My sweet, 6-year-old girl, happy, happy birthday! Last week you were blessed to spend a week in heaven – otherwise known as horse camp. When I picked you up one of the days, your instructor remarked, nodding in your direction, “This girl cracks me up. She’s always wanting to make sure she’s doing everything exactly right.”
That’s you, my little perfectionist. Oh, Rae, you always try so hard at everything you set out to do. Sometimes the intensity at which you work at something – whether it’s forming lower case letters or running a half-mile alongside me – surprises me. I admire how hard you work and how you give your best to everything, but sometimes, as your mama, I worry you’re afraid to be less than perfect or you’re afraid that if you don’t do something well, you’ll be a failure. You’ve been gifted with so many talents, but please don’t be too hard on yourself when you fall short or just feel like you’re not measuring up to some imagined or real standard. Remember that you’re not a super-human but just a human who depends upon supernatural grace. This is a lesson your mama is still working hard to embrace!
I did love seeing how much you enjoyed being around horses. The sweet smell of manure mingled with hay and the earthy scent of a horse transported me back to my own horse crazy childhood when all I wanted to do was ride and lose myself in the world of those beautiful beasts. It’s fun to see you love something I once loved! (You seem to really like running, too, and are quite speedy on the soccer fields.) It’s not so fun, however, to see your rail-thin body and puffy eyes at the end of a fun but equally exhausting day. My sweet girl, you were recently diagnosed with mono after I spent a long few days worrying about your decreasing appetite and symptoms of malaise. For four days you ate nothing but soup! You’ve grown so thin, but thankfully you’ve started eating again. I’m waiting for you to gobble up a rich, buttery, and cheesy bowl of grits some morning soon (this is one of your favorite breakfast dishes right now). Fortunately, mono at this age doesn’t disrupt your daily activities too much. Our pediatrician obviously gave us the green light for horse camp. We also had a family birthday party for you, and you requested “pig ribs” for dinner. So funny that this former vegetarian is raising such passionate carnivores! You donned a turquoise dress for the celebration. Turquoise is your favorite color these days. Your dolphin cookie cake had turquoise frosting on it as well, which pleased you very much. You asked for roller skates and some books, and your birthday wishes came true. We’ve already read the delightful and nonsensical Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (Mary Elizabeth loves this one, too) several times, and your nose has been inserted to the other books you received as gifts. You’re a voracious reader. You have a wonderful imagination and love to draw as well. You want to be a veterinarian when you grow up and are so sweet with animals. You give Layla [our Lab/Great Dane mix] morning belly rubs and help to feed her in the morning.
Other news from this past year: You had another great soccer season. You got to swim with dophins and give one a kiss. What a lucky kid you are! We’ve baked lots together and read more stories than we could ever count. You like to tell “knock, knock” jokes that don’t quite make sense but cause me to chuckle nonetheless. You loved singing in your homeschool choir. You made your stage debut as a hee-hawing donkey in The Musicians of Bremen. You had your first sleepover right after you turned 6, and the mom said you were so sweet and polite. You make Daddy and me very proud. You have a beautiful smile that brightens my day; I especially love that dimple that pops out when you grin because Daddy has the exact same one. You have a beautiful face with creamy skin lightly dusted with freckles and those big, brown doe eyes fringed with dark, long lashes. Your hair is kissed with the sunshine and long and wavy (I call it your mermaid hair). But it’s your beautiful heart I love the most. You truly are a “Rae of sunshine” who is eager to please and bring joy to others. You write me the sweetest notes and are quick to express your love for me. You’re sensitive. Sometimes your eyes will fill with tears, and you’ll blame it on them just hurting, but I know something has touched your soul. You rejoice with the world and bleed with it, too. I know how it feels to feel so deeply. We are cut from a very similar cloth, sweet girl.
Daddy was recently working on organizing our hours and hours of video footage, and he showed me some clips from when you were a baby – all chunky thighs (Papa called you “Chunk Style”), gooey grins, and happy squeals and coos. Well, my eyes started “hurting” and watering because my sweet Baby Rae is growing up but – wow! – you’re turning into such a fun, smart, contemplative, silly, lovely, and polite, little girl. Happy 6th birthday, my love, my dove, my treasure divine (or my MLMDMTD as Papa used to and still sometimes does call me). I love you to the moon and back….now and forever and ever.
A very wise friend of mine recently encouraged me to not be down about super-speedy-runner-girl who effortlessly ran 6ish minute miles in her first 5K (and is, as my husband reminded me half a decade younger than I am; I love that man). This lovely friend said something about how when she runs, she’s thinking about people who run a pace faster than she does. “We all have our rabbits,” she said.
This made me think of a very familiar quandary many runners face in their lives. (If you’re not a runner, bear with me here because I’ll soon make this more universal.) There’s the newbie runner who signs up for a Couch to 5K training program and just wants to finish the race. When she does, she’s elated. Soon she decides that next time she will try to run the entire race without walking. Mission accomplished. Then she starts training to get a little faster. She embraces a clean diet. She strength trains. She adds fartleks (just say it aloud – hilarious! This doesn’t say a lot for my maturity level. Fartlek! Fartlek! ) to her training and lo and behold, she rocks her next 5K. Maybe she even places in her age group, but she didn’t come in first. Maybe next time. She keeps raising the bar. There’s always that speedy rabbit who’s just ahead of her whom she starts to chase. What used to be more than “good enough” – just finishing the race – is suddenly overshadowed by the desire to be better than last time or maybe even to be a the top.
Recall Doctor Faustus who sold his soul to the devil for more knowledge and power. He was born gifted, but it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough until we make the decision to be content with our own gifts and to celebrate all those “better” rabbits out there instead of always chasing after them.
“There’s always going to be someone who’s faster,” my sage of a husband told me recently. And someone smarter. And richer. And with more children. And with easier children (you know the ones who easily fall asleep in their parents’ arms and never throw a tantrum and start sleeping through the night at eight weeks. Yeah, I’ve NEVER had one of those kiddos either). And with more children and mad running skill. And with a bigger house. Or maybe just a cleaner house. Or an enviable kitchen. There’s someone prettier with better hair, better legs, whiter teeth, or better toenails (you should see mine right about now; one is black and on the verge of falling off, and another one did fall off. Lovely.). Yup. There are a lot of fine, white rabbits out there. Thank God for that. Thank God for all the blessings so many people have. Thank God for my own blessings.
But there are also many people who have so much less. The people in Oklahoma come immediately to mind.
Once upon a time I thought the size 0 was the Holy Grail of happiness. For a brief moment, it was. I felt powerful when the smallest of clothing were loose on me. But it waned. Soon I wanted more, but there was nowhere to go except down. Healed and almost whole from those awful eating disorder days, there are still some relics of my past. These inner demons are always driving me toward endless self-improvement. They give me tunnel vision that only sees what’s ahead instead of all that is. And what is is a beautiful, charmed life.
Although I want to make the most of my potential and my gifts, I don’t want to spend my lifetime chasing rabbits. I want to celebrate with and for those who are ahead of me. Besides, my worst enemy is the voice within me that taunts me, telling me I’m the classic case of mediocrity or worse. I want to silence that voice and to be my best but to forgive myself when I fall short. And I never want to forget the ones behind me, the ones who have so much less. Sometimes I even want to slow down and walk with them, so they know they’re not alone and so I know I’m not alone either.
I thought about writing a serious post called something like “i is for Insecurity” that discussed how social media can lead many of us (ahem, yours truly) to doubt ourselves and/or to compare ourselves to others. (The little “i” represents all those i gadgets that make it even easier to stay connected and/or feel like total losers.) You know the drill (or maybe you don’t, God bless you): You’re quite pleased with the birthday cake you made for your child until you see the delicious Pinterest eye candy that others have created, or you’re happily enjoying running for the sake of running until you read about someone who ran three miles a lot faster than you’ll probably ever run one mile and you feel pathetically slow. But whatever. Most of the time I’m at a pretty content place and am actually quasi-qualified to give the kind of speeches I do that encourage women to relinquish perfectionism and to accept that they are good enough just the way you are, but every once in awhile I feel like that lonely, loathsome 9-year-old from my past who gets teased on the school bus and instead of counting my blessings I’m collecting grievances against myself. Or I start to compare myself or my charmed life to others and when you compare, no one wins. Either you walk away feeling better about yourself (well, I can’t run that fast, but I’ve had labor au natural and clearly have good endurance. Not that I have ever entertained thoughts like these or actually looked up to see if uber runner girl gave birth naturally). That icky pride thing going on, or the seeds of envy are planted within you and instead of celebrating someone else’s blessings or triumphs, you’re angry at them or coveting them. More ick.
Even when I’m not comparing, too often I start to focus on all that I can’t do rather than paying attention to all that I can stinkin’ do. And, ladies, we do a lot! I find that insecurity and all its ugly stepsisters really start to rear their ugly heads whenever I forget to concentrate on loving others and instead find myself wondering if I’ll ever measure up (in whatever area of life I’m obsessing about at the moment whether it’s mothering, writing, singing, or running). I should desperately want to love rather than deserately want to be loved. That makes for a happy heart. While drying my hair this morning (I get all my magazine reading accomplished whenever I actually take the time to dry my epically-thick mane), I read a quote in Real Simple magazine that really struck me:
The way to work for peace is to be at peace.
Appropriately enough, my spiritual book club is currently reading Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe. I have lots of notes to take.
But now I didn’t want to write about all that. Nope. I really just wanted to share a few gratuitous photos of some major sibling love. These two have quite the time together these days. My baby boy is very good at playing the role of “Annoying Little Brother.” He tugs on her hair, wrestles with her, and chases her around constantly. She’s very patient with him (most of the time), and they’re also extremely affectionate with each other.
How can I not be content and happy looking at this sibling revelry?
As for the smoothie shot reference, the Vitamix has rocked my world in a good way. I use it almost every day to whip up smoothies of a rainbow of colors. This one looks boring in the cup, but its creamy deliciousness makes the kids think they’re slurping up a milkshake. I don’t use exact recipes per se, but here’s what this one looks like:
About 2 cups of milk
1 banana (use a frozen one for an even creamier consistency)
One apple, cored
2-3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 scoop of vanilla-flavored Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein
Blend together for taste bud nirvana. Feel free to add a few handfuls of spinach. No one will notice.
Any favorite smoothie recipes to share?