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

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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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The stories we tell…

For those that don’t know, I work in the fitness industry. In my current role I am a group fitness instructor and a small group personal trainer though in the past I’ve also done personal training as well.

Being in the fitness industry is a hard industry to be in when, like me, you believe women are beautiful and have value no matter her shape or size. It’s a hard industry to be in because, if I’m being honest, I profit from society’s pressures to look a certain way. Obviously for many, many women and men coming to classes or working out isn’t directly related to looking a certain way. I know for me personally it’s my release. I genuinely love working out and need it to let go of stress. On days when I don’t get a workout in there is an obvious difference in how I feel and how I react to those around me. It is better for everyone when I move my body in some capacity every day.

But I hear firsthand accounts of the many ways women hate their own bodies. Boy have I heard some doozies about thighs, butts, bellies and arms. The surface level comments don’t bother me as much as the ones that are clear signs of an internal war happening. “I have belly fat” versus “I am fat”. There is such a wide and endless gulf between those phrases. In the former it’s just a statement-sometimes true-that doesn’t really comment on the actual person. The latter, well that’s a statement on who that person is as a human.

I was talking to a client a few days ago who, when we started training, wouldn’t even try to jump on a step. She would instead kind of walk up on the step when I wanted her to jump up with both feet landing at the same time. I know better than to push people too hard in the beginning so for a few sessions I let her do her walk up, encouraging her to go a little lower instead. But after a few sessions I told her it was time she started jumping. It was the same with push ups when we started. She would immediately drop to her knees and bring her body weight as far back as possible. Even when I got her to pull forward a bit, she only dropped an inch or so before she said it was too hard.

This week, almost 6 weeks after her initial start, she is jumping on a higher step and is doing push ups primarily on her toes. Of course nothing has changed on my end, I’ve done absolutely nothing differently, all of the work has been on her end. And though she has gotten considerably stronger in those 6 weeks the reality is she could’ve been jumping on the step and doing push ups on her toes at the outset. The only difference is now she believes she can and so she does.

I’ve been thinking so much lately about how often I sell myself short because I believe I’m one way even if all evidence points to the contrary.

I’ve got this terrible adult acne thing happening for the last many months that has me totally self-conscious. I used to be a really, really self-conscious person growing up but I had more or less dropped that as I’ve gotten older because 1) I realize no one actually cares and 2) I recognize that even if someone did care I don’t care and so I rock on with my bad self. But man, this adult acne…it’s brought back all the demons again.

Last night Dailah was getting dropped off by a new friend’s mom and she came in the house to thank us for letting Dailah come with her daughter to a party. I was already in my pajamas, my face was washed and I was just not up to meeting a new person. So I hid. You guys no exaggeration, I ducked behind the couch and hid until I realized how obvious my hiding was. Then I made all the things more awkward because I popped up as if I wasn’t just hiding and introduced myself. In my braless, stained sweatshirt, just hiding behind the couch state.

I just can’t even with myself some days. Cannot.

She was lovely, I was a hot mess. Dailah pretended like all of this was completely normal and Zach encouraged me to never be that awkward again because…middle school kids.

Look, the point is I had told myself I wasn’t worth meeting at that moment in time but of course that wasn’t true. Dailah didn’t care what I was wearing or that my face looked as though a tiny army of ants were having an all out war-she wanted me to meet her friend.

The header on my blog used to read, “I’m no writer I assure you…” I took it down yesterday because I am a writer. I love writing, I always have. I spend a little part of every day writing something because it helps me process the day. When I’m upset with Zach or the kids or myself I just open up a new Word document and figure it out. I may not be a published author but I am a writer.

I wonder what we would be capable of if we got out of our own way. What kind of art or music could be produced if we stop saying we like to paint and start calling ourselves painters. I wonder what kind of books could be written or meals could be prepared if we stop worrying about failing and start getting down to business. What if instead of waiting until we feel worthy of time spent exercising or taking care of our mental health we just jumped in and assumed our position of worth first? What kind of breakthroughs would we see then?

I notice with my boys they approach every single scenario as though they are already capable of excellence. There is no doubt in their minds they are artists, comedians and authors just waiting to happen. Dailah, on the other hand, rarely approaches new things with the same voracity. It’s got me thinking that though she is but 9 years young, she’s lived long enough in this society to assume her value as a girl is less than her brother’s and so maybe she should try something a few times before she decides if she’s able to do it?

It’s both completely heartbreaking and completely relatable.

As women I think it’s time we stop lying to ourselves about who we are or downplaying who we want to be. The world needs you and everything you have to offer, as imperfect as it might be. Don’t wait until all conditions are perfect to offer your gifts to the world, let’s do it before we feel ready. Let’s just do it now.

I made a little promise to myself this morning. No more hiding behind couches, figuratively or literally. I have far too much to offer this world to spend time crouching in a corner, waiting for the opportunity to pass. I am a wholly imperfect being that is sometimes terrified of making mistakes but I’m going to just go ahead and greet the world anyway. Braless, adult acne and stained sweatshirt be damned-I’ve got shit to do. And so do you.

Let’s do it.

 

 

Here’s how I’m doing that: when I start some negative train of thought such as, “You should definitely not post that blog, it’s just not good enough.” I write it down. And then I change “you” to a friend’s name. It makes it almost laughable, I would never think of saying that to a friend. I think it’s time we befriend ourselves. Would you join me?

Dailah is 9!

Dailah is 9!

As July 26th neared, I asked Dailah what she wanted to do for her birthday. In our house the birthday person gets to choose everything we do and eat as a family, which is often the most exciting part for them. We rarely go out to eat as a family so birthdays are their one chance to choose wherever they want to go. Dailah, though, decided she wanted homemade spaghetti instead because “It’s too hard to have a quality conversation in a restaurant, it’s so loud and there are TVs everywhere.”

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Dailah’s first reaction for virtually everything is hesitation. “Hey Dailah, here’s a young lady your age, why don’t you introduce yourself and play for awhile?” Hesitation. “Dailah, why don’t you try doing a cartwheel on that trampoline?” Hesitation. She definitely tends towards a fixed mindset-if she doesn’t succeed at something initially then she believes she will never be successful at it. But after the initial hesitation she usually goes all in. So it was the case with her friend Kenna, who was the sister of one of the boys on our baseball team. Hesitation and then, best friends. (Image from Snapchat, find me there: tesileagh).

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Once she’s all in you simply won’t find anyone as hard working or passionate as Dailah. She’s open to new experiences for sure, but doing something in her wheelhouse? That’s her jam. And if it includes snuggling babies or pets, fuggetaboutit.

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She’s beautiful, to be sure, but I genuinely believe God saw what was on the inside and decided he would have to attempt to make the outside be just as wonderful. He failed, because there’s just no way to encompass all the joy and life that lives inside this one in just one suit of skin. (Those eyelashes are her real eyelashes. I believe the kids refer to this phenomenon as “I can’t even”)

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We’re not a big present family. The kids get to open a few small things that are usually picked up within the checkout aisles of our local Meijer but they never complain. Dailah was rather ecstatic with her fake nails and crossword puzzles.

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She’s currently obsessed with cheetahs. Obsessed. Dailah takes after her dad with regards to obsessions-they tend to come and go with the tide. As someone who doesn’t really obsesses over anything, I used to get swept up in each obsession buying Zach or Dailah whatever they needed to show that I supported each one only to-2 weeks later-see those same things collecting dust or in the Goodwill pile. It used to be maddening but now I secretly find it charming, who doesn’t love seeing someone so excited and passionate about something? I get that all the time with these two, I’m pretty lucky in that way. (Notice the cheetah print fake nails-$4 to show I support the obsession? #worthit)

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After her week at camp the counselors gave her the “trendsetter” award. They said if she wore her hair one way one day, all the girls would wear it that way the next day. That she came up with some odd combinations of outfits but every time she walked out of the door like she owned the world in that crazy outfit and it somehow looked like the most stylish combination they’d ever seen. They talked about her willingness to help out campers who were struggling and to never leave anyone out. It’s like she sought out the kids who were feeling left out and brought them into the fold, they said.

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Dailah has grown so much both physically and emotionally in the last year. It’s been so awesome to have deep conversations about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. I sometimes forget that we are as open of a family as we are until we are in public. After her cheer competition standing in line with hundreds of people she turned to me and yelled, “These bloomers are going right up my vagina!” Heads turned and one woman said to me, “I’m not even sure my daughter knows the word vagina.” Dailah was shocked to hear this. Doesn’t everyone speak openly about vaginas she wondered?

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Perhaps I’m most proud of her developing sense of humor. It’s no secret I love comedy and it could be said our family’s love language is sarcasm. Dailah has always been funny but this year she’s started learning when it’s appropriate to use it and when it’s not. As her timing has gotten better so have her witty remarks (and notes).

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Or this one, after she helped babysit my nephew Julius (JuJu) while the adults went out for a bit.

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Being a mother to Dailah has always been and remains to be a delight every single day. She is uninhibited joy, laughter uncontrolled all mixed with the intensity of her favorite animal. She is the best snuggler the world has ever seen and the conductor of so much life. I still can’t believe my good fortune at calling her mine.

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Love you so much Dailah Leagh. Happy birthday baby girl.

My Dailah Leagh is 8!

My Dailah Leagh is 8!

 

 

 

On Saturday my baby girl turned 8-years-old. If you have any kids or nieces and nephews I don’t need to tell you how quickly time flies when children are involved. For me I don’t see my aging every day-it hits me every once in awhile when I see a few more wrinkles in the mirror or it takes me a little longer to recover from a late night or hard workout. For my kids, though, it seems every morning when they wake groggy eyed and puffy I’m taken aback with just how much they’ve grown in the 8 hours we’ve been sleeping.

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Dailah especially. I think part of it has to be that when she was born prematurely I spent every waking moment watching her, memorizing every little thing. It startles the senses to watch the birthmark that started no bigger than the eraser of a pencil become the size of a quarter as her skin stretches to hold in her growing body.

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For her birthday she wanted only her best friend to stay the night. Even though that friend got a little homesick and wasn’t able to stay, Dailah rolled with it-asking instead to sleep on the floor of my room (Zach and I don’t really let our kids in our room. They don’t get to play there, they don’t sleep there-nothing. Being parents to 5 kids means we have to carve out sanctuary wherever we can-it works for us.) She’s pretty great at going with the flow, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how grateful I am for that.

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Hard to put into words how different life became 8 years ago when this firecracker came into our lives. She’s equal parts free spirit and loyal companion.

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If there’s a baby around she wants to be holding him/her. Very few things frustrate her more than when babies grow too old to be carried on her hip constantly.

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I’ve learned so much from her about delighting in the every day. About embracing and celebrating the smallest things: tater tot day at camp, catching frogs and sparklers for instance.

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I admit to feeling the most pressure in raising her. I see her constantly watching me. Dailah thinks the sun rises and sets with Zach, it’s true, but she’s learning the most from me. How to be a woman, how to express your feelings when friends let you down, how to care and nurture a marriage. Dailah is relentless in her pursuit of information, I love that about her.

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It is not easy being the only girl in the family. More often than not if she wants to play with someone she has to do whatever it is they are doing. Once in awhile she can talk them into doing something she wants to be doing-usually that’s a jumping contest off the dock. Dailah usually wins when they account for style and animation.

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Happy birthday my strong baby girl. May you continue to show the world exactly who you are. Love you.

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#1-Learn to hang frames

As I said in my original post-this one I’m a little embarrassed about. There has been a small pile of picture frames, thread portraits and even a random piece of wood that fell off our wall left for Zach for far longer than I care to admit. It’s summer which means Zach works extra long hours, often not getting home for good until I’m deep into my REM cycle. It has always just felt wrong (though I admit it’s been done) to leave a list for him on the fridge of things that need fixed and hung for when he gets home at night.

Let me just say had I known I’d be able to accomplish this first small task of mine barefoot, in a swimsuit cover up and while drinking beer I maybe wouldn’t have waited so long to give it a go. Full disclosure, it was all the measuring and the math that got me nervous. And Zach’s OCD. He tells me everyone wants their stuff perfectly hung so that each room the items are hung at the same height and feature the same width between them. (He’s lying, right?!?!? That can’t be true.) Either way, I totally nailed it.

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I’ve gotten some really great ideas so far from you all. Stuff you are doing in your life or stuff you want to do. I’m going to definitely take on some of them! Keep me posted if you have any more ideas.

I sent my friend this picture with the caption, “Well into my year of Tesi.”

Her response, “Only you would start the year of Tesi in July.”

And it’s true. But the reality is I’m not promised January. I might only have a few days or weeks to teach all of my kids (with special thought of Dailah) that you’re never too young or old to learn new tricks. And to quit running from things that scare you. Of course the kids were all curious to see their mom with a hammer when dad was standing right there so I explained my year or learning new things.

Yesterday Dailah was invited to her friend’s house across the lake. Normally she would ask one of her brothers to row her over but yesterday she said good bye and I looked out to see her rowing herself.

School’s out for summer!

School’s out for summer!

Today my 5 officially finished their school year. Though I was thankful Michigan went longer than Iowa when we decided to move because it gave them longer to make good friends before the summer, I was getting pretty bored at home the last week or so and was itchin’ to have all my babes at home with me during the day!

This was them on their first day of school this year. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

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And today. Officially 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

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Truth be told I think our various graduations now celebrated (preschool, kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, etc) are a little overzealous. I think we can all agree it doesn’t take much for our kids to graduate preschool and kindergarten, right? 5th grade is still a little goofy if you ask me, there just doesn’t seem to be anything special about graduating 5th grade/elementary school. That said, I do believe Trysten is special and so I was totally ok with getting to see him in his element on his last day of elementary school. 😉

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He was one of the main reasons we decided to move towards the end of the school year. I wanted to make sure he would have enough time to make some friends before heading into the twilight zone that is middle school. And man did he. The male 5th grade teacher gives out candy awards every year to the 5th graders. He picks different candies that fit the personalities of each kid. Trysten got M&M because he’s “Magnificent and majestic and he just oozes cool.” Any mom can tell you it’s so nice hearing your kid accurately described by teachers. It means the teacher has taken the time (in this case just a month!) to really get to know my kid and my kids trusts that teacher enough to show the real him. That’s a pretty big deal.

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Afterwards we had to go for ice cream to celebrate summer, for obvious reason.

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I am just incredibly proud of all 5 of them. Some have to work so, so hard day in and day out to keep pace with their peers and they do it. Of course there are tears once in awhile but those are mostly just from me. 😉

My favorite story from their new school was from a teacher. I was talking to her on one of Dailah’s field trips and she said, “You know I just have to tell you, coming here has been a really big deal for A (Dailah’s best friend). Before Dailah moved here A would get kind of picked on because she’s just quiet and sweet and never really stood up for herself. But Dailah doesn’t let that happen to her and in turn A has gained this whole new level of confidence we had never seen from her. On top of that, everyone in the school knows if they mess with one Klipsch or any friends of the Klipschs the others will be there to help out so A falls under that Klipsch umbrella too.”

I freaking love that. And I freaking love them. Off to hang with that ragamuffin gang I call my children.