One Bold Move, Two Healing Words

To reveal who you truly are gives someone else the permission to do the same. Begin with the words, ‘Me Too.’  –Rachel Macy Stafford

To reveal who you truly are gives someone else the permission to do the same. Begin with the words, ‘Me Too.’
–Rachel Macy Stafford

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a lover of lifelines—visual reminders that help me stay focused on what truly matters. At the beginning of my journey, handwritten notes from my family members served as lifelines. Beautifully imperfect hand-written notes were posted throughout the house, acting as stop signs to curb my distracted ways.

For years, I dreamed of creating a wearable reminder, such as a bracelet, to help me maintain focus on my Hands Free goals. I had many vendors offer to produce and sell them for me, but I declined. These wearable reminders could not be mass-produced—each one needed to be authentic and imperfect, just as I was striving to be.

Lucky for me, Stacie, my sister-in-law and mother to my two precious nephews, understood the importance of lifelines in our crazy, busy world. She offered to help bring these authentic Hands Free reminders to life and ship them to those who needed them.

Stacie searched until she found a talented duo in Pennsylvania that could make exactly what I’d envisioned in my mind. The bracelets were so beautiful that my daughters and I immediately began wearing the samples and rarely took them off. When friends and strangers began asking about them, we knew we’d found the perfect Hands Free reminder to help others, who like us, wanted to let go of distraction to grasp what really mattered.

On the day we debuted the bracelets, Stacie was ready and waiting to process and ship orders. Because she was eager to see the response, she did something she rarely did. Rather than waiting for the blog post to arrive in her inbox, she read my blog post from The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page.

Stacie contacted me right away. She was very upset and announced that she would never read my blog entries from the Facebook page again. Stacie didn’t have to explain the reason for her agitation—I knew exactly why she was upset. It was the second reader comment written in response to my post, “Cleaning Up the Heart Break.” The commenter chastised me for not knowing where my toilet plunger was … for getting upset over a trivial problem … for not being a good role model for my children. The reader concluded her rant by telling me to get some perspective.

What Stacie didn’t know was that every time I share my not-so-pretty truths, I receive some unkind comments. This has been going on since I started my blog three years ago. I didn’t tell Stacie I was used to it or that those comments didn’t bother me. Because even though my skin is thicker than it used to be, I am still human. What I did tell her was that I feel sad for people who feel they must convey their opinion in such a derogatory way. My wish is for them to find one friend that they could let in on their pain, someone with whom they could their share their own difficult truths.

Just a few weeks after that incident, I received the cruelest comments of my career when “The Bully Too Close to Home” was published on MSN.com. As friends, family, and faithful blog readers reached out to me in concern for my feelings, I realized there is something I need to explain.

My friends, there is something far worse than being called a monster by a total stranger when sharing the painful truths of your life. And that is this: Not revealing your painful truths. Ever. To anyone, not even yourself.

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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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A Time to Live

 

Christmas Post

If there is ever a time to let the screens go dark,
It’s when the twinkle lights go up.

If there is ever a time to bury the to-do list,
It’s when mitten-clad hands invite you to build a snowman.

If there is ever a time to live in a glorious mess,
It’s when pieces of wrapping paper cover the floor and holiday sprinkles decorate the kitchen.

If there is ever a time to ditch the scale and embrace the curves,
It’s when the table is lined with beloved family recipes and “Only Love Today” are the words you choose to hear.

If there is ever a time to take pause and give a real kiss,
It’s when the air is brisk and mistletoe is abundant.

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Three Words for the Critic in Your Head

 someone #hands free mama1

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

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

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

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

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The Bully Too Close to Home

“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”  –Brene Brown

“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
–Brene Brown

During the two years of my overly distracted life, I communicated more to a screen than to the people in my family. My schedule was so tightly packed that I constantly found myself saying, “We don’t have time for that.” And because there wasn’t a minute to spare, that meant no time to relax, be silly, or marvel at interesting wonders along our path. I was so focused on my “agenda” that I lost sight of what really mattered.

Calling all the shots was a mean voice in my head. My internal drill sergeant was continually pushing me to make everything sound better, look better, and taste better. My body, my house, and my achievements were never good enough. Holding myself to such unattainable standards weighed heavily on my soul and my inner turmoil eventually spilled out at people I loved the most.

Sadly, there was one person in particular who bore the brunt of my discontent: my first-born daughter.

She could not make mess without me shaking my head in disappointment.

She could not forget her homework, her jacket, or her lunchbox without me making a big deal about it.

She could not spill,
stain,
break,
or misplace
without being made to feel like she’d made the worst mistake in the world.

Although it pains me to write this, I remember sighing heavily in annoyance when she fell down and hurt herself because it threw me off my “master schedule.” My daughter was not allowed to be a child who learned by trying and yes, sometimes failing.

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

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The Power of ‘Just One’

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” --Mother Teresa

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” –Mother Teresa

For the past five years, I’ve helped organize a community event where kids learn a simple way to bring hope to children in poverty-stricken situations. Through a PowerPoint presentation, kids are able to see how a simple shoebox filled with items like pencils, toothbrushes, and plush toys can bring joy to needy children. Although they were very small when I started this tradition, my daughters have always been eager to help. I hoped that someday one of them would come to me and say they wanted to step off the sidelines and stand in front.

And I really hoped it would be this year.

When I dreamed of publishing a book, I had no clue what it would entail. Sadly, I realized my current writing and promotional obligations would prevent me from creating this year’s PowerPoint presentation and script. With high hopes, I went to my tech-savvy ten-year-old, Natalie. After all, she holds a mini summer school for neighborhood children in our family room every summer—I thought for sure she would say yes to my proposition.

“No way,” Natalie said adamantly when asked if she would do the shoebox event presentation. “That would be WAY too embarrassing to stand up there in front of all those people,” she argued sounding a little too much like a feisty teenager.

“But you know all those kids .. and you know how to pack a shoebox … and you are great at making PowerPoints,” I argued persuasively.

She paused, and then shut me down completely. “Sorry, Mom.”

I was heartbroken. What could I do? I decided I would put the problem out of my mind for a few days and maybe Plan B would present itself.

A few days later Natalie came to me. “Okay, I will do the presentation, but my best friend is going to do it with me,” she assertively informed me.

Three weeks later, my daughter and her friend captivated children ranging from age four to twelve-years-old. They’d worked hard on putting together a powerful slideshow with unforgettable stories and photos.

The girls thought to ask questions and engage the children in the discussion. After showing them photos of barely clad, hungry, crying children Natalie asked, “Why do you think we are telling you these sad stories?”

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Enough

enough handsfree mama

Sometimes I find myself sitting behind the wheel of the car thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the bickering.
Enough with the chauffeuring, the gas-guzzling, the bumper-to-bumper.
Enough with the gum wads stuck between cracker-crumb filled crevices where nice leather seats used to be.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the wrinkles, the puffiness, and the sleep-deprived eyes.
Enough with the loose skin and the unstoppable gray hairs.
Enough with the laugh lines that look anything but happy.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the meal prep: morning, noon, and night.
Enough with the picky eater, the slow eater, the dirty dishes, and lack of counter space.
Enough with finding the unachievable balance of nutritious and kid-approved.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself gazing at photos of tropical beaches and secluded getaways thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the perpetual ticking clock,
Enough with the steady stream of demands, the dust bunnies, and missing library books.
Enough with the needs of others that never seem to be satisfied.
Enough, I say. Enough.

But then something happens to pull me out of my negative abyss and set my head on straight.

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Cleaning Up the Heart Break

"In some families, please is described as the magic word.  In our house, however, it was sorry." ~Margaret Laurence

“In some families, please is described as the magic word. In our house, however, it was sorry.” ~Margaret Laurence

We were on our way out the door, which has always been a little stressful since having children. There’s just something about making ourselves and our kids look presentable—all at the same time—that causes tensions to run high.

On this particular evening, I’d actually put on something other than my typical Writer’s Uniform—meaning I was not wearing anything made out of Dri-fit fabric and my hair was not in a ponytail. We were finally experiencing fall-like temperatures in the South, so it was cool enough for jeans, a sweater, and boots.

I was actually feeling pretty good at this departure. My kids were in Dri-fit material from head to toe, but their hair was combed so we were good to go.

My older daughter decided to use the restroom one last time before we headed out to meet friends. That’s when I heard: “Mom, the toilet is clogged!”

I quickly ran to assess the situation desperately hoping she was mistaken since The Official Toilet Plunger of the family (my husband) wasn’t home.

Much to my dismay, my daughter’s assessment was accurate. Someone had used the bathroom and apparently it required an entire roll of toilet paper to do the job. The muddy water was scarily close to the top of the bowl.

Although it was tempting to get upset, I swallowed an “are you serious?” and stifled an exasperated sigh. I didn’t even ask, “Which one of you did this?” although I had my suspicions based on the fact that Little Sister was now cautiously peering from around corner.

With clenched teeth I said, “I’ll get the plunger.”

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