As the holiday season approaches, I am always wary of wishing someone a “Happy Holidays” or a “Merry Christmas”. Though well intentioned, these statements are laden with assumption, aren’t they? At this time of year, I prefer to make deeply uncomfortable eye contact and inquire “How are you, really?”
Some of you come alive at this time of year, sprinkling glitter and powdered sugar everywhere you go. You hum carols, string lights, and smell like gingerbread. You will likely set up your Christmas tree on November 12th. You excitedly pull out your Santa hat earrings and ugly sweaters, and ensure your stash of charming hostess gifts is sufficient for the lineup of events on your calendar. What fun!
Others feel a sense of dread, obligation, and overwhelm during this “festive season”. In past years, I, too, have succumbed to my own prickly Grinchiness. I craved the day when I could stuff my Christmas tree back into its ridiculously tiny box—which is not unlike attempting to force Pilsbury dough and back into its can. Exhale. Christmas is over for another year.
In recent years though, I have reflected on my cold Christmas heart—which felt two sizes too small--and decided there must be a better way. I was tired of white-knuckling my life for the month of December. I wanted to join the joyous singing with the rest of the citizens of Whoville.
The shift began by giving myself permission to examine traditions and ask what worked and what didn’t. I kept what felt fun and discarded the rest, even when it meant throwing away what has always been done. As a result, the boys and I have stayed in fancy hotel rooms on Christmas Eve and had pizza by the pool. We’ve dined in luxurious restaurants instead of making turkey dinner. We’ve gone for long walks in the snow on Christmas morning, searching for dazzling Christmas lights. Christmas began to feel like an adventure.
I also embraced the idea that Christmas is more than one day. It offers a full month to celebrate with people I love, play with my kids, and create moments of joyful memories. Last year, my boys and I created an “advent calendar”. One evening in November, we sat down, and wrote slips of paper containing creative games, festive outings, and bonding opportunities. We jotted down ideas such as:
So, give yourself permission to let go of anything which doesn’t serve you during this busy time of year. Don’t be afraid to create your own brand of magic, carve new traditions, and invite your kids to provide input into the redefinition of this holiday season.
I wont' wish you "Happy holidays."
Instead, from the bottom of my heart, know that I want you to really be okay.
Seven days. Seven nights.
That’s how long I will be forced to spend with myself this week. Yep, I said forced. How astute of you to notice.
I am an extroverted introvert by nature. At work, when my role and the expectations are crystal clear, I easily put my leadership pants on. I am charismatic and confident. Strip my professional identity and throw me into a social setting? I suddenly become awkward and uncertain. All the confidence I have leaches out of my body and I’d rather be at home in my pajamas.
That said, I am happiest at home in my pajamas with others. I am madly, obsessively in love with my husband. I adore my children and jump at the chance to hang out with them. I’m even thrilled to meet a girlfriend for coffee, provided I can be home in my pajamas by 8pm. Are you sensing a pattern? My life rarely requires pants.
This week, I will be on my own. My husband is traveling, and my boys will be staying with their dad. I have seven days and seven nights to spend with me, myself, and I.
The problem is this bitch is boring.
I’m a recovering workaholic which means for the last twenty years, I have not developed a repertoire of hobbies which I’m passionate about. I worked and I dedicated my energy to my family. Full stop. One of the reasons I recently decided on a drastic career shift was because I desperately needed to create more balance in my life. I want to discover who I am separate from my job. Now that my boys are on the precipice of becoming men, I am challenging myself to become whole and happy apart from them. Our lives are no longer intricately intertwined, which is exactly as it should be.
It seems the Universe heard my intentions and promptly presented an opportunity for me to walk the walk.
I don’t want to spend the week merely surviving, counting down the hours as they tick, tick, tick slowly by. Nor do I wish to numb myself in front of a screen—mindlessly scrolling social media or watching movie after movie. And, let’s be honest, I’m not one to go out at night strapping on my heels and sipping martinis with the girls. (Do I still own heels?)
Which leads me to ask…
What brings me joy?
What makes me feel fulfilled?
What feeds me with purpose?
Logical Kel understands this week provides me with sacred time to dive into self-exploration. It’s a chance to grow and thrive. Emotional Kel is scared shitless. Can I come out of this with my sanity intact?
I’m trying to embrace the opportunity (which I am fully aware other women would give their right arm for) and move towards it with a positive mindset. I’ll let you know how it goes…
In the meantime, pray for me. Text me. Send Xanax.
It was only Wednesday, and I was already frazzled. I was having one of those weeks where there simply weren’t enough hours to get it all done—unless I chose to forgo sleeping…
I had asked my sons—14 and 16 years old—to prepare supper that evening. I had a day chalked full of commuting, lectures, and meetings and if the traffic gods allowed, would walk in the door with twenty minutes to put food in my face before both boys needed to be driven to soccer practice. Used to a certain level of responsibility being placed upon them, they agreed.
My kids have always been expected to contribute to our home, but I don’t believe in paying them an allowance. We all live here together, and it takes a team to keep the ship afloat. Besides, they make 90% of the mess, so they should in fact clean it up! Additionally, no one pays me to cook, clean, and do the laundry… I digress.
The stars and planets aligned, and I was indeed able to make it home for dinner that Wednesday. As an added bonus, I even had time to change into my comfy clothes before jumping back into the car that evening. I was SO looking forward to having dinner and sitting down to connect with my family. However, when I walked in the door, I did not hear the joyful sounds of productivity in the kitchen, nor did I smell the spicy sweet tomato sauce simmering. The kitchen was empty of people and food.
Almost immediately upon my heels, my oldest son sauntered through the front door.
“I hope you brought dinner with you.”
“Nope. My brother was going to cook.”
Little Brother looked up from his cellphone with a face of utter confusion. It would have been comical, had I not been starving. “I thought we were going to cook together when you got home.”
The three of us stared at each other in silence, the atmosphere thick with tension.
In that moment, did I react with a calm, firm response and with the intention of leadership and problem-solving? Hell no. I sat down on the kitchen floor and sobbed.
It wasn’t about the dinner. All of the overwhelm and stress that had been building up leaked out of my eyeballs. My sons stood in front of me, horrified.
Gathering some shreds of dignity, I picked myself off the floor and walked upstairs to my room.
“Mama are you angry?” they called.
“Yes.” (Maybe not enough dignity yet. Must. Calm. Down.)
I’ve thought about this moment in retrospect. Should I have acted with more maturity and been forgiving of their miscommunication? Perhaps. It certainly wasn’t my shining moment as a mother. But what happened next makes me think that my show of emotion wasn’t entirely negative.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a gentle knock on my bedroom door.
“Supper is ready. Please come downstairs,” the boys tentatively invited.
Physically and emotionally exhausted, tears still slipping down my cheeks, I sat at the kitchen table as my children served spaghetti.
We ate in silence, and tears fell from their eyes too. They weren’t used to seeing me break.
“I’m sorry,” I began. “Yes, I am disappointed that supper wasn’t ready, but I overreacted. I’m crying because I’m stressed and tired.”
My sons walked over and wrapped their man-sized arms around me. “We’re sorry too. We called our coaches to let them know we wouldn’t be at practice tonight. We didn’t uphold our end of the bargain, so we don’t think it’s fair to ask you to drive us.”
All of this to say, my friends, that in showing my vulnerability, my children realized how much they take for granted. My tears drove home the knowledge that their contributions matter and that one person cannot be expected to carry the load alone.
We try so hard to shield our children from guilt and shame, from knowing that they hurt our feelings or let us down. Looking back, I see this slip in my armor as a teachable moment for my boys. I hope they reflected upon my meltdown in a way which makes them better humans and better partners in the future.
I’ll admit that sobbing with snot running down your face is a wee bit over the top. You’d likely handle the situation with much more grace than I did. Either way, our little family team grew stronger as a result, and supper is now ready as expected.
I am a voracious reader who is a ‘lil obsessive about personal development. The Buddhist in me believes my purpose in life is to grow and evolve thus I am constantly in search of ways to improve as a human. It's gross, I know.
A few months ago, I read Hal Elrod’s book, The 5am Challenge--an inspiring story about the author’s cancer journey. Hal passionately explains that his life was saved, in part, by a deeply intentional morning routine. By starting each day focused on his mental and physical health, Hal forged an iron strong mindset which became not only a crucial component to his healing but also led him to become wildly successful in his relationships and his career. The book ends with a challenge to readers—a dare almost. Set your alarm clock horrifyingly early and see how it changes your life.
Huh. That might be worth a try.
In full disclosure, I’ve always been an early riser. In college, I chose jobs which began at the crack of dawn and set me free by the time most others were on their lunch break. I was a barista. I took the early morning shift at the gym. With tales of massive cash tips, my sister tried to entice me to become a server at the restaurant where she worked, but the thought of staying up until 2am made me nauseous. Not worth the money!
When I was a teacher, I would arrive at school at 6:30am so that I could leave by 3:30 and take on the remainder of my day. Getting up early gave me freedom. However, waking early for work felt easier than waking early by choice.
Regardless, I promised myself I would stick with The 5am Challenge for ninety days.
Starting the following morning, when my alarm chimed (because I don’t believe in beginning my day with a heart attack prompted by an aggressive beeping noise), I would roll out of bed and put on my workout clothes. Next, coffee. Because I’m not a total monster. Coffee first, life second! I would enjoy the precious caffeine without the distraction of social media. I simply sat alone with my thoughts. Then, I would move my body for at least thirty minutes. Following exercise, I would meditate, chant, read, journal, or listen to a podcast to complete my morning routine. All of this occurred in calm, peaceful silence before my family woke, bringing love and chaos to the day.
The first few days felt exciting and new. I kept waiting for the novelty to wear off. But do you know what? It didn’t.
I became addicted to starting my day by nourishing my body and my spirit. No matter what else happened over the next 24 hours, I started with self-care and the best of intentions. I might go on to have writer’s block, be late to soccer practice, or scorch the supper, but at least I freaking meditated that morning!
Ninety days turned into six months. Six months turned into a year and the 5am Challenge is still going strong.
I fully acknowledge that I lost many of you at “5am”. However, if you are still reading, it’s likely because you have some curiosity about dedicating time to your health, even if the suggestion of an early morning makes you itchy and slightly queasy. Don’t let the “5am” trip you or stop you completely. Give yourself permission to create your own rules.
Maybe you simply wake up one hour earlier than normal. Perhaps you work from home and can take a midday “recess” break. Stay up one hour later and finish your day with reflection. I have a friend who ends each day by eating candy in the bathtub, surrounded by candles. When my children were young, I gifted myself with one hour in between the time I left work and the time I picked them up from childcare. Find a way to make yourself a priority!
However it may look—5am, 2pm, or 10pm-I challenge you to make intentional self-care part of your daily routine. Try it consistently for ninety days and discover the difference it makes. You never know, the habit might just stick!
Or, text me and tell me how much you despise it. I'll be awake.
A few weeks ago, I enjoyed an incredibly romantic vacation in San Juan del Cabo with my husband. We were on a kid-free trip, celebrating our ten-year anniversary and had set the intention of planning a new chapter in our marriage.
Each morning, we would wake up at 5am and take our coffee down to the beach. There, we would sit in the sand until the sun rose and the sky turned from inky black to shades of cotton candy pink and creamsicle orange. As my husband practiced yoga, I would meditate and watch the world slowly come alive—crabs emerging with curiosity from their labyrinth beneath the sand and birds swooping mere inches above the waves, searching for their breakfast.
Each night after walking the vibrant streets and devouring decadent food, we would end up at the pool in our resort. With the epic combination of waves crashing on the beach in the background and lively music playing in the foreground, we would spend hours talking and sipping expensive tequila. At some point, I would inevitably end up in the water, floating on my back and gazing up at the indigo blanket of stars. It was magical.
After three or four days, my husband turned to me and said, “I really like Vacation Kel.”
“I like her too,” I responded.
This vacation version of me was relaxed. She laughed a lot. She danced in the kitchen and did handstands in the pool. She was playful and present. I began to wonder how I could bring her home with me.
Granted, Vacation Kel did not have any responsibility. She simply ate when she was hungry, drank when she wanted to, napped in the middle of the day, took long walks, and indulged in reading, lovemaking, and sunbathing.
Vacation Kel was free of commuting, chauffeuring teenagers, answering emails, washing mountains of laundry, and the never-ending to-do list which ran constantly through the forefront of her mind.
Still, I loved her energy and didn’t want to let her go. There must be a way to bring small elements of her into my daily life…
On the plane ride home, I continued to ponder and realized that the first thing to disappear as the wheels touched down upon the runway of reality was my ability to play. I very rarely engaged in an activity simply for the sake of joy.
Could I be so bold as to implement joy and playfulness into my daily routine?
The following weekend found me sitting not poolside but field-side, watching my boys play soccer. I love watching my kids express their athleticism, their comradery, and their leadership on the soccer pitch. And, as an added bonus, I absolutely adore the group of women who mother these young men. The “soccer girls” are hilarious, authentic, bad-ass females who talk about life and parenting, and who are always out for a good time. All of us are on the precipice of watching our teens grow into young adults and are experiencing the bittersweet realization that they will soon leave us. Thus, we are all at various stages of rediscovering who we are without our children.
One of the women announced that she had recently joined a soccer team and was loving the workout and the hilarity of chasing a ball down the field at her age.
“You should join!” she dared me.
“Yes! I’m in!” Impulse replied before logic caught up.
Have I ever played soccer before? No. Is that important when joining a soccer team? Likely.
Nonetheless, I went out the next day and bought myself a pair of bright pink soccer cleats. They brought me joy.
When I told my boys that I had joined a team, they were so proud of me! They immediately took me to the field for a training session so that “I wouldn’t embarrass myself.” Fair. In between sprints, burpees, drills, and positioning instructions, we laughed and laughed at my lack of talent.
That Sunday night, my forty-four year old self showed up to my very first soccer practice ever. Pushing aside doubt and nerves, I stepped out of my car into the pouring rain and ran to meet my team. Lacing up my bright pink cleats, I reminded myself of the reason I was there. No pressure. No ego. Just joy.
Over the next week, every time I felt my quads burn and my body ache, I smiled. The pain reminded me that I had chosen to do something silly, something playful. There was no responsibility involved, no intention other than to experience a new adventure and have fun.
Now, every Sunday night Vacation Kel comes out to play with her friends. The more she shows her joyful face, the more she seeks to integrate into daily life.
These days, on my morning runs, I sprint towards the invisible finish line, not only to strengthen my muscles, but to feel the sensation of going fast. When we were kids, we ran just to run. Not to exercise, to lose weight, to burn calories. Only for pure joy. In fact, I recently read a statistic that said, “95% of adults over the age of thirty will never sprint again in their lives.” * WHAT?! Will we also stop splashing in the pool, letting ice cream drip through our fingers, and rolling in the grass?
I don’t want to live that kind of life.
Now, I choose to crank up the volume when a nostalgic song comes on the radio. I make a point of taking a mid-workday dance break and I am teaching myself to play the guitar. Why? Because it’s freaking fun! Full stop.
Vacation Kel is changing my quality of life. I’m really glad I brought her home with me.
They say write what you know.
What if the only thing I know right now is how much I don’t know?
If we had to play the game of labelling seasons of life, my forties would be titled, “What the Fuck?”
My family, my lifestyle, my ambitions, my roles, my desires are changing in ways which keep me up at night wondering, “What's next?" Everything I thought to be steadfast and true in my thirties is unravelling like a spool of yarn as I enter my mid-forties.
I’ve spent the last two decades of my life hustling, working my ass off to build a beautiful life and epic professional reputation. I wanted the best and I wanted to be the best. I knew that my thirties were going to be a decade of being in the weeds—parenting small humans, scraping by financially, and failing at work/life balance. I was okay with all the sacrifice and sleepless nights because of my unwavering faith that it would all be worth it in the end.
I knew exactly where I was going and how I was going to get there.
From the time I was a wee babe in my twenties, I have always known the trajectory of my life—personally and professionally. First you land a boyfriend. Then you lock shit down with a ring. Marriage. House. Babies. Puppies. Happily, ever after.
Turns out, The Plan didn’t go as planned. I checked all those boxes but when it got to the “happily ever after” part, the house of cards I had built crumbled to the ground. I found myself broke, devastated, lonely, and starting over.
The saving grace was that I had a plan for my career. I even weathered some unexpected but exciting pivots and like a good ‘lil soldier, marched my way to the top of my profession. But after twenty years of hardcore hustle, I found myself freaking exhausted. Tired of the life I had worked so diligently to construct, one that left me too depleted to find any joy in what I had earned.
The Plan had let me down again.
Then, I did something stupid.
Scratch that. I did something brave.
Scratch that. I did something stupid and brave. “Strave”? (Note to self: Trademark new word.)
I quit it all and gave myself permission to throw away The Plan.
Once again, I am broke, devastated, lonely, and starting over. Life is funny like that.
I find myself in a season of life where I am without a plan, without direction, without an intention. In professional transition and with children who are almost grown and need me less.
I am a writer who isn’t writing.
A speaker who isn’t speaking.
A teacher who isn’t teaching.
A mother who isn’t actively mothering.
A wife who isn’t… Well, if the definition of “wife-ing” is feeding and fucking your husband, at least I am killing it in that department.
Aside from the resounding endorsement from my well-satisfied husband, I find myself pondering my purpose.
Who am I?
Who do I want to be?
What could my future look like?
How big can I dream?
Sitting in this purgatory is wildly uncomfortable but I am trying to do just that. Sit. As someone who has been obsessively inclined towards action my whole life, I am doing my best to be still and not rush blindly forward. I don’t know what comes next and instead of letting that admission crush me like a cockroach on the sidewalk, I am learning to embrace the unknown. It’s really fucking hard. Having faith in the seeds I’ve sown is not easy.
While there is so much that I don’t know, there are a few things I audaciously hold true:
I know that the professional trajectory I envisioned no longer suits me. I am done trading my time and mental health for money.
I know that even though my path isn’t well-lit (yet), I have spent decades cultivating skills and relationships which have the potential to serve my career, whatever that may be.
I know that I have diligently labored to raise self-assured, good human beings who will go forth to make their own mark on the world.
I know my boys will always love their mama.
I know that I want to see the world and embrace the discomfort of being immersed in various cultures, languages, and religions.
I know that in the past, taking risks has paid off exponentially.
I guess I do know a few things after all.
While some self-prophesizing asshole once said, “Hope is not a plan” I disagree. Right now, I only have hope. I hope for a future which is deeply fulfilling and this hope will inspire action when I am ready. I hope that one day (soon, please), I will wake up with clarity and assuredness. I hope that my “Hustling Thirties” and “WTF Forties” will pave the road for my “Fabulous Fifties.”
Come to think of it, “No-Fucks Fifties” is more on-brand for me. I hope for an era when I can live the life I want without fear of judgment or failure, where I’ve put in my time and deserve to live unapologetically.
In fact, I don’t hope that decade is coming. I know it.