Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two Armed Hugs---My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of Momastery's Messy Beautiful Warriors Project.  You can read all of the project entries here.  Glennon Doyle Melton is the creator of Momastery and author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir  Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.  

Madeline, my five-year old daughter, came home from Kindergarten one day upset and unwilling to talk.   Under normal circumstances, my girl excitedly bounces and shouts about every detail of her day (which takes nearly as long AS the school day- her nickname isn’t “Mady Motormouth” for nothing!), so I knew something was amiss.

It took over an hour to get the story out of her.
During recess, Mady was playing with two of her classmates when one of them created a new game called “Pick Your Favorite”.   In the game, the other kids lined up at the other side of the playground and Mady was supposed to run to the classmate she preferred out of the two.
She ran straight up the middle.
The girl who invented the game was supremely annoyed at Mady’s non-choice and demanded that Mady “get it right” and try it again. 

Right between the uprights.  AGAIN.
At this point, the little girl who invented the game was utterly disgusted with Mady’s unwillingness to choose and the other child was crying because he was afraid he wasn’t going to get picked.  Mady then did what I could only dream she’d do---she said that she liked both of her friends equally and wasn’t going to choose, walked away from the game and played on the swings, by herself, for the rest of recess.

My girl is a tiny little warrior. If given a choice between being cool and being kind, she chooses to be kind.  For now.  I'm lucky.  I'm proud.  And, if I'm being honest here, I ask myself three questions.

1.  How did I get such a cool kid?
2.  How can I possibly raise such an effortless little warrior?
3.  Where the hell were kids like her when I was growing up?

Mady's lucky.  Pretty much everything comes easily to her.  Raising her is interesting----because not one damned thing in my whole freaking life came easily to me.

I really struggled over participating in the Messy Beautiful Warrior project--mainly because the only attribute that I consistently show is the messy part.  My car and my closets these days are Board-of-Health level disasters (ah, just another joy of parenthood- who wants a fossilized french fry?) .   I may look pulled together and I'm a damned fine actress, but a huge mess lurks just beneath the surface. Beautiful?  Maybe for a flash after having my makeup done at Nordstrom on a skinny day following the stomach bug or a tapeworm.  Speaking of the tapeworm, I need to buy one a few days before Memorial Day.



When I think of a warrior, I think of a champion who has overcome some great heartbreak.  Someone who overcame drug addiction, or an illness, or poverty, or the death of a parent.  I think of overcoming the extraordinary.  Under no circumstances do I think of me.

The problem is that I'm pretty ordinary.  In fact, I'd call me pretty remarkably unremarkable.  My parents are happily married after 43 years.  My parents are amazingly supportive.  I have an awesome younger brother. I certainly didn't grow up wealthy, but I didn't want for much either.  I went to a good college and graduated on time and with honors.  I got a Masters degree at an Ivy.  I ended up with loyal friends and a decent job.  I have a beautiful family of my own in a decent house that is full of laughter.  I have a kind, smart, and good husband and have been married for nearly 11 years.  I have my spirited little girl.   My life is good.

I barely drink and I've never touched a drug in my life.   I do smoke cigarettes and  I spend too much money on shoes and clothes that I do actually wear and makeup that I don't.  I'm from New Jersey, which means I swear both creatively and far too much.  I looooooooooooooooooove the F word.  (Do I have any street cred yet?)

Like I said, remarkably unremarkable.  In other words, boring.

There is no great heartbreak here (insert sigh of relief and gratitude)...which pretty much means that there can be no great triumph either.  No one's going to be making a movie out of my life anytime soon..not even the crappy cable access channels.

But...somehow, in the absence of great heartache and enormous obstacles, there still remain a million little heartbreaks and even more setbacks....those heartbreaks of an ordinarily beautiful and messy life.  The accompanying collection of bruises and scars that heal but never entirely fade...I have 'em.  Aplenty, in fact.  And maybe, just maybe, there are others like me out there who refused to succumb to those ordinary heartbreaks.

My Madeline has a quiet warrior's confidence.  She fundamentally believes that most people are good and that most people like her...and she carries herself accordingly. Me?  I fundamentally believe that most people are awesome and accomplished and smart...and that most people won't think I'm worth the time of day and the ones that do will eventually figure out that I'm just a fraud and a loser and bolt.

Scars and bruises.  I keep telling myself---they're just scars and bruises.  They're done and over with.  They can't hurt me anymore.


The ordinary heartbreak started, really, in 7th grade.  I remember the exact date--October 1, 1987 (which makes me frightfully middle aged).  Pretty much everything I am not today and everything good that I actually am stems back to that one Thursday.

Up until that point, I certainly wasn't what you'd call pretty or popular (and I also was in serious need of  some braces and I needed to stop looking up to Debbie Gibson and the Jersey mall scene for fashion advice), but school was a reasonably okay place to be.  I flew beneath the radar, but I had my friends and things were generally fine.

Then I ended up on the wrong end of a clique of girls who I sat near at lunch during those lovely middle school years where everyone is so gracious and charming.

During lunch, the three girls (formerly known as my "friends") who sat near me began sending me notes.  Notes that read "we won't ever be your friends again, loser"....and "you're ugly"...and my personal favorite "we all abandoned ship and no one is EVER coming back for you."

To this day, I have no idea what I did, other than say that I liked Debbie Gibson more than then-more-popular Tiffany.

By the time I walked to math class (which immediately followed lunch and always made me question how good news could travel so quickly before the advent of cell phones), my next round of torture awaited me.

I took my seat, which due to the marvels of alphabetical order was square in the middle of the classroom.  Every other girl in my class (I exaggerate none) then surrounded me and I was presented with a petition that they all signed and expected me to sign as well.  A petition that read that I was an ugly loser.  A nerd.   That I wasn't allowed to speak to anyone for the rest of the year.  That no one would ever be my friend...ever.  That I should just kill myself.

Girls.  They're lovely, particularly when they travel in packs.  And I suppose that I should thank my lucky stars that I was all of 60 scrawny pounds soaking wet, or it probably would have been even worse.

I wanted to run out of that room and cry...but I didn't do either.  I just sat there and took it, completely stonefaced.  I pleadingly looked at the boy who sat in front of me in many classes.  His response?  "Go away, Walrus".  The boys were in on this, too.


At some point during that class, the teacher asked a question and I answered it.  I was good at math.  Apparently, that was the wrong decision because half the class turned and stared at me once I opened my mouth.  After class was over, the ringleader pulled me aside in the hall and screamed that I was not allowed to talk to anyone--including teachers.  The teachers hated me, too.

(Yes, I look back now with an adult's perspective and realize that the last statement wasn't true....but at the time I was only 11 years old.   I believed pretty much anything anyone told me).

I could not wait to go home and get the hell out of there.  To go somewhere safe.

The one smart thing I did was tell my parents what had happened.  I should note that his was before the days when parents interfered with virtually everything--back in the day (ugh, I'm old) parents trusted kids to handle their business.  My parents were great---they listened.  They were sympathetic.  They let me  have ice cream for dinner.

And they absolutely insisted that I go back to school the next day and face the music.  There would be no staying home and hiding....which was exactly what I wanted to do.

That mandate was one of the best things that ever, ever, EVER happened to me.

None of it was easy.  The next day was even worse, as the news had spread that I was the world's biggest contagious loser.  I knew better than to speak to anyone (teachers included) or make eye contact, but I could hear.  I sat at the same lunch table--the same freaking seat--where my life unraveled just the day before (thank you very little, assigned seating) and I silently listened to them as they directed all sorts of verbal assaults my way.  I sat and just prayed that it would eventually stop.

At one point, I was actually granted permission to speak.  It was to announce "I am an ugly loser and I'll never have any friends."

I believed them.

It didn't stop anytime soon.  I sat--at that lunch table, in the hallways and in class--in complete silence for the rest of that school year.  I sat there in silence for eight long miserable months.  I sat in silence when I read what seemed like thousands of notes stuffed in my locker that read "Loser".  "Ugly".  "Kill   Yourself."     I sat in silence when I read desk-grafitti that read "Nicole should die".   I sat in silence when the ringleader answered a teacher's question "What would you never want to be when you grow up?" with MY name in class.  The whole class laughed.  Even the teacher laughed.  I said nothing.

It was a long year.

It was a long year made longer because no one stepped in to help- not one kid, not one teacher, not one bus driver.  No one.

It was a long year because I realized in my then-12 year-old wisdom that I was going to have to make it out of that mess entirely on my own.

And I did.

That year blew big balloons, but it was also the year that I learned some pretty sacred truths that I still carry with me to this day:

1.  No matter how badly people treated me, I was still on the hook for handling my business and accomplishing what I needed to accomplish.
2.  No matter how badly people treated me, I was still on the hook for not being a jerk myself.  Being mean back would make me no better than them.
3.  If I ever made my way out of that mess and ever had friends again, I was going to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear and do exactly what they wanted me to do.  No way was this happening to me ever again.

I didn't dare speak in school, but I managed to get straight As and keep them.  I wasn't allowed to speak, but no one said anything about writing:)  I wrote good papers.  I wrote good test answers. I wrote good stories that I never shared.  I wrote all the time.  Writing was my saving grace.  Because I wasn't speaking, I learned to actually listen and observe.  I learned that I could completely separate myself from what I was feeling---I could feel completely rotten and miserable and still DO and still accomplish.   I learned that I was pretty freaking capable on my own and I didn't need anyone else or their assistance.   I managed, for the most part, to not be a complete jerk.

By year's end, I decided on a little act of defiance.  What does one do when they know they're the ugliest loser that ever lived?  They run for an officer spot on student government, of course:)  It was slightly troubling given that I was forbidden to speak, but I did.  I stood on a stage, in front of my 300 person class, and gave a speech.  Ever give a speech that when you're introduced, no one claps---complete silence in the room?   I have:)  I'm fine with that---and I'm also fine with the fact that I'm nearly certain that I'm the only person who voted for me.  It was a good speech.  No one clapped when I started, but some did when I finished.  I call that a win.

Turns out I learned a lot that year.

Each passing year got a little bit better.  Through high school, I knew that I was still a loser and I was a far cry from popular, but I made friends (good ones, too) and each year was a just little bit better than the last---but I remembered, and I know that some others did, too.  I was counting the days until I could get out, though--go to college, move somewhere else, and start a new life where that year didn't have to haunt me wherever I went.

More time passed where I built that new life that I wanted so badly.  A good one.  By some miracle, once my braces came off, I became half-decent looking, which helped (thanks, boobs!). I did what I was supposed to do.  My grades were really good and later, my performance reviews at work were really good.  I never got in any trouble. I handled my business.  I made a list of everything I wanted to accomplish by the time I was 30 and did them all.   I, for the most part, wasn't a jerk.  I'd made friends---good loyal ones--and had plenty of boyfriends (some good, others not so much).  I'd traveled nearly everywhere I had wanted to go.  I earned all sorts of performance awards.  I married and had a beautiful daughter.  I forgave everyone involved in that miserable year.  Kids are kids, everyone has their own story and no one taught us how to help each other.  I'd become a pretty good friend to others when their chips were down.  I'd changed from the underdog to someone that no one would believe was ever an underdog.   I was fiercely independent.  I did it on my own--largely because I was the only person that I mostly trusted.

I made it.  I won.  I survived.  I don't think anyone calls me a Loser anymore.

Except for me.  I do it....all the time...and I live in fear that I am one mistake away from being mass-exposed as a loser again.  I'm most afraid that my Mady will figure out that I'm a loser...thus making her half-loser.  I can't and won't have that.  She's 100% awesome.

I started this blog on New Years Day 2012 as a resolution to myself and Mady, who was then three.  I had realized that I had built my way out of a mess by being resolute and by getting up every single time I was knocked down, but it came with a cost.

Until Mady came along, I hugged everyone with one arm .  My left arm was the hugging arm and I held my right squarely across my own chest.  I'm no body language expert or anything, but I suspect that tells you all you need to know.

I managed to build a life near people and around people, but not with them.   I spent over twenty years keeping people---many of them good- at arm's length.  I spent over twenty years being dishonest with people, too.  Not by lying or by saying unkind things--but by always agreeing with people (even when I didn't).  By saying yes to virtually everything that was asked of me.  I was just too afraid to do otherwise.  Speaking my real opinions and saying no to requests seemed like the express path back to where I was...and I just wasn't going there again.

It's remarkable, actually, how I didn't end up a  total slutbag or a drug addict. I'll just be thankful for that and move on.

My daughter deserves two-armed hugs, and what's more, she deserves to believe that many others are worthy of receiving them.  She deserves to express her honest opinions.  She deserves to believe in trust.  She deserves to believe that life (and other people) are going to be messy, but still beautiful and worthy of being embraced---no matter how f'ed up they were.   She deserves to know who her real friends are---when she says no, when she disagrees, when she screws up.  She deserves all of these things.

And I need to be the one to show her how, which meant that I need to learn how.

I kind of suck at that part, but I owe her that.  I owe me that.  I'm learning---it's messy and slow  and clumsy and awkward and I've acquired more bruises in these two years than in the preceding twenty--and I wouldn't change a damned thing.  Not a one.  I'm 38 years old and I'm finally becoming a real person.  It's time.

One of the things I learned as a real person is where my strengths lie.  I have a job outside the home which is demanding and gratifying and brings along a truckload of guilt and pride.  I'm a good mom to Mady--at least enough of the time.  I know what it feels like to be hurt and ignored in a time of need, so I'm often empathetic.  I'm often the person that people turn to when things are a mess.

I needed to combine those strengths to move I joined forces with Mady, and started a food drive on January 1 of this year with a goal of collecting and distributing 20,000 pounds of food  to local food pantries this year.  Mady and I are in partnership every step of the way---she's actually the President of our little venture because her leadership qualities far exceed mine.  As of April 6, we have collected over 5,000 pounds of food and distributed nearly all of it.

Here's us on the news....and in the paper... and in real life:

We have a long way to go before meeting our goal---helping a lot of people a little bit--but we're excited and proud and can't wait to see where we end up.   It turns out that a big part of our messy, beautiful lives involves us being there and helping others through theirs.

And for me?  It took 38 years and change, but I'm finally starting to appreciate the joys of being independent and the strength in vulnerability...and in all the hope involved with being beautifully and messily real.

(aka Nicole)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Ton to Report

Third time's the charm!  After two false starts (thank you very little, winter from hell), we finally had our first event on Thursday, thanks to the amazing Bizzigirls, our wonderful friends and the talented vendors who shared so generously!

I won't keep you in suspense, mostly because I hate surprises and I suck at building suspense.

Our new total-    2,033 POUNDS!


There's literally a ton of food in our basement---which is a refreshing change from the 30 tons of crap that also resides there.   This food will be moving on out to the Kennett Food Cupboard imminently!

The night itself was terrific and something that I will always remember--whether we succeed in meeting our goal or not.  Note that I said "terrific" and not "perfect".  It's my life and  I'm working in partnership with a 5 year old.  Perfect just isn't going to happen.

The quest for perfection was largely derailed by both my completely overwhelming tendency to overschedule and also my patent refusal to accept that tasks with a 5 year old take 20x longer to complete than one might expect.  Seriously.  The average garden snail is speedier and more competent than I am with Miss M in tow.

Oh, and I completely underestimated (or selectively forgot) the extent of Mady's tyranny when she's both hungry AND tired.


Mady is normally a ridiculously easygoing kid EXCEPT for when she's hungry or tired.  Combine 'em?   Little terrorist.  Combine 'em when you're about to bring her in front of a roomful of people who expect her to be St. Madeline?  Queue up impending disaster.

Mady's school day runs until 3:30 and on Thursdays, she normally attends after-school science club until 4:30.  Courtesy of winter hell 2014, the last 2 science clubs (along with anything educational for which I pay tuition) were cancelled and Thursday was selected for the first club-and-a-half for makeup.

Wanna guess what a 5 year old looks like after a full day of school, science club that ran until 5 and no snack?

I should also note that Mady does not wind down as she tires- she winds up.

When I arrived to retrieve her from science club,  she was racing the corridors of her school, full speed and no control, screaming "Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!".  She looked and sounded just like I'd expect her to look if I gave her a Red Bull with chasers of Fun-Dip and double espresso.

Fabulous.  Less than 1 hour to go, and my kid's a sweaty ball of off-the-chain crazy.

Part of her charm is that she's normally a super-sweet kid, and she truly does love helping others.  Of course, I might have emphasized this charm as we've worked on the Great Food Drive.   As such, it made perfect sense (Murphy- I hate you, your law and the horse you rode in on) that she decided to dial-up the crankiness as we drove to the Mendenhall. While driving, she apprised me of her hatred of (1) every song on the radio (2) goats (3) any article of clothing ever purchased by me (4) mayonnaise (5) justin bieber (6) traffic lights (7) hairbrushing and (8) not being able to watch TV.

As I am a modicum of reasonableness, logic and I NEVEREVEREVER get wound up at all, I chose to respond lovingly to her list of concerns.

**By that I mean that I started screaming "We have a bunch of people coming out tonight to help us--and they all think we're nice people!  NICE PEOPLE!  Dammit, just shut your trap and pretend that we're nice!"  Oh, and I turned up the radio to the point where the car windows started to shake.

We arrive in the parking lot of the Mendenhall, 20 minutes later than I had deemed drop-dead last minute.  Of course, neither one of us was dressed for the occasion, so we took the time to enact a full wardrobe change in the backseat of the truck as I lied to both of us about the windows being tinted.   I figured that she's short and no one would actually see her, and I'm there was a good chance that people would donate good money for me to put my clothes back on.  All good here.

We cleaned up okay...and boas always help...

We linked up with good company:

And we made nice with each other.

I look deranged, but she's cute.

Once we joined up with our friends, the night proceeded with good times and good cheer.  Yay friends!   And yay for the bartender for keeping my little lady (and her adorable friend R) full of Shirley Temples as they sat and chatted at the bar, while gorging on cheese.  THAT'S MY GIRL!

Another exciting development is that a local reporter caught wind of our mission, and reached out to the Bizzigirls to interview us.  The reporter joined up with us, and interviewed us---tape recorder and all.


I'm going to ignore that I have daydreamed about being interviewed about anything and I had a lineup of witty, clever and charming responses to any question that could come my way.

I drew on virtually none of those responses in the actual interview---but during the recorded portion of the interview, Mady did delicately mention that she had to use the facilities (meaning that she bleeted that she "REALLYREALLYREALLY had to pee") and I responded with love and sympathy (meaning that I hissed "JUST HOLD IT FOR 3 FREAKING MINUTES, OK?!?!?!?!")

In all seriousness, the reporter was lovely and laughed at our exchange.  Article will be published on Thursday.

We're not perfect--- but at least have fun with it.  We slap a spotlight on our imperfections out and blast them out for the world to see.  There's honor in that, right?

The night ended with us tired and happy....and grateful.

We are especially grateful to the talented vendors who shared so generously with us:

2Design Studios
3 Sisters Soaps & Scents
Katee Boyle Art 
Kate Rose Customs Magnets 
Neve Elk Hand Knits
Sweet Salvation Truffles Artisan Chocolates
Vintage Faerie Studio 

and of course, the Bizzigirls.

Only time (and effort) will tell if we achieve our goal....but I have to say, I kind of feel like we've already won.

With love and thanks,

Mady and Nicole

Sunday, February 16, 2014

An update: 1,069 pounds!

We are making progress!  Our amazing friends and family continue to surprise us with their support and generosity:

Oh, and we're in the press!  Surreal....  

While I've humiliated myself on the TV news more times than I'd like to count, this is the first time I've been in the newspaper since 1986.  Damn.  I'm old.  Enjoy the throwback below:

In gratitude,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wordless....well, mostly

My inspiration
My reason
My sunshine
My role model
And one kick-ass, taking-care-of-business little chick!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Short and Sweet: We Take Care of Each Other

Dear Little M,

You asked me what life was all about, and since you have virtually no patience, you also ordered me to explain quickly.

I can summarize life in two sentences.  Life is crazy.  Life is about making sure that we take care of each other.

They're related.

Life is crazy.  In the last week, in my little tiny world, I learned that one friend delivered two beautiful baby girls...and I learned that another friend would bury his.  Open your eyes and look around---you will often find friends celebrating their well-earned good fortune, and you will also see other friends trying to survive patently unfair wallops of bad luck.  You'll see promotions and layoffs, you'll see victory and defeat, you'll see scarcity and the same day, in the same hour.

This is why we need to make sure we take care of each other.  If you have more than you need.....share.  Share freely.  Share without strings or expectations.  If you need more than you presently have...don't be too proud to ask.  We take care of each other.

Try not to be boastful or resentful of good fortune.  We all have something in abundance.  We all are in need of something, too. Share and ask and give and take...We take care of each other.

Life works because we can and we do...take care of each other.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Damn, she's bossy...

We, the Best Dressed Tomboys,  had our first professional disagreement this morning.

It started innocently enough.  Since we've been so lucky to have received a number of donations, we've been busy writing thank you the point where we ran low on stationery.  We made the collective decision to order our own BDT stationery, and started searching for the perfect choice.

Perfect.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.  She may be the President, but she's 5.    She subscribes to the "more is more" philosophy.  Her choices are, shall we say, a bit much.

I had selected a few whimsical, if understated, notecards.  Miss Mady, on the other hand, managed to fall in love with a selection was most likely the result of breeding cupcake icing and a bad LSD trip.   Seriously.  I nearly had a seizure looking at the damned thing.

Here are snippets from our argument (i mean, discussion):

Mady:  I love this one.  It's perfect!  (Points to the notecard that resembles clown vomit).
Nicole:  Honey, that one is tacky.  Let's look at some other choices.
Mady:  What do you mean, tacky?!?!?!  (decibels raise with each word)
Nicole:  Mady.  There are more colors on this card than in a box of crayons.  No!!!!!  It's tacky.(decibels raise with each word).
Mady:  Well, your choices are boring.  I have style!  You are plain.
Nicole:  I'm not THAT plain.
Mady:  If that is what makes you sleep at night....
Nicole:  We're not ordering those cards to thank people.   You don't thank people by giving them seizures.
Mady:  Well, I'm the President, so I get to make the choices.
Nicole:  You may be the President, but I'm the one with a credit card...
(you might want to imagine me jumping in front of her and shouting "BUSTED!!!!!" immediately thereafter; however, I won't confirm or deny whether that happened).
Mady:  You always need to have the last word, don't you?

Needless to say, we have not yet ordered personalized stationery....

I work for a teeny-tiny tyrant...but damn, do I love her style.

Let the clash of wills begin...

PS- Please join us in all our glory on Feb 6th at the Mendenhall for fun, good doing, good times and good cheer....

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks

Dear Little M (I mean, Mzzzzz President, as you prefer to be called),

Your old mama bear is tired.  Bone tired.  Weary and achy and just.....tired.

I never thought this day would come.  I guess I thought my neurotic energy was boundless.

Guess what?  The old grey mare just ain't what she used to be.  If you are anywhere near as smart as I think you just might be, you will be exploiting this to its maximum potential.  Seriously.  You should benefit from some serious upside from this level of exhaustion.

This doesn't mean you're getting a dog, by the way. I'm tired, but I'm not crazy enough to take on the responsibility to care for another living thing.  By all means, however, you should keep on keepin' on with the full court press.  Naming the puppy was a nice touch.  Masterful move, actually.  Roxy is a very cute puppy name, and the "Welcome to the Family, Roxy!" sign was roughly the equivalent of packing a U-Haul for your mama's guilt trip.

Why do I have a sinking suspicion that we're getting a dog?!?!?!?!?

That sound you hear is me wailing....probably in the location where we'll put Roxy's water bowl.

The timing of this exhaustion could not be any worse.  I need every ounce of energy I can find right now, and the gallon of coffee I'm drinking each day just isn't cutting it.  I'm sort of in the middle of a perfect storm where everything is a top priority and nothing's gonna give.   I really don't even want any of it to give...most of what is on my plate right now is good stuff.  I figure that in a year, I will either reflect on this time as some period of remarkable personal growth....or it's going to fucking kill me:)  Let's hope it's the former.  (and let's not pretend that you've never heard, or for that matter, never said the F bomb.  Child, please.  You're my kid. )

What's killing me is that I'm terrified of any of it.  I'm not making the following statement to be immodest--in fact, it's the exact opposite. I'm making the statement to explain the neurosis.  I made it this far in life without really failing at anything I cared about or tried for...and I'm not sure what will become of me when that day finally comes. I'm not sure who I will be when that day comes.  That day is coming.  I know it.

**And let's be clear...I'm absolutely certain that part of the reason I didn't fail was directly attributable to my fear of failing.  I'm so abnormally stubborn that I'd rather die trying than fail.  I'm kinda thinking that I missed some valuable life lessons here.

***And, also, let's also be clear that I know suck at lots of things.  I was a miserable athlete.  There's a valid reason  why  kids who were absent got picked before me to be on gym class teams.  I got my nose broken in a self-defense class, for beans' sake.  I sucked really hard at piano.  I can't draw for shit, I burn water, I couldn't do a forward roll if there was a gun to my head, and I hang pictures on thumbtacks because I'd probably lose a thumb if I wielded a hammer.  But....I knew I that these weren't my things, so I wasn't bent when I failed at them.

It really doesn't help that I define failure as anything that's less than perfect.  You are talking to someone who once dropped a class that I was taking for fun well after I graduated... because I got a 90 on the first exam and I didn't want a grade like that on my PERMANENT RECORD.

Seriously, if you ever get threatened with a PERMANENT RECORD in an academic institution, I will yank you out and place you in another school so fast your head will spin.  

I hope you're nothing like me in this respect.  I want you to give reasonable best efforts toward things you care about, and if the outcome isn't what you be it.  Your mama and daddy will love you anyway.  

I'm stumbling toward one of the coolest things about being a parent...having a little person really helps put new perspective on your own life.    I'd want to be your mama and I'd be proud to be your mama without regard to how much you succeed or how badly you fail at things....though I also know that I'd be a little extra proud if you succeeded after a setback.

Hmmmm.  This might just apply to me, too.

So, maybe in a series of weeks (okay, months)-- where I'm doing a new job (where everyone who preceded me more or less failed) while still doing my old job, and you're bummed that I can't play with you on snow days because both of those jobs are blowing up at the same time and you're tired of watching Tangled on DVD, and that for all my trips to assist on a family medical matter, I'm not helping as much as is needed, and I want to work with you to raise 20,000 lbs of food and I'm feeling guilty as hell that I'm exhausted beyond recognition doing nothing right at all- I'm ready for a slightly modified perspective.

Let's give it all our best shot and hope for the best.  Let's realize that success isn't perfection but instead is consistent forward progress, no matter the size of the steps.  

Yeah.  Let's do that.  Right after I drink a bottle of red wine, order some shoes online, and sleep for 12 hours;)

Oh, and the cumulative weigh-in of basement food is 536 pounds.  Progress.  The goal of having 1,000 pounds to donate to the Kennett Food Cupboard by February 7th is well within reach (and only 19,000 pounds to go after that!)


Monday, January 20, 2014

Introducing the Best Dressed Tomboy(s)

First things first.  Our current tally is 463 pounds of food, which is nicely stacked and stored on a newly built shelf in the basement.  First dropoff to Philabundance will be at the end of January---I hope it all fits in the car!

This is a most excellent problem to have.  I am just so grateful and so humbled by the generosity of our friends....and we're only just beginning.

As our little project gained some steam and extended beyond our little circle of comfort, I realized that our army of helpers deserve to know who the heck we are, and what we stand for.

Alas, and with little further ado, a little more about the Best Dressed Tomboys...

About Mady:  President and CEO

My name is:  Mady
I am:  5 and a half years old.  Are we going to have a half birthday party?  My half birthday was yesterday, you know.
My role in Best Dressed Tomboy:  I am the President!  I am the President!  You should never be in charge of anything, Mommy.  (Editor's Note:  True dat)
My favorite color is:  green
My favorite thing to eat is:  spaghetti.  I like to slurp it all up.
My favorite thing to wear:  Is my dress that makes me look like a bow on a present.
My favorite toy:  is my pink lizard
I like to:  Snuggle with the corn family:  Corny, Corny's Mom, Corny's Dad, Corny's Brother, Nebraska Corn, Nebraska Corn Mom, Nebraska Corn Dad, Nebraska Corn Sister.
My favorite thing to do:  Is play on my easel.
My nickname:  Is my science name....Magnetic Mady.
My favorite song is:  Dynamite.   Can we put a flag of Taio Cruz on the front lawn?  (Editor's note:  Noooooooo)
My favorite movie is:  Sponge Bob B.C.
My favorite drink is:  Mommy's famous chocolate milk
The craziest thing I ever did:  I gave mommy a birthday cake made out of smeared poop.  She was very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very mad.  (Editor's note:  I think you're missing a very or two, kid.)
My favorite place in the world is:  Paris.  And California.  And Target.
I get into the most mischief with:  My best friend, M.
My favorite thing to do with Mommy:  Going to Zen to get our nails done.
Mommy and I:  Drive Daddy bananas.
Something that few people know about Mommy:  She snores really bad, and her feet kinda stink.
Who is smarter, Mady or Mommy?  For now, Mommy is smarter....but that's just because I'm only 5.
What does Mommy do at work:  Pranks people and uses lots of bad words.
I like collecting food for the food bank because:  it is nice to help people and I like being nice.

About Nicole:  The Subordinate

My name is:  Nicole
I am:  Not yet 40:)  I am just a smidge older than the elder statesmen of pro sports (Peyton Manning and Tim  Duncan).
My role in Best Dressed Tomboy: Vice President and Servant to her Majesty.  (side note:  I can't even advance beyond Vice President in my own damned venture.  Pathetic.)
My favorite color is:  blue
My favorite thing to eat: Chips and very hot salsa.  
My favorite thing to wear:  For all the clothes and heels in my closet, my most favorite article of anything is a pair of Adidas track pants that I bought in 1997.  They are so ugly.  I love them so.
My favorite toy: is my Magic 8 Ball.  I consult it for all major life decisions.
I like to:  infuse snark,self deprecation and a healthy sense of mischief into every possible opportunity.
My favorite thing to do:  adventure with good company.
My nickname:  Too many to count.  I only am called my real name by people who don't know me well, or when I'm in trouble.  (Special note on the nickname:  If you expect a response, don't call me Nikki.)
My favorite song is:  I have a rotating list of it is Ramble On.
My favorite movie is: Notting Hill
My favorite drink is:  Diet Dr. Pepper.
The craziest thing I ever did:  I might have made a sign that read "We've been kidnapped by crazy people" and posted it in the back of a conversion van in the heart of South Carolina.  It attracted a bit of attention...including the attention of law enforcement.  In my defense, being trapped in the back of a conversion van for days on end while listening to my mom's music is enough to drive anyone insane.  Oh, and my brother helped. My mommy was very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very mad.  
My favorite place in the world is:  wherever my favorite people are.
My favorite thing to do with Mady:  Getting the Kindergarten lowdown on our ride to school.
Mady and I:  refuse to pass up any opportunity to be goofballs.
Something that few people know about Mady:  She snores really badly and she has a freakishly large head.  We share hats- and I have a freakishly large head of my own.
Who is smarter, Mady or Mommy?  Ummm....I made a 5 year old the President of our business venture.  I'd say she's winning.
I like collecting food for the food bank because:  we all should take care of each other.

This is us.  
See, we're real:)
And our hair is always, always, always a mess.

The 20,000 pound challenge continues to evolve....stay tuned over the next week for some refinements and expansions to our plan, and for details on our first planned events!

With love from the Best Dressed Tomboy(s)...

(Senior and Junior)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On the board...

Dear Little M,

We're on the board!  As of today, we have collected 253 pounds of food and we have nearly filled an entire institutional-strength shelf in our basement.  We have a long way until we reach our goal...but we started.  I hear that's the hardest part.

....and we have SUPPORTERS!  We have people who not only believe in our crazy....they want to join in.  I always kinda hoped that our stupid, unbridled madness was contagious....

We've received packages of food delivered to our door from our friends in South Carolina, we've received mystery boxes of pasta (and lots of 'em), we've received generous cash donations, we've received all sorts of offers to host parties and drives.  My poor coworkers are probably tired of my haranguing them for food by now....but yet they still give.

We've received support from friends, from family, and from strangers.  

We've received so much support because people are good...even when the world is sometimes ugly.  People are good.  Never forget that.

(**and yes, I know that you are fluent in all sorts of highly creative profanity because of my assessments on the world and the people in it...but even I deep-down believe that people are good.  At least most of them, anyway.)

We've received huge support from two amazingly kick-ass ladies....the Bizzigirls.  The Bizzigirls restlessly and relentlessly work to spread goodness to and throughout our community.    The Bizzigirl premise is that so many of us are simply so fortunate...and that so much goodness can come from spreading the overflow.  And the Bizzigirls have been supporting us---in spreading the word of our mother-daughter mission far and wide, and in generously inviting us to attend their upcoming "pop-up" event on February 6th.  More details to follow...

The Bizzigirls rock....we love our badass good-spreading chicks!  We are so pleased and honored to join them on a leg of their mission....and we are so thankful to everyone who has so far joined us on ours...

(more to all sorts of updates and event planning)

....but for tonight, it's just thanks....

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Go Big or Go Home

Dear Little M,

So much for Mommy's New Year's resolution to calm the f down and relax.  On the plus side, I lasted 4 whole days, which is at least 2 days above my lifetime median.  Though others may deem this pathetic, I prefer progress.  Baby steps.

I was pondering the best and most effective way to go about my daily good deeds and decided that I needed a goal....a big one.  I thought about the things that we've done together over the years, and by far my favorite is collecting food for and volunteering at Philabundance.  I love that you regularly ask me to take you to the food bank and I love that you always ask, without fail, to buy things for the food bank whenever we are at the grocery story.  Over the years, you've provided a meaningful assist to the food drives that I've participated in (alongside my tireless and equally persistent partners-in- crime....the lovely ladies A and D).

Your dad already knew that we were scheming when I asked to go to ShopRite for the Can-Can sale. I have a special kind of distaste for ShopRite, which probably has everything to do with the 8,000 hours of my childhood that I spent in that blasted store with my mom, who loved to comparison shop as your uncle and I played Sack-the-Serfs (or equivalent) in the aisles.  Frankly, I'm surprised that I'm not on their lifetime ban list given a few rather unfortunate incidents involving a failed game of catch and spaghetti sauce in the Laurel Hill and Absecon stores.

Anyway, I was allowed to go to ShopRite, but I've already been cautioned that I should "not do anything crazy" and should limit my participation to (and I quote) "something small" since I "need another commitment like a need a hole in the head."  Which, you know, is true.

I'm guessing that the prior drives have resulted in just shy of 5,000 pounds of donated food.   With that in mind, I think a good collection goal 2014 is 20,000 pounds.  Hey, we have 360 days to go, right?  Totally not crazy, right?

To reach this not-at-all insane, totally modest goal, I'm going to need a lot of helpers....and you and I will need to be very creative.  In addition to the annual food drive at work (my poor, poor, poor coworkers),  we're going to need to plan some special events.

**by special, I mean parties:)  This is good.  We are good at planning parties. 

We're going to need help from people in spreading the word, in learning how to extreme coupon (tips welcome), in learning how to put one of those goal-tracker thingies on this here blog.  I need help from folks who are good at organizing fun things.   I think we can do this.

I think that chasing this goal over the year is a good thing; primarily because people need food every single day- not just at Thanksgiving and not just at Christmas.   Every single day.  You already know that we're lucky that we never have had to worry about having food to eat.  We've not yet had to make the decision between paying the electric bill or paying for groceries.  We are so fortunate to have so much goodness and in abundance.  With this good fortune comes responsibility.  As a parent, I'm so fortunate that you already know this.

We're already on the board, too.   37 pounds of food collected!  It's a drop in the bucket at this point, but it's a start.  We have to start somewhere.

We also have our first pledged donor...a beautiful 5 year old little girl who has pledged $1 from her allowance each week to buy food.  5 of the 37 pounds collected to date came from this beautiful little girl.  I can't even begin to express how proud I am of you, Madeline.   You pledged on your own.  Even if you weren't my daughter, I'm pretty sure I'd want to keep you around forever.  Your kindness and generosity are well beyond your years.

Hopefully, others will join in our crazy little project.  Even if they don't, I could not be any more excited about the progress that we will make together over the next year.   Let's do this!


Mama Nicole (so much for anonymity...)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

(i don't want your) photograph

Dear Little M,

We had our first of many "woman-to-woman" chats the night you were born.   Like me, you were born on a Saturday night after roughly 4200 hours of labor.  Like me, you were a freakishly large baby born to a smallish mom (thanks very little for that, by the way. oh, and sorry, Mom).

The similarities end here---your Nanny was a huge proponent of the natural childbirth movement, so apparently, I entered the world all sorts of alert.  Your mama, on the other hand, vocalized her wish to start the epidural at the 20-week ultrasound and asked for a quantity that would (and i quote) "render a linebacker senseless", so you were slightly more mellow on that very first night.

There was a flurry of activity immediately following your arrival--where everyone in the room felt compelled to snap all sorts of pictures.  For the sake of argument and for everyone's benefit, we're going to lie and pretend that the pictures taken on Day 2 were the "firsts".  The real first day pictures could be shown in a night school photography exhibit called "Blotchy and the Conehead".  Seriously.

I don't need the first day pictures of us to remember our first magical moments together---they are forever etched on my brain and my heart.  

After a few hours, everyone else left the hospital and I settled into my room.  I started watching a Sex and the City rerun on basic cable and tried to make sense of what had just become of my life.  The on-call nurse brought you to me, placed you in my arms, and left.

I had no clue what to do with you.

I mean no clue whatsoever....but calling for a nurse's assistance after 6 seconds of hard parenting seemed pathetic, even for me, so I just began to have a conversation with you.   There are no pictures, no video and yet I remember every single word.

It went like this...

Hi Little M....I'm your mommy.  It's really nice to finally meet you.

I'm going to level with you---I have no clue what I'm doing here.  I never read the books.  I have no motherly instincts.  We're not even going to talk about what my dolls looked like after I was done with them.  I tried to sell my little brother more than once.

I'm not sure what to do with you---but I'm sure about YOU.

You don't know how to be a baby and I don't know how to be a mom, but I know we're going to figure this out....together.

I can't promise you that I'm not going to totally jack up your feedings, but I can promise you that I will take you to see the world.  I will be your tour guide.  I promise to respect the person you are, I promise to not insult your intelligence, and I promise that I will never insist that you believe what I believe.  I promise that I'll let you find your own path, and I will be there to serve as your guide.  I can't promise you much else, but I can promise you that.

My roommate must have thought I was completely insane.  (oh yes, the craptastic hospital where you were born didn't have private rooms).

You, looked up at me as if I were making some sort of sense.  It may have been the drugs or the exhaustion, but I prefer to think that we simply understood each other.

It was a start.  It was our start...and it was perfect.

To our humble beginning.

PS- I did promise you that I'd begin writing down our stories, now didn't I?  ;)

This is (not) a fairy tale

Dear Little M,

Another year is in the books! There's no place on earth I'd rather be on NYE than sitting on the sofa in my sheep-print fat pants watching you sleep in the chair that I once refused to share and now will share only with you.

You're sleeping so peacefully--face down, butt-up and nestled into the cushions-and I'm marveling at how it's possible that you've grown so big and yet remain so you've become so brave but still so fragile. I hope that I will often look at you with this exact combination of awe, wonder and gratitude.  I suspect I just might.

As I watch you sleep, I'm kind of quietly reflecting on the year that was and the coming year that hopefully will be.  It's funny--for as much as I like to be out and adventuring and how appealing some of the offers to celebrate tonight truly were-- I felt some undeniable need to just sit inside my own head while being where you are.  Sometimes turtles just need to sit inside their own shell before they can inch forward.

*Yes.  Your mama's a turtle.  I'll probably always alternate between poking my head out and inching forward and hiding inside my shell.  It's about time you knew.  

** And yes.  The view's half decent from both inside and outside the shell.  I need both views to survive.  And while I'll never win any style points this way, I sort of recall a story about the tortoise prevailing over the hare, so I'm not terribly concerned.

It's impossible to summarize 2013 without delving into the immediate backstory.  A couple of years ago, on this very blog, I made the (public) decision to push beyond my natural comfort zone, to live more boldly and more out loud, and to live beyond the shell.  I would make that same decision again one hundred times out of one hundred chances.  It was the best decision I ever made.  I wouldn't trade the experiences, the challenges and the growth in the last two years for anything in this world.

In retrospect, the only tweak I should have made was respecting the shell more than I did.  Baby/bathwater and all of that.  Having that reflective, introspective time is part of what makes me me.  It's not going to make me the most interesting person at dinner parties (hell, it's not even going to get me invited  to dinner parties) and it's certainly not going to make me rich, but you know what?  That's cool.

This is a fancy way of me saying that 2013 kicked the shit out of me.  From the start to the wire, this year kicked the living shit out of me.  I'll be deliberately sparse on detail because some of these stories aren't my stories to tell---but I will say that I'm tired of hospitals.  And of waiting in hospitals.  And of rushing to hospitals.  And of the uncertainty of hospitals.  And that you're tired of visiting hospitals.  And (for fuck's sake), that you know what a DNR is.  And of feeling guilty when I can't be with you.  And for feeling guilty when I am with you and am not tackling something else on my to-do list.  And of transition.  And of uncertainty.  And of having the rug ripped out under me more times than I'd like to count.  And of the exhaustion of constantly  regaining my footing.  And of doing it all without the shelter of my shell.

The good news is that this year has 31 minutes left in it, so the odds are good that I will survive it.  SCORE.

At first, I was thinking that this year was just a kick in the pants (seriously, what else could I have expected from a year with the number "13" in it?).  Then I read my friend Keith's Facebook status:

2013 was a year of transition. 
2014 will be a year of establishment.  
Make next year exciting and full of energy. 
If you're not changing, you're falling behind!

2013 was a year of transition.
Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Growing pains.  In retrospect, 2013 was all about growing pains.  At this point in my life, I'm grateful to simply have the continued opportunity to grow. I'm also grateful to have figured this out because of an assist from a friend that I've had since the first day of first grade. (Thanks, Keith!)

I'm changing.
I'm learning.
I'm transitioning.
I'm learning enough and changing enough to not fall behind.
(so what if I always have to do everything the hard way???)
I took the pain on this lesson, and now I'm ready to move forward.

This all leads me to my next point(s).

I took the pain on these particular lessons, but I am by no means done taking the pain.  (Take close note to this, sweet one, because this equally applies to you as well).

The only thing I've ever really wanted to do, my whole life, was to tell stories.  When I was not much older than you, I decided that I wanted to be a journalist.  I made up my own fake radio station with my friend Kim in my bedroom.  I created a news broadcast for a school project.  I never wanted to be the story, I wanted to observe and to tell the story.

At my core, I am a storyteller. 38 years later, I am finally finding an audience.

These days, I wait for you to crawl in my lap and say those magic words:  "Mommy, tell me one of your stories."

Next year, my (paid) job will change a bit, and I will actually get paid to tell a story.  (how freaking cool is that?!??!?)

I am a storyteller.  What I'm not (and never will be) is a fairy tale weaver.
Life is not a fairy tale.
On principle, I hate fairy tales.  I don't believe in them and I probably never will.
They're so....limiting.

My beef with fairy tales is that they end at the next beginning.  Sure, they're classic storytelling---there's a beginning, a conflict, and a resolution, all neatly wrapped in a 5 minute or a 2 hour package.   This is all fine and good...if you plan on living a 5 minute or a 2 hour life.  Not exactly my plan.

For the rest of us, this concept of "happily ever after" bears little resemblance to real life....and believing in it strictly inhibits our ability to truly be happy in most of our afters and grateful for those little moments that make our lives, and our most meaningful relationships, so damned special and treasurable.

Fairy tales are for the movies.  Life is (not) a fairy tale.  Life is one hell of a story.  Actually, life is one hell of a collection of stories----some with clear beginnings and ends--weaved together in ways that  occasionally make sense and hopefully push us toward the ones we love the most.

Fairy tales end before the next misunderstanding, the next fight, the next stepped-on lego, the next stressful situation, the next missed expectation, the next misplaced shoe on the middle of a step, the next time someone barfs in your friggin' hand.  One of the truest things about life that I can tell you is that there will always be a next thing, a next time, a next misstep.  This doesn't mean that you're doing it wrong or with the wrong people---it means that life's a pain in the ass sometimes.  That's all.  No more and no less.   A good kick in the ass will propel you forward.

Stories take those moments as the opportunity for the next beginning with the right people. While we're on the topic, let's also take a minute to acknowledge that we all yell at, hurt, and let down the people we love the most...the most.  Again, that's how life  is designed- that's where the stakes are highest and that's where the investments are the greatest.  The people who know and love you best have the most ammo to use against you:)  The next time I'm yelling at you and you scream that you hate me, please remember this.   To quote one of my favorite songs from last year (Capital Cities' "Safe and Sound"), even "in a tidal wave of mystery, you'll still be standing next to me...even if the sky is falling down, I know that we'll be safe and sound."

So, on to the all-important new year's resolutions.  I have it on good authority*** that the thing I need to most work on is that I need to "calm the fuck down."

***by "good authority", I mean just about anyone who's ever been close to me and whose opinion I value, about a million times, and as recently as yesterday.

I just wrote a pretty-ish paragraph about life always being about "the next thing", and the truth of the matter is that I full-on panic and spring to action over each next thing with such zealous neuroticism that I'm surprised I haven't driven everyone crazy and haven't ended up (a) with a substance abuse problem; (b) multiple ulcers; (c) pattern baldness;  or (d) in a hospital.  I have a purse that reads "N is for Neurotic" that was a gift, for crying out loud, and everyone laughs (at me) when I tell them about the purse.

It's time for me to have some faith that I've been too skittish to previously consider in any serious fashion---in the people and in the process.   Be patient with me.  It won't always be pretty, and it certainly won't be perfect.

I promise to tell you the story as I'm doing it.

(Oh, and I'm back on the daily good deeds.  I like 'em).

I raise a toast--to 2014, to building the next chapters in our great story, to the rest of the cast of characters, and to rising with (and not resisting) the next thing.

I love you to the moon and back, 712 times.  I will always, wholeheartedly and unconditionally, believe in you and your story.