At the urging of my publisher I began writing a blog to promote my book before it was published.  “You need to build a platform, an audience,” the publisher had said. But I don’t want to write a blog I whined in my mind, and then I began a blog. And a funny thing happened.  I discovered that I absolutely love keeping a blog. And then a not so funny thing happened.  My publisher, like so many others, was looking at an uncertain financial future. Which meant that my book was also looking at an uncertain future. More to the point, it meant I was back at square one looking for a new home for my “baby.”

More often than not, I’m a “look for the silver lining” sort of gal. Yet, this time, as much as I tried saying out loud, “I’m sure my book will end up in an even better place!” I had a terrible stomachache and even whispered the words, I don’t care if the book ever gets published and I don’t want to write anymore.

I tried pulling myself out of the shock, depression and grief, but long walks, frequent naps and chocolate bars only left me feeling more sick, exhausted and hopeless.

When I went into premature labor with Andie 10 years ago, I looked desperately into the eyes of a nurse and said things like this don’t happen to me and she looked right back at me and said they do now.
march29Now, 10 years later I’ve learned that the book about my daughter’s uncertain birth faces and uncertain birth and I cried to a friend and said, things like this don’t happen to…  and even though I caught myself before I could finish, it didn’t matter. My friend and I laughed at what I’d almost said. And I know now, as I knew then, that yes, things like this – uncertainty, grief, sorrow, trauma – do happen to me.  And that I am strong and that I can overcome and that I must trust and believe and know… that anything is possible.

Playing the Percentages

tennisI think of tennis as my sport. I love the dark green courts and crisply painted white lines. I love opening a new can of balls and hearing the sound of the built up pressure hissing out. I love to breathe in the smell of that fuzzy yellow ball and feel like I’m eight again, standing on a sun soaked court in my worn out Tretorns. And I’ve always loved the feeling of smacking that tennis ball as hard as I possibly can.

The problem is, as much as I love tennis, I always seem to leave the court drenched in sweat, rubbing either my back or shoulder, sometimes both, and shaking my head because yet again I’ve lost to a player I was sure I could beat.

“How does this woman or that hit those soft shots and continue to beat me?” I’ve asked coach after coach for years.

“Put more spin on your second serve.” “Get to the net sooner.” “Work on your consistency.” Are just a few of the advice catch phrases I’ve heard over the years.

Recently, a new pro offered something I hadn’t heard before, “60%,” he said. When I tilted my head in confusion, he clarified, but not much. “Just take something off the ball. Don’t go at it 100%. Just 60.”

“Ok,” I said with a smile, but was thinking Why would I go out on the court and half-ass it?  No way!

So I continued to go out and give it everything I had – 100% – leaving nothing behind and still leaving the court with my same old frustration due to another injury or loss.

And then I got it.

I was upstairs in the restaurant that sits above the tennis courts. From my bird’s eye view, two men were playing a singles match on the court below. I recognized the younger 20 something guy. He’s a power player with a huge serve and ripping ground stokes. His dad is a pro at the club. His opponent had to be well into his 60s. I wondered as I looked at the older man’s braced knee and taped wrist if he knew what he’d gotten himself into. “What a mismatch,” I said under my breath.

But to my surprise, I watched the younger man race all over the court, hitting every ball with all his strength, while the older gentleman utilized the younger man’s power, returning his shots with grace and ease, controlling the match and winning nearly every game. I realized what I was watching – a match between 60% and 100%. Guess who won?

The next day, I returned to the court a different player. I was focused and steady, hitting most of my shots cleanly and consistently and for the first time in years, I walked off the court without any pain, feeling like a winner.

Then an interesting thing happened. I got in my car and noticed I was driving more slowly and deliberately. I wasn’t trying to get to the kid’s school as fast as I could, pushing the speed limit, repeatedly checking the clock.  60%.  And while making dinner, I noticed I wasn’t rushing, grabbing food from the fridge while stirring onions and loading the dishwasher virtually all at the same time.  60%.  I didn’t try to carry two loads of laundry bigger than me or speed clean every room in the house. Even during yoga, I wasn’t pushing myself harder and deeper into every pose.

And I wondered Why had I been killing myself?  60% allows me to get the job done well, really well, maybe even better than my crazy, give it everything I have and then some 100%.

So, I think I’ll continue to give this 60% thing a try. Except…I’m definitely not sharing this one with the kids. I can already see it.  “But I did empty the dishwasher. That’s 60% empty.” “I did clean my room – that’s 60% clean.” No way.  This is one lesson I’m keeping to myself.

Best Intentions

It was my sophomore year in college. I was sitting around with a group of friends, and we were telling stories about our childhood pets.  I shared the story of my fluffy, white bunny, Sparky.

“My parents were driving down the rode in their convertible,” I began, “and he saw his family on the other side of the road and he jumped right out of the car.”

My friends stared back at me. I repeated what I’d just said out loud in my head and my jaw dropped open. My friends erupted in laughter. I laughed along, but was also confused and angry and hurt. Why had my parents lied to me?

And then I became a mom. And my boy’s hermit crab died. Well, not right away. First the crab left his familiar shell and began the journey around his five-gallon sand filled aquarium in search of a new home.

My son was ecstatic. “He’s moving!  Rocky’s moving shells!”  And he was. We watched that strange little bug eyed creature (who was much cuter in his shell) drag his crusty curled tail around the tank.
Best-IntentionsAn hour passed.  Then several more, and Rocky was still without a shell.

“Is he ok?”  Tucker asked his eyes round with concern.

I picked up the phone and called The Fish Bowl. Minutes later, Tucker and I were filling an empty beer cap with peanut butter and putting it in the tank for Rocky. “He might be tired and in need of a protein source,” the pet shop owner had said.

But the day passed, and the peanut butter hadn’t helped.

I put Tucker to bed with tears drying on his cheeks.

Later, I checked on Tucker and Rocky. Tucker was asleep, his dark lashes resting on his flushed cheeks and Rocky was in the same place but his curled tail looked cut and was oozing a clear liquid. I stared into the tank, willing that little crustacean to please just pick a shell. I moved a couple of shells closer to him and noticed how easily his body could just slide in. Then I placed a shell beneath Rocky’s tail and sort of scooped him up. He slid right in, and I carefully set the crab and shell back in the tank and went to bed.

The next morning Tucker shook me awake. “He picked a shell!  Rocky picked a shell!” He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of bed to follow him down the hall. “Look,” he said and there was Rocky, in the shell, right where I’d left him.  Tuck reached into the tank to pick him up. “Don’t…” I began, but it was too late.  Tuck picked up the shell and Rocky dropped out.

Tucker took a step away from the tank and covered his mouth.  “Is he dead?” he asked.

After my Sparky discovery, I called my parents and demanded an explanation for their lie. “Was I supposed to tell my five year old her rabbit was eaten by the next door neighbor’s dog?”  My mom had asked.

“I guess not,” I had replied.  “But you didn’t have to make up that lie.”

“We were just trying to protect you,” my mother had said.

And as I continued to stare into Tucker’s sad eyes, I understood.

I wanted to tell him that Rocky was just asleep.  I wanted to tell him that we’d get him a new hermit crab, two new hermit crabs.  I wanted to pull him into me and hold him, forever and never let him feel any pain.

Instead I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, Tucker.  He is dead.”

Tucker stared down at the empty shell in his hand.

“But he picked a new shell.”

I cleared my throat.  “Actually, Tuck, I put him in the shell.”

He looked up, his eyes wide with shock.  “You shouldn’t have done that mom,” he said.

“I know, Buddy.  I know that now.”

And I pulled my little boy into my arms and held him close while he wept and mourned the loss of his beloved pet.

Send in the Clowns

clownsMy husband grew up in a family of tricksters.

We’d been dating a few months when he brought me home to meet his family. They lived on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. I first met his mom and then the gazillion cousins all gathered in the kitchen. I slid into a seat on the far side of the kitchen table and watched the punching, jabbing and joking between Lee and his cousins. Eventually the back door opened and everyone turned to look. By the sudden quiet, I knew Lee’s dad had arrived. He stepped in the door, took off his baseball cap and gave Lee a big hug. Then Lee turned and motioned to me.  All the cousins turned and stared. “Dad,” Lee said in a ceremonious fashion I hadn’t known he was capable of, “this is Kasey.”  His Dad took a step into the kitchen and squinted at me. I waited for him to say something. Then he looked back at Lee and said, “I don’t think she’s that chunky.”  The cousins erupted in laughter. Lee was instantly at my side wrapping his arm around me. Lee’s mom scolded his dad and swiped at him with a dishcloth. And with that I was initiated into the clan.

I quickly learned that if I didn’t lock the bathroom door, someone might sneak in and turn the shower from hot to cold.  I also learned the water could be shut off in the basement leaving me in the shower shivering and covered in soap.  I learned that a restaurant bathroom with the light switch on the outside could leave me sitting in the pitch-dark with my pants at my ankles. I learned to keep my pants tied tightly or they could end up on the floor and that if Lee’s 80-year-old grandmother wasn’t immune from wedgies, neither was I.

And I learned that Lee’s family actually plotted pranks in anticipation of our visits.

We arrived at the farm one weekend and Lee’s parents asked me to follow them into the dining room. “You’ve become an important part of our family,” his mother said. “Thanks,” I said, quickly calculating that Lee and I had been dating less than a year. His dad gave me a big smile. I glanced over my shoulder into the kitchen but Lee had disappeared. Lee’s mom walked over to the tall, glass china cabinet and pulled out a platter with little roses around the scalloped edges.  She handed it to Lee’s dad who took a step toward me.  “We wanted to show how much we care about you,” he said.  “Lee’s grandmother carried this over on the boat from Sweden.” My whole body burned, but I made myself step toward him. Lee’s dad held out the platter and I reached out to take it.  I felt the emptiness in my hand and watched, as if in slow motion, as the dish fell to the floor and smashed into hundreds of pieces. I staggered backwards.

“Not the rose platter!”  Lee’s dad said.

“I didn’t have it,” I said, covering my mouth with my hand and staring down at the destroyed plate, my eyes blurring with tears.

I looked up and Lee’s parents exploded with laughter. “We bought that plate at a garage sale for twenty-five cents!”

And as we stepped around the broken pieces on the floor, I learned, well, first of all, to stay on my toes, and more importantly, that every family has their own unique way of displaying their love.

Peeling Labels

The other day I had a conversation with a couple of ski team parents.  The mom was relaying a funny conversation she’d had with their 11-year-old son. He was urging her to dress more like a “ski mom.”

“He wants me to dress from head to toe all in black,” she said waving her hands in the air, “like those moms from the (insert here – name of rival ski mountain).”  I felt her husband’s eyes scan me from head to toe. I didn’t have to look down to know what he was seeing – I was dressed all in black, from hat to ski boot.

“So I told my son, I like color,” my friend went on, pointing to her lime green baseball cap and matching jacket, completely oblivious to my attire. I could feel her husband trying to telepathically kick her shin. I decided to save them the embarrassment and motioned to my outfit. “So you’re not into the all black look, hun?”

Her eyes slightly widened as she registered my outfit. Then she said, “Oh, no, no.  That’s not the kind of black I meant at all.  I mean, the more, you know, designer black look.”

I looked down at my shapeless men’s ski jacket and knew exactly what she meant. Yet her husband went on to offer further clarification. “Yeah, you’re not the designer-y type at all.  You’re more,” he thought for a moment,  “more of a crunchy, sprout-y ski mom.”

I am?

I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the conversation, because I was stuck on crunchy and sprouty, picturing the alfalfa sprouts growing in a glass jar on my kitchen counter.

Later that day I sat in the ski lodge, still thinking about that conversation and remembered the creative writing lesson I’d taught several years before.

march1After passing out pages of blank white shipping labels, I asked my students to write down any labels that had ever been placed on them – by others or themselves – good, bad or somewhere in between.  After writing down all the labels (me, too) we peeled off the stickers and placed them all over ourselves.  Words like Weird, Strange, Brainy, Cool, Crazy, Stupid, Cute, Ugly, Chubby, Sweet, Selfish, Creative, Athletic, Funny, Odd, Quirky, Artistic and Wild covered our shirt sleeves, pant legs, shoes and foreheads.

Then came the fun part. We examined each of our labels and decided what to keep and what to peel off, tear up and throw away. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like watching a 7th grader rip up the labels Freak and Weird and proudly wear Funky, Imaginative and Unique instead.

And with that in mind, I dug down to the bottom of my ski bag and pulled out the fancy orange scarf with the designer label that I’d never worn. I looped it around my neck and felt the possibility of myself sprouting into something else.