“I Hurt With Her,” She Said & I Took Note

dsc_0841Imagine if you asked yourself for a minute,
What if I had your heart?
What if you wore my scars?
How would we break down?
What if you were me?
What if I were you?
-Five for Fighting, What If

“Did you see the girl with the big smile, Mama? I hope we’re friends someday,” my daughter said as we walked away from the lemonade stand just days after moving into our new neighborhood.

I saw her. Oh yes, I saw that beaming of ray of light. My heart did a summersault when my daughter was introduced to L. The girls were going into the same grade, and they both were new to the area.

Within a few weeks, the girls were inseparable. Their shared love of music instantly bonded them. For hours, they’d sing and dance in the basement—their voices more confident and assured together than alone.

The quickly developing bond between two friends was solidified on a painful bus ride home shortly after our move. I took note that fateful day, occurring exactly two years ago. I knew it was important to remember what I witnessed. So when my husband sent me a photo of the two girls on the football field the other night, I knew it was time to share their story and the photo.

Let me just say, this is more than a friendship, and it’s more than a photo. It is a goal … a model … an aspiration of what we could be if we collectively agree to take note.

This is their story …

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The Index Card Every Kid Needs to Get Today

Image 7
It was a chance for parents to get to know their child’s middle school teachers. We would spend ten minutes in each classroom listening to the teacher share his or her educational background, classroom procedures, and expectations. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything earth shattering that night, but I did. As soon as Mr. B began talking, I sensed I was in a very special place and there would be an important takeaway. My hope is that my takeaway becomes yours too.


As parents settled into their seats, Mr. B immediately noted the stack of index cards in the middle of the desks. He invited us to take one and write down our child’s passions. “Connecting with each student is very important to me,” the science teacher explained. “Tapping into what makes them excited … what makes them come to life … is my goal,” he explained.

But here is where I went from simply listening to actually feeling his words:

“Nothing pains me more than walking down a school hallway and seeing a desolate look on a child’s face, like they are in prison. It pains me because that was me,” he said. “School felt like prison. I dreaded each and every day. Creating a classroom where kids are excited, comfortable, and known can make all the difference.”

And here is when two warm tears slid down my cheeks:

“Parents, I never want students in my class to stress if they need an extra day to prepare for a test or complete an assignment. There is a fine line between pushing our kids and understanding they have lots of things going on. I don’t want them to stress about my class,” he said reassuringly. “Have them talk to me. We’ll work it out.”

I felt a collective sigh of relief among those sitting around me. We’d never heard such a thing—perhaps in our whole lives. Just imagine how the students felt when they heard this beautiful offer of compassion and understanding. I thought to myself getting teary again.

Just then, the intercom sounded. The ten-minute session was up; it was time to go to the next class.

I didn’t want to leave.

I wanted to hear more pressure-relieving words of wisdom from this kind and generous educator.

“Oh, and if you and your child see me in the community, please walk up and say hi!” he said loudly over the pushing in of chairs and departure commotion. “I promise you won’t be bothering me. I never stop being a teacher. I am all in.”

He’s all in.

I looked down at my index card. I’d filled up both sides, my handwriting getting smaller and smaller towards the end. I had so much to say.

He’d asked about my girl—my smart, funny, conscientious, bright, beautiful girl. But because she is quiet and shy in school settings, people often never know who she really is.

But he asked. And more importantly, he wanted to know.

He’s all in.

And my heart nearly burst with gratitude because of it.

I stood in line behind all the other parents who wanted to shake the hand of the man who was creating an optimal learning environment for their child to thrive. Many of us hadn’t met anyone like him before. As expected, the gentle teacher looked into each person’s eyes and appeared grateful for the opportunity to meet them.

When I got home, my daughter asked which teacher did I think was her favorite.

“Mr. B,” I said without hesitation.

She smiled. “He is so kind and interesting, Mom. I am so glad I got him for a teacher.”

I sat down on the kitchen stool, anxious to tell her how he moved me to tears (minus the tears part because she would have been mortified by that detail.) “Mr. B asked us to fill out an index card detailing what you’re passionate about,” I told her. “He wants to get to know each one of his 150 students. Isn’t that remarkable?”

“Wow! What did you write?” she asked curiously.

“I took a picture so you could see,” I said handing her my phone.

Image 1

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“Mom! Did you really fill up both sides?” she exclaimed, sounding slightly embarrassed and slightly delighted.

But her question didn’t require an answer. She was already reading my comments. A look of pure joy and peace settled on her face. Yes, she was known … and she wanted to be known. But don’t we all? Yet, oftentimes, we’re not. But Mr. B gave me hope. Which brings me to the takeaway I promised you:

Your child may not have a teacher like Mr. B and possibly never will. But there is something to be learned from this man that we can all use and offer today:

Connection – let us remember it is the key to understanding, acceptance, and assurance. It offers refuge from the pressures and critics of the world. Connection provides a secure foundation for human spirits to grow and flourish.

Pressure – let us be flexible with our demands and expectations. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a task or goal doesn’t have to be completed on our timeline or in a specific way. The healing and hopeful words, “don’t stress,” are a gift we can give to alleviate pressure and focus on what truly matters.

Availability – let us be one who is approachable – no matter how tired we are, no matter how busy we are, no matter how bad of a day we just had. If our children approach us, let love never be ‘off the clock.’ Offer a loving hello and an “I’m so glad to see you.” We might then become the one they seek out in times of despair and challenge.

Knowledge – let us never stop wanting to know what makes our loved ones excited, curious, passionate, and alive. Start a collection of index cards documenting what you are learning about your beloveds. Share it with them. Let them see how wonderful you think they are. And if you don’t know their passions, make it your mission to find out.

Today holds the opportunity to notice desolate faces as they walk through the hallways of our lives. As Mr. B reminds us, we hold a precious key—one that opens a passageway to potential with plenty of room to breathe.

I’m all in.

How about you?

Let’s fill the world with index cards, writing love on every line of our beloveds’ hopeful hearts.



Friends, if you accept the index card challenge, please let us know in our Hands Free communities on Facebook & Instagram. Use the hashtag #indexcardchallenge so we can inspire each other! Please see the Presence Pledge print if you would like a visual reminder in your home to leave your loved one’s spirit stronger and brighter. See the Hands Free Shop for wearable reminders to choose connection and love over distraction and criticism. And now for some incredible resources to help us parent the way Mr. B teaches:

  • Co-Parenting Without Power Struggles is a free online series hosted by the incredible Susan Stiffelman, a certified marriage & family therapist with over 30 years of experience. Each of Susan’s guests will be sharing gems of wisdom and practical guidance around co-parenting and invaluable information for managing life as a single parent. Speakers include: Byron Katie, Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton, Harville Hendrix, Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Laura Markham, Katherine Woodward Thomas, and John Gray. Registration for the entire series of classes is absolutely FREE, and replays of the classes will be available for all who register in advance. Click here to register. The summit airs September 20 – 24.
  • Casey O’Roarty of Joyful Courage has written a powerful article called “10 Steps to Becoming a More Intentional Parent.” If that article resonates with you, I encourage you to join Casey in her Intentional Parent Project. It is a 10-week course beginning Monday, September 12th that joins the internal work of parenting with external tools for inviting more cooperation and contribution into the home.

A final note from Rachel: California Bay Area friends, just a few more days until we are together! Last minute seats are expected to come available for this sold out event. Email Carol at carol@cpcdanville.org to inquire about a ticket! Friends in other parts of the country, please see my event page for four speaking events scheduled for this fall and spring.

Thank you for sharing your stories & your encouragements! The comment section of this blog and the Facebook page are pure gold because of you.

The Low-Hanging Fruit You Can’t Afford to Miss


“Gonna walk this road
See where it leads
Gonna bless the flowers
Gonna bless the weeds
Gonna stay together
Nothing’s gonna pull us apart
Gonna walk this road and mend each others hearts.”
–Eric Bibb

*names have been changed

Even if his checkout line is a little longer, I always choose this particular bagger’s lane. This conscientious young man reminds me of a former special education student who brightened my first year of teaching. If I needed to move a chair, *Dan was there, refusing to let me lift a finger. If I was about to open a window, Dan was quick to say, “Let me do that for you, Miss Macy.” If he heard I was having car troubles, he’d offer to take a look during his lunch hour. Amazingly, Dan offered the same kindness to all his teachers and fellow classmates. Dan struggled with academics, but in altruism, he excelled.

This particular bagger resembles Dan in looks, but especially in mannerisms. The first time he bagged my groceries, I could see he was cut from the same cloth as my former student – he was a helper too.

“Hello,” said the young man as I pulled up my cart.

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A Comeback Anthem for the Fighter Within

DSC_0831“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
-Helen Keller

I was a few months late coming in for my follow-up x-ray, but as soon as the technician began speaking, it was clear I was right on time.

“How long have you had the pain?” she asked, ready to jot down my response on the form in hand.

“Over a year,” I said matter-of-factly, sounding oblivious to the fact that a year was a long time for such a thing.

She stopped writing on her clipboard and looked up. “Oh honey. I am sorry,” she said like a dear friend would to another.

I wasn’t expecting that—that human response in this sterile room with ominous machines and cold floors and exposing gowns that made me feel small and scared.

“Do you think you need a new doctor?” she asked.

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From Seeing My Worst in You to Seeing Hope for Both of Us


‘Cause I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
-Florence and the Machine

You turned 13 years old this week, my beautiful daughter.

I can’t help but feel celebratory and hopeful when I look at you.

It hasn’t always been that way. For many years, I looked at you and saw the damage I’d done. I saw the traits I didn’t like in myself—ones I’d inadvertently passed down to you.

too impatient

too controlling

too worry wart

too task driven

too rushed

too independent

too overreacting

too secretive

too sensitive

too perfectionistic

too contentious

For many years, I was afraid the damage was done … and could not be redeemed.

But then I stood in front of an audience, baring my soul. You stood off to the side, away from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if you stood there in case you needed to make a fast getaway or because you didn’t want to miss a single word. I was nervous to see your reaction to my honest admissions. Yes, you’d experienced life with a critical, hurried, distracted, and spread-too-thin mother, but this would be the first time you heard my most difficult confessions spoken out loud.

My main concern was that the description you were about to hear about the “old me” – particularly the characteristics I was trying to soften and reign in – would sound an awful lot like you. I didn’t want you to think that just because I needed to make changes, you did too. I didn’t want you to think there was anything wrong with the way you were. One thing was for certain: keeping my struggles and triumphs to myself would not be helping anyone. I swallowed my fear and began to speak.

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Taking Off the Ticking Clock


taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

It was while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone on a summer trip to the beach that I experienced a life-changing epiphany.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (Believe me, these were not your average sno-cones.) On this particular visit, Avery 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 when  my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t hurry her.

Because I said, “Take your time, baby. We don’t have to rush.”

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.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

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 painful 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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That Moment When Your Flaws & Failings Don’t Matter

eyes HFMI see the whole world in your eyes
It’s like I’ve known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It’s like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place

On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.

As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.

But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.

“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.

“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.

“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.

Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …

last pic HFM

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


“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.”

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Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough


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.

*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?

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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.”

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