stopping for snuggles

What is she doing?

The scene flashes before my eyes quicker than my brain can process what I see. There is a clearing where I get on the freeway and another ten freeways converge and veer off. I see a woman standing there, safely centered in the middle of a grassy area with her car pulled off the road. The expanse is surrounded by fast-paced, southern Californian roads and freeways. She stands out like a sore thumb.

She is holding her baby.

Her body gently sways back and forth as the look of patience and compassion adorns her. So many thoughts rush through me as I try to put the pieces together.

I have vivid memories of driving with my baby screaming behind me, helpless and frazzled as I navigated to our destinations. The tension would mount in my shoulders, tying my muscles into knotted rocks.

I was always so convinced of the nuisance I was to other drivers, sure they could hear what was happening in my car. They knew what a terrible mother I was a) for not being able to keep my child from crying in the car and b) for getting in everyone’s way as I drove so flustered and frantically.

But this woman let that all go. She stopped. And for this moment, when I saw her, she was living out her priority that her child was more important than her destination or what other people thought of her.

And she has come to my mind so many times in the last week. I have been raw and surging with hormones. I’ve been processing some family stuff. I’ve been wrestling with a desire to write more that clearly doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. And I have been reading The Hunger Games – with all it’s intensity (dying I love it so much, by the way!) – which has delightfully pulled all of my emotions right to the surface of me.

As a result, I’ve been a little short tempered with my children. This is my Achilles’ heal, my continual battle with myself. Not getting loud and shaming when my patience runs thin. And while it is true that my children are neither perfect nor angelic, my temper is my problem, not theirs.

And in the middle of one of my “You better get your shoes on or you will be late for your preschool fieldtrip!” episodes, my four-year-old looked up at me with his crocodile-tears and big hazel-brown eyes and adorable little face and cried out, “I want some snuggles!”

He does this from time to time when I loose my cool.

And it is as precious as it sounds.

And I immediately think of that mom safely off to the side of the freeway, swaying back and forth with her baby cradled against her body. And I stop, and I snuggle my four year old. Know what? Turns out snuggles is just what I need right now, too.

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reminders

Why do I always need reminders? Don’t get me wrong, I know one gigantic reason is that ½ my brain cells were lost with each baby I gave birth to (and let’s remember I have three children). But I need reminders about more than just, “Where are my keys?” and, “What time does karate start?” and, “Which night is open house again?”

I need reminders about the important things in life. That is why I love reading Francesca Zelnick’s blog so much. She reminds me that there is beauty and love in this world. Because for some reason I am prone to forgetting.

My reminders often come in unexpected, seemingly random ways. Except they seem to be timed just perfectly for what I need when I need it. Funny.

Like a few days ago when I dropped my middle son off at school. I took my youngest to give his daily hello and fist bump to one of our favorite teachers and she had eggs hatching in her room.

I know. So cute, right?

Those new little chicks were a desperately needed reminder to me that new life is just around the corner. I never know when that egg will crack and something beautiful, in an ugly sort of way, will come out and warm my heart.

Once the chicks get fluffy, they are irresistibly adorable. But before that, when they first emerge from their shell, their feathers are wet, their heads are floppy, their feet are well too big for them, and they can’t seem to stand up straight.

And they are so very sleepy. Breaking out of the shell that once was protective and nurturing but now is cramped and restrictive is difficult work. The poor things just look exhausted.

But they are born.

And I am like those chicks, struggling to get my true self out of the shell. There is always something new birthing inside of me. And sometimes there is so much struggle involved in that process. It can feel endless.

So I soaked in those chicks this week because they reminded me. Hope.

Because sometimes, I simply forget.

My new life is around the corner, too.

practice is hard

I have a confession. There are things I say as a parent that come out of my mouth much easier than they sink down into my heart.

“All anyone can ask is that you do your best.” Every parent has said it, right? But when it comes to living it out myself, occasionally I want to scream at that sentiment. Because sometimes my best is not good enough.

I mentioned recently about practicing life. Which was very lovely at the time, but what I failed to mention is that when I am giving my best at practicing something I suck at and I don’t see myself improving to the degree that I think my best should be improving me, I feel incredibly discouraged.

And overwhelmed.

It’s exhausting.

Truly.

And these are the kinds of times when that nice little sentiment about doing my best just doesn’t cut it. Don’t get me wrong; I realize the reality and truth. All I can do is my best.

But my best is not always enough for the task at hand or the opinions of those around me. And before I know it, my best is not good enough for me, either. And that is a much bigger problem.

Because what I think of me affects me much more than what other people think of me. My nasty little perfectionism tries to take over my brain and push me down so that I forget my value and worth as a human being.

And this is when, for me, it comes down to sheer perseverance. Can I ride out the storm happening inside of me long enough to see the sun shine again? Even though my best isn’t enough right now, can I keep going because I know it is all I can ask of myself?

Can I offer myself the same grace I offer my kids when I tell them all they can do is their best?

THANK YOU!!!

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...

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Who do I want to throw a party for? YOU, of course! (And maybe a little bit me, too.) I am going to break itsakoolife tradition of soul searching and asking deep questions I can’t answer and give a little “holla!” out to all of you wonderful readers.

First of all, I am so humbly and profoundly grateful for all of you who have supported this blog endeavor by actually reading my writing. For some bizarre reason, I am compelled to write down pieces of myself and share them with the world. Which really works best when other people are interested in reading what I have to say.

So thank you, thank you, thank you. I could not do this without you.

WordPress (my blog-supplier) recently added a feature that allows bloggers to see how many hits we get in which countries. They show you a map with sections colored in and everything. Super cool.

I was amazed and ecstatic to discover that in the last thirty days my blog has been looked at in 37 different countries around the world! We are global, people!!!

Seriously, I am over the moon. And I know that all comes from you, reading and sharing my writing. So I wanted to take a moment and say thank you for helping me do what I love to do.

In honor of this fun global-ness, (and because it was time) I re-vampted the who is itsakoolife? page. You might want to take a gander. I even put up some new photos.

I would also like to say a huge shout out to my sister, Karen Koch. She has been a faithful supporter and believer in me and I am so grateful. Everyone should be so lucky to have a sister like her. I am pretty sure I get more hits when she shares my posts on her facebook page than when I share them on mine!

And in the spirit of celebrating, I would like to acknowledge two fun friends I have made in this crazy blogging-cyber world. Francesca Zelnick and Kate McClafferty – I adore your writing and am continually inspired by you.

And while I am at it, I would like to send a huge hug of gratitude to Jeff Goins who is an established writer who helps other writers along the way with his great blog, goinswriter.com. He even sometimes allows others to post links on his site (which I did and I am pretty sure that is where we got ½ the 37 country’s hits from).

So thank you. Each and every one of you.

pushing through the yuck

Why am I so teary writing this post? My oldest son asked me if I would write about his blackbelt test (a perk of having a parent who is a writer?). The hosts of our friends and karate family who came to watch his test all got choked up. I, however, did not shed a tear. Until trying to write this dang post.

All three of our boys take karate (for those familiar with the vast world of martial arts, our form is called Tang Soo Do) and we spend an inordinate amount of time at the studio. Truly, I have questioned our sanity many times in the last four years.

I won’t lie. The road to blackbelt was an arduous journey. In addition to knowing more forms and techniques and combinations of moves than I could possible hold your attention to explain, he also had a 1000 word essay due before the test and all kinds of crazy karate history and Korean terminology he had to know.

About a month before the test, we were reviewing the Korean for “ridge knife hand”. The study guide told us the Korean for that was “yuck soo do”. I chuckled at the irony. Joshua of course wanted to know what I was laughing at, so I explained.

When you are hiking a mountain, just before you get to the ridge you are ready to throw in the towel. You are not quite high enough to see the view that makes it all worth it and you are exhausted from the climb.

I told my son that is where you are on the climb to this blackbelt right now. You are at that point when you want to say, “yuck soo do” instead of “tang soo do”. You pretty much want to give karate the finger right now.

I am convinced I will never forget how to say “ridge knife hand” in Korean.

He hung in there and took the five-hour test the next month…and he nailed it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a frigging hard test and a grueling experience. But he endured and overcame as I watched. And my chest swelled with pride.

And now when I see him in his black-trimmed uniform I am speechless and my emotions run away with me. Life is full of mountain climbs and things we have to fight our way through. Most of them are made even more difficult because they are internal and intangible.

But now, at the tender age of eleven, my son can look at his black belt and remember the value in fighting big battles, in facing big giants and not backing down. He knows what it is to push through the yuck and see the view at the top of the mountain. And he knows he is worth what it takes to get there.

water process and patience

Why was I drawn to the water that day? I was on another treasure hunt, looking for something intangible. I hate that place of knowing I need something but not knowing what it is.

I left the muck and mire of my life and went out in search of that unknown thing. I had been feeling a little stuck in my life, trapped underneath the dishes and toilets and laundry and relentlessness of schedules. I needed to catch a breath.

And I saw so many beautiful things that day. I captured them in my camera lens so I could bring them home with me. And all of it helped, but the water seemed to haunt me a little more than anything else.

Pure and clear, the water was quite a contrast to my muddled and murky heart that day. I was filled with both my own humanity and that of others, covered in confusion. I wanted to be cleaned off.

I longed for the peaceful sound the water made swirling into itself to leave a few drops of serene on me. I wanted the beautiful white noise of the water to drown out the sounds of my world.

And I wanted the water to smooth out my rough edges, much like I saw it had done to parts of the steps it was pouring down. Water has this amazing capacity to wear down mountains and round off the sharpest of corners. Water can take a large and cutting boulder and reduce it to a smooth river rock.

The thing is, that all takes time. It is not instant and often does not feel like it is happening at all. I believe we call such transformational journeys process. And sometimes that process of being cleaned off and soul-soothed requires more of my patience than I want it to.

oops…my roots are showing

When I saw these trees I immediately sensed they were showing me something about myself. Sometimes I feel like my roots are exposed. Like others can see parts of me meant for keeping underground.

I do not hide my emotions well. Add to it the fact that I blush easier than an elephant gains weight. And I am one of the fairest people you will ever meet, so my crimson shade has very little pigment to hide behind.

I am not a pretty crier, either. My nose turns into a faucet of snot and my eyes turn red and blotchy and it is about the most hideous thing you have ever seen. And it takes hours for me to look normal. Again, the fair skin does me no favors here.

Sometimes I am okay being so vulnerable. Sometimes it is intentional, like when I am around safe people whose love I can count on. Or when I am being brave and purposefully putting myself out there in my writing or by making a new friend.

And then there are other times when it’s an accident. When my emotions are controlling me for the moment and I am embarrassed and can do nothing else other than live through the experience and somehow make it out the other side.

But then I see these trees with their roots exposed and I think it is one of the most exquisite things I have ever seen in my life. Somehow it is ugly and breathtaking all at once. And I understand, ever so slightly, why we find such beauty in the transparency of one another.

These roots – these things that most of the time stay underground and out of sight – are a beautiful, mysterious mess. Just like me.