of strangers and I’m pretty sure I shrink two inches standing up in front of a crowd.
I’m an artist constantly fighting the urge to color inside the lines.
I feel things out. Test the waters. Always keep the nearest exit in my sight.
They say it’s the bold ones who change the world. The overtly confident, slightly crazy, dance-like-nobody’s-watching ones that become the movers and shakers.
And maybe it’s partially true.
But don’t be quick to discount the girl who doesn’t always speak up. The one who sometimes watches from the sidelines or fades into the corner.
Don’t assume she’s just a wallflower or another stone to crush on your own path to success.
Don’t assume she has no plans.
Just because she’s quiet doesn’t mean she has nothing to say. Just because she’s cautious doesn’t mean she’s not strong.
She refuses to be a slave to her inhibitions. She fights back against her very nature to move the mountains in the way of her feats.
She’s plotting a course and digging up courage that often gets pushed too far down. She’s listening, strategizing, and taking it all in. She’s building an unforeseeable strength and waiting for the right moment to pounce—
with a game-winning move, a genius idea, or a perfectly timed joke.
So if when you look at her you first think DULL, you simply have yet to see her SHINE.
All Figured Out
There’s so much in this life I don’t have figured out.
I haven’t figured out how to wake up early enough to not have to rush in the mornings. How to NOT hit the snooze button literally 25 times before dragging myself out of bed.
I can’t figure out how not to get flustered when my toddler throws down in a temper tantrum because she can’t get her jacket on or get the lid off of a Tupperware container.
I haven’t figured out how my kitchen sink seems to magically be piled high with dishes when I swear two hours ago it was empty.
I can’t seem to get a handle on how to be a good mother and a good wife at the same time.
For some reason I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to remember to take meat out of the freezer a day ahead of time so it thaws, or take vitamins or pack a healthy lunch every day. Or why I can’t seem to leave the house without forgetting at least ONE thing that I need.
I haven’t figured out how to stay organized and on-task and keep my own schedule and my family’s schedule straight. I keep buying fancy planners full of inspirational quotes and envision myself taking the time to neatly record appointments and goals, only to watch them become paperweights for the giant stacks of mail piling up on my end tables because I can’t stand the monotony of sorting it all.
Most importantly, I have NOT figured out how to reconcile my desire to figure it all out with simply accepting that maybe it’s not possible to have it all figured out. How to balance wanting to be better with simply accepting and loving the person that I am (or am not).
But there is one thing that I HAVE figured out —
No one really has it all figured it out.
And no one (at least not the people who matter) really expects you to, either.
And continuing to try to figure it all out together — succeeding and failing; two steps forward, one step back — is really just, well…
That is all.
I have no profound conclusion or mind-blowing words of wisdom to share here.
Only to let you know that if you don’t have it all figured out,
you’re far from alone.
To the Dads Who Love Daughters
A note to the dads who love their daughters-
I can only imagine what you felt when you first heard the words “it’s a girl”.
Were you thrilled? Terrified? Shocked?
Did you envision a world full of pink bows and puffy tutus? Laundry baskets piled high with ruffles and florals, and bathroom counters cluttered with lip gloss and nail polish?
Or did you picture a tomboy who’d rock a baseball cap and cargo shorts? Hampers filled with mud-covered clothes, hours playing catch, and floors scattered with little cars and toy trains?
Maybe you looked forward to the best of both those worlds.
The first time her soft hand touched your scruffy face, I’m sure it melted your weary heart and softened all your sharp, rough edges.
I bet you never knew your insides could crumble the way they did the first time you had to tell her “no” — the first time you watched her hopeful eyes and joyous smile turn to tears.
But I wonder if you really know the weight of your role in her life? I wonder if you realize how your love has shaped her world.
Dads, you’re heroes in the eyes of your little girl. You’re invincible giants, and your superpowers kicked in the second you held her.
Through rough-housing and tickle-fights you built up her resilience. You’d toss her in the air and catch her securely every time. You were her first stop for fun and excitement — a walking jungle gym with a safe place to land.
You were the first man to call her beautiful. “Inside AND out.” And she whole-heartedly believed it until the rest of the world made her question it.
But you never let her forget.
You filled her with the kind of confidence that can only come from a father, instilled self-worth, and showed her how a real man treats a lady.
The stern baritone of your voice grounded her. Though she didn’t know it at the time — and though you hated it too — she needed your discipline to guide her. She needed your firm presence in learning right from wrong.
To your little girl, you are pillars of strength, trust and protection.
Whatever her fears — your words could calm them.
No matter her hurts — your embrace could ease them.
Your daughter — oh, how she needed all you had to give.
The bedtime reading adventures. Your words of wisdom. The corny dad jokes that bring out the best little girl giggles. Your standing ovations that proved she’d made you proud — that lifted her spirit and opened her mind to all the possibilities she knew she could achieve because daddy, her hero, said she could.
She still needs it.
Maybe right now, especially today, she’s missing you and remembering it all with teary-eyed fondness.
Maybe you’ve just begun this journey with her. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Maybe you’ve already walked her down the aisle and turned her over to another man to cherish her as much as you did.
But one thing’s for sure — that smile of hers that glows so bright — you’re a bigger part of it than you’ll ever know.
And you’ll always be there, shining through her.
I want to talk about grudges for a moment.
Please don’t be quick to hold them.
There’s no doubt a line between toxic behavior and inevitable transgressions in relationships, but it doesn’t have to be a hairline one.
We weren’t created to be perfect.
People will make decisions that negatively effect us even if it wasn’t about us.
Someone may make a joke in bad taste that irks us even if it wasn’t meant to.
Everyone goes through really tough times where basic survival is their only goal, and they temporarily and unknowingly spread their hurt to all in their path.
It’s easy to say “I’d never do that.”
It’s easy to throw up your hands in the face of anyone who offends.
It’s easy to demonize all who’ve overstepped us on their road to restoration.
It’s simpler to cast out, rather than reach out.
Except it isn’t, really.
Bitterness is like a poison that eats away at our hearts.
Contempt encumbers, tethering our hands and our minds.
Feelings of anger spread and twist together like overgrown vines that sit like rocks in the pits of our stomachs, weighing us down.
There was a time in my life when I was this person—for longer than I’d like to admit.
A time when self-awareness was low and self-importance ran high.
A time where I held others in my life to higher standard than I held myself.
Eventually, it becomes exhausting when you can’t live up to your own scrutiny. When you realize how small your circle will become if you’re quick to push out. When you realize how hard life becomes if you’re not granted grace for your own shortcomings.
The walls we build are indeed there for our protection—to keep toxic people at an unreachable length, so they can no longer plague our worlds.
But there is a difference between toxic and flawed.
And sometimes—when we’re in the midst of our own storms—our visibility is low and it can be hard to tell them apart.
Every offense can feel like hail being maliciously hurled in our direction.
It’s more instinctual to leap into defense mode rather than seek to understand and empathize; to forgive.
And I’m still working on it every day.
Because when all my walls are built, I’d rather be standing on the side with my neighbors rather than closed-off and alone, with none other than my own, imperfect self.
She Won’t Remember
She won’t remember these days.
Her first memories of trips down the big slide won’t be the ones in mommy’s lap.
When she thinks back on our walks to the park, she won’t remember herself cozy under the canopy of her stroller, taking in all the sights and sounds of a hot summer day that all still feel so new.
She won’t recall testing out her new climbing skills with twenty trips up and down the pavilion steps, her eyes beaming with bravery and confidence.
There’s so much crammed into these first eighteen months. Little minds are forming and basic skills are being learned and there’s just not a whole lot of room left for intricate, detailed memories.
I panic a little when I think about this too hard.
When I watch these fleeting moments that I cherish pass before my eyes and think how she’s too little for any of it to stick.
These little slices of perfection hold so much value. If only she could hold onto them to tap into and relive someday down the road when life gets tough and complicated and scary.
I wish she’d remember the weightless feeling of soaring through the air and landing safely in daddy’s arms.
I wish she’d remember the sound of her hysterical laughter when I put her shirt on and pretend her hand got lost in the sleeve.
Because sometimes I fear that if her little mind won’t capture it all then that somehow makes it less real; less significant.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The weight of these precious early moments stretches far beyond any detailed recollections that may be lost over the years. They’re etching happiness into her soul and weaving love into her heart. They’re creating a solid foundation of trust and security that will forever be embedded in her consciousness.
And so, somewhere between pushes on the swing and singing silly sing-a-long songs, I have to remind myself that these really are the moments that count the most.
Because even though her earliest days may not be the days of making memories…
They are the days of shaping a childhood.
Family of Five in Aisle Five
Tonight, I stood in the checkout line at Walmart for what seemed like an eternity.
There was a family of five in front of me loading up what appeared to be three months worth of groceries. The cashier was moving slowly, and the two older kids were playing a game of “who can scream the loudest ?”, increasing their screeches with each passing second.
I could feel my blood pressure rising as the natural born pessimist in me kicked in — that imperfect part of me that gets super annoyed and frustrated way too quickly.
I had already been there far too long and I was due to be home to start my daughter’s bedtime routine. But as I caught a glimpse of the embarrassed look in their mother’s eye while she calmly tried to settle them, I remembered what it was like to be in a similar situation with a screaming newborn out in a restaurant, and how I’ll eventually be standing right there her shoes if my family grows in size someday.
I paused, took a deep breath, and started watching the scene in front of me from a different perspective.
And this time, it looked so much different.
I saw a brother and sister teasing each other through playful, uninhibited laughter; loving their life without a care in the world.
I saw a precious baby girl in her car seat, bright-eyed and chubby-cheeked, cooing and giggling as she watched her family in action.
I saw a patient couple who handled their children with grace, and worked together as a team to move their family through line and get out of a situation that they didn’t want to be in any more than anyone else.
And it was beautiful.
I looked up, and when the mother made eye contact with me, likely expecting an eye-roll, I smiled and said “you have a beautiful family.”
Her face lit up, almost relieved.
She said thank you with a grin from ear to ear, and we exchanged small talk about family and kids as her husband finished paying.
And we parted ways, both feeling lifted, and with a mutual respect for one another.
I was very close to leaving that store agitated and full of frustration, and my whole night would have taken a downward slide from there. But instead I left feeling filled-up and relaxed, inspired, and grateful.
As flawed beings, sometimes all we can hear is the commotion and all we can see is the chaos.
Tonight was my reminder of how much our hearts and minds can expand when we just open our eyes and ears.
When we look, we’ll find beauty in the most unexpected places.
I Am Her Home
For 499 nights I’ve rocked this child to sleep.
These days it’s not because she needs me to—but because she lets me.
Because when we’re apart while I’m at work, my arms ache with emptiness.
Because all-too-often when I ask, “can mama have a hug?”, she squeaks an emphatic “neohhhh”, and scampers away with her newly found autonomy and a piece of my heart in her hand.
Because overwhelming days and big emotions bring evenings riddled with tantrums and tears, and I’m left wondering if I did it all wrong today.
Because when the lights go out, she gives back that piece of my heart she stole as her independence dwindles and her desire to be close takes over. One hand clutching her bear and the other wrapped around me, her tiny limbs relent as she melts into my arms. She sinks her head into the curve of my shoulder, where it fits just right.
Because they keep telling me to soak it all up; to cherish every moment—and this is where life slows down long enough for me to comply. So I rest my cheek in her soft hair and squeeze her a little tighter. I whisper in her ear “mama loves you so much”, and kiss her tiny nose.
She hums along to my broken lullabies until slumber fades her voice and heavies her lashes.
Here, there’s nothing else competing for my eyes or my ears or my hands or my mind—this is the only place I have to be.
Here is where I breathe deeply—breathe in her love, her innocence, her littleness. And exhale the weight of everything else that I won’t allow in this space.
Though she grows heavier in my arms as the minutes pass, I can’t bring myself to lay her down; to break this perfect connection.
Because as the gift of today is wrapping up and the chaos comes to a close, this becomes our peaceful place—our time.
I am her comfort and she is my calm.
And I’ll meet her here each night to come, as long as she’ll have me—
As long as I am her home.
“Make today count!”
“Why do you keep saying that?”, I responded to my mom as I realized the above mantra was starting to appear at the end of all of her texts to me.
“I tell everyone that,” she said.
“The present is all we have.”
And maybe I was just in one of my cynical moods when I replied: “I don’t think people need that constant reminder; it’s morbid.”
Because, I know she means well and in a way she’s right, it is all we have and there’s something to be said for making the most out of every day.
But nevertheless, those words leave an unnerving knot in the pit of my stomach; like it’s a demand hanging over every action I take, watching me like a hawk, making sure I act purposefully with every move.
A life of purpose is something I strive for, no doubt. But I sure as hell don’t hit the mark every day. And I already have my own internal coach that gives me enough grief whenever I fall short.
It made me wonder; in this life of mine; what does it mean to make today count?
What if my greatest success of the day was keeping my child happy and healthy? Does that “count” enough?
What if my boldest move was taking a trip to the grocery store in my sweatpants because it was a hectic week and that’s all the energy I could muster?
What if my biggest achievement this week was writing something that touched the heart of one single person, or being there for a friend in a moment of need, or simply getting to work every day to make a living?
I’m not so sure I can add these to my small pile of big wins.
Because, you see, I have hopes and dreams and goals. Some are lofty and some are simple, but they’re always there, dangling in front of my eyes, seemingly further out of reach at times. But this life, with its limited resources and hours per day doesn’t always allow for a boundless leap in the right direction with each stride.
And those hopes and dreams and goals—when they hear the words “make today count”—they twist them into a dozen other less-than-helpful sentences like “you’re running out of time” and “this could all end at any moment”, and my all-time favorite one, “you suck”.
But that’s not what those words mean. That’s just fear distorting reality, as it tends to do.
Because making the day count doesn’t mean making every second count. It doesn’t mean you should be checking off tasks instead of Netflix-ing over coffee, or pushing through instead of relaxing with that glass of wine. It doesn’t mean being in a constant state of forceful motion, never letting the dust settle on your dreams, or your home.
Some days, making it count just means maintaining. Regulating. Recalibrating.
Some days it just means being a good friend; a good mom; a good partner; a good employee.
These things are the glue that holds it all together; the water that restores our life and vitality; the fuel that propels us closer to our ultimate feats.
So I’m here to tell you this today:
If you did it with love.
If you did it with meaning.
If you did it for the sake of your sanity and well-being.
It counts. Enough.
Healing Doesn’t Hurry
“Everyone else is stronger”.
“Everyone else has thicker skin.”
These are lies we tell ourselves when healing doesn’t hurry.
It’s a reassuring truth that just hit me this morning.
My daughter pointed her little finger at this picture of us seeing each other for the first time and said “baby”, in her tiny, high-pitched voice.
“Yes baby, that’s you”, I said with a smile as my stomach filled with butterflies; the anxious kind, not the joyous kind.
Because healing doesn’t hurry.
There’s so much captured in this small 3×5 frame that she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know that we only had a moment together. That they whisked her away from me for tests and tubes and IVs. That it would be another week before I’d hold her again, at least freely and uninhibited.
She doesn’t know that the fluorescent lights of the NICU are still burned into my mind’s eye. That I still have flashbacks of helplessly watching her shiver from hypothermic therapy.
That I was terrified. Angry. Wrecked. Felt cheated. Felt guilty for feeling cheated. Still feel guilty for feeling cheated.
Because healing doesn’t hurry.
The gut-wrenching agony of 15 hours of traumatic labor is still a vivid memory. The emptiness of being stitched up with no baby in my arms to bond with, no feel-good oxytocin vibes to mask my fears, and the endless uncertainty of what was to come still haunts me in some fleeting moments.
When people ask when we’ll have another—when we’ll bless our daughter with a sibling—I suppress the knot deep down into the pit of my stomach, smile through gritted teeth and say “ohhhh, maybe someday”.
Because I’m not ready. Because healing doesn’t hurry.
These thoughts and feelings don’t run my life; they don’t steal my joy. They’re the connective tissue that lives inside a small, but very deep cut, that hasn’t quite yet closed. They’re a part of me for now; woven into the tapestry of my world, sparking a sharp twinge of pain when I remember that they’re there.
“It’s been long enough, you should be past this by now.”
Sometimes when we’re healing, these are words we tell ourselves.
These are words we think other people think.
“Everyone else is stronger”.
“Everyone else has thicker skin.”
Everyone’s had their battles and they sure as heck haven’t escaped unscarred.
But faith overshadows. Love mends.
And time—it heals—but you better believe it doesn’t hurry.
Life of Contrast
Let’s live a life of contrast, not balance.
Let us hear music with light, etherial melodies, without shying away from heavy, dissonant chords.
Let us fuel our bodies with crisp, nutrient-rich foods while guiltlessly indulging in risotto and ice cream.
Be lifted up by films full of magic and warmth and fantasy as often as those that are dark, thought-provoking, and somber.
May we remain grounded in sight of the beauty in our lives without hesitating to shout our anguish from the highest mountains.
May we feel the grit of hot sand below our feet running along beaches as often as the sting of frozen, numb fingers building snowmen.
Catch the rush of running stadiums or biking marathons or lifting or power yoga, but settle into the healing power of days spent on couches in pjs.
Revel in moments of bravery, and sit bravely with fears.
Watch the pastels of the sunset fade into darkness—over cityscapes lit up by street lights, and countrysides sparkling with fireflies.
Work hard, play hard; fight loudly, love boldly.
Cry forcefully, laugh fiercely; be hopeful, be doubtful; be messy, be clean.
Drink water, drink wine.
Allow yourself—your mind, your body, your soul—to go wherever it needs to at any given moment. Don’t hold back.
Don’t refrain just to strive for some leveling-out of sorts.
When we embrace the extremes that evoke the most powerful sensations—good or bad, high or low, shallow or deep—the oh-so-elusive balance will effortlessly evolve.
What Do You Do When Your Tower Breaks?
As I sat drinking my coffee this morning I watched my daughter meticulously stack towers of legos one by one, square on top of square, rectangle on top of rectangle.
Once in place, she’d give each block a couple little pats to make sure it was secure, smile and clap for herself (my favorite part), and then pick out another one to add.
But every once in a while she’d push a little too hard on one side and the tower would detach from the base, but remain intact.
Obviously the most logical next step would be to simply reattach the whole tower to the base and just keep stacking from there, right?
But I actually had to stop myself from interfering with her process as I watched her take apart the entire tower block by block, and start building from scratch.
I don’t know exactly what goes through the brain of a one year old when making these kinds of choices.
Maybe in her mind it was cut and dry—something broke. So it only makes sense to start over and try things in a different order; in a different place.
Or more likely, for her, the enjoyment lies in the piecing-together, not in making the tallest tower in the shortest amount of time.
Whatever her reason, she’s onto something.
And I couldn’t help but wonder how often we fail to apply this logic in our own over-programmed worlds.
When something breaks or just isn’t working for us in our lives, how often do we keep piling on and piling on without stopping for a bit to recalibrate—to ask ourselves what might we do differently to make this more sustainable?
How often do we just reapply the full stack of day to day actions just because it’s stuff we’ve always done, all because we think it’s the fastest, most efficient means to the desired end?
How often do we just go through the motions of our days because we’re conditioned to believe those are the best or only ways; because we’re too tired or rushed to pause and re-examine the foundation?
And I realized, I do this all the time.
It feels easier to just keep on adding on without stopping to dissect the parts, scrapping a few old and adding a few new to see if we can strengthen the structure.
Making even the smallest changes can feel daunting.
It can feel like we’re starting over, unless we stop to remind ourselves that just getting to the finish line was never the point in the first place.
There’s a theory in design called ‘gestalt’—in the simplest context meaning “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Even though this was drilled into to me in college, clearly my toddler has a better grasp on it than I do.
The building blocks of our lives are not found in the major milestones but in securing the every day bricks that help to get us there—patting them into place with a smile and a clap.
What can we do in our own day to day to start relishing the build, before the tower is complete and we stand at its feet, eyes skyward, wondering how it got there?