When’s the Last Time Life Excited You?

hug life 1“With arms outstretched I thank.
With heart beating gratefully I love.
With body in health I jump for joy.
With spirit full I live.”
~Terri Guillemets

I honestly could not remember seeing my child this excited about something in her whole life. She exploded off the school bus gripping the American Heart Association Jump Rope for Heart information sheet in her hand and never let it out of her sight. She studied it while eating a snack. She kept it right beside her while she did her homework. She read over it multiple times while I made dinner as if she’d be tested on it.

“Every $50 we earn can help a child with a heart problem,” she explained to me during a rare glance up from the paper. “If we earn $5, we get Splatter. He’s the duck with the paint splotches. And I really want to earn Sky Dude. See him, Mama?” Avery pointed to a green duck wearing an orange helmet. “I am going to ask people to sponsor me. Then I am going to practice jumping.”

My daughter ran off to get started on her plan, nearly forgetting her colorful brochure—but not quite. When she ran back and snatched it up like a rare diamond, the oddest statement came to my head.

“I want to get excited about ducks.”

I trudged up to Avery’s room where she was supposed to be picking out a book to read for bedtime. Instead she was studying a small dish filled with colorful rocks. She had the neck of the bendable light shining directly down on her collection. She was investigating each one like a true geologist.

rocks
“Do you think this a piece of chalk or a rock?” she posed with a giggle. I could tell it was a trick question, so I played along.

“It sure looks like chalk to me,” I replied.

“Nope! It’s a rock!” Avery then proceeded to tell me how she was going to take a few rocks to school tomorrow to show her teacher and classmates.

As she described noteworthy qualities about each colorful stone, a thought I’d never had in my life came to me. “I want to get excited about rocks.”

First it was ducks then it was rocks. I had no idea where this coming from.

The next morning Avery bounded down the stairs fully dressed and ready for breakfast. She was clutching the Jump Rope for Heart paper in one hand and her rock collection in the other. It was 6:35 a.m. and she was smiling the way people do when they are sailing away on a tropical cruise. I found her pre-dawn cheerfulness slightly irritating.

“Listen, Mama,” she instructed looking deliriously happy. “Sally, seashell, supper, silver.”

I looked at her cluelessly. It was much too early for word riddles.

“I can say my S’s now even with the appliance in my mouth!” Avery explained. Then she cheered a hearty “yes!” accompanied by a fist pump. She actually fist pumped and it was still dark outside.

There I stood in my mismatched pajamas and mismatched socks holding a plate of eggs made the way I always make them thinking, “I want to get excited about S’s too.”

Although it was painful to admit, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt excited … like bursting-at-the-seams excited … like wearing-pure-joy-on-my-face excited. Truthfully, I was in a slump. My heart felt like it was only half beating. My view of the world looked colorless. Should I consider medication? Meditation? Vacation? What’s wrong with me? I wondered.

All day I thought about my lack of excitement, my missing enthusiasm, my going-through-the-motions existence. I’d just started a 21-Day Choose Love Challenge. I’d vowed to choose love as my response in times of anger, frustration, distraction, and overwhelm, but suddenly I also wanted to Choose to Love Life More. I wanted to get excited about unexpected triumphs and everyday blessings the way my eight-year-old daughter did. But was such an aspiration unachievable? I wondered. Maybe this is just what happens when you get older. After all, very little is new and fresh anymore. My days are redundant; my schedule is predictable. Perhaps only children can get excited about plastic ducks, shiny rocks, and correctly pronounced words. I had no answers, but I felt slightly more hopeful because I was asking questions—even ones that hurt.

Avery got off the bus that afternoon with three little plastic ducks joyfully swinging from her neck. By the look on her face, it was Christmas in February. She merrily informed me that she had to practice jumping rope as soon as she got home.

I sat on the driveway bundled up from head to toe while my coatless child demonstrated several variations of jump roping despite the bitter wind. I couldn’t help but notice the way the plastic ducks danced on her chest with every hop. As Avery got into a rhythm, the ducks literally came to life.

jump rope
“May I try?” I blurted out of nowhere.

Avery looked thrilled by my request and handed me the rope.

I hadn’t expected to twirl the rope multiple times without tripping. I hadn’t expected it to actually be fun. I hadn’t expected Avery to smile so brightly at the sight of her mama jumping rope.

“Wow! You’re pretty good, Mama!” she said with a blend of shock and delight on her face.

Between the sunshine, her smile, and the movement of my stiff body, I felt a little better. I felt a little pulse coming back to my lifeless veins.

A few hours later Avery asked if she could set up a “spa” to pamper me. I thought about saying it was too late. I was tired and just wanted to put her to bed. But those ducks hanging around her neck seemed to beckon me with their animated eyes.

After agreeing to her offer, my child promptly filled a shallow container with warm, soapy water. She lovingly caressed my feet while the ducks hung suspended over the water as if they were flying. Avery patted my feet dry and soothed fragrant lotion into my thirsty winter skin.

spa
I hadn’t expected her to be so good at massaging my feet. I hadn’t expected it to feel this soothing. Between her soft little hands, the tranquility of the water, and our loving connection, I felt a little better. I felt a little life awakening in my sleeping bones.

The next afternoon was Avery’s swim team practice day. She’d just finished up dryland training, which is the conditioning portion of practice that involves running and calisthenics.

“Want me to show you where our team runs when we go outside?” Avery asked eagerly.

I really wanted to get home. I needed to start dinner. But the ducks—the ducks got me again. They seemed to whisper, “Say yes.”

“Okay,” I spit out reluctantly.

“Follow my path,” Avery called out looking back at me with an encouraging smile. Something told me those were words to remember.

Avery and I ran for seven solid minutes. We ran up concrete stairs, around bends, and down hilly inclines. She was grinning the whole time—this little girl who really doesn’t like to run was grinning and running. And the ducks were dancing against her heart.

“No walking, Mama,” she coached when I began to slow my pace. “Gotta get your heart rate up!”

My heart rate was up. Oh, how my heart was beating. Between the encouragement of my mini trainer and the sight of my warm breath hitting the cold air, I caught a glimpse of color in my colorless world. A little spark of life tingled in my extremities.

Follow my path. Those words stuck with me. A few days later, their importance was revealed.

It was Day Seven of the Choose Love Challenge. I’d taken my daughters and their friend to a rustic park with gentle trails nestled among tall trees. It was unseasonably warm that day and after a short hike the kids asked if they could spend time building huts in the forest. They pointed down to small valley off the beaten path with a tranquil stream and an abundance of fallen tree limbs.

“Please say yes! Please say yes!” they begged.

I looked around and noticed no one else was straying from the designated trail. But I had to admit, the children were right. It was the perfect spot to build their village.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “Let’s go.”

We scaled down the ravine together. I listened to the three companions discussing where they would set up a restaurant, town hall, and their individual huts. After an hour of planning and gathering, I could see we would be there awhile. I began my favorite activity in the whole world: walking. And because the children were in the middle of the open ravine, I was able to keep my little builders in sight.

park
I lost count of the number of people who stopped to watch the children and delight in their imaginative storyline. I lost count of the number of children who begged their parents to let them go off the path too. I lost count of the number of times I looked down and marveled at the joy the children were finding in dead wood and lively company.

That’s when it hit me.

As a child, nearly everything is a new path. Children feel excitement about every opportunity, every trail, and every experience because they see it through Beginner’s Eyes.

But as an adult, it becomes more difficult to encounter anything novel or unfamiliar. Daily redundancy and expected outcomes bring a lifelessness that can feel all-consuming and hopeless.

But just because you are an adult does not mean you must live a life void of excitement, passion, and joy. Just because you are no longer a beginner does not mean you can’t have Beginner’s Eyes like a child. You can. Simply go off the beaten path:

Take a different route
Accept a challenge
Learn something new
Say yes to invitations that go outside your comfort zone
Surround yourself with Livers of Life
Stop expecting and be open to the unexpected

Every time you feel that ache to feel more enthusiasm than you currently do, say something you thought you’d never say:

I want to get excited about fuzzy socks.
I want to get excited about snowflakes.
I want to get excited about bath bubbles, cereal that doesn’t get soggy, and balloons with curly, red ribbons.
I want to get excited about crunchy green apples in the dead of winter.
I want to get excited about this glorious day in front of me just waiting to be lived.

Say it and then see where it takes you.

With Beginner’s Eyes, what is lost can be found.

With Beginner’s Eyes, a lifeless heart can be resuscitated.

With Beginner’s Eyes, an uncharted path becomes available. All you have to do say YES with an open hand and heart.

(Ducks optional)

hands
* A special thanks to Avery’s amazing P.E. teacher (you know the one) who inspired Avery and the entire student body to jump! They raised $35,000 for The American Heart Association! Now that’s something to get excited about!  

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, it seems like forever since we last talked. I have missed you! Please tell me how you spent the last 21 days choosing love. Tell me your triumphs. Tell me your struggles. It’s so good to be back!

One thing that never fails to excite me is meeting you, my beloved readers. I am speaking in Indiana in March and would love to see you at one of these events:

Thursday, March 12
Batesville Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series
RomWeber Marketplace Banquet Hall
7 South Eastern Avenue, Batesville
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
My presentation begins at 6:15 p.m.
Book signing at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20 per person includes appetizers & soft drinks
Click here for all the details.

Saturday, March 14
Grand Opening of St. Vincent’s Carmel Women’s Center
13500 N. Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN
I will be speaking from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. with a book signing directly following
.
This is a FREE EVENT with a morning of giveaways, health screenings, pop-up boutiques, & more
Click here for all the details.

*If you have any friends in Indiana that you think might be interested in attending, I’d be grateful if you share my Events page. Thank you!

One Word That Can Bring Us Back to What Matters

name HFM 1For the past six months, my 11-year-old daughter and I have been preoccupied with baby names. You see, when my sister-in-law invited Natalie and I to offer name suggestions for her third baby, we embraced it like a full-time job. At swim meets, we scoured the heat sheets for lovely names. At the doctor’s office, we exchanged knowing glances when we heard a name we thought my sister-in-law might like. My daughter and I searched baby name websites and when we found a good prospect, we’d pronounce it with the last name. If it had a pleasing sound, we’d write out the initials to make sure it didn’t spell anything inappropriate or odd. If the name passed all our tests, we’d send it to my sister-in-law hoping to make the monumental decision a little bit easier.

I’d nearly forgotten how both agonizing and exciting the name selection process was for my own two children. Tucked inside their baby books are lists of beautiful names that for several days or even months represented so much more than a name—they represented a future.

“I cannot wait for Natalie to be borned,” my fair-haired student, Morgan, would say every morning when she came to school and hugged my growing belly. I joked with my students that Natalie would be a very smart girl someday because she attended nine months of first grade before she was even born. Deep down, it wasn’t really a joke. I felt as if I could see her future, or at least envision grand possibilities, simply by saying her name.

Upon arrival, Natalie instantly lived up to her name. She had a full head of jet-black hair and was content and alert. Upon arriving home from the hospital, I made up a song using her name so we both could hear the beauty of her name over and over. Through her early years, Natalie’s name remained a sacred word spoken with immense love and care.

But somewhere along the line, that changed.

[Read more…]

Preparing the Ones We Love For a Troubling World

preparing for world #HFM

My older daughter was sitting on the floor of her room totally engrossed in a project. She was writing to her sponsored child, Priscilla, but I didn’t know what she was writing because it was written in Swahili.

The last letter she sent was also written in Priscilla’s native language, but I thought it would be a one-time thing. I was surprised to see my typically speedy child patiently looking up words on the Internet in order to write full sentences in a foreign language. She knew all notes written in English were translated to the sponsored child, but for some reason she felt compelled to write in words Priscilla could read and understand herself.

“I see you’re writing in Swahili again,” I said sitting down next to my daughter.

“I want to be sure she knows she is loved … in words she can understand,” my daughter explained. “There are many diseases in and around her village,” she said gravely. “This way Priscilla can read the letter herself and won’t have to wait for a translator.”

That powerful little tidbit shed some light on my daughter’s motive.

“I want these words to stick,” my child added determinedly.

Like a bulletin board, I thought to myself looking at the corkboard directly behind my daughter’s head. It was filled with photos, motivational quotes, swim team goals, and love notes from family members. It was filled with words and images she wanted remember—treasures she wanted to stick with her.

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Finding Your Footing in New Beginnings

grave #handsfreemama

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ” –Lin Yutang

One of the first things I did when I moved to my new state this summer was look for a quiet place to walk. You may recall that I had a hilly, serene area near my last home where I walked daily for the six years that I lived there. Many powerful epiphanies occurred to me on that stretch of tarmac where cars seldom passed. I had a feeling that finding a place where my legs could grow tired as my spirit came alive might be challenging here in my new, much bigger city. My suspicions were right.

On my first outing, I quickly realized it would be necessary for me to leave my neighborhood if I wanted a substantial walk. Upon exiting my subdivision I was greeted by a heavily traveled roadway that was intimidating, to say the least. There would be no daydreaming here, no getting lost in my own thoughts. This bustling thoroughfare screamed, “Pay attention or you might get hurt!”

I took a deep breath and forged ahead, hugging the outer edge of the sidewalk farthest from the busy road. With every Nissan and Chevrolet that barreled past, my hair blew back from my face and hot air hugged my legs. I kept my head down and walked briskly, pausing briefly to notice the historic cemetery on my right. I’m pretty sure I would have felt sad (or a little creeped out) if I hadn’t been so focused on finding a peaceful place to continue my walk.

As soon as I got past the cemetery, I saw what I was looking for: an established neighborhood canopied by lush trees and not a moving vehicle in sight. I immediately turned right and walked the shady maze of side streets and cul-de-sacs for an hour. When it was time to return home, I resisted the urge to walk past the cemetery at a quickened pace. Instead I noticed the names and dates of those who lived over a century ago.

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A Live More/Love More Summer: Getting Back to What Matters Most

live more love more 1

Just because summer is here doesn’t mean life’s demands and daily stressors magically disappear. Digital distraction is more than willing to ruin your family picnic. Perfection is ready to sabotage your refreshing dip in the pool. Pressure is ready to pounce from the bleachers of the ball field, and criticism is prepared to blast lane four at the swim meet. Hurry and impatience are fiercely determined to spoil a day at the beach or amusement park. As you know, distraction, perfection, and social pressures don’t take a summer vacation. They manage to weasel their way into our daily lives no matter what season it is. But it doesn’t have to be this way. How does a Live More/Love More Summer sound to you? Let’s use these precious summer months to get back to what matters most. Here’s how I do it (and by the way, this approach works year-round) … 

As my family makes our final preparations for an upcoming move out-of-state, I’ve been forced to think about what home means to me. I’ve always believed home is a feeling, not a place. But more specifically, home is the feeling of peace and completeness I feel when I am surrounded by the people I love. But recently, my definition of home has expanded.

Home is also living Hands Free.

What began as small, daily intentions to let go of distraction, societal pressure, and perfection has become a necessary way of life. Like water, air, and food, I need time to connect to what matters in some form or fashion each day—time to laugh, listen, and love are daily requirements for me.

Smelling my daughter’s freshly washed hair … feeling sunshine on my face as I wait for swim practice to conclude … jotting writing ideas in a notebook … talking to my husband when the house is quiet at night … fierce hugs before we go our separate ways … my Hands Free moments are home to me now.

But I must be realistic. As much as I would love all moments in life to be calm, present, safe, and undistracted, it is simply not possible. We live in a fast-paced world saturated with duties, deadlines, and devices. In a world inundated with distractions, it is easy to get far from home. Summertime is no exception.

Yet with almost four years experience living Hands Free, I am able to detect when I am getting too far from home. No longer am I willing to push and pressure and yes my way through life to the point I lose sight of everything that matters most.

Here are some of the difficult truths I say to myself when I am getting too far from home. These “red flags” help me realize when I need to say no, re-establish my boundaries, or reassess what matters and what doesn’t.

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A Reason for the Listening Face

listening face #hands free mama

In the past week, the same question arose during a magazine interview and also while serving on a mindful parenting panel. This leads me to believe that the topic is important; it’s relevant; and it’s on our minds. While I feel the question and my response are both worthy of sharing, it goes much further than that. This particular question has led me to reflect on how I want to live out this one precious life. It’s brought me one step closer to grasping what really matters. This is my story … 

Why is it important to remember to be hands free in front of our children?” I was asked twice in one week.

And this was my response:

Our children are learning how to navigate life in a digital world by watching us. Through mindful technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, they will learn that the device takes priority over human beings and real life experiences. Their tech use is likely to resemble our tech use – so what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurant is likely what they will do.

One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:

If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.

If I want my children to appreciate the joy of a screen-free Saturday afternoon in the future, I must take time to show them the joys of screen-free Saturday now.

If I want my children to look directly into the eyes of those who speak to them when they are adults, I must look into their eyes and listen to their words now.

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can now to be a hands free parent as they grow.

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After I submitted my response to the magazine editor and relayed this perspective to a room full of conference attendees, I found myself going back to the “ultimate hope” line again and again:

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes.

Keeping in mind how I want to be remembered by my loved ones when I am gone motivates me far more than any other tactic I use to grasp what really matters each day.

But let’s be real. It’s hard to be present, patient, and purposeful in this fast-paced, achievement-oriented, digitally-saturated world we live in. We often feel pressured to be available in the most remote places, during the most sacred times. We often have a multitude of requests coming at us with flashing lights and intrusive dings. We live in a world that wants to know how much we accomplished … a world where daily achievements are publically displayed … a world that values instantaneous electronic responses over leisurely face-to-face connection.

It’s hard to LET GO and LIVE when the world is constantly tapping us on the shoulder reminding us there is so much to be done.

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Who You Are Now Matters More

who you are now 3

It was a simple enough recipe—place peanuts and several types of chocolate in a crockpot for two hours and then scoop out the melted mixture in dollops to create bite-sized treats.

Simple, right? Well, not if you forget about it for four hours.

My younger daughter came downstairs when she smelled a pungent odor wafting from the kitchen. “What is that horrible smell, Mama?” she asked scrunching up her face as I scraped peanuts that now resembled black beans into the sink.

chocolate disaster handsfree mama

“I just wasted four bags of chocolate because I forgot to turn off the crockpot. I cannot believe I did that!” I chastised myself as I aggressively shoved charred clumps of chocolate into the garbage disposal. “And now I don’t have anything to bring to the party.” I didn’t try to hide my disappointment. I couldn’t believe I’d messed up something so simple.

And that’s when a little voice of wisdom cut right through the burnt haze of my frustration.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” consoled my daughter. “Remember, Mama?”

Remember.

She was telling me to remember because those have been my words to her over the past three years. In every possible way, I tell her mistakes are okay. Mistakes are necessary. Mistakes are what happen when you are living life and taking chances.

Unlike her older sister, she doesn’t remember how it used to be. During my highly distracted years the pressure to be perfect was fierce. Innocent mistakes were met with aggravated sighs and eye rolls. It wasn’t until I saw the pressure my older daughter was putting on herself that I realized I needed to stop shunning mistakes and embrace them as part of our home and our lives.

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Vow to Breathe

vow to breathe #hands free mama

My favorite beach activity when I was girl was to rescue live starfish that had washed up on shore. I couldn’t bear to see helpless five-pointed creatures withering in the sun. Regardless of how long it took or how many times I had to bend over, I’d put every washed up starfish back into the water.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped saving starfish.

Actually, I can pinpoint exactly when it happened: My highly distracted years—when to-do lists took over … when the pace of my life was a constant mad dash to a finish line that couldn’t be reached … … when I gripped my devices tighter than the hands of my loved ones … when I said yes to everything requested of me outside the home and said no to the most important tasks inside the home, like playing, laughing, and making memories.

Family beach vacations during those years were no different. If I’d go out for a walk or a run on the beach, I was solely focused on logging miles, a revolving to-do list in my head, or getting back to the hotel to corral the troops for the next thing on the agenda.

I’d become so driven in my daily life that even on vacation I ceased to savor the journey along the way. And this meant walking right by washed up starfish.

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Enough

enough handsfree mama

Sometimes I find myself sitting behind the wheel of the car thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the bickering.
Enough with the chauffeuring, the gas-guzzling, the bumper-to-bumper.
Enough with the gum wads stuck between cracker-crumb filled crevices where nice leather seats used to be.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the wrinkles, the puffiness, and the sleep-deprived eyes.
Enough with the loose skin and the unstoppable gray hairs.
Enough with the laugh lines that look anything but happy.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the meal prep: morning, noon, and night.
Enough with the picky eater, the slow eater, the dirty dishes, and lack of counter space.
Enough with finding the unachievable balance of nutritious and kid-approved.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself gazing at photos of tropical beaches and secluded getaways thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the perpetual ticking clock,
Enough with the steady stream of demands, the dust bunnies, and missing library books.
Enough with the needs of others that never seem to be satisfied.
Enough, I say. Enough.

But then something happens to pull me out of my negative abyss and set my head on straight.

[Read more…]

A Simple Tool for a More Positive Home

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child's life and it's like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

 The other night I was lying beside my 6-year-old daughter at bedtime when she snuggled in close and released a contented sigh. “I’m glad I have a family,” she whispered softly.

After agreeing whole-heartedly with her beautiful statement, an unexpected question popped out of my mouth. “If you didn’t have a family, who would you want to live with?” I asked.

Without hesitation, she rattled off four extraordinary women in our family’s life, including a current teacher and a past teacher.

As we were discussing these special ladies, my oldest daughter popped into her sister’s room to return something she borrowed. “What are you talking about?” she inquired.

When I told her what we were discussing, she immediately confirmed the value of a teacher in a child’s life by saying, “If I didn’t have a family, I would want to live with my teacher, Mrs. Reynolds.”

I was not the least bit surprised that my daughters had great affection and trust for these particular teachers. I had been in their classroom many times. I saw the love they had for their students displayed in both words and actions on many occasions.  On the day my youngest child came to school in her new glasses, her teacher did not wear her contact lenses as usual. She dug up her old glasses and wore them so my child would not feel alone. She did that for months—maybe even the remainder of the school year. To this day, my daughter still loves to wear her glasses, and she wears them with pride.

I also remember how one of these special teachers noticed my oldest daughter was struggling with the organization of her assignments and loose papers. As soon as the teacher spotted the difficulty, she told my child, “When I was young, I was just like you. I had so many neat things going on in my brain it was hard to keep up with the papers.” As a team, my daughter and her teacher figured out a way to stay organized that my daughter still uses today.

I could name countless ways these particular teachers chose to build on the positive when addressing my children’s differences, insecurities, and weaknesses rather than using condemnation to get them to change, conform, or improve.

I am fortunate to have observed these extraordinary teachers when I most needed to be reminded of the power of positivity. Because I must admit, I was once prone to criticize my children under the guise of “good intentions.” Whether it was poor posture, unmannerly eating habits, improper grooming, uncoordinated outfits, or a less-than-desired performance in sports or music, these were all areas in which I felt the need to correct. I justified the criticism by saying I didn’t want my child to be teased …  or I wanted her to be successful in life …  or be well liked … or gain self-confidence. But truthfully, it was all about me. I was concerned about how my children’s behavior or appearance was going to reflect on me. I pushed for perfection because I was overly concerned about what other people were going to think me, not them.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

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