Violet and the Bangs

It has been a few months now, but a while back, I noticed one day that Violet, my 6-year-old, had bangs.  Suddenly. They appeared out of nowhere. The girls had just come back from a weekend at their dad’s and I asked her if she had gotten a haircut…. Nope.

Well, did your dad cut your bangs?  No.

Did your grandma?  No.

Violet, did you cut your bangs?  No.

And the Mystery of the Cut Bangs began.  

Periodically I would ask Violet about the bangs.  She always replied that she didn’t know what happened.  She couldn’t remember. She didn’t know if someone cut her bangs, or who.  It was all very strange.

Then about three months later, my older daughter, Mazie, who is 8, and I were cleaning out one of the toy bins.  I picked up a red plastic cup and Mazie said to me, “That’s the cup that Violet put her hair in.” What? “Yeah, after she cut her bangs.”

Mystery solved.  

I really didn’t care if Violet cut her bangs or not, and I told that to her.  She wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. But now, now she had been lying to me for months.  Lying to my face. And that hurt.  I do not want to raise a liar. 

Lies are slippery little suckers, aren’t they?  They’re a practiced behavior that sometimes start out so small and insignificant.  I’ve often told students that the first lie you tell someone is the hardest one to tell.  The first time you break that trust tears your guts out.  The next time you lie though, it’s easier. And the easier it gets, the bigger the lies become.  

I dated a guy once that would lie about anything.  If he had eggs for breakfast, he could swear on the Bible that he’d eaten cereal.  And he would lie about little things like that. At the time, it just didn’t make any sense to me, but when I found his emails with 4 other women, all of the lies began to unravel.  

Truth is big around these parts.  Jen and I had lots of conversations when we created this blog about Truth being the cornerstone of our writing.  I challenge you today to live in truth.  If you’re doing something you feel you need to lie about, I have an idea:  don’t do that thing! Don’t practice lying. Stop being good at it.  Walk in integrity. It’s so worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened with little Violet, this is how it went down:  She walked back in the room while we were cleaning, and I said, “Hey Violet, is this the cup you put your hair in when you cut your bangs?”  The poor little girl never had a chance. Without missing a beat she said, “Yep!”  And then her eyes got real big.  

Mama always knows. Game. Set. Match.

Do One Thing Right

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Coaching taught me that you better never call a time-out unless you have a plan.

What in the name of sweet baby Jesus are you doing out there????? is not a plan.

Once I made the commitment to come to a time-out with a plan to climb out of whatever hole we were in, I was forced to look at the game differently.

I had to see what we were doing well.

How else could I have a plan? You can’t tell your team Keep doing that thing that’s not working and hope to hell it works this time. When one part of our game fell apart, we had to make up for it somewhere else. So when I called a time out, I tried to start it with Ok, here’s how we’re going to fix this.

(Tried. Tried so VERY hard. But sometimes sweet baby Jesus got the best of me…)

In our worst moments, the plan was to take it all the way back to the basics.

Pass, hit, serve.

Do one thing right. Then do two. Then three and four and on and on until it’s finished.

Gabriel just played a game like this, against a team that beat them badly the first time they played. Nothing worked. Not one thing.

But this time, the defense got their feet under them and it was a different game. They still lost, but it was a victory too—they stood their ground against a team that is bigger and faster than they are. We can’t win every game, but we can win moments and quarters and halves. And sometimes that’s enough.

Life is like this, too.

It’s very rare for everything to go bad at once. Usually, it’s one or two things, but I can get so focused on them that I feel overwhelmed.

Instead, I have to see what I’m doing right, and keep doing it. I have to take it back to the basics of faith, hope and love. I have to solve one problem, live through one hour, take one step. That’s all. Just one. Then two. Then three and four and on and on until I am back on my physical, emotional or spiritual feet.

This is how we welcomed our second child, and then our third. We folded those babies into our lives one hour, one day, one week at a time.

It’s how I survived my cancer and post-partum anxiety—one doctor’s appointment, one medicine, one blood test at a time.

It’s how Dana is surviving her summer—one breath, one prayer, one decision at a time.

So when it feels like I’m getting beat four ways til Christmas, I try to remember these rules:

Don’t call a timeout unless you have a plan.

Focus on what’s working, instead of what’s not.

When all else fails, go back to the basics.

Do one thing right.

The Summer of Discontent

May 19, 1994, Hofstra University

May 17, 1994 at Hofstra University

The summer after I graduated college was one of the worst times of my life.

Even now, 20 years later, after everything else that has happened, that statement is true.

I had moved home from New York, leaving my college boyfriend behind, something my head knew was wise, but my heart was struggling with. We hadn’t broken up yet, so there was the added stress of a long distance and very expensive phone relationship. My parents had put the down payment on a car, but I needed to make the monthly payments. Luckily it was only to the Bank of Grandma, but it was still a responsibility.

I knew what I wanted to do: teach. But I needed a credential to do that, which meant more schooling. I needed to find a job that would let me go to school, so I took a temporary sales job at Nordstrom’s, hoping it would turn into something long term. One Saturday, the assistant from my dentist’s office came to my register. I will never forget what I felt when she said “Wait. Didn’t you just graduate from college? What on earth are you doing here?”

It was the push and pull of transition and it was painful. I felt that if I didn’t find a way to stand on my own two feet, independent of my parents, and make my own way, with my fancy private school degree, then I was a disappointment. An ungrateful disappointment, since I had both earned and been given an amazing cultural and educational experience.

But the lure of dependency was strong. I knew my parents loved me and if I folded, they would have supported me. It might have caused big problems, but they would have done it and I knew it.

One night my mom laid a stack of bills in front of me. Her bills, not mine: the electric bill and the water bill. “You need to contribute by paying these bills”, she said. I will never forget how that felt either. I’m sure she thought she was introducing me to the hard reality of being a grown-up, but to me it felt patronizing, like she wasn’t treating me like an adult. And a part of me knew that wasn’t a rational way to feel, which made it worse.

I cried a lot that summer. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how to make anything happen. I have never felt more lost, or afraid. I wanted to be an adult and start the rest of my life. Sometimes. The other times I longed for my life to be the way it was in college, when life was one big adventure.

We are welcoming a new crop of college graduates into the world this month, including one in our family. I would bet that most of them are feeling the stress of this transition. Some of them will handle it, but for others, it will feel like the floor is falling away beneath them.

Last night Teresa and I were discussing a job offer she received. She only graduated two weeks ago and this was her second offer this week, so she’s already got me beat by months in the job arena. But still, there was a moment when she broke down. It’s a lot, facing a real job, making real money, paying real student loans, taking on a car payment and finding health insurance. Wanting so badly to move out on her own, but realizing that this particular job will require her to live very quietly for a few years for a bigger pay-off down the line. That’s a hard thought for someone who has been living the good college life, where gel mani/pedis, designer jeans and nights out are the norm. Not that I’m criticizing her, because the girl has been working since she was 15. But she is processing the truth that life is going to replace fun, for a little while.

She’s scared. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Can she do it? Can she be a functioning adult in this world? Can she meet her own expectations of success?

We know that she can, and will, but that doesn’t matter. She needs to know it.

So to her and all the scared, faltering, frustrated college grads out there, here’s is what I wish I had told myself twenty summers ago:

It’s ok to be scared. A little bit of fear is a motivator. But be careful: too much fear will paralyze you. It will make you reach for what is safe and known. It will trap you in a limbo between childhood and adulthood and weaken you, and you will not break free of it until you are strong again.

That could take years. We all know someone who got stuck there, and what it cost them.

Don’t be afraid to step away from what is known, because great things happen in the unknown. And nothing is forever. The days of having the same job for fifty years are long gone. If you hate what you are doing you can make a change, but it’s always better to make a change from a position of power—so get that first job, give it your all and see what happens next.

Have faith. Lean on God. And remember that no matter what, someone loves you. We love you.

Good luck!

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California