Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

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“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

“I saw the way you anticipated what was about to happen. You prevented the little girl from falling,” I commended.

But her safe-sitter move was not what my child wanted to talk about.

“The mother didn’t hear her child and she was standing right there,” my daughter said sadly. “I hope it’s not always like that,” she said sincerely. “The little girl may grow up thinking her words are not important and stop trying to tell her mom things.”

Those words … coming out of that mouth … felt surreal. Six years ago, my daughter was a little girl yearning to be seen and heard. She experienced the 21st century phenomenon of being invisible to someone while standing right in front of them.

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“I’m sorry,” I said quietly to that little girl who was now a young lady.

I didn’t need to explain my apology. My daughter knew my story. She’s heard me speak my darkest truths about distraction’s grip—a grip that took away my smile, made a yeller out of me, and nearly cost me my life at a traffic light. She’s read my books and gifted them to her teachers having babies. My daughter knew how sorry I was for what I missed. But she also knew how thankful I was when I woke up.

My child knew her face was one of the first sights I saw as I came out of a frenzied, joyless two-year period of my life.

I’d just committed to turning off my phone and sticking it in a drawer at critical connection times like meals, bedtime, greetings, and departures. I’d been saying yes to her invitations to “Watch me, Mama,” and her offers to “help” in the kitchen. I was trying to be patient and softer towards her instead of hurried and critical. I was trying to look up more often and see glimmers of goodness in my day that were easily buried by life’s duties and distractions.

On that particular day, my daughter stood on the kitchen stool I’d pulled up beside me. I’d given her a table knife, and she’d carefully cut up carrots, cucumbers, and red peppers. Her capable, little hands evenly distributed the colorful pieces into four salad bowls.

“I like doing this with you,” Six-year-old Natalie said looking up at me with her gigantic brown eyes. “Thank you, Mama.”

That’s when I saw her—really saw her for the first time in two years. I saw her beautiful round face had elongated. I saw my mother in her big brown eyes. She’d gotten a few new freckles on her nose. But the way she smiled at me, as if there was no place in the world she’d rather be, was what brought me to my knees. Oh my. I thought to myself. I see her. I really see her now. Thank you, God, for this beautiful child who is mine.

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The sight of this child’s face fueled me to keep looking up and letting go.

I quickly noticed many positive results from the small changes I was making. By placing protective boundaries around special connection times each day, I was able to see, hear, and respond more lovingly to my family members. I went through my day feeling less conflicted, overwhelmed, and agitated. No longer dictated by the dinging demands of the device, my thoughts and actions were my own.

It seemed only natural to voice these important discoveries to the people I loved. But for some reason, it felt right to do it in way that empowered rather than dictated.

Instead of saying: “We don’t bring devices to the dinner table,” I said, “We’ll miss the best part of eating together if we’re looking at our devices.”

Instead of placing the phone in the glove box without telling anyone, I said, “I’m going to drive with my phone out of reach. I don’t want to hurt us or anyone else by driving distracted. Plus, I don’t want to miss the beautiful sights.”

Instead of: “Put away your device while we wait for the doctor,” I said, “Waiting time is an opportunity to catch up with each other; tell me the best part of your day.”

Rather than demanding all devices be kept in a communal area of our home with no explanation, I talked about Internet safety and why it was important to keep each other accountable and not to hide scary, hurtful, or confusing cyber issues we encounter.

Rather than letting the smile on the cashier’s face go unnoticed, I said to my child, “Did you see how happy it made the cashier when we acknowledged her rather than looking at a phone?”

Talking to my daughter about the importance of having a time and place for technology became a way of life—just like talking about drugs and alcohol, puberty, body safety, bullying, and other critical topics. I didn’t know how this on-going dialogue would impact her future, but I was hopeful. And through a quick stop to get poster board, a most important discovery was made.

As I have learned to see, my daughter has learned to see. 

Her eyes detect an important distinction between technology as a tool and technology as a barrier.

DSC_0645She is an almost-thirteen-year-old who uses her electronic device to communicate with friends and family near and far. She uses it to manage the cat rescue website where we volunteer. She uses it to plan a summer camp for young children in our neighborhood. She uses it to create and post YouTube videos for her musical sister. She uses it to shop for the perfect gifts for people she loves.

But she also steps away from her device, more often than not, to look up and let go.

She is an almost 13-year-old who loves to apply facemasks, wade in the river, and go antiquing. She’ll be happy to take your blood pressure, make you a glass of iced tea, or babysit your kids. She can look for seashells for hours on end or just sit and watch rhythm of the waves. She loves baking, swimming, and playing with her beloved cat, Banjo. Each night at bedtime, she lays beside me for Talk Time.

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DSC_0822I don’t know if my daughter will retain these healthy boundaries with technology as she grows, but I do know she’s acquired a vital awareness that cannot be taken away. Should she veer off the path of choosing real life experiences and face-to-face conversations over those on a screen, she’ll know where the emptiness is coming from. She’ll know why she’s feeling the need to compare herself to others. She’ll combat the fear of missing out by putting down the device and going toward matters most. And she’ll know without a doubt that I’m willing to go there with her.

When I found our beloved cat lying by the open back door after an attack twelve days ago, I laid my head down on his body and cried. It struck me that there was only one person I wanted by my side in that moment. I longed for my daughter Natalie to be with me. She would know. She would understand.

After taking Banjo to the vet and finding out he’d be okay, I prepared myself for my daughter’s arrival. I knew exactly what she would need to hear and what her face would look like. I knew she would need me to hold her and reassure her. I knew this because I’d been seeing her face for the past six years.

Her reaction was exactly as I expected – except for one thing.

After I finished telling her what happened, Natalie wiped away her tears and suddenly grabbed my hand. “That must have been scary for you, Mom. I bet you were crying so hard. I am so sorry you had to go through that alone.”

My child knew me too.

She knew exactly what I needed to hear and what my face looked like during that horrible moment. She knew I needed  comfort in my time of fear.

Six years ago, I chose her.

And today, she is choosing me.

She is also choosing to stand beside others in pain, see Mother Nature’s beauty, anticipate falls, celebrate triumphs, cry for those who are ignored, comfort those who are abandoned, make eye contact, and embrace the good and the bad that comes with an eyes up, open-handed life.

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Six years ago, I decided I didn’t want to miss my life.

As a result, this young lady is not missing hers.

This offers great hope for us all.

My friends, if there is a barrier in your life that is coming between you and the ones you love, begin taking small steps to break that barrier down …

Accept their invitations – or invite them to do something they love to do.

Pull up a stool and don’t worry about the mess.

Look up when they walk in the room. Look in their eyes when you say goodbye. Look beyond their flaws to see all that they are.

Ask for their opinion and then listen—just listen.

Say you’re sorry; tell them what you’re going to do differently starting today.

Forgive yourself for what you missed in the past. Believe today matters more than yesterday.

 Believe today matters more than yesterday.

 I believe it.

My daughter believes it.

And so does that person standing in front of you.

Perhaps today marks the day you’ll see that beautiful face for the first time in a long time, and you will be thankful, so very thankful, you can see it now.

Who knows where you two will be six days … six months … or six years? But for now, let’s just focus on today. Because today offers us all a chance to look up, let go, and love like we wish we had yesterday.

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, if you are interested in a wearable reminder to look up, let go, and choose love, click here to see the ONLY LOVE TODAY I CHOOSE LOVE, or LIVE HANDS FREE vintage wrist wraps in beautiful colors in leather and non-leather options. Be sure to see the hand-lettered prints like the Hands Free Pledge which was one of the first tools I used to look up and let go. The Presence Pledge is also something I wrote to my daughters as a promise to build them up instead of break them down. Today is the last day to use the free shipping checkout code: MOMLOVE. Ordering by today (May 2, 2016) ensures the items will arrive by Mother’s Day.

Denver friends, I will be speaking in your area on Saturday, May 14 at Denver First Church’s Ladies Tea from 10am to 12pm. It would bring me great joy to meet you! In the fall, I will be coming to the California Bay Area, Nashville, TN and Mandan, ND. Click here for dates & event information
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To read the detailed steps and strategies I used to let go of distraction, perfection, & societal pressure to live better & love more, check out my book, HANDS FREE MAMA, a NYT Bestseller. And my latest book, HANDS FREE LIFE, will help you stop managing life and start living it. Bring more presence, patience, acceptance, and grace into your heart and home using the 9 daily habits outlined in the book. HANDS FREE LIFE is less than $10 on Amazon right now. 

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution community, you are my daily blessing and fuel my writing like nothing else. If you think this message would be hopeful or healing to someone else, I would be grateful if you share it. I cherish & appreciate each one of you. 
Books by Rachel Macy Stafford

Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

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Hold tight; you’re slowly coming back to life.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Birdy

*name has been changed for privacy reasons

Six weeks ago, I was feeling unsteady, depleted, and far away from myself. I was finding it difficult to do my job … to respond or communicate … to do laundry … look presentable … and leave the house. I knew my fragility was a result of extending myself beyond reasonable limits and neglecting to give myself proper time and care after multiple surgeries and an intense book-writing period.

It went against every fiber of my conscientious, people-pleasing nature, but I began declining or flat out ignoring the many requests of my time and energy that kept pouring in despite my vow to create some breathing room. The world is not going to give me permission to stop; I reminded myself. I am the only one who can give myself a reprieve. I decided my family and my emotional wellbeing were going to be my focus during this restoration period I called ‘coming back to life’ … my life … as opposed to accepting a depleted life lived according to other people’s demands and expectations.

I knew it was no coincidence that around the same time I created breathing room to reconnect with my heart and the heart of my family, two volunteer opportunities fell into my lap. Even more convincing was they were on my daughters’ “wish list” when we moved to our new state almost two years ago. To be a volunteer at an animal shelter was Natalie’s wish. To “adopt a cute, elderly person” was Avery’s wish. In the busyness of life over the past two years, I’d nearly forgotten my daughters had once expressed the desire to have these particular opportunities.

And now here they were.

At the same time.

When I was trying to create breathing room.

As you can probably guess, my initial reaction to these opportunities was irritation. Really? I am having trouble getting my own cat’s liter box clean right now. How am I supposed to garner the energy to leave the house and clean twelve of them?

I remember how difficult it was to get myself ready for our initial cat cleaning and cuddling session. I remember looking in the mirror thinking that all the blush in the world would not be enough to bring life to my colorless cheeks. But then I thought about how my daughters jumped up and down in the middle of Petsmart when the shelter coordinator introduced herself and said, “Would the three of you like to become volunteers?”

The first time we worked with the homeless cats, I was struck by the way my older daughter Natalie stepped forward to coax the difficult cats out of their cages in order to clean them.

DSC_0502“I will speak softly and gently,” she said about her strategy. “I will not rush him out of the cage. I will just stay close so he knows I am there to help,” she explained as if she’d been a Cat Whisperer all her life.

I watched Natalie work wonders with standoffish Salty and hissing Bob. She sat there doing exactly what the coordinator told us to do with our eyes to gain the animal’s trust. For minutes on end, Natalie patiently lowered her eyelids slowly and let the cat sniff her pointer finger until it came forth.

DSC_1000This—from my highly energetic, task driven, never-slow-down child.

As I watched my daughter calmly connect with each animal, the words “pet therapy” popped into my head.

And then I had this thought:

Yes, it is good we are here for the animals, but it is good they are here for us.

DSC_0527The first time we went to the retirement home as official volunteers, Avery and I came to visit a resident named Annie* that we’d fallen in love with during a music therapy session. All it took for Avery to insist we “adopt” Annie was to hear the healthcare worker say, “I can’t recall Annie ever having a visitor.”

“We can be her family, Mama!” Avery had said … and that was that.

As we walked through the halls to Annie’s room that first time, many residents lined the hallway in wheelchairs. Some of them recognized Avery from the week before. “It’s the little girl with the guitar!” a few of them said excitedly. Others reached out their shaky hands to touch her. Avery stopped at each wheelchair, giving hugs to the ones who opened their arms.

“Please play us a song,” a woman with silver hair and bright pink slippers said. Avery obediently opened her case and played the song she knows best, “Amazing Grace.” They’d heard it last time, but it didn’t matter.

By the time we got to Annie, Avery was smiling from ear to ear. She quickly pulled out some paints to show Annie what we were going to do.

“We heard you like to paint,” Avery said.

“Because I am an artist!” Annie exclaimed, coming to life at the sight of the art supplies.

Avery and I smiled knowingly at each other thinking maybe her comment was like when she said she dated Elvis and her BFF was Loretta Lynn.

But once Annie began to paint, we saw a true artist emerge.

Image 6“I round out my colors. I round out my colors,” Annie repeated while making delicate dots with her paintbrush.

“That’s so good, Annie!” Avery encouraged as she admired Annie’s painting and worked on her own.

We painted for an hour as Annie told us her hopes of her daddy getting her a new wheelchair and how her mama makes all her clothes. Avery nodded attentively at this precious woman she dreamed of adopting two years ago.

I thought:

Yes, it is good we are here for the nursing home residents, but it is good they are here for us.

Image 5In fact, lately Avery and I have been going to the retirement home after tough days. The night before our last visit, I’d found Avery awake at 2am, moving rapidly about her room as if looking for something. She was agitated and confused, much like Annie gets when she thinks her roommate has stolen something from her.

“I need to finish the packet! The answer is 100!” Avery cried as she scurried around in sleepy confusion.

My heart dropped. I knew exactly what this tormented sleepwalking was about. That next morning, she was due to start the first day of standardized testing.

I gently reminded her that she’d finished her practice packets, and it was time to rest. “You don’t have to do anything but sleep,” I assured her in hopes of taking the pressure off this normally carefree child. It saddened me that Avery was so overcome with stress and worry it was impacting her sleep.

The next afternoon, we went to see Annie. The weather was beautiful so we asked if she’d like to go outside.

“Would I!” she exclaimed with great enthusiasm.

As we entered the courtyard, Annie lifted her hand toward the small waterfall lined with rocks. Apparently she wanted to get closer so she grabbed the armrests of the wheelchair and tried to stand up. Immediately an alarm sounded. Avery looked like she was going to cry.

“You mean Annie can’t get up when she wants to?” she said looking at her friend like a caged bird who would never fly again.

I nodded. “It’s for her own safety, honey,” I said. But even that reason to be confined to a chair felt hallow.

We scooted Annie as close to the fountain as we could. Avery said she’d explore the rocks for Annie and come back to report on what she found.

I studied their faces—Annie watching the little climber in the sun and Avery looking back happily as she scaled the rocks. There was such peace on their faces, as if they escaped reality for a few minutes to enjoy nature’s sweet freedom.

Yes, it is good we are here for Annie, but it is good she is here for us, I thought.

DSC_0097The other night Natalie downloaded all the pictures we’d taken over the last two months on my good camera. She was getting started on her new role of managing the website for the cat shelter where we volunteer. She offered to keep it up-to-date so the new cats will have a better chance of being adopted.

When the pictures pulled up on the screen, I noticed some photos of me with Annie and the cats I hadn’t seen before. I was struck by what I saw. That same look I’d seen on Natalie’s face when she sat with the cats … that same look I’d noticed on Annie and Avery’s faces as they painted or sat in the sun was on my face: peace … joy … and freedom, settled into my tired features.

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DSC_0289In the photos I saw my old self: Happy, relaxed Rachel. For too many months, I’ve been allowing the expectations of others to dictate my life … my time … my energy. And for fear of disappointing my publisher, my readers, my colleagues, and myself, I’ve tried to meet all the requests and expectations at a detrimental cost. I forgot I am only human, and I need room to breathe, time to think, and rocks to climb too.

When I walk into the little cat room or hold Annie’s hand, the voice of pressure and expectation ceases.

And I am pretty sure I know why.

When I remove that lonely cat from the cage and hold it close to my chest, he is momentarily free.

When I take Annie outside where the wind blows back her hair, she is momentarily free.

When I spend time with those who have nowhere to be and no one to be with, I am momentarily free. Because in the company of these precious souls, there is no expectation, no endless list of wants, no need to be anything more or less than I am. In the company of lonely souls, I am enough. My mere presence is enough.

I imagine it feels very much the same for my daughters. In the presence of those confined by cages and wheelchairs, their delicate hands and eager smiles are welcomed sights. No one to tells the girls how to sit, what to say, or what percentage needs to be met. Here, Avery’s guitar notes are in perfect pitch. Here, Natalie’s haphazard broom sweeping does the job. Here, the gaps between their teeth go unnoticed. The length of their shorts and the size of their jeans are unimportant here. To those longing for someone to sit with, my daughters’ mere presence is enough.

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As I watch my daughters in their divinely orchestrated new roles, this is what I see:

When Natalie speaks in gentle whispers, the frightened animal is momentarily free.

And so is she.

When Avery sings an Elvis song in her angelic voice, the aging listeners are momentarily free.

And so is she.

Here, there are no expectations—just love and presence—and that is enough.

DSC_0303Last Sunday, a Petsmart customer opened the door to the cat room while we were cleaning and said, “Do you all volunteer here together?” After we said yes, she said, “Thank you for saving them.”

Although I was afraid I might start to cry (which totally embarrasses my daughters), I said this anyway: “It is them who save us.”

They give us a purpose.

They give us a chance to breathe.

They give us time together.

They give us divine invitations to love and be loved.

It is these precious souls who brought me back to life—my life—where peace settles on my features and resides within my heart.

The lonely and the confined—they live near you too. And they would love nothing more than for you to just sit with them and forget about your worries for a bit.

Truly. They would love nothing more than your love and presence—absolutely nothing more.

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Dear ones, thank you for being part of The Hands Free community. It is my hope that my story inspires you to create some breathing room in your life to do something that fulfills you, centers you, or restores you. Please let us know in the comments if you have been motivated by this and what ideas you have in mind. If you already have a restorative place or activity that is void of expectation and pressure, please share. We can learn so much from each other!

I am very much looking forward to seeing my Denver friends on May 14, 2016 from 10am to 12pm at Denver First Church. You can purchase tickets for this event by clicking here or calling 303/761-8370 or emailing Krisb@Denverfirstchurch.com. Friends in TN, CA, and ND, please check out my speaking event page to see the three other cities I will be visiting this fall. 

Friends, if you are looking for a meaningful Mother’s Day gift to say thank you to someone special or to have for yourself as a visual reminder to choose love over distraction, perfection, and pressure, please check out the unique gifts in the Hands Free Shop. Use the code: MOMLOVE for free domestic shipping from now until 5/2. Items ordered by 5/2 will arrive in time for Mother’s Day.

Thank you for walking beside me, dear ones. On so many days, you are my writing fuel and my heart’s encouragement. I love you. 

Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

[Read more…]

When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
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Life-Saving Reminders for a Child

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain." -Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” -Emily Dickinson

The term cyber-bullying sounds so futuristic … so foreign … and so far-off.  When I heard the word about a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time before this type of threat could touch my family. Part of me wanted to believe we could avoid it altogether—that it was something that happened to “other people”.

But now I know that kind of thinking is just foolish and naïve. I know this because cyber-bullying has been getting frighteningly close to home. Family friends and loyal readers of my blog are telling me just how easily it happens … just how damaging it feels to the victim … just how helpless it feels to the parent … and in some case, just how devastating it feels to be the bully who never intended for things to take a tragic turn.

I’ve made a conscious effort to protect my children from the dangers of the online world by installing filtering and accountability software. I have established an open line of communication with them and am involved in their online activities. But despite having these external protections in place, cyber-bullying (and good-old fashioned face-to-face bullying) can still happen and is happening. In many instances, these attacks are coming from trusted friends and classmates within a child’s social circle. [source]

At times, I’m tempted to banish technology from our lives—but I know that is not a realistic solution. Electronic devices are becoming an integral part of the education system. For my older daughter, these devices have quickly become tools that are required to complete daily schoolwork. I watch in awe as she uses technology to create, navigate, and acquire important skills for the future.

It is imperative that I continue to provide external protection for my child in the digital world, but that is not enough. I must also provide internal protection—protection of her heart, mind, spirit, and emotional wellbeing. I must provide affirming words and beliefs that she can use as armor if and when she is attacked.

A very brave mother spurred this action in me. Her beautiful and vibrant daughter, Rebecca, took her life after being a victim of cyber-bullying. As I read the significant actions that Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, took to protect her daughter and remove her from the toxic environment, I couldn’t help but weep knowing the outcome. The mother noted that she thought things were going better for Rebecca at her new school, but the child kept her distress from her family. “Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own.

After reading that particular sentence several times, my role as a parent of a child growing up in the 21st century became crystal clear. I want to be sure my child knows she doesn’t have to go it alone.

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The Vacation Moments of Everyday Life You Might Be Missing

what is necessary #HFM

I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.

I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.

I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …

Until I did.

Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.

what is necessary #HFM

what is necessary #HFM

My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.

But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.

[Read more…]

An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

windows #HFM
“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
–Sara Bareilles

It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.

It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.

I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.

“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.

My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.

“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.

“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.

Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.

“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.

“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.

That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.

[Read more…]

Break This Morning Habit to Create More Time & Goodness in Your Day

morning ritual #HFM

If mornings are the toughest part of the day … if you feel agitated before you even get out the door … if you’ve had a heavy heart and can’t explain why, I am going to encourage you to make one small change in your morning routine: Resist the urge to reach for the phone.

Starting your day by checking the phone is like flipping a switch from peace to productivity … from loving nurturer to grumpy manager … from present to absent. Reaching for the phone takes you out of your cozy pajamas-clad world and catapults you into the fast-paced, information overloaded world. Once your mind leaves your loved ones and fixates on all the things you need to do, it’s hard to come back—so hard to come back. Scrolling, clicking, and responding sneakily rob you of the precious minutes you need to get out the door on time—and then everyone is yelling. I know these things because checking the phone was how I began my day—or perhaps I should say sabotaged my day—for several years.

Things are different now. And I attribute an overall improvement in my home environment and personal wellbeing to one small change: Reaching for meaningful things rather than the phone to start my day.

[Read more…]

Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction

park connection 2At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.

But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to animaljam.com and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.

But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.

What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.

[Read more…]

Wish List for Those Growing Up With a Phone In Hand

wish list #HFM

There are a few things in life that fuel me more than anything: being in nature and being at a live concert. In each of these settings, I feel most alive. Most at peace. Most hopeful about the world. A little over a week ago, I got to see one of the most talented musicians of our time, Ed Sheeran. I’d been looking forward to the concert for months. I’d listened to his album on repeat while writing my second book, Hands Free Life. Attending his concert was the perfect way to celebrate the book’s recent publication.

Happily nestled between my husband and one of my best friends, I surveyed the diverse crowd. From the animated teenagers behind us to the grandfatherly men across the aisle, Ed Sheeran fans stood for the entire concert and and sang along to all the lyrics.

I couldn’t help but notice there was a distinct difference between the way the younger generation viewed the concert and the way the thirty-and-over crowd viewed it. One saw the concert through a screen; the other did not. Although I was trying to immerse myself in the moment at hand, my eyes kept being pulled to the white light coming from the hands of the young couple in front of us. In the glow of a palm-sized screen, I could see the young lady’s beautiful face. Her long brown hair with honey blonde highlights made me think of my twelve-year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder what my daughter’s future dates would look like … what her conversations would entail … where her most alive moments would be found in about ten years.

These questions have stuck with me, and I’ve been giving them a lot of thought. I feel quite an urgency, a panic even, for preservation. I’m afraid the abundance, ease, and social acceptance of technology are threatening certain life experiences to the point of extinction. Like the seldom seen pay phone and rarely used digital camera, life’s most simple, yet most meaningful experiences, could easily diminish with my daughter’s generation.

yogurt #HFM

My wishes for my child when she was born included being anything she wanted to be and living a long, prosperous life. While those wishes are still valid, there are now some wishes far less complicated, but absolutely critical–and it makes me cry even to type this. I want her to live. I want her to experience life with all her senses. I want her to experience life in living color, face to face, with two open hands. I have wishes for my child growing up in a text-happy, vitamin D deficient, connection-starved culture. These wishes are simple, but they are rich. These are for you, my brown eyed beauty with honey highlights, whose smartphone lays unattended for now.

My Wish for You: A Living Life

I wish you crickets that lull you to sleep.
I wish you pumpkin guts oozing through your fingers.
I wish you the most perfect S’more stick you can find.
I wish you the ability to be alone with your thoughts.

I wish you the feeling of someone’s hand in your back pocket.
I wish you shade from a Weeping Willow tree.
I wish you goodbye kisses and puppy dog fur.
I wish you moments of complete silence.

I wish you fresh squeezed lemonade made by your hands.
I wish you spontaneous gatherings where no one wants to leave the table.
I wish you porch swings and bare feet.
I wish you sea air breezes.

fresh air #HFM

I wish you playing cards that slide from your fingers in a triumphant hand.
I wish you historic monuments and sunsets that make you feel small.
I wish you books in bed.
I wish you peace.

I wish you answers without Google.
I wish you mindless wandering with a good old-fashioned map.
I wish you boredom that leads to the best ideas you’ve ever had.
I wish you starry nights.

I wish you window watching from the subway, wondering what’s his story.
I wish you talented street musicians who make you stop and stare.
I wish you flowers from Pike Place Market that brighten your day.
I wish you joy.

heart inside you HFM

I wish you laughter from a small child that makes you look up.
I wish you wrinkled hands to embrace you and share stories of long ago.
I wish you handwritten notes in your mailbox.
I wish you a chance to heal a broken soul.

I wish you memories and someone who holds the door for you.
I wish you smiles that are not for public consumption.
I wish you travels without chargers and safety worries.
I wish you freedom.

freedom #HFM

I wasn’t quite finished with my list—there were more wishes. But something happened. My daughter asked me if we could go to the “rock river”. I’d been taking my daughters there for over a year since we moved to our new city. Mother Nature had given me peace in the midst of book writing and settling into a new life. “Rock river” was my refuge.

“But this time, Mama,” my daughter said, “I want to invite my friend.”

I was surprised. It was usually just us.

“She’s been looking really sad,” my child explained. “I’ve asked her what is wrong, but she’s not ready to talk about it. I thought maybe going to the river would help. It is so peaceful there. I always feel better after I collect rocks.”

rock creek #HFM

As I looked into those big brown eyes, I felt as if one of my wishes had just come true and maybe I didn’t need to keep adding to the list. As she ran off to invite her friend, I realized life experiences do not have to diminish with each new version of the iPhone. Human connection does not have to weaken as the need for WiFi grows. The electronic screen does not have to become a substitute for life’s richest experiences—not if we pass down the tradition to live

She can inherit my love for baking if I invite her into the kitchen.
She can inherit my need for walking outdoors if I ask her to join me.
She can inherit my thirst for authentic conversation if I open up and give her time to talk.
She can inherit my love for music if I take her to concerts and listen to what she likes.
She can inherit my places of refuge if I take her to wade in the river.
She can inherit life’s richest experiences if wishes become invitations.

So let’s keep wishing—it’ll keep us intentional.

Let’s keep living—it’ll keep us alive.

Let’s keep inviting—it’ll keep our precious children from fading into the light.

trail

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am grateful for those who have reached out while reading HANDS FREE LIFE to let me know the difference one of the 9 habits is having on your life. In light of today’s blog post, please note that Chapter 7 describes practical ways to empower children to make smart, safe, healthy, and informed decisions about their digital lives. Chapter 8 reveals a collection of meaningful rituals that would make life-giving gifts to pass on to your loved ones. I love how Kristi specifically mentions her connection-staved soul in this beautiful Amazon review: 

“Reading Hands Free Life has been both freeing and revealing. I have been suffering from a ‘connection-starved soul’, and the pressure to ‘do’ had become overwhelming, robbing me of the chance to really enjoy life’s sacred moments. Since reading, I have been trying with intention to disconnect a little more each day from whatever it is that fills my mind, day, and even life with clutter. We live in a world in which we face a distraction almost non-stop. This book has given me practical ways to recognize that and to actually do something about it. I highly recommend this book to women, men, parents, non-parents, book clubs, Bible study groups, anyone and everyone. The message presented within these pages is life-changing.” –Kristi D

Thanks to all who have taken time to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give an author. I am really looking forward to seeing my Canadian friends on Wednesday, September 30. I’ll be doing a Question & Answer session with brilliant parenting educator Andrea Nair and signing copies of Hands Free Life at Chapters at One Square Mall, 189 Rathburn Road, Mississauga at 7pm.

If you like the LIVE HANDS FREE bracelet worn by my daughter and me in today’s post, they have been reduced in price this week only. This includes the ONLY LOVE TODAY & I CHOOSE LOVE bracelets, as well. Bracelets can be cut to fit small wrists for children & teens. Click here to shop. Thank you for walking beside me on this journey! I am incredibly grateful for you! 

LIVE HANDS FREE