Baby Steps

After four decades of being an all-or-nothing person and frequently ending up on the nothing side of the equation, I’m beginning to think it’s time to re-evaluate.

I’ve always been enamored with the grand gesture: romantic weekend getaways, well-planned dinner parties, a six-hour block of writing time, a diet healthy enough to put the Bundchen-Brady household to shame. Unfortunately, when the stars don’t align to facilitate a grand gesture (which they never really do), plans are abandoned instead of simply readjusted. I’m learning that sometimes I need to ditch the idea of spectacular and embrace good enough.

With that in mind, I’m allowing myself one more grand gesture at the start of 2018, which is to dramatically declare this the year of… baby steps.

This means I’ll do whatever I can with whatever I’ve got. Instead of wishing for a kid-free weekend with my husband that probably won’t fit on the calendar until April (of 2024), I’m going to look for daily pockets of time for what relationship experts have dubbed the “micro-date.” Similarly, squeezing in 30 minutes of writing every day will eventually add up to more pages than holding out for the occasional large uninterrupted block of time. Starting paperwork to renew my passport gets me one small step closer to that trip to Europe I’ve been talking about for years.

Like most things in life, it seems the key to taking baby steps comes down to mindfulness. I need to be paying attention in order to find opportunities to squeeze in a baby step. If I half-heartedly fill downtime by absentmindedly scrolling through my phone, I’m missing several opportunities a day to inch forward towards a goal.

I realize that none of this is revolutionary, but it’s not supposed to be. I’ve tried revolutions. They fizzle out pretty quickly. At a time of year when the world is telling us to sprint towards self-improvement, I’m pulling back, channeling the tortoise instead of the hare, and taking one small step. Happy New Year, friends.


We bobbed in the water, heads peeking out expectantly as our swim coach walked the length of the pool casually tossing something to each swimmer.  I felt like a dolphin at Sea World waiting for a sardine to be dropped into my open, slightly smiling mouth.

Instead of sardines, we were given small beepers to tuck into our swim caps.  The beepers emitted an annoyingly cheerful chirp as we attempted to set a pace that matched our strokes to the beeps – kind of like a metronome for swimmers.

Beepers are awful.  But they’re also kind of awesome.  They make me work hard and pay attention.  I’m pretty sure that Michael Phelps’ mind doesn’t wander while in the middle of a workout, but it is amazing how many things I can think of during 25 short yards.  To wit:

Ow, that stroke kind of pinched my shoulder.
My son said his shoulder hurt last night.
Is it because he practiced pitching yesterday?
Maybe nine year olds shouldn’t be pitching yet.
Should I have given him Advil this morning?
I probably should make something anti-inflammatory for dinner.
Like a nice big salad.
Oh, wait, the NCAA basketball championship is on tonight. 
Everyone will want to eat dude food in front of the TV.
Ha ha, that’s funny: duuuuuuude foooooood.
Sounds like something Guy Fieri would eat.
I bet his car smells like stale farts and Axe body spray.
Ew.  Un-think!  Un-think!

I reach the wall, flip, and start the dialog all over again.  I don’t know what makes me more tired, swimming or the hamster wheel my mind runs on while I swim.

But the beeper changes all of that.  My mind can’t wander while I’m trying to keep pace with the nagging chirp in my ear so I end up focused and faster.  I left the pool today feeling like I accomplished something – and wishing that I could wear a beeper the rest of the day.  I certainly could stand to be focused and faster on land as well as in the pool.

Sadly, without the beeper, I’m a disaster.  I sit down to write but then jump up to put a hunk of meat in the Crock Pot as soon as I type “dude food.”  I Google Guy Fieri to see if he seems like the type to hold a grudge.  I write a paragraph but then notice a squirrel scaling our screen door. He looks like a tiny, furry flasher exposed against the glass, so obviously there’s only one thing I can do: grab my phone and attempt to snap a photo that could be used for next year’s Valentine’s Day card.  My husband is a lucky guy.

I try to summon the lesson from this morning’s workout, turning the cheerful beep into a scolding buzz with every wayward thought: dinner, buzz; Guy Fieri, buzz; squirrel junk, buzz.  Squirrel Junk.  That would make a great band name.  I wish I played guitar.  Am I too old for lessons?  I should take guitar lessons.  I wish Sting taught guitar lessons.  We could sing Roxanne.  Roxanne is a nice name.  I wonder whatever happened to that band Roxette…  Buzz.



It’s wrong to say that my daughter played baseball like a girl, mostly because girls are fully capable of excelling at baseball.  It’s more accurate to say that my daughter swung a bat like a stoned T-Rex: sloooow timing and short little arms.

I did not understand how a girl who was capable of serving a volleyball hard enough to tattoo “Mizuno” across an unsuspecting opponent’s forehead could not manage to connect bat and ball.  She could dance gracefully across a stage, swim athletically through the water and even hike to the top of a volcano.  The kid’s got game – with one glaring exception.  She simply could not hit a baseball.

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  She spent hours with her dad swinging wildly at gentle pitches.  She was told to keep her eye on the ball, to just let the ball hit the bat and to not give up.  For months, nothing worked.  But then, while goofing around outside with her brother, everything changed.

“Mom, mom, mom, mommmmmmm, come outside – she’s a lefty!”

I hurried out the door, only slightly worried that a freak accident had instantly earned her the nickname “lefty.”

Much to my relief I saw my daughter, digits intact, standing over the manhole cover that doubled as home plate, taking a left-handed batting stance.  My son pitched, she swung and sent the ball flying down the street.

Turns out, the kid who does everything right-handed (including swinging a golf club and a tennis racquet) is a lefty batter.  It makes no sense.  But it worked.  And it got me thinking.

How many parenting problems could be solved if I was open-minded enough to consider solutions that fall into the “it makes no sense” category?

It makes no sense to skip breakfast.  Unless the kid isn’t hungry when he first wakes up and can eat a big morning snack at school instead.

It makes no sense to do homework the morning it’s due.  Unless the kid can happily pop out of bed early, alert and ready to focus.  A morning person?  In our family?  I have no idea how that gene snuck into our pool.  But instead of fretting, I’m starting to shrug and declare, “It works for us.”

My kids are much better than I am at considering all options, both traditional and unconventional.   They skip breakfast, confident they won’t be hungry until later.  They sleep peacefully, knowing homework will be finished in the morning.  And occasionally, a kid will step up to the plate as a lefty, surprising us all as she hits a home run.  Sometimes, we don’t need to force everything to make sense.  Sometimes, all we need to do is get out of the way and cheer.


Ten years ago, when my daughter was drooling on books instead of reading them, I scoured eBay for an ancient collection of Disney stories for young readers.  I had to buy several lots to ensure that I ended up with all my obscure favorites, including Goofy and the Miller, The Princess Who Never Laughed, and of course, Dumbo.

My kids eventually loved the books as much as I did, especially Dumbo.  There’s a point in the story where Dumbo is at the top of a (fake) burning building as part of a circus act.  The clowns and the crowd start yelling, “Jump!” but Dumbo’s friend Timothy – the only one who knows about Dumbo’s hidden talent – tells his pal it’s time to fly.

I’m finding that as my kids get older, I’m playing the role of Timothy more than any other.  Without shoelaces to tie and bottoms to wipe, most of what’s left to do is simply encourage them to fly while providing a soft place to land.

As kids grow up, focus shifts to the less tangible but still critical life skills: the confidence that we can do hard things; the knowledge that compassion is crucial in this world; and the realization that the effort of doing something can be more satisfying than the end result.

I’m also learning that you never reach a stage in parenting where you simply exhale, relax and put it in cruise control.  Having kids, no matter their ages, means that there’s always something pinging on your mom radar.

This week, the mom radar was lit up with the school’s student council election.  My daughter wanted to run for vice president.  Fighting that twinge of “what if things don’t go her way,” we told her to go for it.

She came up with her campaign slogan and designed posters. She wrote her own speech and persistently ignored my suggestions.  This was her race to run, and she was doing it on her terms.  Just as it should be.

Today was speech day.  She woke up nervous and with a sore throat.  I did what little I could to help her feel supported.  I tucked my lucky charm in her pocket, loaning her my prized possession for the day.  I made hot water with lemon and honey to soothe her throat and then scrounged up a handful of cough drops to stash in her backpack in case of a vocal emergency.  I sent her off to school with, “I love you, good luck, and I think it is so awesome that you’re trying this.”

Parents were invited to watch the speeches, and despite feeling slightly helicopter-y, this opportunity was too good to pass up.

The fourth and fifth grade classes filed in to the amphitheater and one by one, the candidates gave their speeches.  My daughter was the very last to go.  She walked to the podium, fumbled with her papers, cleared her scratchy throat and began to speak into the microphone, timid at first but quickly finding her voice.

She finished her speech, locked eyes with me across the crowd and flashed a huge grin.  I gave her a thumbs up, thinking of that one simple word: fly.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

The big picture is overrated.  It is uncertain.  It can be messy.  It is rarely understood, never controlled and frequently overwhelming.  I like the little picture instead.  Focusing attention on small details adds beauty to days that could otherwise slip by unnoticed, obscured by looming shadows of the big picture.  Life’s details are here now: bright, beautiful and begging to be seen.

* Post inspired by WordPress’ weekly photo challenge. This week’s theme is color.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

jan pics 028-1Although I don’t make resolutions in January, I do like to choose a word to guide me through the upcoming 12 months.  I’ve done this the past few years and I’m always surprised at how often my word perfectly fits with what I experience during the year.

2013 will see the launch of several projects, including a few for the house and a few for me.  I think it has the potential to be a very transformative year but also one where I’m pulled in a million directions.  So the word I choose for 2013 is: focus.

Focus on the goal and embrace the work it takes to get there.  Focus on what’s truly important and let the rest slide.  Pause, breathe, focus.

What about you?  Any words to guide you in 2013?  Share in the comments section.

* Inspired by WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge.  This week, we’re invited to post a photo that exemplifies our New Year’s resolution…

The Barely Sick Day

I started Monday morning with firm resolve: I would let my son stay home from school on a “barely sick” day to have a little more time to recover from a virus, but it wasn’t going to be a party.  No screen time, just books and crayons and a tough love policy that would make him beg to go to back to school on Tuesday.

I lasted an hour.  60 measly minutes before I decided that it might be a little bit ok to watch a movie together while I folded laundry.  But after that movie it would be back to the books.  I meant it.  Really.

I would have remained tough if it hadn’t been for that t-shirt in the laundry pile; a well-worn tiny shirt he picked out in preschool because he liked the scary skulls and skateboards.  The juxtaposition of his baby face in the tough kid t-shirt made me smile every time he wore it.  Consequently, I ended up smiling a lot because he wore it nonstop.

I don’t know how that shirt made it into the dirty laundry pile because it’s so small he can’t wear it anymore.  Maybe he needed a crop top for a superhero costume (belly man?) or maybe he put it on a stuffed animal (skater bear?).  Either way, I sat on the family room floor holding the small shirt while staring at my big kid with the loose tooth, stinky feet and wicked sense of humor who had outgrown it.  Time is racing by faster than I ever imagined.

I left the unfolded laundry sitting on the floor and snuggled with him on the couch as we finished watching the movie.  We played football in the house – the sprightly rookie quarterback vs. the aging linebacker.  There were tickle fights, fart jokes and art projects.  Finally, with an hour left until we needed to pick up his sister from school, we made cookies.

The only shred of evidence that this day started out as a tough-love-no-tv kind of day was the fact that these cookies are marginally healthy, made with whole wheat flour and almond butter.  But truth be told, these cookies, much like barely sick days, are quite sweet and a real treat.  Enjoy them while you can because they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

Whole Wheat Almond Butter Sandies
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s wonderful book, Cook This Now

1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup natural salted almond butter
1 cup raw sugar (sounds high maintainance but C&H makes it and Safeway carries it)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter.  Beat in the almond butter until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat well.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated.  Stop and scrape down the bowl.  Slowly beat in the dry ingredients.

Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper.  Shape the dough into a 12-inch long log.  Transfer dough to refrigerator and chill at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the dough into ¼ inch thick rounds and place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart.  Bake cookies until lightly colored and semi-firm, about 12 minutes.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.