The Heart of the Matter
Choosing Kindness December 19, 2016 13:18
I was tired and crabby yesterday and knew I needed to go the store for wrapping paper. Turning into the Rite Aid parking lot, I was stopped mid-turn by a teenage boy in his cute little sports car in front of me. My van and I stuck out into oncoming traffic. But honestly, I had time.
I honked my horn.
He turned around to see who beeped at him, and sat an extra 2 seconds to really annoy me.
He succeeded and we both pulled in, of course going to the same place. It’s easier to be a jerk from the anonymity of one’s car.
I got out. He got out. We looked at each other. “You can’t just sit in the middle like that, you gotta keep going,” I said, calmly.
“My car is really low to the ground,” he explained. ”I gotta go slow or I'll bottom out.”
In that moment, I saw my own kid in this kid. He was probably the same age -- seventeenish or so. I knew if my son had his own cute little car (which he desperately wants) he’d treat it like his baby. And if some impatient lady in a van was beeping behind him, my son would be annoyed with me, too.
“You know,” I said. “I have a teen just like you who would really like that sweet car you have.”
He brightened and we fell in step, side by side.
“Ya, I really like it.”
“I'm sorry I was impatient.” I said. “I’m crabby today.”
“Really?” he laughed. “I'm crabby, too.” (Okay -- what 17-year-old admits he’s crabby to some random lady??)
We both agreed we would try to have a better day.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
“You, too,” I replied and we did this lean-in half hug thing. Me and some random teenage kid.
The Heart of the Matter: Every day, we can escalate crabbiness or kindness. Crabbiness sometimes feels easier. But kindness always ends better.
Glowing up October 11, 2016 12:07 1 Comment
“When am I going to glow up?” my daughter asked me, sitting in the passenger seat of our van in the driveway. We had just returned from school shopping at the mall.
“Grow up?” I asked, clarifying what I'd heard.
“No, glow up,” she repeated. “You know how you did between that 8th grade picture and the one from your senior year in high school.” She was taking about my 8th grade school picture — the one in which she told me I kinda looked like a guy. I had the 1970's hair-sprayed sausage rolls down the side of my head plus braces and some army-inspired, double-shirt combo going on. By senior year, I had sprouted breasts, traded camo for angora and looked very much like a young lady with incredibly straight teeth.
Her question hung between us. Yes, I was a serious late bloomer, wearing training bras when everyone else had graduated to a cup size. I got my period and driver's license in the same year. Yes, a half a decade later than most other girls.
I thought about how to answer her question, knowing I had just a minute before the next text or Snap Chat would divert her attention.
“Believe it or not,” I said to my daughter. “Glowing up is actually more of an inside job. Every time you honor who you are, you glow up.”
She didn't cut me off, so I went on.
“When you choose friends who value you, pick clothes that feel good or share your opinion, you glow up. When you practice being brave or learn from your mistakes, you glow up from that, too. So basically you can choose to glow up little by little every day.”
She gave me the “wow, that was deep” look but took it in, opening the car door to go inside.
I waited in the car for a minute thinking about my answer and realized I could take my own advice, too. If we are to shine in this world — as I know we are meant to do — we need to do the daily work of glowing up to become our very brightest selves.
The Heart of the Matter: Glowing up is adolescence for our soul
16 Simple Ways to Grow Gratitude October 05, 2016 11:42
Yesterday was the official book birthday of my newest title Bedtime Blessings.
Bedtime Blessings offers a peaceful way to end the day with a special child, through this heartfelt prayer of gratitude and wish for God's blessings on others, too.
Yes, while you were going about your day, I quietly released a new offering into the world. No balloons, presents or champagne — just the happy knowing that this book is now available to be shared with you and your little ones. You can find it here and here and where books are sold. It will also be in the Target Stores picture book section on October 18, 2016 through the holidays.
We all want to grow gratitude in our kids and families. To cultivate thankfulness for what we have versus coveting what we don't. Finding ways to actually do it a bit more challenging, however. We have enough to-do’s without adding “practice gratitude” to our list.
So I created this idea list for you — 16 simple ways to weave gratitude into your already busy day!
1. Appreciate aloud. Give voice to gratitude and it teaches those around you to notice how many reasons there are to give thanks. On your way to school? “So thankful for easy traffic today!” Driving to soccer? “I so appreciate your coach’s positive attitude.”
2. Turn negativity into noticing: When my kids were little, they would complain if our parking spot was too far away. I started to answer with “God gave you healthy legs! Let's use them.” They grumbled but they walked. To this day, when we have to park further than we want, I will hear them say to one another, “God gave us legs...” Complaints about errands? “So thankful we can afford groceries for our family!” My daughter was recently complaining about a daily medication she needs to take. I told her I understand the inconvenience but feel thankful we found a doctor who knows what she is doing!
3. Look through old photos. Inspiring a conversation of “Remember when we...” is an immediate path to gratefulness.
4. Create a family Instagram account dedicated to small daily or weekly family gratitudes. Challenge your kids to notice the small and big things. Clean laundry. A favorite meal. A cherished stuffed animal. Older kids can capture and upload their own photos. Pretty soon you'll have a account-full of gratitude to scroll through!
5. Check out ideas from Doing Good Together, an organization that provides tools to help compassionate, engaged children. Part of cultivating gratitude is showing our families there are many others in need of what we can give. When our kids were smaller, we gathered with 2-3 other families to make no-sew blankets, holiday cards for the military and bake pies for homeless shelters. We turned these gatherings into pot-luck dinners with a mission. So fun.
6. Light Up your Community this Holiday. My friend, Courtney DeFeo has created a list of 100 Ideas for how to Light up your Community with Generosity. Pick JUST ONE and your family will learn how good it fills to give.
7. Get Specific with your Appreciation. Calling out the unique ways someone blesses your life helps grow your gratitude for the people in your life. “I love the way you ask about what I'm doing.” “I love how you make me coffee every morning.” “You give awesome hugs.”
8. Practice present-moment living. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “What's good about right now?” Usually a lot. You're breathing for one. We spend a lot of time rehashing the past or fretting the future. Coming back to the present can help cultivate a more grateful mindset.
9. Write Thank-you Notes. It's not passé. They can be short and sweet. Thank you for ______. I appreciated it because ________. I wish for you _______. That's it. Stamp and mail.
10. Read and Learn The Gentle Art of Blessing. This book is transformative. It offers a way of being in the world that cultivates blessing and gratitude.
11. Add these kids books about gratitude to your collection.
12. Deliver Meals on Wheels. This is one of the easiest, most-impactful volunteer opportunities for young kids. I did this with my young children for years. Once a month. We picked up our food about 11:00am. before our own lunch/nap time and did a route of maybe six stops. Even a 3 or 4 year old can carry the milk cartons or brown bags. And the house-bound seniors love seeing the little ones!
13. Say a person's name. Easy peasy. If you grocery bagger has a name tag, use it! Say, “thank you John!" Waiter or waitress? “Thank you Maria!” It makes a world of difference, telling that person, “I see you. I appreciate you.”
14. Talk to Nature. Yes, I'm serious. When I'm walking, I say hello the birds and the deer, the trees and the flowers, thanking them for their gifts to the world.
16. Create your own Gratitude Rock. Keep it on a table, in your purse or pocket as a reminder to stop and be thankful. Can be simple and unadorned and fancy and fun with ideas from this book, one of my faves.
The Heart of the Matter: Gratitude grows Gratitude.
The Gifts of Loss August 15, 2016 11:02
One of my dearest friends from California is moving to St. Louis, and I'm sad. We discovered each other via mutual connections, both of us children's book authors and both working from home. Of course I scoped out her website before our meeting, feeling nervous but deciding yes, she looked friendly. Our connection was immediate. We walked the five-mile QuickSilver trails together, 3-4 times a week, sharing our lives and covering every topic from kids and spirituality to aging, money, book ideas, dreams, parents, fears and insecurities. Though I've been here just two years, she's become an epic friend, comfort and blessing.
“What will I do without you?” I ask her, sitting in my driveway on Friday night, tears spilling. She drove me the one-block home from her going away party because I didn't want to walk in my fancy shoes. I understand the circumstances that have prompted their move, but I'm focused on how it affects me.
“You'll always have me,” she says through her own tears. “I'm a text or phone call away.” I know this is true. But I also know how time and distance change things.
Just two years ago, I sat in Lisa’s office (my therapist) for help in dealing with my own move to California after 25 years in Minneapolis.
“What if I never have this again?” I lamented from her couch, referring to the dear friendships and familiarity I was leaving.
She looked at me from “the wisdom throne,” as I affectionately called her simple hardback chair across from me.
“But you’ve had it,” she replied. “And that is the gift.”
It took a bit for this to truly sink in and cull its truth: Loss in life is inevitable. But what we know and receive and are changed by is always with us, precious souvenirs on the heart's journey.
By leaving friends in Minneapolis and now being the one left behind, I have known the ache of separating from people and places dear. And I have received in abundance the gifts of knowing I mattered. I have been blessed by love and friendship, conversation, truth-telling, laughter, and support. And deeply hope I have bestowed the same on others with whom I've traveled life.
As Lisa told me in her own way and Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson reminds us, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
As I think about Ali moving today to her new life in St. Louis, I am struck by a couple things. First that yes, I did find it again — friendship and connection. And yes, I'm feeling loss again just two years later. But my heart has infinitely expanded through the gifts of each.
How have you received the gifts of loss in your own life?
The Heart of the Matter: Loss and beauty are traveling companions.
In honor of my 51st year on this planet, I made this list of wishes for you — little things you can do to honor the heart of you, add some kindness to the world and connect with who you love. Feel free to print it out, share it with a friend and choose a couple ideas that will expand your joy.
1. Paint a rock and join the The Kindness Rocks Project.
2. Visit the Facebook pages of five friends and leave a compliment on their timeline, telling them what you love best about them.
3. Make a Tie Dye T-shirt... just because.
4. Become a Raktivist.
5. Attend a spiritual service at a different place than your usual. (Or, if you don't go ... try one)
6. Grow something. (I grew beans for the first time this year!)
7. Make a cape for Enchanted Makeovers, an organization whose mission is to transform shelters for women and children.
8. Buy this book to understand, heal and transform your relationship with money.
9. And this one to open your heart.
10. Start a club with your own reasons for existing. Me and Will, my 12-year-old started the “cuddle club.” We meet anywhere, anytime to share hugs. My girlfriend and I created the JAMA club (Jane and Marianne Adventure club) that encourages us to get out and hike, bike or drink coffee together! We actually have our logo and tee-shirt! :)
11. Write a letter to someone you admire and tell them why. (I have cards in my online store or you can certainly make your own!)
12. Request a fingerprint kit from this company and capture the prints of your kids, husband or parents.
13. Interview you mom or dad about their life. Write or record her answers.
14. Learn your mail person’s name. Same with your sanitation workers.
15. Stay at a yurt.
16. Buy this kids book for yourself.
17. Invest in some nice photos of yourself. Or of you and your family. Your future self will thank you.
18. Go to a zoo and laugh at the monkeys.
19. Make a no-sew blanket for Project Linus.
20. Pay it forward with a Giving Key.
21. Go on a walk and say hello to every person you pass.
22. Print these out for FREE and share with a favorite teacher.
23. Make your own ice cream or popsicles.
24. Call a friend you haven't talked to in a long time.
25. Send someone the inspiration she needs right now.
26. Process a difficulty through these six questions.
27. Make a promise to yourself.
28. Visit your library and leave with a book, movie or CD.
29. Look through your own childhood photos and think about what you loved to do at various ages. Do one of those things.
30. Know your go-to recipe for an appetizer, drink, salad or dessert. If you don't have one — find one.
31. Get a pint of your favorite ice cream. Combine with Netflix.
32. Paint your finger or toe nails some crazy color. Orange? Turquoise? The wilder, the better.
33. Learn three jokes.
35. Donate socks to the closest homeless youth shelter.
36. Camp in a state park.
37. Sign up for this daily meditation — so good.
38. Fly a kite.
39. Just get the medical stuff done you've been putting off. Mammogram. Colonoscopy. Filling. Crown. Mole check.
40. Watch back-to-back-to-back Carpool Karaoke.
41. Make these for your next party.
43. Read about how your heart and brain talk to each other! Quite fascinating.
44. Try a craft you've never done. Needlepoint. Pottery. Jewelry making. Glass blowing.
45. Join a meet up. There is seriously one for EVERYTHING.
46. Practice speaking in front of others.
49. Wear and share your heart.
50. Host a breakfast party for your friends or neighbors.
51. Look in the mirror and tell yourself THANK YOU for being on this planet and being awesome.
Five Miles to Somewhere July 14, 2016 10:20 2 Comments
In three days, Michael* taught me a bunch of things about my life and his.
It was 2010, and I needed to sign 5000 books for Toys R Us. The timing was tricky -- we were in the midst of closing our book business and selling our assets to an outside company. “What's the easiest way for you to sign the books?” my new publisher asked. Two months earlier, I would have rallied our warehouse guys to help orchestrate the project. But I didn't have employees anymore — just a big building with lots of space.
“You can deliver them to my office,” I said. “And hire some temps for me.” They agreed.
The following week, I walked to my building to meet my team for the three-day book signing blitz.
On the front step I see a young black man sitting hunched over, his hoodie pulled tightly around his face. No car, motorcycle or bicycle seemingly belong to him. I instinctively feel unease and notice. I don't like noticing because my gut is telling me what I am ashamed to admit: I am feeling wary of this black man in a hoodie. “Can I help you?” I ask the downturned head.
“I'm here for a job,” he says, looking up.
“Oh!" I say, surprised. “That's for me. I'm Marianne.” I extend my hand, and we shake.
“I'm Michael,” he says.
“Nice to meet you Michael,” I reply.
“How did you get here?” I ask, gesturing to the empty lot.
“About five miles,” he says, not answering the where part.
This is none of my business how he got here. He's here on time for a job.
I unlock the front door, talking over my shoulder, “I'm still waiting for two others.“ Within minutes, they show, and here we are: Me, two black guys. And one white guy.
I'm not gonna lie. It feels weird and uncomfortable. I'm feeling my white-ness and this truth: I haven't hung out with black guys much. Not growing up (except for the two black girls integrated into our elementary school from downtown Milwaukee). Not in my current social circle. Not at work. Not in our neighborhood. Not in our community which is 85% white. Apparently I am not alone.
Will we find things to talk about? Will we get each other? That I'm making this about my own comfort is insightful. We four have gathered to do a job together and race or gender is simply irrelevant.
The task IS big. They need to unpack hundreds of boxes of books, stack them on tables for me to sign, add stickers to the front and backs of the books, then re-pack and tape the boxes in preparation to load everything onto a semi trailer that will show up at my building in three days.
The first hour is awkward as we all start to work side by side, trying to figure out a sensible work flow. Michael calls me "Miss Marianne" and the others follow suit.
“You don't need to call me that,” I tell him. “Marianne is fine.”
“No, Miss Marianne,” Michael says, “you made these books and because of you, I get to make some money today.”
I'm suddenly aware that all my books have white kids on the cover and I wonder what Michael thinks of that. I ask him.
“It's usually like that,” he says.
I want to know more. And so while I sign book after book after book, I start asking questions. Who are these men? What are their stories? Over the course of three days and 5000 books, this is what I learn:
• Michael hasn't seen his mom in a long time, so he hopped a bus to Minneapolis with the clothes on his back to find his dad who supposedly lived here. He found him and lived with him for awhile ... until he didn't.
• He's expecting a baby with this girlfriend in a few months and is feeling the pressure to provide. So he's working every job he can.
• It's hard being a black guy. Michael and Charlie* tell me stories of people walking to the other side of the street when they see a black guy coming.
Timothy* (aka other white person) and I are surprised. They assure me they're used to it.
• Michael tells me a waiter once spit in his food before serving it to him.
Timothy (aka other white person) and I are aghast. Charlie shrugs it off with a “shit happens” nonchalance.
• They think I am so very white and don't understand half of what they experience.
They are right.
• Michael wants to teach “Miss Marianne” to “talk black.” So he tells me that instead of telling my kids to “be quiet,” I should tell them to , “Pump. Their. Brakes.” He teaches me how to say it. The exact inflections I should use.
We practice over and over together and the four of us laugh at the white girl trying to talk black. They tell me I'm getting better, and it's a proud moment for me.
We talk, share, and laugh for three days. We talk about prejudice and race. We talk about parents. Kids. Wanting them. Having them. Raising them. We talk about my business that was and now isn't. We talk about making a living — the challenges and rewards. We talk about life. At the end of our three days, as we pack the last box onto the semi-trailer pulled into my dock, I feel sad about saying goodbye to my team. I know we likely won't see each other again. But I know we were meant to be together in this place in time, no matter how brief. There were things I needed to learn about myself that they taught me in kind, honest ways. And hopefully I've left them with something, too.
I sign a copy of I Love You So Much for Michael's new baby (my one book with black people on the cover). I am changed because of them. Our conversations shocked me at times, humbled and embarrassed me at others — and prompted me to re-examine my own beliefs, prejudice and assumptions.
I learned this too: We all want the same things in life: family, security, love, empathy respect, understanding and opportunity. What it looks like and how we get it is different because of the way the world is. But we have lots to teach one another if we're open and willing to listen without judgement.
Charlie and Timothy get in their cars, waving to me as they turn the corner.
Michael stands next to me. “Thanks for the work, Miss Marianne,” he says.
“You're welcome, Michael,” I reply. “Thanks so much for your help.”
We hug. I really, really like him.
He walks down the front step where he and I first met and turns right, walking five miles to somewhere.
The Heart of the Matter: Keep your heart open longer than what feels comfortable because that's when change can begin.
p.s. Six years later, I still tell my kids to Pump. Their. Brakes. Thanks Michael, wherever you are. :)
* names changed.
Give dad the gift of your words June 15, 2016 10:12
Like many moms, the Father’s Day gift thing always gave me trouble. How many Home Depot gift cards, tools, or tee-shirts could I gift through the years? So when my first two boys were little, I decided I would create a “perpetual gift” that we could re-give every year.
And it’s this book – the Dad book.
I bought a simple black book at an art store – and decorated the first page with Dear Dad.
The first year or two, I wrote the entries for the kids, and put a picture in there. They may have added a scribble or two. I know I’ve traced a hand or two in there…
The next year, I had them dictate to me what they would say if they could write it down.
Eventually they started taking over the writing…
And the letters keep getting a little more heartfelt and grown up…
Every year, a couple days before Father’s Day, I give the Dad Book to one child – and have him or her pass it around to the others. The kids love seeing Jim’s reaction to their entries year to year … and I know how much he treasures their thoughts to him. I just know it grows more precious every year.
Cost = $0 — so feel free to accompany it with a wrench or bottle of Old Spice (think my dad had a 10 year supply…)
The Heart of the Matter: Words from the heart are the best gift of all.
A different kind of award night May 27, 2016 11:31
For once in my life, I have something in common with Justin Bieber. On his Instagram post (yep, I'm a follower!) after the Billboard Music Awards, he said this: “I don't know about these award shows ... I don't feel good when I'm there nor after." His reference was to the format of recognition for performance.
I kinda get it.
My oldest son and I attended the Senior Awards Night last night and sat through two hours of accolades for some majorly high - achieving kids. This is Silicon Valley after all. Their collective accomplishments are amazing. Stellar GPAs! Hundreds of community service hours! Three sport athletes! Tutors of the underprivileged! Teachers heaped praise about students' sterling character, luminous spirits, unwavering work ethic and impact on them personally. They deserve every ounce of congratulations, my own kid included.
My mind naturally drifted to my second son who will likely never attend such an awards night. His GPA just doesn't cut it. And he's more interested in spending his Saturdays shooting hoops at the community park than serving food to the homeless. And studying? Not really his gig. What IS amazing, however, is his GPA without studying. And funny? OMG yes. Best dog walker? By far. Ketchup on Cheetos? Yep, an individual. But not awards-night material. As parents, our challenge is to help navigate a path for this type of kiddo, too, for whom the traditional four-year college may not be the next best step. Which is FINE ... it's just a less clear-cut path. And one that takes more looking, seeking, trying on. And one I find parents (myself included) explaining and defending. Perhaps because it's not a celebrated path in the traditional, end-of-year sense.
Perhaps there should be a second awards night for those show-up-every-day-average students whose skill set falls into categories not usually recognized at year end. And I have some ideas:
• Most flavorful snacks brought to Film Studies.
• Impressive wood shop project that might sell on Ebay.
• Funniest banter in 6th-hour Chemistry.
• Impressive 3-point shot during lunch hour basketball game.
• Most clever hiding spots for food and homework in bedroom.
You know... just for starters. Because these accomplishments represent some serious creativity and inventiveness, too.
I'd clear my calendar for this second awards night. Hell, I might even be co-chair and bring extra cookies.
The Heart of the Matter: Let's expand our definition of what's award-worthy in the life of our kids.
Appreciation is Good for the Heart March 28, 2016 11:40
Let's be honest. It’s often easier to criticize the outcome than appreciate the effort behind it.
This past weekend, my daughter holed herself up in room for hours on Saturday, making a poster for her drama classmates. The big spring musical was that night and she wanted to give them a memory, a tribute. She painstakingly depicted each of the 30 kids as cartoon caricatures, inspired by their role in the play. Proud and excited, she brought the poster to school and hung it on the wall backstage. It didn't take long before several kids wandered over and began critiquing her drawings. “Julia, you made me look so fat,” one said. “OMG -- look at that hair. I look like I'm bald,” said another. My daughter started to tear up, hurt by their inability to appreciate her efforts in favor of their own self-absorption, albeit totally natural for most 13 and 14-year-olds.
Thankfully Josh, a sweet boy who can totally rock a man-bun, saw what was going on and came to her rescue. “You guys,” he implored, “Julia worked really hard on this.” Emboldened by his encouragement, my daughter said, “Ya, I made this for all of you and I don't care what you think.” But she did. Deeply. And it hurt that no one noticed the tremendous work she had put forth.
As a parent, of course, my heart hurt as I saw her pride excitement about her poster end somewhere between embarrassment and self-doubt. She's a pretty confident kid who I know will bounce back, but still, I cringed at the wound to her tender spirit.
We talked about it later. “People are quick to find fault and we can't control their responses," I said. “Try to focus on happiness you felt making the gift.”
We focus a lot of our kids' accomplishments and activities. These events, however, remind me I need to double down on appreciating the effort behind the outcome and trying to grow my children to be compassionate, kind and supportive. And who can recognize and appreciate in another the tremendous effort it takes to show up in life.
The HeartMath Institute in California, a nonprofit research and education organization, has actually proven that individuals who intentionally focus on appreciation or other positive emotions can boost their immune system and change their heart rhythm patterns from chaotic to smooth and rhythmic, like ocean waves. .
These actual heart-monitor readouts contrast the heart-rhythm pattern of an individual experiencing frustration and then appreciation. We know that appreciate feels good but know we also know sincere appreciation actually makes us healthier!
It takes a lot of courage to show up and be seen. Let's give each other the gift of acknowledging the effort.
The Heart of the Matter: Appreciation is good for the heart — literally.
Blog Archives May 14, 2015 17:34
When I created this new website, I could not carry forward my previous blog. This link connects you to some of my writings and reflections through the years.