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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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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The danger in assuming love will conquer all.

The danger in assuming love will conquer all.

When Zach and I were getting married I wanted to engrave “Love conquers all” on our wedding bands. Like most unmarried 20-year-olds, I had no idea what it took to stay married but I had a whole lot of love for words and Zach and I assumed those would be enough to get us through our decades together.

This year we’ll have been married for 14 years which, truth be told, made me a little nauseous just writing that. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in our years together is that love actually has very little to do with a mostly healthy marriage. Sure, it’s what initially propels him to get down on his knee and ask for your hand in marriage and it’s probably also mostly why you say yes (although mine was also because Zach’s damn eyelashes are something I still can’t quite figure out how to say no to.) But at some point in your relationship you’ll have to invest your time in more than just love.

Because when you’re in the delivery room and there are sights and sounds that are a miracle, yes, but also really quite gross love will not sustain you. A desire to welcome this new life into the world together because of a shared commitment will be the key. When the last grunt happens and the baby gushes out into the world along with other various fluids, you’re going to need more than love of each other to feel hopeful about the birth of a new family.

When there’s a screaming 3-year-old in your kitchen who has lived with you for all of 2 weeks and nothing you do will calm him down, love doesn’t even enter the room. Because adoption was mostly your idea and your husband is looking at you like maybe this wasn’t entirely thought out? You’re a little bit angry that he’s looking at you that way and he’s a little bit frustrated that the child won’t stop screaming and the three of you are all just a little bit scared that this will be the rest of your life. Forever. Love isn’t what causes you to wrap your arms and legs around the screaming child until he calms himself, giving you just enough time to reach a hand out to your husband as a peace offering. In that moment you hardly even like either of them and yet you look at both of them and are reminded why you entered into the relationships to begin with. A promise, sure, but also the knowledge that you’re willing to work the hardest you’ve ever worked on building a foundation so strong even a 3-year-old screaming in an uncommon language can’t shake it.

In sickness and in health sounds all well and good until one of you is literally puking and pooping simultaneously in a worn down hotel room in Ethiopia. When your betrothed enters the bathroom to that horror there is no way love enters with him and so it’s something else entirely that makes him turn on the shower, lift you up and help you clean yourself off. After he wraps you in a towel and lays you on the bed, puts on your clothes for you and gets to the messy business of cleaning up the bathroom you better hope you’ve built your marriage on way more than love. Because love leaves when you’re elbow deep in excrement and vomit, it’s the years spent doing tedious things to make life easier for one another that propels him to take care of you in this rather extravagant way.

Love and sex? Great. But after a decade or so of being together you’ll start to notice the reasons you have sex often have very little to do with love. Sure, you still love each other fully and completely but more often than not you’ll have sex because he’s felt a little distant lately and you know he becomes an open book afterwards. Or she steps out of the room dressed for your date and you can’t believe how beautiful she looks despite being devastated over losing two of her pets. You’ll do anything to make her feel good so you take her into the bedroom before the movie the kids are watching finishes. Maybe you’ve had a little too much wine or maybe it’s just because you’re bored. I remember when love and lust were bigger parts of the sex equation but the longer you live with someone the more in tuned you become with the rhythms of their entire bodies and so the less it becomes about love and the more it becomes about the physical expression of the known rhythms. It doesn’t sound as sexy but the sex can still be hot as hell. Do not fear.

And when something big does shake the foundation: a colossal mistake or painful words uttered in anger or fear-love will be gone. That’s the thing about marriage that no one tells you, love leaves from time to time. Of course you will continue to love each other every day but the emotional manifestation of love is fleeting at times. Sometimes the only thing left is the determination to not have wasted so much time, energy, communication and kleenex on the same person. Stubbornness can be a detriment if used against another person but if you can harness that energy for another person then stubbornness can often be the thing that gets you through the bumps in the road.

Sure, “love conquers all” sounds a lot sexier than “stubbornness, commitment, communication, devotion and forgiveness conquer most” but the latter is infinitely truer. It’s true I love Zach more than anyone else on the planet but it’s also true that sometimes I don’t like him very much. I know he loves me more than anyone else and yet I can once in awhile slip into being the most unloveable human there is. Yet there he is, making room for himself next to me on the couch and snuggling up until I’m forced to forgive myself too.

I often wonder if the causes of so many divorces aren’t what we think: money, affairs, loss but of the assumption that love would conquer all. I think as a society we’ve placed too much focus on love and not enough on the stuff that actually carries a marriage. We’ve put all the emphasis on a feeling and have forgotten that feelings are shit when it comes to the dark days of a marriage. Action is the metaphorical bridge over the river of doubt in a marriage. If the foundation crumbles a bit and you’re both just waiting around for love to swoop in to clean up the pieces you’ll be waiting forever. At some point you’ve got to forget about love and pick up your stones of forgiveness, responsibility, devotedness and get to rebuilding. Love might have you sending flowers on Valentine’s Day but it’s not going to come to you in the middle of the night after harsh words and heavy silence with an apology and a promise to do better next time. For that you’ll need constant acts of sacrifice, time spent in the trenches and relentless proof of commitment to small things that actually add up to big things.

Love certainly brought us together and continues to be a thread weaving through our life and our marriage but I’m incredibly grateful that I never engraved “love conquers all” on our wedding bands because sometimes it doesn’t. And when love left, Zach stayed. Which we all know is far more powerful.

Love can be as slippery and fickle as sand, dear ones. Let’s build our lives and relationships on something a little more sustainable. I hope you’ve found those willing to enter the trenches with you even when love has left the building. A love like ours may never top the box office but it sure will be a fun story to tell our great grandkids. I’m totally ok with that.

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Female friendships and the power they have at making you forget you’ve got broken ribs (and pneumonia).

Female friendships and the power they have at making you forget you’ve got broken ribs (and pneumonia).

There is currently a stranger in my house. This very sweet woman came with her husband to care for me while I’m on forced bedrest due to the very unpleasant combination of pneumonia/cracked ribs. I hear the woman scrubbing my toilet, God bless her, while her husband shovels our front steps. She’s singing to herself, undoubtedly to distract for the godforsaken things she has witnessed in and around our toilets (boys. Bless), and I’m stifling tears of gratitude.

These strangers are caring for me because a few of my friends sprang into action when they heard I was sick. They live in other parts of the country-Colorado, Seattle, Portland-and yet they managed to show me their love. This time in the form of an older woman who is not only cleaning and doing laundry but also brought over dinner.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been carried by women I love. I’m reminded of the text I sent just a few weeks prior, “It’s been 7 years, I don’t think he loves me. I’m so scared he never will.” And the immediate response, “Being taken for granted is not the same as not being loved. He loves you. He just doesn’t connect his actions to your feelings to the overall meaning of it all. Love continues to be work, every single day.” When you’re in the emotional isolation chamber sometimes it just takes an outstretched hand with similar scars beneath the door to remind you that you aren’t alone and that no matter what you’ve done or how badly you’ve messed up they will be there. Not with a hand to point fingers and judge but a hand to offer a cup of coffee and a kleenex instead.

Yesterday was a bit of a low day. I realized that, counting the time I was sick in Ethiopia-I’ve been mostly sick for 2 straight months. As a person who hasn’t really been sick for years I’ve been driven slightly mad by two months of foggy headedness, coughing, pain and lack of exercise. I’m sure I’m not the only one who when physically uncomfortable tends to devolve into some nightmarish emotional and spiritual discomforts as well. Feelings of ineptitude and unworthiness, reminder of all of my past mistakes. This all happens so much quicker when I’m metaphorically chained to the bed and allowed too much time in my own head.

And then a stranger shows up at my door reminding me of these women I love. And I can feel them prop me up on their shoulders, helping me place one foot in front of the other. Because they are both the most loving and sarcastic creatures, I can also hear their jokes about the ineffectiveness of my natural deodorant and the visible stains on my matching sweatpants/sweatshirt combination.

I don’t often feel brave but I’ve witnessed bravery in my friends who could choose to love a woman with more of her shit together but roll with me instead. It’s far safer to love me and encourage me from an emotional distance but these friends choose instead to jump all in and go with me, having my back in every failure and (sometimes more remarkably) every success. I don’t always feel like a good friend but I’ve witnessed true friendship in women who don’t just say they love me but show it every day in their texts, their random book recommendations, their scheduled dates to come visit or the stranger at the door with her cleaning supplies.

I think one of life’s true mercies is feeling so completely understood by someone else. The last handful of years since I stopped expecting Zach to meet all of my emotional needs and started opening up to fellow women for that have been some of the best. Zach is the greatest husband there ever was but he still will never be able to sympathize with my devastation at Alan Rickman’s death or make eye contact when the speaker in the room is saying something subliminally sexist.

I’ve no idea how I got so lucky to be friends with so many remarkable women who are moving mountains with their love but I’m so thankful I get to pick up my rock and join them. Even on days or weeks like today when I’m bedridden, the mountain gets moved because they are willing to carry one on my behalf no matter the cost to themselves.

It’s an amazing thing, to be loved as I am. If someone as busted and broken as I can be than you most certainly are. Hope you’re feeling that as strongly as I am today.

Much love,

Tesi

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Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include depravation or hours in the gym.

Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include depravation or hours in the gym.

As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I get excited for January. Every year I see new faces and meet great new people excited about taking their health into their own hands. The energy in the gym is palpable, even the annoyance of the veteran gym goers can’t overpower it.

And then April comes, or sometimes even March and the energy has died. Most of the January rush has disappeared with only a few strong willed health seekers continuing on. On social media my new clients or participants in my classes have gone from posting their accomplishments in the gym or in the kitchen to posting pictures of their nightly cocktail or their Netflix binge.

Having been in the industry for well over a decade none of this surprises me. Even in high school and college when I didn’t know any of this academically but just had a legit metabolism and participated in year ’round sports, I would have friends come to me for advice on how to get active and lose weight. I’ve wrestled with getting healthy, eating healthy and losing weight just like everyone else on planet Earth it seems so some of this advice is stuff I’ve learned personally and others are what I’ve observed from being in the fitness industry.

So here are some secrets to getting healthy in the new year. Some of these you’ve heard and some of these you haven’t because personal trainers keep them to themselves unless you pay the premium to work with us. None of these tips will seem like rocket science and that’s because finding health that’s sustainable is actually not rocket science (training for a fitness competition-rocket science. Training for professional sports-rocket science. Learning how to find and sustain a healthy weight-NOT rocket science.) So here you go. Accept these with the no judgement and no expectations with which they were written.

  1. Learn self love. There’s a reason this is #1 y’all. If you’re starting the new year in the gym because you hate your belly or you hate your flabby arms you will never, ever, ever make it to April. Very few people hate parts of their bodies enough to push through the pain and discomfort that comes with a new exercise routine. If, however, you are starting the new year in the gym because you realize your life is worth more than getting winded going up stairs or sitting on the couch while your kids play basketball outside-you will stick with it. I promise. This rule might require you seeing a therapist or developing a daily journal reminding you of what you mean to the world but it’s essential if you want to genuinely find health in the new year. Even if I don’t know you personally I’m here to tell you that you are loved beyond reason. And that anytime spent exercising or cooking healthier foods is not selfish. I can guarantee you, your family will get more from you when you feel good mind, body and spirit than when you don’t. You are worth it, promise.
  2. Develop a mindfulness routine. I’ve already lost some of you, right? I don’t mean this has to involve you sitting on a meditation pillow for 20 minutes in the morning (but take it from me-that’s the very best way to start your day!) This can be taking 2 minutes while your coffee is made to just sit in silence and breathe. You don’t have to chant or block out mental distractions if you don’t want to but just become aware of your breath for a few minutes. Try to do it first thing in the morning otherwise it’ll continue to be pushed back to make room for seemingly more pressing to-do items. How does this little few minutes make you healthier? It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, boost immune function, decrease pain and decrease inflammation at the cellular level, amongst many other reasons. Go here for some of the studies. The biggest thing that has come from my meditation practice is compassion for myself and for those around me. Remember #1? Meditation has been the biggest thing to teach me how to do #1 relatively effortlessly. Try it. (If you’re looking for help, try the app Headspace. It’s a 10 minute daily practice but I love the guy’s voice and his direct approach to mindfulness.)
  3. Eat more fiber. Want to lose weight? There you go. This is a little secret I usually reserve for clients. There has been some push back on the benefits of fiber but for me the proof is in the pudding-or in this case-the weight loss. All of my clients who make a pointed effort to incorporate more fiber in their diets lose more weight than the ones who don’t make such a concerted effort. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut in a way that carbs, proteins and fats can’t because they are absorbed by the bloodstream before making it to the large intestines. Changing gut flora is a big deal, one in which I’ll go into next, but for now focus on fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is where you’ll find your fiber. Try to go by the 1, 2, 3 rule if you can. 1 fruit and veg for breakfast, 2 for lunch and 3 for dinner. Most days I add a few for my morning and evening snack just for good measure.
  4. Gut flora. Perhaps the least sexiest thing to discuss when talking about weight loss and health for the new year but more and more science is coming out on this so it’s got me all kinds of excited. First, I want to urge you to listen to this podcast about gut flora with Doctor Robynne Chutkan, MD. Or check out her book at your local library. There was a study that took the feces from an overweight mouse and deposited it in a normal weight mouse and vice versa. Changing nothing else, the overweight mouse became normal weight and the normal weight mouse became overweight. Why? The gut flora. You may think that your brain controls your sugar cravings and your salt cravings but science proves it’s actually your gut flora. If you want to lose weight-you need to start with changing that. How do you do it? By feeding the gut flora nutrient dense foods as often as you can. The more you feed it healthy, nutrient rich foods the more it craves those and not foods that are bad for you. This doesn’t require you to stop eating sugar or salty foods altogether-though that would make the gut flora change quicker to be sure-this just requires small adjustments on your plate. A quick personal note: I used to be a huge sugar addict. Since learning about the gut flora and making small adjustments to our meals-I no longer crave the stuff at all. And since I cook the majority of the meals, that means I’ve changed the gut flora in my kids and guess what? We made batches and batches of cookies and breads for Christmas and I currently have a few bags left in the pantry as well as chocolates people had gifted to us. My kids don’t even ask for it. Gut flora may be unsexy to talk about but their ain’t nothin sexier than healthy gut flora. You heard it here first.
  5. Move. If your goal is to get a six pack and deltoids like LeBron it’s going to require more movement than if your goal is to get down to a healthy weight and be able to play with your kids on the regular. Let’s first address movement for health. Start with walking 15 minutes every day. I live in Michigan where the temps can get down to single digits so I understand how you might think this isn’t possible. Well it is. Bundle up and do it. Make it a family event and go after dinner to stimulate digestion. Also, stop making your house so convenient. If you’re enjoying coffee on the porch or at the table, don’t bring the pot to you. Make yourself get up to grab another cup. Same thing for dinner. Don’t bring everything to the table where you can help yourselves to seconds and thirds, keep it at the stove so that you have to physically get up. This small act can be enough to make you realize you aren’t actually hungry for another round. The reason so many of the fitness trackers (FitBit, Jawbone, etc) have a programmable alarm to remind you to get up is because it’s been proven that the people who live the longest just move more. Most of the time these people aren’t doing any kind of exercise routine but they live in areas that require them to get up and out to the garden to bring in their meals. They’ve de-covienienced their lives. We Americans could take a lessen from them.
  6. Find a workout that you like doing. This is for those of you who might want to find some kind of muscle definition in 2016. I’ve put this at 6 because if you don’t do the previous 5, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any abs or triceps by the end of 2016. Harsh? Maybe. But if you’ve ever had me as a trainer, a friend, a partner or a mother you know that I’m not great at holding back knowledge when you’ve come to me for advice. You will read articles in the coming weeks that tell you CrossFit is the only way to get fit in 2016, you will also read articles that tell you that running will be the key to unveiling the abs you’ve always desired. You have heard me go on and on about Les Mills fitness classes and how they’ve gotten me in the best shape of my life (which is true). None of that matters if you don’t like doing it. Les Mills classes have gotten me in the best shape of my life because I freaking love doing them. I love the music, I love the moves and I love the people I’ve met through the classes who do them all the time too. This is why CrossFit works for some folks and why people will talk your ear off about their run group. But do not listen to anyone. You need to find what works for you which means trying everything under the damn sun. Spend a little money and time to discover it. And give them time, a few weeks a least to grow on you. You’ll need to push past the soreness and the awkwardness that comes with developing muscle memory to be able to actually gauge if you like the activity or not. NOTHING will be 100% fun at first because it will probably hurt and be too confusing initially. Give yourself a little grace and get back in the saddle as quickly as possible. Once you find what you love doing, stopping no longer really feels like an option.
  7. Be patient. For God’s sake be patient. Nothing is harder to hear than “I don’t think it’s working, I haven’t seen results.” after 2 weeks of trying something. You guys, it can take 8-12 weeks. You might feel your jeans loosen by week 2 or get a few comments by week 3 but for the real “ah ha” kind of physical results, settle in for a grip. Here’s what I want you to do differently in 2016 than you ever have before. Notice how you feel. You will feel differently right away. The first day you feed your body nourishing foods instead of pre-packaged shit you will feel so good. Check your energy levels, do you notice how easily you got up and out of bed? Notice how much easier it was to go to sleep? What’s going on with your poop? Yup, check that too. Maybe you’ll notice your constipation is gone and your BMs take that ever-lusted after S shape. Good on ya buddy, that right there is results. This is another secret to sustainable weight loss and health-if you can start to feel good mentally and emotionally, the physical takes care of itself. Why? Because you have the energy to try new things and for longer. Plus, you start to notice that when you don’t exercise or move-you feel pretty dumpy mentally too. Once you’ve hooked into that mind/body connection you are good as gold. Welcome to the healthiest you have ever been.
  8. Stare at yourself in the mirror. Naked. The first time I told a client to do this she started crying. She told me that it was her very worst nightmare. And look, I get it. I spent far too many years avoiding the mirror myself. But you know when you’re laying in bed and have this weird fear that you left the door unlocked and are convinced someone is going to come in and do something terrible to your family? You know how if you continue to stay in bed because the sheets are warm and it’s bedtime how you can’t go to sleep because you convince yourself it’s legit going to happen and then you’re going to never forgive yourself because you knew it and did nothing to stop it? But if you go and check the door you’ll realize that 1) it’s locked or 2) it’s not locked but hasn’t been all week and you’ve all been just fine. It’s the same with the mirror. You need to just face the music, sister. I promise if you do you’ll notice your belly isn’t nearly as big as you imagined it was in your head. You’ll also probably notice your breasts are quite beautiful and that you actually have a pretty well defined quad. So just do it today after your shower. Take 5 minutes to just check every inch of you out. I will no longer allow you to be your own monster lurking in the corner. If you tell me you want to lose belly fat I want you to be able to describe in vivid detail what your belly looks like because if you don’t know then you’re just running from the imaginary monster. Running from anything won’t get you the health you seek, running towards something will. So instead of losing fat around our triceps we are going to chase arms that allow us to throw up our grandkids when we’re well into our 60s. Instead of losing weight in your thighs so that they stop rubbing together (thighs are meant to rub together. Just enough already with that nonsense.) we’re going to chase legs that have us going on hikes or walking the streets of Paris for hours without complaint. We’re going to face who we are head on so that we can have a better picture of what we actually want to change and not what we think needs to change just because we’ve been too scared to look.
  9. Stop dieting. I have no earthly understanding of why we are still doing this when every bit of science and anecdotal evidence proves it does nothing in the way of sustainable health and weight loss. Here’s what you do instead: throw away all the shit in your cupboards. Commit to not buying chips, cookies or processed food for 1 week. Your kids do not need macaroni and cheese. Your kids do not need chicken nuggets. There is not a human on earth who needs that so just get rid of it. Buy bread for sandwiches (Ezekiel bread is my personal recommendation. My kids eat it too. Don’t make excuses for your kids. Have them eat it and change their gut flora too. Soon enough they won’t like the sugary, processed breads they were used to eating. Promise.) and as much fruit as you possible can fit in your cart. This way when you’re tempted for something quick and easy the only thing at your disposal is fruit and sandwiches. Once you’ve successfully made it to one week without processed foods in the house stretch it to two weeks and so on. I don’t care how dedicated you are-we all have days when we’ve been working, the kids are crazy and we’ve been fighting with our spouse and the last thing we want to do is cook a healthy, nutritious meal for us all so we throw in a few frozen pizzas and call it a day. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy it makes you human. If you don’t have access to frozen pizzas, however, you have no choice but to make something healthier. Want to know what I do? I make large batches of rice and quinoa and keep them in the fridge. On days when I have 0 effs to give I make it a “Chipotle” night and throw some black beans in a pan and some cilantro in the rice. I grab our salsa and guacamole and done. It takes me all of 4 minutes which if you’re keeping track is actually quicker than frozen pizzas anyway. Don’t buy the crap food and you can’t eat the crap food. See? Not rocket science.
  10. Make the commitment for your whole family. Here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my time as a personal trainer-I can tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll reach your goals or not with one question- I ask how your family feels about you getting healthier. If the significant other “is supportive but wants no part of it him/herself” Nope. If the kids “will keep eating what they always do and I’ll make myself the healthier meals.” Nope. I don’t know how else to say this-if getting healthier is important to you this year then you need to make it important to your significant others as well. Because otherwise no matter how sweet, caring and kind your family is they will end up becoming saboteurs. They will take a family vote one night and go out for pizza. And then the night after that they’ll all decide that what you cooked just wasn’t enough and they’ll go out for ice cream. This doesn’t make them terrible people, it makes them human. But I know you, mama, because you are me and I am you. You want your kids to outlive you and you want to be doing fun and adventurous stuff with your husband well into your 80s. You cannot do that if you’re all unhealthy. Oh. Heartbreaking words to hear. But true words. So have a family meeting or sit down with your husband. Don’t make the conversation about weight because who gives an eff about the weight on your scale. Tell them your goals for the future and ask them theirs. Really evaluate if those are possible with the way you’re currently going. If they are-awesome, if not-time to change as a family. This generation of kids is the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parent’s generation because of obesity. What a horrifying truth. You getting healthy isn’t selfish anymore-it’s a gift to your family and to your friends. We can do hard things. And for our families? We can do seemingly impossible things. I believe in you.
  11. Engulf yourself in the health and wellness community. Don’t buy Shape magazine or any magazine that even hints that your self worth is at all tied to your waistline. Instead invest in magazines and books that encourage you to learn more about your passion or your mindfulness practice. My husband is obsessed with Outside magazine. He went on his own health journey in 2015 and I’m so proud of him. His excitement about Outside magazine is one of the things to which I attribute his success. There are so many great articles on movement and health in general that have peaked his curiosity and led him to try new and different ways of getting healthy. I’m a big podcast listener and I’ve found that when I’m feeling “eh” about eating healthy or exercising, listening to one of my health and wellness podcasts always re-inspires me. The reason I like magazines is because it’s a monthly dose of inspiration that often comes just when you need it. Most libraries have a decent amount of magazines you can peruse before you commit to the monthly subscription so try a few out first. Or even better, once you’ve found the workout that’s got you feeling some kind of way-google “magazines great for runners, weight lifters, cyclers, dancers”, etc and go from there. Even though my day job is literally to exercise, I still have days or weeks that I just don’t feel up to it-cough, all of November-cough. Immersing myself in these knowledge-based communities is easily the best way to re-invigorate me.
  12. Don’t wait until you find a “workout buddy” to start. I guarantee this is a piece of advice you will hear every day for the next few months but I’ve found it to be wholly untrue. Here’s more typically what happens: a few women or men come to the gym together. Typically one is more passionate about being there than the other. After a few weeks, the less passionate one stops coming and a few weeks after that so does the one who was so ready for a change. Here’s what you do instead: just begin. If you’re joining a new gym just head on into that weight room or group fitness room. If you’re wanting to try running, try joining an already established running group. Every run group I know has runners from novice to expert so you won’t be the only newbie. Instead of starting with a gym buddy, just start! Your workout buddy will be found when you are doing what you love doing. They will hold you accountable and be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The people you find once you’ve already started are also already committed so you won’t have to be convincing yourself and your best friend. This way you can just focus on you-the rest takes care of itself. I just did some quick math in my head and realized that every great friend I’ve made after college has been made in the gym. There might be a few exceptions to that but not many. We aren’t some hulking, roided out group of protein shakin women-we come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. You will find your people when you start to get healthy. And they will be awesome. Just like you.

A quick hard truth about your health journey-not all of your friends or family members are going to be supportive. Man, this is tough. If you continue to allow negative thought patterns and negative friends to have a say in your life your life will be exactly the same as it is now. This doesn’t mean you have to write nasty notes or say hurtful things to any friends that don’t support you. The further you get in your journey, the more you will see there’s nothing wrong with them, they are just at a different place. If you are serious about your health, make sure you evaluate who you are letting into your heart space just as much as you are evaluating what you are letting onto your plate. It can have an even bigger impact so this little piece is a vital step. It’s a hard step and will feel impossible at times. But anyone who doesn’t embrace, support and encourage you when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday just isn’t ready to handle your light. Find the ones who are wielding their own light instead of hiding in the darkness, they’ll be the ones who will celebrate your success and remind you that your failures don’t define you. That’s exactly what you need always, but now even more so.

I come to you as someone who vividly remembers being unhealthy and unmotivated. I can’t believe how much better of a mom, wife, friend and human I am when I’m healthy (still acknowledging I muck it up on the daily). At times I’ve been fit enough to see my abs and quads but I can tell you honestly that it didn’t make me any happier than I am when I’m simply at a healthy weight eating healthy food and associating with positive people. I totally get it if your goal is shredded arms but my hope is that you hook into health first. Because being in the fitness industry I’ve seen my fair share of shredded arms and abs on people who are just unhappy and unhealthy.

My wish for you in 2016 is that you find that sweet spot where you like how you look in your jeans but you love how you feel even more. Get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to give you that initial “You can do it!” Because you can, and you will. I totally believe in you.

Les Mills Bodystep 100 release. Fitness, health, wellness.

Pic taken after a particularly fun sweat sesh with some of my Phoenix Fitness friends.

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?