The Ten Minutes that Changed My Distracted Life

“By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible. Believing is the first step.

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We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

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Freedom From Your Fears

 facing fears handsfree mama

My younger daughter recently learned about Chucky. You know–the angry red-headed serial killing doll who never left Tommy’s room without a knife. If you managed to avoid the Chucky movies that were popular in the late 80’s/early 90’s, consider yourself lucky. It was horror at the most ridiculous level. However, I knew the movie was realistic enough to scare children. I dreaded the day my kids found out about wild-eyed Chucky and suddenly their beloved American Girl Dolls were ushered from their rooms at night.

For three nights in a row, my daughter woke up crying and could not go back to sleep.  Coincidentally, I was awake all three of those times because I was dealing with my own nighttime fears.

My fears were brought on during a conference call with my publishing team. While talking over what I might expect around the time of my book release, the possibility of traveling to large metropolitan areas for television interviews came up.

Whoa.

Whoa.

I wanted to be sure they knew some important details about me—I wanted to pipe up with this:

Do you know what I wear every single day? See this comfy Dri-fit? This is my Writer’s Uniform, and I rarely deviate from it. And see this laptop? This is how I communicate. This is where I think about what I am going to say, then I type it, then I change it a bunch of times, and then when I am good and ready, I hit ‘publish.’ Wearing my comfy uniform. In my basement. Alone with my cat, who at times, is even too much company.

I was terrified at the thought of taking my directionally-challenged self outside familiar surroundings. I warned my supportive team members that I would surely get lost in the hotel, and I would never make it on time to my interviews. They assured me I would not be alone and continued being so excited and pumped up about the possibilities. But I couldn’t stop the fears from welling up inside me.

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Three Words for the Critic in Your Head

 someone #hands free mama1

When that little voice says, “You messed up again,”
Remember every tear you ever wiped,
Every knee you ever dusted off,
Every broken heart you ever mended,
Every disaster you ever fixed,
So someone else could be put back together.

When that little voice says, “You lost it again,”
Remember all the times you waited outside the school doors,
waited in the audience,
waited on the sidelines,
waited in the waiting room,
waited in the cold,
So someone else could be found.

When that little voice says, “You can do better,”
Remember all the times you put someone’s needs before your own,
Sacrificed sleep so someone else could rest,
Pushed away hunger so someone else could eat,
Gave everything you ever had,
So someone else could triumph.

When that little voice says, “You are missing out,”
Remember when you juggled a million things so you could be there.
When you smiled through your exhaustion,
When you crawled in the bed at midnight,
When you held a shaking hand,
So someone else could feel unalone.

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If I Live to Be 100

"May you live all the days of your life." –Jonathan Swift

“May you live all the days of your life.”
–Jonathan Swift

On the day our family and several dear friends visited a retirement home as part of a citywide volunteer effort, I kept wishing I had one of my pocket-sized writing notebooks that I typically carry. I repeatedly found myself saying, “I hope I remember that look,” and “I hope I remember those words.”

But I didn’t forget.

In fact, every little exchange I witnessed that day seems to be permanently engrained in my mind. And because I can remember the day’s events so vividly, I feel these things are meant to be shared. As small, unlined hands grasped hands adorned with protruding veins and age spots, here are a few thing I won’t forget:

I won’t forget that on the way to the retirement center my older daughter told her younger sister that she Googled what to say to old people. From the backseat I heard, “A safe question is: ‘What is your favorite childhood memory?’ But don’t ask, ‘How old are you?’”

I won’t forget how my daughters stared out the car window clutching their bags of handmade cards. Their hopeful faces indicated they were anxious to distribute messages of love. “Breathe in blue sky, breathe out gray sky,” said one card in beautiful kid penmanship.

I won’t forget how neither an ominous security system nor a strong medicinal odor deterred the children from eagerly walking through the double doors to meet those anxiously waiting on the other side.

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Taking Off the Ticking Clock

 

taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

You may remember the epiphany I experienced while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone during a summer trip to the beach.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (These were not your average sno-cones.) This time, my daughter got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted. You see, my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t rush her.

Because I allowed her to take her time.

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those dark truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like:  “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

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Taking Away My Daughter’s Smile

taking my daughter's smile #handsfreemama.com

My life contained everything I’d ever wished for—a loving husband, two beautiful children, a healthy mind and body, and a safe and comfortable home.

Given such desirable circumstances, one would have thought I’d wake up every morning feeling grateful, happy, and content.

But that was not the case.

I woke up feeling the same way I did when I went to bed the night before—unhappy, annoyed, and irritable.

Mentally, I could acknowledge my life’s abundant blessings, but I didn’t really see them or feel them because I was too focused on my life’s abundant distractions. Too many commitments. Too many screens.  Too many self-induced pressures to be all and do all. Too many unachievable standards. Too many to-do’s and never enough time.

And when you’re overbooked, hurried, and clinging to the electronic device, there’s very little time to laugh, rest, play, and simply BE. And that’s when the smile on your face tends to disappear.

Although I managed to plaster on a smile in public, my face wore a frown in the privacy of my home. You see, when you are living a highly distracted life, nothing—not even the beautiful faces of your loving family—can bring you joy.

The truth hurts but the truth heals … and brings me closer to the parent and person I want to be.

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Two-Handed Living

surgery #handsfreemama

I didn’t expect my reaction to be so intense. After all, I’d been told many times that it was “just” rotator cuff surgery. For months, my husband made his procedure sound like it would be no big deal. But when he was hooked to beeping machines and ominous-looking drip bags and wheeled into the operating room, things didn’t look so simple to me.

As soon as the double doors of the operating room swished closed, I sequestered myself in the corner of the waiting room and cried. Because that is what happens when you know something deep down in your soul …  when you are certain of someone or something so much.

The next day, while sitting side-by-side with the patient secured in an obtrusive black brace and resting comfortably on pain meds, I got the call. It was my first of multiple book deal offers. A lifetime of filling blank pages in hopes of holding a published book in my hands was suddenly close enough to touch. The eight-year-old storyteller in me jumped for joy and hollered, “You didn’t give up!”

As soon as I hung up the phone, I bowed my head and cried. Because that is what happens when you know something deep down in your soul … when you are certain of someone or something so much.

When I looked up from my joyful breakdown, there was my husband awkwardly reaching out with his one good arm. “I would hug you if I could,” he deadpanned. And then we both laughed hysterically and took a moment to drink in a blessed moment we knew we’d remember forever.

Within days, I accepted one of the amazing book deal offers and learned that my manuscript would be on a fast track to be published. This meant an exorbitant amount of writing, editing, and polishing would be required of me in one month’s time. I looked at my husband who was becoming quite skilled at balancing ice packs on his right shoulder and tearfully said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

With enough conviction for the both of us, my husband said, “Yes, you can. This is your dream, and I will help you.”

Help me? Seriously? I wanted to kindly point out that in his current condition he couldn’t even open a jar of peanut butter or put on his own deodorant, but instead I bit my tongue and held on to faith. After all, faith had gotten me this far.

After my husband and I shared the incredible book news with my two biggest pint-sized fans, my husband told them what we would need to do as a family in order for me to meet my deadline. The girls excitedly agreed to do their part. Everyone was on board to see the Hands Free Mama book come to fruition.

But I was unsettled. I knew this because when I am unsettled troubling scenarios play out in my dreams.

But this time it was only one troubling scenario over and over. And it was horrific.

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How to See Better Days

how to see better days #handsfreemama.com

It had been a long summer. Three whole months of constant togetherness were clearly wearing on us all—and it wasn’t over yet. Luckily, my children’s end-of-the-summer sports camp came at the precise moment a reprieve was desperately needed.

After checking in with the camp counselors, my daughters and I said our loving goodbyes, but truthfully, I was eager to break free. At this point, having my own thoughts without interruption and being responsible for only myself for a few hours nearly sounded like a tropical vacation.

After working on a few articles that were soon due, I made an effort to clear a path through the house. And when I did, I couldn’t help but notice the trails left by my children. You know, Kid Evidence. I noticed the way my younger daughter had carefully arranged the shoes in her makeshift dollhouse … the way her ukulele pick was placed right where she could find it … the way she gingerly set her glasses back on the second shelf when she came home from the movie. And among the disarray in my older daughter’s room, there was a notebook tossed on the floor open to a pretty decent drawing of her beloved cat, Banjo.

I hadn’t noticed these things earlier.

Because when the kids are underfoot, these tender, little details tend to disappear.

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The Cost of Hope

“It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”  –L.R. Knost

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
–L.R. Knost

I was licking the envelope when my older daughter came into the kitchen. “Who’s the letter for?” she wondered.

I told her it was for Miss Amanda, her former preschool teacher who was also her babysitter six years ago.

My daughter didn’t remember Miss Amanda, but I did. In fact, I would never forget her. There I was in a new city with a new baby, a toddler, and a traveling husband. Amanda would come to our house a few hours a week and play with the children. I remember feeling quite homesick and alone, yet incredibly grateful for this young lady with gentle hands and a hearty laugh who was able to give me a reprieve.

“Amanda helped me through a very hard time when you and your sister were little,” I explained. “And now, I want to help her. She and her husband are trying to raise money to bring home their baby from Uganda.”

“Can anyone help—or is it just for adults?” my child asked.

When I told her anyone could donate, she literally ran to get her wallet. She returned looking very sad. Much to her dismay, all that was left of her recent birthday money was one single dollar bill.

My daughter didn’t hide her look of anguish. “A dollar isn’t much,” she concluded sadly.

I held my breath. This child is my giver—the one who thinks nothing of giving decorated rocks or pretty seashells as gifts or offering her own favorite trinkets to sick friends. I was going be heartbroken if she put the dollar back in her wallet, embarrassed to give such a small amount. I hoped societal influences hadn’t already altered her uninhibited way of giving that had greatly impacted my own offerings in years past.

“Do you think a dollar will make a difference?” she asked skeptically.

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School Year Hopes

school year hopes #handsfreemama

This summer I spent a lot of time loving my children “as is.” No comparisons to their peers; no thoughts of what skills they need to have mastered by a certain date; no worries for problems they may never encounter—just loving them right where they are now, today.

But here we are, the second day of school, and I can already feel the pressure mounting—pressure to prepare for tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on.

Please don’t get me wrong; I know it’s important for children to be prepared for tomorrow’s spelling test, next week’s music recital, next month’s big game, and next year’s grade level assessment. These things matter—they do. But I am guilty of letting these future events matter more than what really matters now.

Today. Today really matters.

Today is all we know for sure that we really have.

My greatest hope for this school year is to remember how important … and how promising … today is.

Tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year all have pressures attached to them. Trying to prepare for things unknown and lofty goals can be downright overwhelming and daunting.

But today is different.

Today is doable. It’s manageable. It’s standing right in front of us requiring no plan whatsoever, just waiting to be grasped. It’s exactly why people often suggest taking one day at a time.

But in this fast-paced, task-driven, achievement-oriented world, it’s easy to forget that lovely little notion: One day at a time.

So I’ve been thinking. What might the school year look like if I try to focus a little less on tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year and focus a little more on today?

I don’t know, but I am going to try. So of course, I’m starting today with a few small efforts. And whether I do just one of them, three of them, or most of them, I can’t help but believe such efforts have the potential to bring a little more peace, a little more joy, a little more love, and a little less pressure to my family’s life today.

So here they are, my school year hopes for my children today

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