Her Pleasure Peaks at 10/9 CT

Uncategorized

Blood pulses through her veins, filling each and every one of her extremities with intoxicating warmth, as if every strip of sinew is dripping in thick molasses. Her muscles alternate between tension and relaxation as she’s enveloped in mind-numbing desire, almost to the point of seeing stars. She bites her lower lip and lets out a deep moan. Her spirit grabs onto this exhalation, finally escaping the chokehold of her body and freely dancing along the sparkling, infinite freeway of existential exploration.  

This is absolute pleasure.

This is self-actualization.

This is an ultra-plush microfiber blanket she found on clearance in the Nate Berkus Décor endcap at Target, and now it’s covering her body as she eats Triscuits on the couch, watching low-def Everybody Loves Raymond reruns on TV Land after a 10-hour work day and a 45-minute bedtime routine with the kids, who for some reason can never remember that they have to brush their teeth and put on pajamas literally every single night even though she’s been doing the exact routine with them for over ten years, which is also the same routine every other human being does before bed across seven continents – well probably just six, since she’s not sure climate researchers in Antarctica ritualistically change into PJs and floss every night like the rest of us do…well, maybe they do, because there’s probably comfort in consistency when you spend the rest of your day using data analytics to predict the planet’s inevitable demise, as well as fleeing from ravenous polar bears.

Ooohhhh yeah, baby. It doesn’t get any better than this. 

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She Let Herself Go

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I was recently at a bar for a work function, eating pot stickers and talking to a colleague about synergy and alignment and economies of scale or whatever, when I overheard a conversation at the table behind me. There was a man in his mid-40s sitting on one side of the booth across from three young women, all of whom were hovering around 23. He was dressed like a mix between Steve from “Blues Clues,” a part-time club promoter, and a fax machine technician. He spoke in a nasally and grossly self-assured voice.

“Here’s the thing, women let themselves go at 35.”

Why these three women were hanging on to Mr. Xerox’s every word remains a mystery. At any rate, they giggled at this declaration. They giggled because when you’re 23, 35 seems distant and irrelevant.

Now, to be fair, there is a pretty big difference between 23 and 35. When I was 23, everything in my wardrobe was made of polyester and I had a cardboard box full of tiny “travel sized” bottles of Jim Beam under my kitchen sink, which I reserved for chugging on the subway at room temperature on the way to concerts sponsored by Red Bull. Sure, I was skinnier and dewier and could bend over and tie my shoes while wearing low rise jeans, but I also bought Sum 41 tickets. On purpose.

Therefore, nothing warranted the ageist, sexist disparagement this guy was sputtering between bites of jalapeno poppers. I, of course, wanted to wallop him. It was a futile, emotional reaction, but it’s hard to keep a level head when you’re being subjected to the human equivalent of a refurbished Motorola Razr.

I happen to be 35. And I can say with confidence that I most certainly have not let myself go, at least not in the way he meant it.

That said, here is what I have let go of:

  • Suppressing my snorts when I laugh at something extremely funny. I will let those suckers rip any time, any place.

  • Pretending at parties that I actually know the rules to football. I have watched so many football games and I still have a barely cursory understanding of what’s going on, except that we celebrate 10-yard increments. But don’t worry, you can still invite me to your playoff parties. Like a woman powering through a lukewarm one-night stand, I can expertly fake my way though all the right moments if needed.
  • Attempting to walk in any heels higher than 3.25” or with a diameter of less than an inch. Life’s too short to wobble around like a top-heavy baby colt. Give me a pair of block heel loafers and I will out-dance you at a wedding, out-walk you on a pub crawl, and out-run you during the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
  • Mastering the art of dicing tomatoes and onions. I like homemade salsa as much as the next person, but when it’s time to chop delicate produce, my hands turn into hammy hulk fists and I have the fine motor skills of a fat baby.
  • Learning how to change a tire. I get that it’s supposed to be a “Life Skills 101” type thing, but if you thought I was bad at handling a beefsteak tomato, wait until you see me with a scissor jack.
  • The impulse to deflect compliments. Yes, this is a fabulous blouse, and the fact that I bought it at TJ Maxx and it has no lining and the armpit seam is being held together by a series of conspicuously placed safety pins is not information that needs to be shared right now.
  • Lying about my weight on my license. I used to lament over how bad my license photo was until one day, my youngest looked at it and said “But mommy, that’s how you look.” To his point, we all know what I look like and it’s definitely not 5’8, 140 lbs. If I ever get kidnapped and forced to openly participate in some sort of religious cult, I want the authorities to be looking for the correct full-figured girl blinking twice for help.

“Letting go” has made me happier, and if I wasn’t stuffing my 35-year-old lady face with ½ priced apps, I may have turned around and told him so.

(That’s the other thing I’m learning to let go of. Bar fights.)

Besides, in another 12 years, those three women will be where I am today – happily snorting their way to the top in a wrinkle-resistant, all-season herringbone blazer, with nary a thread of polyester blend in sight.

Oh No, My Metaphorical Carcass Is Splitting

Creativity, Parenthood, Working Mom

When women return to the workforce after maternity leave, there’s this immediate focus on maximum efficiency hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute. Never a moment wasted “on the clock,” for wasted moments during the work day lead to workload spillover at night, thus infringing on those precious few hours that can be enjoyed with one’s darling children.

Creativity is a lot like that child begging for attention at night (and, in my case, is in addition to actual human children). I constantly yearn to do more than what has already been deemed excessive by most definitions of work/life “equity.” It would be far less emotionally taxing to not feel so compelled to CREATE and instead remain focused on that maximum corporate efficiency during the day and the dutiful parenting at night.

Instead, I often feel like I’m strapped to one of those medieval limb stretching devices, being yanked to the north, south, east, and west until my carcass cracks and splits and pops open like a piñata.

Yes, it really would be so much more pleasant to not feel driven to stay up until 1 AM to write a bunch of meandering metaphors about screaming babies and splitting carcasses, but here we are.

It’s been 454 days since I last wrote an original piece of my own. It’s been two years since I last produced a sketch show. I recently discovered that I’ve forgotten how to read music and my muscle memory as a pianist is all but gone. This is more than a little dry spell. This is my own personal artistic Sahara Desert, all 3.6 million square miles of it. (Yeah, I’m using a lot of metaphors but I fact check the hell out of them.) And while I’m in the middle of the desert, something is pushing me to find that oasis that will rehydrate me and propel me out of the dunes.

I’ve been feeling an overwhelming sense over the last many months that my next big creative “a-ha!” is right around the corner. I think I just needed to let that crackling pig skin tear open. In the desert. While a baby screams for attention. As a crappy rendition of “Chopsticks” clangs in the background.

Wow, I am really rusty.

Okay, Pokay. Time to get to work.

A Simple Mother’s Day Agenda

Mother's Day, Motherhood

To my beloved family on this blessed Mother’s Day:

Here is my proposed agenda for the day’s festivities. As you know, I am a simple woman who enjoys simple pleasures. I hope you find the following itinerary as lovely as I do.

First, even though it will be Sunday morning, I will still set my alarm for 6AM. I have no intention of rising at 6AM, but as you know, I derive great pleasure out of hitting snooze every 10 minutes while chaos slowly erupts around me. Dear son, please know that if you choose to drag that chair across my wood floors so you can climb to the top of the pantry and dump Grape Nuts all over the place, understand that you’ll have to eat it off the floor because Mommy will still be upstairs hitting snooze with her face buried in her pillow.

Now that breakfast is out of the way, I will roll out of bed and make my way downstairs. Dear husband, this is when you will comment on my natural beauty. Notice how my hair is both sticking straight up as well as matted flat against my drool-soaked cheek. That’s no accident. That’s how I keep things spicy.

Time for me to groom myself! I love a good at-home spa day. Some moms may exfoliate with a homemade sugar scrub or apply an organic conditioning mask to their hair. Not me. I’m just going to stand in the shower motionless under the scalding water for 35 minutes, because I can. I hope no one else will need to take a shower after me because at this point there will be no more hot water left. I love self-care!

At this point, I’ll feel refreshed. Time to slip into my Sunday best and hit the town! First I’ll need to pick out what I want to wear. Something floral for spring? Something with the shoulders cut out? I know! Something that says “I bought this dress online specifically for this occasion but I’ve never tried it on until just now.” Well, that was a huge mistake – now it’s time to cry on my bed. But don’t be alarmed. It’s just hormones. I’m 226 weeks post-partum.

Dear daughter, this will be your cue to bring me a mimosa. No, I don’t need OJ in it, and no, I don’t need a glass. Please stop asking Mommy all these questions.

After a couple “mimosas,” I’ll be ready to get back on the saddle. I can get back on the saddle because I decided to ditch the dress and just wear leggings as pants. And no one better say one word about how they’re not pants. They’re pants because I put my legs in them, end of story.

Time for brunch! I’ll order an egg white omelet with sliced tomatoes and a cup of fruit. “This is hardly any points,” I’ll announce to the table as I log my meal into my phone. “Weight Watchers is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change,” I’ll continue, as I grab greasy handfuls of tater tots off the kids’ plates and stuff them in my mouth when no one’s looking.

“Hey, who ate all my tater tots,” they’ll cry. I realize there’s a lot more spontaneous crying in this itinerary than you may have anticipated, but why shouldn’t Mother’s Day be like every other holiday?

Once brunch is over, it will be the perfect time to take in the spring air with a long stroll around town. It was a long winter and it will be so nice to just walk around, window shop, and enjoy the simplicity of the moment.

Kids, this is when your legs stop working and you have to go to the bathroom. No, dear husband, I didn’t remember to pack the stroller, I thought we were past that. Please just lug him back to the car and I’ll take her to the most disgusting store restroom possible, where every surface is wet for some reason.

Okay, now everyone’s crying. Let’s just go home and take a nap.

You’ll all fall asleep immediately but it will take me a good 50 to 60 minutes to doze off because the act of relaxation will give me a severe guilt complex, the result of centuries of oppressive gender norms. Rejuvenating!

When we wake up a few hours later, it’ll be dark out and the day will almost be over.

Kids, this is when you’ll remember that you have Mother’s Day projects from school hidden in the downstairs closet. You’ll run to get them. They’ll be covered with construction paper hearts, dried glue, and shaky little letters spelling your names.

You’ll tell me you love me and I’m the best mom ever. I’ll cry some more.

I’ll go to bed that night happy, my heart full.

And before drifting to sleep, I’ll set my alarm. For 6AM.

The Funniest Girl in Class

Adulthood, Childhood, Coming of Age

When my parents went through the requisite empty nester minimalist purge, I was summoned to the depths of their garage, where I was instructed to sift through stacks of tattered moving boxes that contained all my childhood mementos. “I know this stuff is sentimental,” my mother explained in a very unsentimental tone. “But I can’t keep lugging it from place to place.”

The brown Mayflower boxes had been on quite the journey, traveling across no less than a dozen state lines over the last 30+ years. As my family moved so frequently during my childhood, the scratched out Sharpie labels on the sides of the cartons served as a poignant journal of my many life phases:

Barbies

Tapes

Karate trophies

Photo albums/scrapbooks

Photo albums and scrapbooks are by far the most exciting keepsakes to revisit during a storage purge. For the post-9/11 generations, images and scanned documents from one’s childhood are kept in cyber perpetuity. For the rest of us, memories are sandwiched between sticky cellophane sheets, slowly aging at the same pace as the fashion choices they contain. (Culottes. So many culottes.) Nestled beneath the photo albums were at least half a dozen yearbooks and autograph journals. I scanned the scribbled notes from classmates, amused by the hollowness of it all, e.g. “Have a great summer!” and “K.I.T. QT!”

As I continued through the messages, a common theme emerged. Between grade school, junior high, and high school, there were a lot of references to funniness — to my jokes, to the many apparent goofball memories that these pseudo-friends held deep in their hearts during the five seconds it took for them to write it all down and move onto to the next yearbook.

“You’re nutty and I love it! Stay crazy, chica!”

“I’ll always remember that one time you jumped on stage during the grad dance and rapped all the words to Coolio. That was hilarious. KIT!”

“I’ll always remember you, the funniest girl in class!”

The funniest girl in class. As I sat there, mulling over the pages of forgotten sentiment that once carried so much weight in my own validation, I realized that the funny girl quip was more than just a flippant yearbook compliment, it was a strategy, a shield, an identity.

I don’t recall the first time I got a rousing laugh from a group, but I imagine it goes way back. My parents often reminisce on how I was the chubby, smiley baby who couldn’t help but constantly coo and gurgle for fellow patrons in the restaurants and stores. And isn’t that the tale as old as time? Girl dazzles crowd with pithy one-liners to distract them from her thick thighs and rubenesque arm creases. Maybe babies in the 50th percentile can play it cool, but babies in the 99th percentile gotta work twice as hard to earn that love.

And in terms of earning love, as a young woman, there’s certainly a hierarchy of appeal. First it’s conventional beauty, then unconventional beauty (the conventional beauty who is hiding behind her bookish eyewear), then proximity to money-slash-celebrity, then about a hundred other things…and then there’s funny. In a perfect world, a group of guys would have been sitting around in the locker room, drooling over my encyclopedic knowledge of Mel Brooks films. “You know who’s really hot? That Rachel chick. She knows every line in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and her Gilbert Gottfried impression is sexy as hell.”

Yes, I was the girl who did awesome Gilbert Gottfried impressions in the cafeteria and wondered why I didn’t have a date to homecoming. That’s fine, though. As evidenced by the aforementioned Coolio performance, I didn’t need a date to homecoming. I had nimble dancing shoes and access to a microphone.

Looking back, I acknowledge that having the loudest laugh and the quickest joke was often a defense mechanism. Fire first so no one had a chance to fire at me. Make everything a joke so that nice boy in science class couldn’t get too close. Put a snarky lid over my vulnerability so I always had the upper hand, the power, the control. I was too scared to know what people really thought of me, so I decided early on that I would make myself the quick witted funny girl, without any consideration as to how others might perceive me. 

Wielding humor in this way made me feel safe – safe from judgment, safe from betrayal, safe from disappointment. And while being told by the popular girls and the cute boys that I was the funniest girl in class wasn’t a mark of acceptance, it wasn’t a mark of rejection either.  

Yet, for all the ways that being funny shielded me from the soft, glittering, romantic experiences that many of peers enjoyed throughout adolescence, I cannot overstate the power and joy it has given me as an adult. It has made me a great storyteller, a skill that has helped me in my career as a communications professional. It has helped me make connections and forge strong relationships with the mentors, colleagues, and friends that have been by my side through some of the toughest, most grueling moments of my life. It has helped me be a better mother and wife, as being able to crack a joke or find the levity in the day-to-day challenges makes even the hardest days seem surmountable.

I’m even lucky enough to now be writing and producing comedy here in Chicago alongside two other hilarious women. We bear witness to the important role that humor plays in helping people make sense of an increasingly frustrating world. Today, being “nuttiest chica” is no longer my defense mechanism, but a key component to my empowerment and liberation.

So cheers to the funny girls. May we know them, may we raise them, may we be them. We need them now more than ever.

 

The Most Hated Girl in Watermelon Culottes

Adulthood, career, Childhood, High School, Motherhood, Self-Help

When I was in 2nd grade, my dad signed me up for recreational soccer with the local park district. This was in the Deep South, so the rest of my girlfriends were either in Girl Scouts or were ballerinas. I, on the other hand, was the awkward girl with very thick plastic prescription goggles and a slobbery mouth guard. I was the only girl on my team, so I had to hustle and endure a bit of teasing to get ahead. But being as though I’ve always been a bit thick-skinned, the downsides to this arrangement were trumped by the euphoria of competition.

Back at school, the boys would organize soccer games on the field during recess. A kid in my class named Darius was the self-assigned captain. One day, I decided to take the skills I had learned in the community league and show them off to my male classmates. Rather quickly, I found myself head-to-head with Darius during a very dramatic scuffle for the ball. Ultimately, I maneuvered the ball away from him, he stumbled and fell, and I scored. The glory of the moment was short lived. As Darius stood up, covered in red Alabama mud, he started to scream, “I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU SO MUCH.” The rest of the boys glared at me. There was no acknowledgement of my awesome moves, just universal distain for the girl who ruined their game by daring to play. The bell rang and we returned to our classrooms. Just as recess had ended, so began my entrance into the world of likability politics.

Scientific research has shown that men and women are liked equally when behaving in a participatory manner, meaning collaborating and sharing in an experience. Yet, when positioned in equally authoritative positions, women are disliked far more than men. Data shows us that high-achieving women experience social backlash for simply exhibiting the very behaviors that nurture success. That’s because those behaviors, such as forcefulness and decisiveness, violate traditionally feminine attributes such as warmth, gentleness, and friendliness. Perhaps it would have been warmer, gentler, and friendlier for me to let little Darius trot around me on that soccer field, allowed to easily score while I shot sunbeams of encouragement and approachability from my eyeballs. Instead, I played fairly, Darius tripped on his own two feet, and I promptly became the most hated girl in watermelon print culottes east of the Mississippi.

And the soccer fiasco of ’91 is only one of many examples in my life where I’ve been caught between wanting to be liked and having an inherent desire to compete and lead. Between the angry letters I got at the high school newspaper office when I was the opinions editor, to the eye rolls and condescending scoffs I experienced during the fiery debates in my political science classes, I am acutely aware of what it’s like to “rub people the wrong way.” And when I tried to shake things up and be the fun, loveable girl, I was nicknamed “ponytail” at my first job out of college, which I hated much more than any of the much more crass names I had encountered when I was my more authentic, bullheaded self. Yet, turns out that “ponytail” gets invited to more meetings and gets more promotions, so that has been the identity I’ve aimed to take on over the course of the last 10 years.

The truth is, as a society, we put a premium on charisma and charm. I mean, okay — when you’re 20, shiny hair and a solid hip-to-waist ratio can go a long way in getting people on your side. But pop out a couple of kids and get some adult-onset acne and you better hope you’ve got a decent personality. That’s why I’ve smiled and played the likability game like a champ. Rational pushback is often replaced with gentile diplomacy. Confrontation is avoided at all costs. Instead, I often take on the laborious task of massaging a harsh message to ensure that the person on the other end of the phone line doesn’t feel attacked or threatened, even though they themselves are the repeat offender of the most egregious of office crimes.

Maybe Dave thinks it’s appropriate to call me five times in two hours, requesting that I do his work for him by end of day. Maybe I want to tell him that his unrelenting disrespect will no longer be tolerated. Instead, I’ll scream in my lumbar support pillow, take a deep breath, and say: “Yes, Dave, really appreciate your rigorous follow-ups and your investment in this project. Moving forward, please kindly note that we typically require a 72-hour review period on such requests. However, given these special circumstances, I will get back to you by close of business. Thanks so much.” This has been my life. Every. Day.

But an interesting revelation has begun to take shape inside of me as I’ve been pondering where I fall along the spectrum of likability. Over the years, when I’ve shirked conflict, I had always convinced myself that it was because I was actually a nice girl who didn’t like confrontation. I always assumed it was the conflict in and of itself that brought me pain. But the truth is that I’m actually a bull in a china shop, trying too hard to be the graceful nice girl. That’s really where the dissonance lies. Likability is a tool I’ve been using to get ahead — because I know it will make me more palatable, not because it’s right or rewarding or even the most effective way to operate in the world.

Some of the women I admire most are the least conventionally “likable” people. Authors Roxane Gay and Lindy West are both prolific feminist writers, thinkers, and internet troll destroyers. They speak truth to power without apology, all the while knowingly alienating thousands of “haters” who think they should mind their mouths and stay in their place. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another renowned feminist writer who I deeply admire, once addressed young female writers, saying:
“Society teaches young girls the idea that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world, that you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable, that you’re supposed to hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t be too pushy, because you have to be likable…and if you start thinking about being likable you are not going to tell your story honestly, because you are going to be so concerned with not offending, and that’s going to ruin your story.”

This is great advice not just for young girls, but for all of us who want to occupy our space in the world with not just grace and charisma, but with honesty and authenticity. I still struggle with this daily. But as I reflect on that time when I put myself out there with all those boys on the soccer field, motivated only by the same love for the sport that they had, I think about my own daughter, who also happens to be 8 years old. If she came to me today and asked me if she should join the boys on the soccer field, even in the face of the very real chance that she could get teased or even screamed at, I would tell her to go for it, every time.

And that’s my litmus test. If I expect my own daughter to live her life authentically, then I should expect it for myself. At the end of the day, I think I’d rather like who I am and exist in that space alone, then to barter my truth in exchange for being liked by everyone else.

That’s my honest story and I’m sticking to it.

Look for the Helpers

Adulthood, Community, Outreach

As performed at the Telling Our Stories: Speak Hope, Show Love event in Oak Brook, IL on February 23, 2017.

When I was a little girl, I watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. My mom would turn on our clunky old TV and I’d watch him singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” as he walked through the doorway, heading to his sweater closet. Do you guys remember the sweaters? He had one every color of the rainbow – each with a zipper up the front. He’d remove his stodgy navy blazer and replace it with a sweater, then sit down on his bench and take off his loafers, replacing them with sneakers. It wasn’t until he had that sweater and those sneakers on that he would be able to do anything else for the day — usually feeding his goldfish, going to the crayon factory, or teaching us how pretzels were made. He taught me so much. In fact, every day when I get home from work, the first thing I do is rip off my bra and kick off my heels. Gotta get comfortable before you do anything else. So no bra, no heels. That’s all you, Mr. Rogers.

Given the ubiquity of Mr. Rogers in the lives of Gen Xers  and older Millennials, it’s no wonder that even now, 14 years after his death, whenever our country is going through tough times, his spirit resurfaces. You may have noticed that during some recent incidents like Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing, the same Mr. Rogers quote always seems to goes viral: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Look for the helpers. 


Certainly, viewing the world through this lens is impactful in two ways. First, it moves the focus from the negative to the positive. Anyone active on social media is familiar with a common, rather colorful descriptor for the state of our country’s current affairs, which is that we are living in a “dumpster fire.” What would Fred Rogers tell us in the age of this proverbial dumpster fire? He’d tell us to look for the people on the sidelines, passing buckets of water to douse the flames, carting away the rubble, ready to rebuild.

Second, it addresses humanity’s natural impulse to mobilize and respond in the face of injustice. This innate desire to fix problems keeps us from falling down the rabbit hole of hopelessness and despair. It’s an emotional safeguard that reminds us that all is not lost, no matter how bad things seem at the moment. It reassures us that redemption is always possible.

Mr. Rogers’ “look for the helpers” philosophy was originally intended to appeal to the natural optimism and empathy that exists within children, as a way to comfort and soothe them. Looking for the positive, finding ways to help – these are things that I see exhibited by my own children every day. But for me at age 33? I am as cynical as they come. I see dumpster fires flaming up in every direction, but instead of just rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, I find myself curled up in fetal position on my bed at night, my mind racing through an overwhelming list of all the enormous issues that need to be fixed immediate: racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, arachnophobia, robophobia. 

Yes, in case you didn’t get the memo, spiders and robots are going to rise up and destroy us all. 

This is just a small sampling the mental rollercoaster I put myself through every night before I drift off to sleep. Perhaps some of you can relate. The world is hurting. We want to help. We want to make Mr. Rogers proud – yet, it feels nearly impossible to even know where to begin.

Amy Poehler has an organization called Smart Girls at the Party, which is an online community for young girls interested in activism. Their motto is “Change the world by being yourself.” Very Mr. Rogers-esque, right? Of course, those of us who are cynical know that, on a tactical level, that motto is a bit simplistic. Change the world by being yourself? Like, I can’t just sit at home being witty, and stylish, and fabulous and expect that to solve world hunger.

But, to their point, I can take my unique skills and perspectives and channel them into real, ground-level impacts. For example, I am passionate about career readiness, like having a sharp resume or strong interviewing skills. Maybe I can take those passion points and use them to empower another young person looking for employment in a tough job market. I love writing and public speaking. Maybe there is another woman out there who has a story to tell but doesn’t have a platform or venue. Maybe I can help her with that.

So what are your skills and passion points? Where are there needs in your own community where you could bring real value? As easy as it is to feel overwhelmed by the broad needs of our brothers and sisters across the globe, it is important to keep in mind that no one is being called to fix all the world’s problems alone, or in a single day – or a single lifetime, for that matter. We are called to address the needs of our immediate neighbors. Maybe that means something major, like dismantling systemic racism or smashing the patriarchy in one clean sweep. Or, more realistically, it requires that we start by simply recognizing the inherent value in all people, and acting in small but significant ways to acknowledge that humanity. 

For example, I was recently introduced to Breakthrough Ministries in Chicago’s East Garfield Park. This amazing organization is committed to empowering adults and youth to achieve self-sufficiency and break the cycle of poverty. Volunteers help across a wide range of needs, including tutoring students after school, coaching a recreational youth basketball team, helping a young family get settled into a new home, cooking meals and dining with transitional housing tentants, the list goes on. In my case this past week, I was able to join 20+ women in gathering feminine products for other women who are living on the streets or simply struggling to get by financially month-to-month.

So as we look for the helpers, are they the people dominating the CNN ticker on the bottom of your TV screen? Is it the person with the loudest megaphone or the largest social media platform? Or are they the individuals in the periphery, with their sleeves rolled up, passing the water buckets?

Mr. Rogers once said that life is the greatest mystery of any millennium and that we need to do whatever we can do to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own, by treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves. We all have only one life to live on earth and we have the choice of encouraging others to either demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.

So when I look for the helpers, I’m looking at all of us. And today, I’m rolling up my sleeves.

Pass me a bucket.


 

Desperately Seeking Solidarity

Motherhood, Parenthood, Uncategorized

As performed live on December 11 at Christ Church of Oak Brook, IL, as part of the “Advent: Questions of Christmas” series. Inspired by Luke 1:39-45, aka the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth.

I had my first child when I was 25. I was not ready. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “No one’s REALLY ready to have a baby.” Well, believe me when I tell you, I was REALLY not ready. Just earlier that year, I had accidentally brushed my teeth with the same toothbrush I used to clean the shower grout. 

So there I was at 25, thrust from my life as a fuzzy-brained 20-something to a fuzzy-brained mother. 

One thing I quickly learned as a first-time mom is that EVERYONE is invested in other people’s parenting choices. Everyone has a position on everything – parents, in-laws, grandparents, friends, strangers on the internet, strangers in the Target checkout line. In my case, the well-intended suggestions quickly produced the inverse effect. I fell head-first down the rabbit hole of self-doubt and fear, another victim of public opinion. “You’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong” I would repeat to myself. I knew I was doing it wrong because “they” told me so. 

At 25, holding the little baby I was trying really hard not to break.

On a rather frigid day, the baby and I made the brave trek to the mall. As we maneuvered around the pretty handbags, I started to feel like myself again. “How old is she?” a saleswoman asked as she peered into the stroller. “Six weeks,” I replied proudly as I looked at her rosy little face.  

“You know, you’re not supposed to take the baby out into public before eight weeks,” she said, snidely. “She could get sick.” 

You’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong. The chant of disapproval roared through my head as I escaped the counter and rushed to the women’s restroom. My daughter could always sense my sadness and she began to cry. I frantically nursed her, my own hot tears dropping down onto her soft little head. 

Moments later, another young mother clumsily pushed her stroller into the lounge and plopped down on the opposite bench. As she lifted her screaming baby out of the mound of blankets, our eyes met. We exchanged strained smiles. “This is like, the third time I’ve had to nurse him since I’ve been here,” she said. “Why don’t we get their metabolism?” 

I let out a cackle. The joke was pretty weak but to me in that moment, she might as well have been Steve Martin. 

“How old is your baby?” she asked. 

“She’s six weeks,” I replied, timidly. 

“Wow, six weeks?” she replied.

I braced for the condemnation that would never come. 

“That’s awesome. I bet she’s going to be super well-behaved when she’s older,” she said as she stuck a pacifier in her baby’s mouth and tucked him back into the stroller. “You’re doing a great job.” 

You’re doing a great job. You’re doing a great job. It repeated in my head over and over again, effectively muting the ugly naysaying that had invaded that space for weeks.

“Thank you,” I managed to call out as she backed out of the room. 

She didn’t hear me, but her words stayed in my head. They helped carry me through the coldest winter I can remember. 

That little baby of mine is now eight years old and I’ve since had another child. All my friends are just now starting to have children, making me the old veteran. Some days I feel the urge to dispense sage advice but the memory of that woman always gives me pause, reminding me of the power of a few simple words of encouragement. Of a gentle joke. And of a warm smile. 

As we reflect on the story of Mary and Elizabeth, two women carrying the load of unthinkable pressure and responsibility, may we recognize the impact of their humility as they shared in that experience so long ago. Empathy and solidarity really do have the power to change lives, whether in Judea 2,000 years ago, or eight years ago in a department store bathroom.

You can view the companion sermon, “Why Am I So Favored?” from the fabulous Tracey Bianchi here. 

A Wedding Toast to My Little Sister and Her Husband

Adulthood, Family, Marriage, Sisterhood

As presented at their wedding reception on May 20, 2016, in Wheaton, IL

So I’ve known Stephanie for a long time. We’re talking way back in the day. In fact, I remember the first time we met. Remember that, Steph? It was a hot summer day in New England, 1988. I was wearing this ill-fitting New Kids on the Block t-shirt and pink jelly sandals. And you were wearing a cotton onesie that, frankly, did nothing for your thighs. 


I had been excited for months and months over your arrival but man, you were just so emotional back then. You cried so easily. Mom called it “colic” but c’mon. It’s not colic when it lasts for 27 years. I’m just kidding! This is your wedding day — crying is natural. Tears of happiness, tears of joy, tears of debilitating terror as the weight of the day’s commitments begin to sink in.

Bottom line: marriage is a big deal. But John and you know that. I mean, how can you not? From the moment you became engaged, you’ve had a steady stream of advice from well-meaning friends and strangers about the “secrets” to matrimonial bliss. And really, few things are more gratifying to married people than dispensing unsolicited advice to unmarried people. We love it. It’s almost as fun as spending an entire Saturday together at the Tile Outlet picking out a new kitchen back splash. Almost.

Some advice you may have already heard:

“Talk less, listen more.”
“Don’t go to bed angry.”
“Always squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube.”
“Get an ironclad pre-nup.”

But seriously, between dating, marriage, parenthood, and everything in between, the effects of all this advice has to be taking its toll. We truly live in an advice-happy society. And though it comes from a place of love and concern, too much advice starts forming in your life these markers for success that only force you to compare your relationship against someone else’s standards.

Are you fighting correctly? Are you talking and listening to one another correctly? Are you going on enough date nights, saying I love you enough, holding hands enough? And if this person that you chose to marry just CANNOT figure out how to use a tube of Colgate correctly, is your marriage doomed forever?

I don’t know, guys. That’s up to you and you alone. Hopefully your attitude towards toothpaste is more fluid than that. But I’m not here to unpack all of that for you tonight. I don’t think you need me, a person who has been married for less than a decade, to give you any more advice than I already have.

Because when I look at you guys, all I see is mutual love and respect. All that lovey dovey stuff from 1 Corinthians – patience, kindness, humility, honesty, faithfulness – you have that in spades. You don’t have to be having the “correct” amount of date nights to enjoy these things. It’s here in your heart, and in your mind, and in all the people here tonight that get the privilege of being part of your life together.

Tonight, you’re going to feel overwhelmed by all these people who came here to celebrate you. The drinks, the music, the photos, all of the lovely details are going to soak right into you and you won’t believe the joy you feel over all these tangible things that have come together so perfectly. But when you take the time to really marvel at the precise timing of when you two first came together – well, that’s the real miracle. John, you came into Stephanie’s life when she really needed you – when we all needed you. Life was tricky and confusing there for a while. But that’s because our puzzle wasn’t complete. It wasn’t complete until we had our Johno piece.

You guys each found “your person.” Now just take care of your person in the ways that work best for the two of you. That’s the only advice I have for you.

Love to you both, tonight, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life together.

Cheers.

 

Fear and Loathing in Parenthood

Adulthood, Childbirth, Mother's Day, Motherhood, Parenthood, Uncategorized, Working Mom

Once, during a meeting at work, my manager was assessing potential cross-training opportunities across the team. Did we all know how to process purchase orders? Fill out a creative brief? Change the toner in the printer? “After all,” he said. “One of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” The team nodded in agreement. “Right,” I chimed in. “I mean, have you seen the way these bus drivers push their way through traffic and run all the yellow lights? Sooner or later someone is going to get smashed.” The rest of the team just blinked at me. Perhaps it had never occurred to them that death is imminent. Perhaps they never really considered their mortality. But the truth was that my boss was right. By dusk, half of us could have been swept up into the heavens by The Rapture and then what? That toner was not going to change itself. 

I’ve always had a slightly heightened awareness of potential disaster compared to my peers. Fear of severe weather, knife wielding cat burglars, and clowns crept into my psyche at night. (Their smiles are painted on, I once explained to my parents. PAINTED ON.) But the fears of my youth could not match what I experienced once I became a mother. Not coincidentally, those blinking co-workers were nearly all childfree and therefore ready to seize any chance to ski down a mountain, dive out of a plane, or ride an evil rickshaw of doom (i.e., rollercoaster). I used to love riding rollercoasters. I used to enjoy the feeling of taking off and landing in a 757. I used to ride the elevator without reading the legally-required maintenance report posted above the buttons. But that was back when I didn’t have two little children at home. Things are different now. I thought about this seismic shift as I considered about what I should write about for Mother’s Day. I thought about all the ways that parenthood has changed me. What struck me initially were the typical parenting themes we always talk about – joy, exhaustion, pride, self-doubt. But what about real fear? This anxiety I’m talking about is the kind that makes you keenly aware of every bump of turbulence, every rattle of the elevator walls, and generates all those extra seconds of added hesitation before you pull into an intersection. It’s the fear of death. Of your own death, your partner’s death, or, God forbid, the death of your children. I don’t know if this is all just my own issues or if the fear comes standard for everyone who has ever had a baby. What I do know is that we don’t talk about it very much. And I feel it every day, when I’m kissing my kids goodbye in the morning or when I’m reading about a tragedy in the news at night.

 When it comes down to it, what really scares me is that no matter how much I try to make smart choices on behalf of my children and try to control their environment, I know that absolute control is an illusion. I can’t control physics. I can’t control whether a gunman enters the movie theater or if a trucker falls asleep at the wheel as he barrels down the interstate. I can’t control the weather and I can’t control homicidal cat burglars in the middle of the night.

 The only thing I can control is how many times I say “I love you” to my kids when we’re together. I can control the amount of patience I exhibit after a stressful work day and a disastrous attempt at a bedtime routine. I can control the example that I set for them in my marriage and in the way I interact with strangers on the street. I can control the way I talk about my faith, dreams, and values — and how I pass those things down to them.

 Because yes, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and then the only thing that will matter will be the type of person I was today.

 And that’s what scares me the most.