An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

Yesterday we were at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam and while waiting for him to be done with his x-rays Dailah and I were talking. This is when she told me that for lunch she was able to have Doritoes and a few chunks of chocolate because a few friends of hers didn’t want to eat theirs from their lunch box because they said it might make them fat.

They are 10.

We had the conversation we often have when we pass magazines of women tucked, airbrushed and whitened. The idea that she will feel pressure to look a certain way or act a certain way is not new to Dailah because, like me, she is constantly watching and feeling. My conversations with Dailah have morphed from the “there is no one way to look or to be healthy and confident and beautiful” to “listen to your gut, don’t drown out that voice inside that tells you the world is wrong or that you’re too much of anything.”

We got home and I thought of the hundreds of other things I wished I had said to her in that moment. I realize she’s not ready to hear some of this but as I started writing I realized not only was I writing to my 10-year-old but I was also writing to myself as a young adult as well.

Parenting Dailah intimidates me so much because I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a woman and how to listen to my gut instead of our culture or patriarchy in general. I’m just terrified of me being the reason she tries to hide her incredible bright light. Normal aging and figuring things out is a valid and understandable reason why she might struggle with these same things, those I can live with. But if when she gets older she tells me that I have had anything to do with her feelings of low self worth-whether that means I didn’t prepare her enough or I didn’t empower her enough-I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself.

So with most things I’m trying to figure out, I started writing. This one’s for Dailah. And for you, dear reader. Or your wife or daughter. And for me, of course for me.

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Before you I wasn’t sure I even wanted a girl. I’ve never been an overly feminine woman so I never had big dreams of getting nails or hair done with a daughter. I was also really scared of the daunting task of raising a woman. With Trysten I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I could fool myself into believing with a little work and a lot of heart I would raise him to be a great man-plus he was caucasian, even then I knew all the cards were stacked in his favor. With you I remember all the ways in which I failed myself as a woman or all the ways in which the world used my female body to discount my words, my thoughts or my work and I was overwhelmed at the thought of raising a female when I had messed up so terribly at being one myself sometimes.

Dailah, I continue to be nervous about raising a daughter. You’ve been physically gorgeous from the start you see; even when you were a tiny baby who hadn’t lost all of your fur covering all the nurses would come in and tell me you were the cutest baby they had ever seen. There are very few family outings that pass without a stranger coming up to you and remarking on your beauty. I think as your mom I’m supposed to beam with pride but instead I shrink just a little bit. Because I don’t ever want you to think your beauty is the thing that you were born to offer the world. When people focus on your physical body I’m worried you’ll forget about how creative you are-making toothbrush holders out of empty Kleenex boxes and decorating your room with new artwork on a bi-weekly basis. People will talk about your beautiful eyelashes and beautiful smile because they are indeed striking but in the quiet of the night I want you to be thankful for the brain that loves math and the heart that breaks every time you see a person without a home on the street corner. Beauty fades, dear one, but your inquiring mind and big heart are the things you are uniquely qualified to offer the world-focus on building those.

A father of one of your friends made you change your shorts after a cheerleading practice once. Your cheer shorts are more like underwear as they allow you to tumble and jump without riding up your lady bits but you were just 9-years-old. Since he shamed you for their short length I noticed you do something that you hadn’t done before, you pull on the shorts whenever you wear them, willing them to grow a few inches. There will be men and women who will shame you for anything you do. I too had a teacher yell at me on a bus full of my high school peers for the top I was wearing. Whenever I recall that memory my cheeks flush and my stomach drops. Living and moving through this world as a woman means you’ll end up getting used to this feeling. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right but it’s the truth and it’s one of the reasons I feel ill equipped to raise a daughter. For a people pleaser like me, it still hurts when people shame me about my style even though as an adult I know it has more to do with their low feelings of self worth than the length of my shorts or the cut of my top. Start to develop the ability to separate what is your actual style and what our culture is trying to tell you it is. Choose comfort over anything else because when you’re comfortable you’re confident, and confident is the coolest and most beautiful thing you can be.

I hear your brothers call you dramatic almost on a daily basis. Though I stop them every time and remind them of the times they sound exactly like you without anyone calling them dramatic-I worry about how it affects you. You’re not dramatic, baby girl, you’re a storyteller. And the world needs more authentic storytellers. A story is not worth hearing with just the facts, your audience needs you to set the stage and tell them how it felt to be living in that moment-what did you hear and smell? And you tell that. Your teacher told me of the time when you got up in front of the class to tell them about our trip to Ethiopia, originally you were reciting from your journal but finally the details got too big and the story too important to continue holding the journal. You threw the journal on your desk and continued the story, gesticulating wildly. It was one of the best stories she heard, she told me, it didn’t even matter if all the details were 100% accurate. You have stories in you my fierce daughter; do not let the world tell you that they are too dramatic to be counted. Keep the drama, dearest, keep it within the art you constantly create and people will see the world through your eyes. And it will be beautiful.

Your fellow women are the best things God will ever give you. There is no room for drama in your relationships, honey, so don’t pay any mind to the shit on TV, movies or magazines about that. One day you might get married or might have kids and to be sure those will be some of the greatest gifts God gave you too but your relationship with women will be one of the first gifts and one of the last. Here’s the rub and the reason I was hesitant to become a mommy of a young lady- our culture will tell you in so many subliminal and not subliminal ways that you are to compete with women. They will throw models on the covers who have been airbrushed and starved without telling you they have been airbrushed and starved. They will feature women in TVs and movies who have personal chefs, personal trainers and dermatologists on staff to preserve their six pack and their skin but they won’t tell you they have all of that. This is one of the biggest lies sold to us-that these women are our competition.

The truth is, honey, they are just doing them and you need to just do you. Find a few truth tellers for friends, the women who will let you know when you are better than the way in which you’re currently behaving and the women who will plan a girls night out when you get the long awaited promotion. You won’t get along with every woman, trust me on that, but you need to respect every single one. Because life is hard and being a woman is harder, we are all just trying to figure it out as we go. There is no right or wrong way to live this life so even when you don’t like a woman you need to find it within you to love them. Love them then send them on their way with no ill feelings towards them at all. Find your people, babe, and move heaven and earth to be the best friend you can be to them. You will mess up so when you do, apologize and move on. You will be hurt but when you are, accept their apology and move on. You need women, Dailah, no matter how great your future husband or wife is you need female friendships more than you can possibly understand right now.

You were born with a little bit of Klipsch and a little bit of Dawson coursing through your veins. This means your body type could be wide shoulders, small boobs and calves that can’t squeeze themselves into off the rack boots or you could have small shoulders, large breasts, a generous booty and long legs. You could have something of a hybrid of those. I have no idea what genetic code is within you but I do know it doesn’t matter. This is a tough one and one in which I spent too much of my life fighting and starving. Maybe there isn’t a way to talk to you about this to make you see what I see now-that being healthy and in love with your body no matter the rolls and wrinkles is the most liberating thing in the world-but I want to try. I want to tell you that the size of your waist or the curve of your hips are nothing more than more stories for you to tell. There will be people that will take it upon themselves to tell you that you are too skinny and ones that will tell you when you have gained a few pounds. The world will make you feel like there is one way to look but I need you to shut them out. You do so well with that now and I cry just thinking about the ways you carry on through life undeterred even when a fellow fifth grader tries to shame your low back hair or your little booty. In many ways you are more self-assured than I am-certainly than I was until my 30s. I hope you continue to wear your invisible armor, Dailah, because there is too much to do and see and being worried about how you look will stop you from experiencing that. Eat the food, drink the whiskey, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing silly games with your friends. Sleep with your make up on from time to time and go out the next day for pancakes and hash browns not giving a whit about the smudged mascara underneath your eyes or the slightly smeared lipstick at your mouth. Taste life without worrying what it’s doing to your hips, baby girl, and then call me to tell me all about it.

Use your body Dailah but use it how it was originally intended. Run if it feels good and dance when the mood strikes you. You will be tempted to use your body and allow it be used in different ways. You’re like your mama, sweet thing, and are already far too awake to the world. You notice that the world has already laid claim to your body and you’re just young enough to voice your concern over this truth. Fight this tooth and nail. I spent more years than I care to admit using my body in transactional ways because I didn’t realize that my body was mine. That I didn’t have to dress it up or starve it, expose it or offer it up. In the last handful of years I’ve learned to own my body. I work out when I want to because I feel like a badass not because I’m worried I’ll change my shape if I don’t. I eat what makes me feel good and indulge in vegan chocolate whenever it’s offered to me. I do this because whenever that small voice in my head repeats the language of our culture, I offer the language of love as rebuttal. There are days when I can tell you’re in your head and are not entertained by my required 5 minutes of dance while we cook. But once I start it’s impossible for you to stay in your head. You smile despite yourself. Because we are 100% in our own bodies, allowing that language of love to transform us into another time and space. When you become tempted to allow the language of culture dictate what you wear, how you move your body or who you give your body to-remember us in these moments. Remember what it feels like to be so fully alive and full of light and use that to chase out the dark.

Men. Oy vey sweet thing. You will have your heart broken, it’s true. Sometimes that heartbreak will be mostly the fault of your love but sometimes you’ll realize in hindsight that the heartbreak lands on you, which feels even worse. Just as with your friends- you will need to learn to be the best forgiver that ever was because you’re dealing with another human and humans are fallible, even the best ones like your daddy. I hope you have many loves over your lifetime so you will know exactly what you want and won’t settle for anything less. I got married young, it’s true, but as soon as I met your daddy I knew I didn’t want to be with anyone else because I had spent the years before that falling in and out of love with various good men. Find someone that will hold you accountable for your actions, I don’t want you to end up with someone who will allow you to trample on them. You’re a strong personality-it’s why we call you Doozie-and I thank god for that every single day, but be careful about dating or marrying someone who will let you make all the decisions no matter their opinions. Power uncontrolled is a scary thing because it makes you believe that you’re right all the time and that’s simply not true of anyone. Believing that won’t force you to be internally reflective of the ways in which you can be better and do better, I want for you a partner who will push you to be the very best version of yourself. Find a nice man or woman, of course, but make sure they feel strong enough to tell you how they feel. An equal partnership is a mostly happy partnership. I want you to find someone that may not add to your happiness every moment but one that you’ll look back after years with them and be full of gratitude that overall the years were full of joy and love.

Sex. It’s a big one for women and it’s one that took me so, so long to figure out. The world wants us to be two different things simultaneously and it’s impossible. Our culture wants you to be a sex vixen that knows every position and also a virgin. Growing up Christian complicates this even more and I’m so, so sorry for that. I wish I could tell you how to work through that but the truth is I still am so I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I don’t actually know how to successfully navigate hormones and society’s pressures as I did a pretty lousy job when I was younger but I believe in you and I think you can figure some of this out on your own with your dignity still intact. Here’s what I can tell you about what I’ve learned about sex: it should feel good. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I spent way too much time in my teens allowing heavy petting to happen even though I didn’t want it to because some young men thought no was a suggestion or because I just genuinely didn’t know how to say no. Practice saying no all the time with little things. Start right now. So that when the time comes (and it will, unfortunately) you will say it loudly and boldly. And remember, “no” is never a suggestion. If you’re thinking it in your mind, say it with your mouth. If he doesn’t listen and keeps touching then get the hell out of there. I don’t care if he’s your boyfriend of a year or the good looking stranger you had crazy amazing conversations with at the bar. You get to decide where it goes, he doesn’t. You are already being told that your body is not your body by our culture but that’s the biggest lie sold to us as women-no one else gets to tell you what to do with your body. So tell your partner what you want and don’t want and get on with it.

Have orgasms. If your partner doesn’t care to wait long enough until you have an orgasm then he or she is not the right partner for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like and if they are not willing to work hard to give you an orgasm then they are not worth your time. Also don’t fake it. There is no way for either of you to learn if you’re faking it. Be authentic, don’t be ashamed and stay in the moment. Sex is best when shared with someone who respects you, find that and there will be no regret in the morning.

Develop your voice as soon as you can. You’ve already started, there’s not a person who knows you that wouldn’t agree that you tell it like it is and don’t mince words. Your opinions and your thoughts matter just as much as the man next to you. You will have teachers and bosses who put more weight in the man’s ideas than yours but you need to keep speaking up. Sometimes sexist things aren’t as obvious as offering you 70% of what they offer your male peers, sometimes it’s as subtle as treating you like the administrative assistant in meetings when you’re a Vice President. Kindly remind them of the hard work you put in to get where you’re at and suggest they bring in the hard working administrative assistant so that you can focus on doing your job. You probably won’t change our culture at large or the culture in your workplace entirely by your voice and you will be sure to piss people off and hear people call you a bitch but baby, let that slide right off of you. Earn your place at the table with the hard work and determination that you ooze out of your little bones already and don’t give any mind to the haters. Revolutions don’t start with bra burning, they often start with one person bold enough to believe she deserves better and demanding others start treating her that way. When the situation calls for it, be that woman and know that I have your back. I won’t come in and do the hard work for you as tempting as it is, but I will be on the other end of the phone call when you’re done. You can let me in on the moments when you were scared, because speaking your mind is always scary, but you’re one of the strongest women I know already-you got this my love.

As strong as you are don’t be afraid of your emotions. They don’t betray you they guide you. For a very long time I thought that my propensity to cry rather easily was a weakness but now I see that all along it was a compass directing me to the things that moved me. I think you’ve inherited this from me, as proven by the other day in the car when you turned to me while reading your book with tears in your eyes, “Mom, the kitty didn’t make it. I’m so sad the kitty didn’t make it.” Let those tears out, sweet thing, and don’t be ashamed of them. It’s easier to hide your feelings and your emotions from the world then to let them out for people to misuse or dismiss them but that’s a cowardly way of moving through the world. Know that being vulnerable and learning to understand your emotions is one of the strongest acts we can do as humans. As long as you never use your tears to manipulate, each one is there for a reason. The world is beautiful and brutal place; if you’re not feeling both of those at any given moment then you’ve closed yourself off. Be strong enough to welcome it all and don’t let anyone shame you into suppressing your wild heart.

All of this said, being a woman is also really incredible. There is nothing as extraordinary as sitting down with a group of women and relating in truly deeply ways. When we embrace all that makes us women there is nothing more powerful in this whole world, I truly believe that. Once you’ve learned to tune out all the rest, you’ll be able to harness the real power inside you that is uniquely female. This person that is both tender and fierce. The one that nurtures animals back to health and then turns around and fights injustice when she sees it. I don’t want you to be afraid or overwhelmed by all the ways being a woman is scary, intimidating or oppressing-I want you to build your life around all the ways that being a woman is empowering, liberating and unendingly beautiful.

I may not have been praying for a girl before I had you but every night I am so incredibly grateful that you’re mine. There will be times when life chews you up and spits you out but as long as you learn what you were supposed to from it, you’ll be just fine. Being a woman means you’ll forever live in the tension of trying to claim your body when so many others lay claim to it as well but there’s also so much beauty in womanhood too. Stand in your strength, expose your heart and don’t think for an instant you’re less worthy than anyone with a penis.

Remember that you are loved infinitely more than you can possibly imagine right now and that there is not a thing you can do to be loved more or less-by me or by God. I’m not perfect at this womanhood thing but as soon as I learned the extravagant love that has always been there for me, my fight got bigger and my voice louder. It’s what I want for you. Because you are deeply, truly loved.

-Mommy

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*Photo by Sy Abudu

How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

14 years ago right now I was applying 52 coats of mascara, willing my lashes to grow for this one day. I slid on my $100 dress and my $15 shoes, placed the veil my family friend had made on my head and promised to love Zachary until death parted us.

This morning Hagrid scratched at our bed letting me know he needed to be let out and I closed my eyes, kind of hoping if I willed it to happen Zach would get up and take the dogs out so I could get a few more minutes of sleep. It’s 11:30am and I still haven’t put on a single coat of mascara, let alone a bra. Zach and I gave each other a quick kiss before he took three of our sons to the barber while I stayed back with the other two kids to get some work done.

I remember the promises we made to each other 14 years ago. To love one another in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, etc. Zach wanted to write our own vows at the time but, even at 20, I knew myself well enough to know I would be ugly crying the entire time so it would be a pointless venture anyway.

But after 14 years if I had to write the vows now they would look something like this:

Zach I promise to love and support you. Sometimes that love will look like waking up early to start the coffee when you have an early meeting and sometimes that love will look like going for a long drive for no particular reason so that I don’t bite your head off and say things out of anger that I only partially mean. Sometimes that support will look like helping you with your resume and cover letter and sometimes that support will look like telling you that even though you think you want to quit your job and just surf every day you might actually want to try surfing before you make that kind of commitment. 

Zach of course I promise to stay with you in sickness and in health-those I can do with relative ease. But I promise that when you’re being a total dick I won’t take it personally. Because life is hard and we often take it out on the people we love the most. I vow to always stand up for myself but rather than harden my heart and mind when you’re functioning at your worst, I’ll soften myself to become an easier place to land for you. It won’t be easy and I’ll be pretty terrible at this for about the first 8 years but I’ll try to rally around year 10. 

I love the way you write and leave me little love notes all of the time to remind me you’re thinking of me. I promise that even as the notes become infrequent due to kids, jobs and life I will continue to cherish each one. And though your handwriting is barely perceptible now and, I imagine, will only get worse-I will continue to get misty eyed as I decipher your loops and squiggles and imagine you through the years huddled over the piece of paper, an image of your wife hovering above the page. 

I love the way you flutter your eyelashes to get what you want and the way you let me eat first no matter how long it’s been since you last ate. In 14 years when the things I love about you go from being rather superficial to rather mundane, I promise to be equally charmed by you. Though there’s no way for me to know right now what it will be like watching you wrestle with your sons and go on a paddle board trip with your daughter just to get an hour of quality conversation with her-I can see how you hold in your head and heart the ability to do all of this so well. And though I don’t know what it will be like to be an auntie or see you as an uncle, I know how much you love your siblings and how much you’ve grown to love mine so I can almost picture you balancing their little butts on your extended hand or stealing them away as they cry to work your insane magic and return with them sleeping peacefully. I promise to always stand in awe of your ability to love and delight in the children around you. Because kids are no fools-they can sense good from bad and so even when I’m incredibly frustrated with you I’ll remember your ease at being adored by those little ones and know that you are relentlessly good.  

I love that even when we fight we do it with respect and care and that you make me stay engaged the whole time. I know that in 14 years I’ll look back at the tiffs we call fights right now and recognize them for their adorableness but I’ll continue to be thankful that they are handled with respect and care when they are no longer adorable. I know right now that I know so little about the stresses that babies, jobs, adoptions and moves can have on a marriage but even in our short time together I know that we both know how to work incredibly hard so I believe we will get through it. Not around it but through it. And I promise that no matter how much time passes I will continue to work the hardest I’ve ever worked on staying with you. 

I don’t know what I don’t know. That will be as true on our 14th anniversary as it will on our 60th. But I know that each year will have what these last months with you have had-incredible highs, devastating lows and all the various in betweens. I promise that I will hang on for the lows and ride the swell of the highs and that I will reach out for your hand to walk through the middle stuff. I vow to lay down all of my armor whenever I come to you with any issue. I promise that I will never come to a fight with you armed with anything more than raw emotion and the desperation at making our love truer and bigger. And I promise that if I come armed with swear words or unchecked anger that I’ll be willing to apologize and understand it doesn’t make me weak but human. 

I vow to love you. Not in the way I do now that doesn’t know just how badly your feet smell or how frustrated I’ll get when you’re the epitome of patience in our adoption and I’m…not but in the way that knows literally everything about you and still loves you hopelessly, completely and truly.

I know it’s not sexy to title this one “How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage” but anyone who has been married will tell you that is what it is. There are so many variables that work against a marriage and sometimes it feels like you’ve built your marriage on the sand. There will be days, weeks or years when it feels like every time you try to add value to the marriage you’ll watch an even bigger piece get washed away. Sometimes it will feel like the tide is always high and that you’re fighting a battle you just cannot win. And then there are days, weeks or years when it feels like you’ve built your marriage within a bomb shelter. So even when outside forces hurl themselves at your doors you remain safe, protected, huddled inside, together.

This might be uniquely American but I feel like long term relationships are so hard because their success literally goes against virtually every American ethos out there. Independence? Not always great in a marriage. Dog eat dog world? Not so much. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps? Negates the necessity of interdependence. So while our culture tells us to put your head down, risk it all to find success in whatever makes you happy-marriage is asking us to sit down together and brainstorm what’s best for our entire family unit. While our culture celebrates independence, long term relationships wither under it and thrive on selflessness and interdependence. While our culture tells us to find jobs that will allow us the big house, the two nice cars and the family trips to exotic locales-a healthy marriage tells us that none of that matters as much as a husband who is home relatively early at night and who finds fulfillment in his job, a mom who loves her time at home with her babies making a few pennies teaching classes and creating a podcast and kids who don’t get world class vacations but road trips to see National Parks and hike trails left untouched by most of America.

And our marriage specifically is constantly struggling against a patriarchal society that tells Zach he needs to “man up”, push down his emotions and hide them from anyone-including his wife-lest they think he weak. A healthy marriage requires constant communication and openness but traditional patriarchy (celebrated in America) asks Zach to avoid these things and just get to work-leave the talking and the feelings to me. Most of our arguments these days are because I can tell Zach is avoiding his feelings. He’s still feeling them, mind you, but hasn’t been taught the words to use or the way to voice them. As desperate as I am to hear how he’s feeling, he’s (sometimes rightfully so) worried I’m not strong enough to handle it.

But patriarchy has a way of working against me as well, right? We are often fighting this martyr complex that is built on the other side of a patriarchy that bills men as the breadwinner and women as everything else. Zach is constantly reminding me that taking on more than I can joyfully bear isn’t a sacrifice worth doing for our family and that doing all of the things in the hopes that someone will find me to be the closest thing since Jesus Christ-and then being SUPER pissed when they don’t-is maybe not healthy. And I also have to fight against the idea that if Zach tells me he is worried about the future in any way that it means we are all doomed. When I react in a negative way to his vulnerability it makes him less likely to share with me, understandably so. I find myself constantly fighting against this kind of cultural reaction so prevalent in the underbelly of patriarchy. Because WE are strong enough to weather whatever emotions come from either one of us.

And then this new phenomenon I refer to as the social media marriage. All the couples going on incredible vacations, beautiful date nights and taking professional pictures. The ones who must live in a space that has perfect lighting and 24 hour access to nutritious food and personal trainers. The outside perception of these relationships can burden the very real marriage you’re living with, right? The one that any candid photo would show you still in your house clothes and him in the other room getting a few more things done for work. You know, the one whose anniversary is today but because of kids and life might not allow for you to share space let alone good lighting until the sun’s down. The “spouse challenge” was going around Facebook recently where you were supposed to post a picture of you and your spouse for 7 days. I got tagged to do it a number of times but never did. Because all of the pictures of Zach and I looked the same-a quick selfie before a rare date night that had no less than 4 filters to hide the black chin hairs I forgot to pluck and the stray gray eyebrow of his that grows overnight. I don’t want to be just another unrealistic representation of marriage out there for people, I want to try as hard as I can to represent our marriage and our life as real as humanly possible (with a few filters, obviously. I’m only human). Unrealistic expectations in a relationship can be fatal, I have no interest in contributing to those.

This is why survival is really the best term for marriage. Because you never come to an anniversary smelling like roses-you come smelling like the mud and muck you’ve treaded through to arrive at a place where you can high five each other and say, “Whew. We made it. Another year down. Hey can you wipe off my ass a little bit? Still dirty from the last fall. Ok, let’s get back to it then.” Some years there will be enough time for a full dinner and a full bottle of wine but other years might be a cup of coffee gone cold or one sip of wine before tending to the screaming child you snuggle until you’re both asleep. At 8pm.

Our marriage had humble beginnings in almost every way (except for the actual wedding-thanks mom and dad!) and continues that way as well. But in so many ways I’m grateful that we’ve had to claw and scratch for everything we’ve had because just 14 years in and we are some of the best fighters I know. When it’s with each other we’ve learned to wait until we can do it in a way that’s vulnerable, open and calm. When we are fighting outside forces we fight back to back, knowing we will always be supported and protected by the other. We’re not afraid to get a little scrappy if it means we grow closer to each other and thank goodness for that.

I don’t know how to survive 15 years of marriage or 20 years or 60 years but this is how we’ve survived 14. And I hope that when one of my kids or grandkids is considering marriage and they come to me asking how we’ve done it that I have the courage to say: “Honey if I could show you my heart you would see that it’s been battered and it’s been bruised. Because in all these years I’ve endured all the ways in which forever linking yourself with another human can hurt you. But if you could see my heart you would also notice that it’s twice the size of your average person because Zach has made it grow and bloom in a way that can only happen when you choose to stay with someone every day. You want to know how we’ve lasted? Because both of us in the hard times whispered to ourselves ‘It will be hard but it will be worth it.’ And that’s never been truer than it is today.”

Reader I don’t know your current status in life and I don’t know whether you’re in a season where your marriage or partnership feels like it’s currently built on sand or cement but I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is not a single marriage out there that hasn’t been where you are. Maybe you’ll make it through together, maybe you won’t. This post isn’t to persuade you to stick it out, it’s really just an acknowledgement that sticking it out is hard.

But for me it’s been so worth it. Because Zach is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. And he continues to be my harvester of light.

Love you more than you can possibly imagine, Z, thanks for continuing to choose me every hour, every day and every year.

TL

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#nofilter (seriously).

A Full Decade with Dailah Leagh

A Full Decade with Dailah Leagh

Yesterday our one and only daughter turned 10.

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Double digits she said when she woke up. Booya!

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Her one wish (other than a kitten and to pull up the carpet in her bedroom) was that her cousins, aunts/uncles and grandparents could be there on her day. Dailah’s love language is quality time, I’m afraid she might get that from me.

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She is OBSESSED with art. Every day she has found a new medium that she attacks with gusto only to mostly abandon it a few weeks later. Her room is full of the cast offs. For two weeks she’s been spending 9am-2pm learning to sculpt, the intricacies of pottery and beginning jewelry. She has never been happier. When we recently cleaned her room she said, “I need someone with courage to go through my room and throw away things for me. I just can’t do it. I can’t help but remember all the good memories with each thing.” I’m the opposite so I threw away virtually everything and haven’t lost a bit of sleep over it.😉 But I respect the ways she creates mini alters with her love.

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Dailah is probably my pickiest eater. She doesn’t vocalize her objections to my cooking very often but rarely does she consume it with abandon. Thus on her birthday she chose donuts, cinnamon rolls and pizza as her food staples. I pray one day she learns to love the taste and texture of quinoa but she doesn’t currently seem to be headed down that path.

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Though she started out as my worst snuggler of the family she has come back with a vengeance. If she isn’t laying her feet on you then she is straight up climbing onto your lap. In the car she is the first to extend a hand and have me hold it while I drive and she chats about her running internal dialogue. Because I’ve had a few good snugglers in her brothers that lasted right up until they became teenagers, I’m going to embrace these moments knowing they won’t last forever.

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We were listening to NPR months back and there was a story about the need for kids with cancer to have real-hair wigs. Dailah asked a few follow up questions and then we dropped it. A week later she said she was ready to chop off all of her hair as long as it could be donated. No hesitation, no regrets. She has always been one that makes up her mind and then commits to the process. Love that.

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Dailah has a real knack for falling asleep in the car. On the way to a softball game? Yup. On the way to birthday dinner? Yup. If she’s not chatting about all the things then she is sleeping. Perfect example of her ability to go 100% to the point of exhaustion.

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This one is a daddy’s girl. In her eyes Zach can do no wrong and she’s constantly asking me how she ends up with someone as great as her dad. He took her to a little bar in Downtown Kalamazoo on one of their date nights so she asked to go there again last night for her birthday. While there she looked sad so I asked her what she could possibly be sad about. “Well I guess this place isn’t as much fun unless it’s just daddy and me.”

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At dinner we had a few other guests who were riding with Zach and Trysten to their baseball game. So Trysten and the other young man, Ray, were on their phones before the food got there. Dailah asked if she could make a birthday rule where Trysten couldn’t be on his phone. “He doesn’t need it when there are so many games he could be playing with me.” She longs for the days when they all use to hang out with only each other-truth be told I do too-and no matter how many times I tell her that they will all end up being good friends as adults, she just doesn’t believe me. As much as she laments the fact that she’s got so many boys around her all the time she loves them and was so excited to share her birthday treats with them-choosing their favorites so that they would be equally excited.

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Last night in the car she asked if I had heard that Meghan Trainor took down her video for the song “Me Too” because the Director had photoshopped her to appear thinner than she was. “Isn’t that so brave, mom? I wonder how many other famous women it will take for magazines and movie people to stop doing that to women?”

And then as we were watching So You Think You Can Dance a young woman and her dance partner messed up their audition pretty badly. So the young woman asked for a second chance, saying she knew they were capable of better. “She has so much courage mom! To speak to adults with respect but ask for what she wants. That’s why you always tell us ‘the answer will always be no if you don’t ask the question’ isn’t it?”

I admit to being more intentional in a lot of ways as I raise Dailah. There are far more mixed messages in our culture for women than for men. I feel like I’m constantly commenting on things being said and discussed in the public and private arenas. It sometimes seems that when you’re growing up as a female the world is full of asterisks just waiting to be defined.

I love so much that as she has met, friended and gotten to know young ladies who are choosing to gossip about other ladies or speak negatively about them-that she has respectfully stopped being as close with them. I love that when I ask her why she hasn’t called “x” lately she always says something like, “They just want different things from their friends than I do.”

I love that she asks really thoughtful questions about relationships, sex, politics, business and the like. Dailah is constantly awake and curious about the world and does not consider the fact that most of the world just wants little girls like her to accept the status quo, be meek and apologize for taking up space. She has never wavered and has always, always accepted that her ideas, questions, and voice matter in the world, something I’ve quite literally just come to believe of myself in the last handful of years.

I’m humbled by the task of raising her because in many ways she seems so much stronger than I am. But every morning I wake up and choke back happy tears when she comes out of her room with a smile and extended arms waiting to embrace me and the rest of the world.

Love you my Dobadays. Happy birthday baby girl.

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Tariku is 11!

Tariku is 11!

March 16, 2016. It was basically yesterday, right?😉

It was the day this guy turned 11 and wanted a bucket of chicken wings to celebrate.

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And donuts. Obviously.

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Full disclosure, Zach and I were actually in Punta Cana on his birthday. I’m still releasing some guilt for not being there on that day but he spent it with his grandparents getting virtually anything he wanted so he didn’t seem bothered by it at all. Still, I wrote in the sand and sent it to him so that he would know I was drowning my guilt in cold drinks by the beach. Kidding…mostly.

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We celebrated right when we got back. He invited what felt like the entirety of his 5th grade class over for a night of basketball, games after dark and stinky snore fests. I’m fairly certain whoever came up with the expression “ride or die” was witnessing Tariku in action. If he considers you a friend he is the most loyal person there will ever be. I’ve heard someone whisper something about his friend to someone else and he wasn’t having any of it. Kindly he set the record straight and encouraged that person to not talk badly about someone else again. You get in with Tariku’s crew you are protected for life. He’s a ride or die kind of guy.

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Also animals. If he isn’t a veterinarian or one of those guys who ropes himself to dolphins to protest their slaughter when he gets older we will all be shocked. I happen to think it’s because they share their unending ability to be loyal but whatever it is-he’s drawn to animals and they are drawn right back. We were at a baseball park and he and I asked to pet a dog. The owner said, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, he doesn’t like kids so we are trying to slowly help him adjust.” And then before we knew it the dog pulled hard enough on the leash that he got close to Tariku and licked him for 3 minutes straight. “He never does this. To adults OR kids. That is crazy!” And every time Tariku walked by that dog he whimpered until Tariku came to pet him.

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If you look close enough you’ll see Tariku’s face in there. With Evie D sitting on his hair, Hagrid on his neck and Barbara Streisand on his stomach.

 

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I’m on Snapchat: tesileagh

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And younger kids. Oh his heart for younger kids! I genuinely cry every time I see him with my younger nieces and nephews. He is NEVER patronizing and has unending patience when they ask him to watch them do the same thing 422 times. He currently claims he is never going to have kids (which will devastate me because the world needs millions more just like him) but I’m not sure I believe it. Maybe he will just be the best uncle in the world, but whatever he does it will involve making kids feel beloved and adored wherever he goes.

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Let’s not forget siblings. Once in awhile he gets a bit snarky with them (they usually deserve it) but for the most part he is my only child who willingly helps the other kids with whatever they need. Binyam took his brand new remote controlled car completely apart trying to figure out where the batteries go? No worries, Tariku will work for the next 2 days trying to put it back together for him without even being asked. Dailah spilled paint on the carpet? Let’s watch YouTube videos to find out the best way to get it out of the carpet before dad sees it. (I grabbed this old picture of the two of them because OH MY GOD THEY ARE SO CUTE AND SO AMAZING AND I LOVE THEM SO MUCH).

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Tariku continues to love and live for sports. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because he has to be fully in the moment. This one is an over thinker to the highest degree so there’s got to be so much freedom in being so fully awake and alive and present. And he’s good. At whatever he tries he’s really good. Because he’s got the brains to understand the many moving parts in any sport and he’s got more natural ability in his right leg than most have in their bodies. He once scored 7 goals in a single soccer game and I started crying behind my sunglasses. Not because I was proud of his 7 goals (though I was) but because he also had 3 assists-all to kids who had never scored before. Tariku made the moves and was yelling for the other kids to follow him and right before the goal he passed it to them. One of the boys sprinted back to center field and started crying tears of joy. His mom looked at me and whispered “thank you”. I wish I could take some credit for that but it was just Tariku being quintessential Tariku.

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It is because of all I wrote above that I am still simmering over the year Tariku had in school. I have an entire blog post dedicated to this year but in short, he had a teacher who had it out for him. She saw him day 1 and had him pegged to be a trouble maker. For the rest of the year she could see no good in him and she was suspicious of him all of the days. Tariku isn’t perfect and he certainly made some mistakes this year but he had to shoulder a burden an 11-year-old should NEVER have to shoulder that was dished out by a freaking adult. *pauses to sip some chamomile tea, do a little meditation, splash water on her face, say a few Hail Mary’s* The year at school should have broken a kid like him who has already dealt with more than any one child should but it didn’t. I cannot believe this is the same Tariku who is now so sure of how much he is loved that an adult can make up things and exaggerate and he will remain firmly rooted in God’s love and our love for him. I hate that this work has been forged through fire but this baby of mine is a fighter and I’m awed by his strength and grace.

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The further I get away from the years that Tariku and I struggled to connect the more I realize that he and I are actually really similar in so many ways. That when things were rocky we were both just trying to piss on the same tree and assert our dominance. This is all normal behavior for a 3-year-old who has been torn from his country and culture but for shame on the grown woman who wouldn’t back down. I’ve learned now that the sweet spot is when I come towards him in compromise because he will then ALWAYS follow.

I really hope that Tariku continues to champion hard for justice. Right now it comes off in the way most justice seekers start I’m sure (it’s not fair!) but I hope if we continue to cultivate that idea of unfairness to extend towards all people that he will be a real revolutionary.

It’s surreal to be in a place of motherhood where my kids inspire me so regularly. Though Tariku has for as long as I can remember, I’m just humbled by the extent with which he teaches me to be kinder, gentler and more loving every single day.

Love you so much my Chooch.