Today I Lived and You Did Too

today I lived

Today I was awakened by the sound of shuffling feet.
It was my early-bird riser in her big sister’s pajamas that drug across the floor.
I wanted to pull the covers over my head and feign sleep.
But instead I got up and made toaster waffles that she said tasted “divine.”
She kissed me with syrupy sweet lips.
Getting up wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

Today she lost her shoes for the 37th time in two weeks.
It was right before we needed to head out the door.
I wanted to scream, to scold, to throw my hands in the air.
But instead I held her. I held her. My shoeless girl.
Together we found them wet with dew in the backyard and she whispered, “Sorry, I am forgetful, Mama.”
Being calm wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

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To Love Yourself “As Is”

to love yourself 4

To Love Yourself “As Is” (Part 1)

“Be kind to others,” they told her.

“Be kind to yourself.” She didn’t hear much of that.

Maybe they assumed she just would be. But despite the radiant smile on her face, the voice in her head said, “Not good enough.”

It wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.

For years she tried to reach perfection’s highest rung, but she missed again and again and again.

And then she had little ones of her own. At first their messiness and mistakes reminded her of her own imperfections. She found herself losing it over trivial mishaps and typical kid issues. But living in the shadow of fear and inadequacy was not the life she wanted for her children. She made every effort to see beyond their mess and mayhem. And in her children’s disarray, their humanness, and in their silly little quirks, she saw something worthy of love and forgiveness. She offered them love without condition and restraint, and when she did, their little faces glowed with validation and acceptance.

To love someone “as is” was a gift, she realized.

So whenever her children messed up she’d say, “Be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.”

As the children grew, they started saying it to themselves and to each other. And one day, when she burned the bottom of the crockpot, the littlest one said it to her. “Everybody makes mistakes, Mama. Be nice to yourself.”

She wished someone had said it when she was young. But it wasn’t too late. Thirty-eight years of being unkind to herself was enough. It was quite enough.

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Children Who Shine From Within

children who shine

“What’s your favorite insect?” my seven-year-old daughter asked as we took an evening walk on the first night of her spring vacation. “You can’t pick butterfly. Everyone picks the butterfly,” she quickly added before I had a chance to respond.

“Hmmmm,” I thought out loud. “I guess mine would have to be a ladybug,” I finally answered.

“Mine’s a firefly. I love the firefly,” she said wistfully.

We kept walking. Talking. Enjoying the rare treat of alone time—just my younger daughter and me.

And then:

“Am I okay? I mean, am I fine?” she asked looking down at herself.  “Sometimes I feel different.”

I immediately stopped walking and searched her face. Without saying what she meant, I knew; I just knew.

I bent down and spoke from a painful memory tucked away since second grade. “When I was your age. I felt different too. I felt uncomfortable, self conscious. One boy said really cruel things about the way I looked. He said I didn’t belong. His words hurt me for a long, long time,” I admitted.

As she looked at me sadly, her previous words echoed in my head. “Everyone picks the butterfly,” she’d pointed out a moment ago.

I placed my hands on her sturdy little shoulders as if somehow this could make her feel my words right down to the bone. “I want you to know something. You can always talk to me when you feel different or uncomfortable. I will never laugh. I will never judge you or tell you it’s no big deal. I will never brush away your feelings because I understand. I remember how it hurts. And some times you just need someone to understand that hurt.”

“I love the firefly,” she had said a moment ago. I then realized I had something she could hold on to.

“You mentioned that you love the firefly,” I reminded her. “Well, I think you’re a lot like a firefly. You know why?” I asked.

The worry on her face lifted. She looked at me hopefully. “Why, Mama?”

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In Need of an Emergency Contact

emergency contact #handsfreemama

“Are you Rachel Stafford?” she asked me over the low roar of party conversation and festive music. When I nodded, the woman with a very familiar face said, “You are the emergency contact for half my preschool class.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, but as the words rolled off her tongue, I couldn’t help but smile. I felt the magnitude of its meaning in a way I hadn’t before.

Rachel Stafford, Emergency Contact

Although there are many esteemed titles in today’s society, I could not think of a higher honor at that moment. I’d filled out enough school registration forms to know the importance of those three blank lines. Who would pick up your children if you couldn’t? Who would you trust with life’s most precious gifts?

Knowing I was chosen to retrieve my friends’ pint-sized angels in times of trouble gave me an added confidence boost over the past few months. Whenever I failed miserably in other areas of my life, I reminded myself: I am an Emergency Contact. I may have more flaws and failures than I can count, but my friends know I would drop everything to retrieve their precious babies and love them as my own. That thought always gave me a lift.

But very recently the term Emergency Contact has come to mean even more.

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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.

 ______________

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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A Reason for the Listening Face

listening face #hands free mama

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

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

And this was my response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————

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

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

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

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

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

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When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

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Who You Are Now Matters More

who you are now 3

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

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

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

chocolate disaster handsfree mama

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

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

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

Remember.

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

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

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Vow to Breathe

vow to breathe #hands free mama

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

Somewhere along the line, I stopped saving starfish.

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

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

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

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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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