To Build (or Crush) a Dream

dreamer #HFM
There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. -R. Buckminster Fuller

When I get in front of a classroom of children, I am home. I was a special education teacher for ten years before I became a full-time author and speaker. On occasion, my two passions—writing and teaching children—collide. I go into these situations on high alert. If there is ever a time to pay very close attention, it is in a classroom. Because if I do, I know I will be the one to walk away educated and inspired.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at my daughters’ new school. I was prepared to be enlightened. I was not disappointed.

This is my story …

My presentation for both second and fifth graders consisted of two parts. The first part described the steps I took to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a published author. The second part of my presentation was a lesson and group exercise on descriptive writing.

As I spoke to the children, my teacher training quickly spotted the ones who were having trouble sitting still … the ones who were weary to raise their hands but clearly had something to say … the ones who were fiddling with something inside their desk, perhaps thinking of their own passions. I tried to draw the children out, sustain their attention, and create a safe environment where all ideas were accepted and respected. When it was time for the students to craft their own sentences, I was pleased that most of them looked comfortable and engaged.

As the students worked quietly, I was able to interact individually with each one. Their unique personalities surfaced during these brief exchanges—their comments and posture revealing details about their life experiences, their confidence, and their strengths.

As I was preparing to leave the fifth grade classroom, a boy asked for my autograph. This idea started a trend. As the children lined up with blank notebook paper in hand, I felt compelled to write more than my name or “Live Hands Free.” In black Sharpie I wrote, “Go after your dreams!” Then I paused and asked each child, “What is your dream?”

Every single child had an answer.
There were no hesitations.
There were no duplications.

Every single child, no matter how reserved or how outgoing … no matter how serious or how silly … no matter how neat or disheveled, had a dream. And more importantly, every child had a twinkle in the eye when speaking about it.

[Read more…]

Before You Decide All Hope is Lost …


*name has been changed

“My dad wasn’t perfect. He lost his temper sometimes. He worked too much. He experienced periods of depression. But even through the rough patches, my dad always listened to me. He was never too busy, too distracted, or too desolate to listen to what I had to say—even in the rough patches.

And despite what the critics say—that giving a child our undivided attention creates a child who thinks the world revolves around him or her—I believe otherwise. Having a parent that listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice that matters in this world.” –Rachel Macy Stafford

When I shared the above quote on The Hands Free Revolution page I received the following reader comment: “I listened to my kids. Now they won’t talk to me. Reading this makes me feel guilty. Let’s see how your kids turn out in twenty years.”

Although it isn’t always easy, I try to glean insight from all the comments I receive—even the negative ones. And this one really got me thinking.

[Read more…]

Embrace The Reminder

A few weeks ago, the flu hit our home hard.  Instead of simply wreaking havoc for a few days and then moving on, this mega-virus hovered. It would tease us by appearing to be find its way to the door, then only to turn around, prop up its feet and announce, “I’ve decided to stay awhile!”

After ten days of being “home bound” with one or both of my ill daughters and experiencing excessive sleep deprivation, I was exhausted. I was grouchy and irritable. I longed for just two peaceful minutes alone. I dreamed of the days when something other than a sleeve of Saltine crackers sounded good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Let’s just say, to even think about being Hands Free at that time was just about enough to put me over the edge.

But through this journey, I have learned the times I most resist going Hands Free are the times I most need to go Hands Free.

And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

Part of this Hands Free journey is being “open” to the reminders and then to embrace the reminders with open arms (even when all you really feel like doing is crossing your arms stubbornly against your chest).

I felt like crossing my arms against my chest, but instead I embraced the reminder.

This is my story…

On day ten of the miserable homebound period, a dear neighbor kindly dropped off my oldest daughter’s missed schoolwork. Although I was in the worst mood, and the mere sight of that blasted red take-home folder brought expletives to my head, I managed to smile and thank her.

Before she turned to leave, I desperately needed to let someone know how I was truly feeling.

I peered out the door, but I was very careful not to get my germy breath and unkempt self too close to my neighbor’s personal space. Through clenched teeth I confided, “I have not been out of the house in ten days. I am about to lose it.”

I didn’t expect her to have an answer. But she did.

My sweet Southern friend said, “Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks?”

Go feed the ducks? That was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking more along the lines of going into seclusion for a few days.

Then she even offered to give me the bread to feed the ducks.

Either she is just truly kind and generous (which she is), or I really did look like I was about to lose it.

Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks? And I even have bread you can use. It’s so fun. The girls will love it.

She made it hard to say no, but it sounded like A LOT of effort. And all I really wanted to do was go in my bedroom and put a pillow over my head…or perhaps be productive and begin reducing the size of the enormous mound of dirty laundry that had accumulated in the last ten days.

I wanted to keep those arms tightly crossed against my chest. I did not feel like being Hands Free right now.

But instead, my inner Hands Free voice (which tends to interject some pretty unconventional thoughts at some of the most inconvenient times) said this: “Embrace the reminder.”

So I did.

“Girls!” I called. “Do you want to go feed the ducks?”

They looked at me strangely. Was it because they didn’t know we had ducks in our vicinity? Or was it because Mom would surely not leave the house looking like, well, like she had been home sick in the company of sick children for ten days.

“Miss Susie said it is really fun,” I added. I couldn’t believe now I was the one doing the convincing.

They looked at each other excitedly and then back to me. Smiling they said, “YES!”

And then the “Hands Free Rachel” that often ticks off “Control-freak Type A Rachel” did something quite unusual.  I told them to simply, “Go get dressed in anything you want,” the way their laid-back Daddy does.

They intelligently opened the front door to briefly assess today’s weather.

Discovering it was around 55 degrees and overcast, one put on shorts, a tank top, and flip flops. The other one wore a sweatshirt, a jean skirt and knee high boots. Go figure.

Both had perfected the “messy” up-do, but not in a good way.

Me? Let’s just say I fit in well with their hodgepodge of mismatched style and seasonal variety. Then I used my trusty standby…the good old hat, and we were out the door.

As we rode to the pond, the anticipatory smiles on the two faces of my pale children began to ease my grumpiness.

But it wasn’t until we arrived at the pond and began tossing the crumbs that my “funk” was completely lifted.

Maybe it was the smell of the fresh spring air in my tight and oppressed lungs…

Maybe it was the way my four-year-old referred to the two large geese as “Mama Duck” and “Daddy Duck” and the regular sized ducks as “Baby Ducks”…

Or perhaps it was the hypnotic ripples in the clear water as the ducks glided forth…

Maybe it was how the bird song snippets coming from the trees silenced my negative thoughts and replaced them with praises of gratitude…

Or perhaps it was the fact that we were throwing whole-wheat waffles (or as my four-year-old refers to them, “The yucky brown kind”) and graham crackers, yet the ducks seem to really enjoy this unusual fare.

Maybe it was all those things.

But in a matter of minutes, I felt renewed. The frustrations and exhaustion of the past ten days were lifted. The light that had been missing from my darkened spirit was found again.

And all it took was a reminder.

I was reminded that Mother Nature holds healing powers.

I was reminded that fresh air removes the heaviness in one’s heart.

I was reminded that joy on children’s faces is a glorious sight for tired eyes.

I was reminded that tranquility found by the water’s edge creates a blanket of calm around tense shoulders.

I was reminded that refuge from the storm can come in the form of feathers and crumbs.

I was reminded beauty is multiplied in the glow of natural light…even hair that has not been brushed for days.

I was so powerfully reminded of this essential truth: It is in the times that I least want to go Hands Free that I most need to go Hands Free.

And from now on, instead of crossing my arms, I will try to remember to open them wide.

Where do you go to lift your spirits when you are down? What places do you visit serve as reminders of what’s important? What people in your life replenish your depleted energy supply? Go to those places. Be with those people. Uncross your arms; open them wide. Grasp the reminder and renew your soul. Do it today.

The Steps of A Hero

I have had the privilege to witness the Hands Free transformation of one of my readers, an investment banker working in New York City.

Every time I see message in my inbox from my long distance partner in this Hands Free journey, I look forward to reading the latest developments in his personal quest to grasp what really matters.

It began with a message three months ago. He described the cutthroat environment in which he worked. He described the permeating greed that both motivated and destroyed. He described the cost of working long hours to those he held dear. He spoke of the absence of pure and simple respect and human kindness in the world around him.

And when he wrote to me he said, “I am not sure why I am writing you all of this.”

But I knew why.

Although he was technically writing to me, the message he wrote was to himself.

I know this because last July, during my Breakthrough Breakdown moment, I stood where he stood…

It is the moment you realize what you once thought was important is not.

It is the moment you understand what mattered before does not matter now.

It is the moment you begin to see the truth so clearly that it can no longer be denied.

It is the moment you begin to see that living the way you’re living now is not the way you want to live anymore.

And then either you decide it takes too much effort to change what you have been doing for so long. Or you decide enough is enough, and you begin to make changes.

Which is exactly what my friend did.

Since that first email message he sent to me, I am thrilled to report…

-He went on a three-day vacation without his two Blackberries and phone for the first time in three years.

He came to the defense of his colleague after he was blatantly disrespected and mistreated by their boss.

-He offered his employees time off so they could attend special family occasions, like birthdays and graduations. (After years of being expected to simply miss them due to work.)

– He took his son to the library to see what the infamous literary character “Froggy” was all about.

And the latest from the man who worked seven days a week for most of his adult life? Well, I will let you read it for yourself:

“I no longer work on Sundays.  I only work on Sunday night after everyone is asleep. I started a “Breakfast with Owen” on Sunday. Today we went to Whole Foods and the hot bar. Next Sunday, we are going to the local diner. And then the local IHOP after that.”

The pictures he included of himself with his adorable little son on a few of their adventures brought tears to my eyes…happy tears, of course.

I was amazed at how far my friend had come on his Hands Free journey in such a short time. Yet the words he used to describe his latest Hands Free actions were “little steps.”

From where I stand, I don’t see little steps. I see his accomplishments as huge, monumental, life-altering steps. I wonder if his wife and sweet baby boy might feel the same.

However, I find myself clinging to the term “baby steps.”  I love the fact that “baby steps” or “little steps” implies my friend is working toward a goal. He might not know what that goal is, but he wants to keep growing toward something more.

What is equally as important is the fact that it most often requires “little steps” to reach a goal. After all, when you have been living much of your adult life holding on tightly to “distraction, “ it is naturally going to take time (and baby steps) to let go of those detrimental habits.

And what stands out above it all is the fact that he took those first steps. We all know the first steps are often the hardest.

I recently told him he was my hero. He refuted and told me I was his hero.

But I will tell you why he is my hero and could possibly be yours.

This man gives people like me hope. If HE can take steps to live a Hands Free life…this man who works in a cutthroat, money hungry industry for a quick-tempered boss in one of the fastest paced cities in the world, then so can I.

Although he and I are different in many ways and live thousands of miles apart, we use the same Hands Free tactics to “let go” of distraction in our daily lives. And through these tactics we have both experienced beautiful, life-changing results.

What this means is grasping what matters is a universal desire. Letting go of distraction is a goal many of us want to reach in our time here on this earth.

Whether we put on a suit to go to work or rarely get a shower before the day is over, whether we go all day giving sales pitches or avoiding those who pitch a fit, whether we get paid for our work in dollars or paid in hugs, we all share the same realization. We realize time is fleeting. We realize there are no guarantees in life. We realize there is no certainty that tomorrow will even come. And because of this realization we know we better grasp what really matters while we can, in order to witness all the “Sunset Moments” happening around us before they are gone forever.

And we are learning that in order to fully grasp something with our heart and hands, we must first let go. Letting go of distraction begins with baby steps. Baby steps, my friends.

And no matter where you come from or where you have been, we all have it in us to take our first step.

Think about you how you are living your life. Do you hold on to distraction more tightly than you grasp what really matters? Does the daily distraction in your life cause you to miss moments that you won’t be able to get back? Do you have a desire to take your first (or maybe your second, third or fourth) step into a Hands Free life? Feel free to use the “contact me” button and write down your thoughts. It might just become the Breakdown Breakthrough moment that will begin your journey. Then tune in tomorrow. A list of Hands Free Baby Steps will be awaiting your arrival.