7.9.18 A True Fan

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“It’s always compliments from people you love that mean so much.” Maria Bamford

Today I have the shortest, sweetest story. To drag it out would be to diminish it’s utter serendipity, and as I delight in fortuitous happenstances, I will tell it as it was. This lovely one is my sister. She is bright of eye, sharp with wit, generous in love and I have admired her forever. A sister through and through, she faithfully buys everything I am published in and reads every post, article, and poem I write. My mom, dad, sister, and husband generously fight over who is my “biggest fan,” and though I trust them with my life, I usually don’t believe a word of it.

That being said, the other day, my sister and I sat poolside, and she was thumbing through my newest Bella Grace summer edition magazine. She came across a spread of “65 Heart & Soul-Saving Reasons to Say No” in which writer’s responded to a Bella Grace’s prompt on Instagram. I’d not gone through that particular section yet, and she scanned and read the responses to herself, finally stopping on the third page of quotes to read me one that said, “Saying no is brave. It is an act of choosing ‘you’ when the world plays tug-of-war with your heart. Reclaim your right to what fills, not empties you.” Pointing to it before reading aloud, she burst out laughing.

“It was yours!” she bubbled. Sure enough, looking down, I saw that I had indeed written that post to Bella’s Instagram months before. “I guess now you’ll have to believe me when I say you really are my favorite writer,” she smiled.

I cannot tell you what that moment meant to me. If I could bottle it, I would, just to let the magic of my sister’s approval wash over me each time I opened the jar. She always says the right thing, but having her mistakenly identify a favorite quote and then find out it was mine!?! That was an authentic compliment I finally allowed myself to believe was real.

So my sweet sister, thank you from the bottom of this quote … our quote …

“I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).”  e.e.cummings

 

Love you forever, Elle

7.3.18 My Silence

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I often pride myself on being a non-judgmental person. The irony laden in that sentence is thick with implication. Since when, after all, has anyone with pride not been intimately acquainted with judgement? And it’s true come to think of it. If I’m being honest, which I might as well be … I judge people all the time. I know this because of how often I offer my advice and my opinions. I give them out for free like candy at a narcissistic parade. Whether or not it’s always warranted or asked for, I toss pieces of “wisdom” out freely, imagining the little sugar drops will somehow taste sweeter if wrapped in pretty words. But you know what? It’s supremely condescending. And I’m sorry.

While I think being a sound listener, offering words of kindness and support, and even opinions (when asked for) are all meant for good … I think that sometimes I just get so distracted by my own parade of thoughts … of what I would do, of what I would feel if I were in a situation, that I let my imagination take control of my mouth. And suddenly my standpoints, perspectives, and judgements are skewed by my own summation of what I imagine. NOT a very flattering realization of myself to say the least – but a necessary one, especially at this time of year. 

You see, I’m a pacifist to the core. I hate war. I hate hate. I hate that we are a part of a country that has a history rich with both … and yet, I love the freedom that I have to think, and speak, and act according to the will that was paid for by the lives of those who put themselves before themselves. One of my favorite people in the entire world is a man who fought in the Vietnam War. It is a war that I have a bitterness toward, yet one that I also know very little about. And there I sit, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-privilege, thirty-something self … full of opinions on a subject I barely understand … and there he sits … ex-soldier who has seen and done more than I will ever know – listening patiently to me as if I do. 

A day away from my favorite holiday of the year. Twenty-four hours from “God Bless America.” From red, white, and blue outfits that will look fantastic in a family photo. From food, and friends, and conversation that will carry me into the magic of fireworks that glisten and linger in the heavens. And how many times have I forgotten to think of what all this nostalgic safety cost? A much lower number would be how many times I’ve actually remembered. 

I don’t say this to dampen the spirits of our precious celebrations. It’s the opposite really. I’m apologizing, because I realize that so much of what I value as a citizen of the United States, come from realities I could never have afforded on my own. No amount of good will I’ve done, of nice things I’ve said, of opinions I’ve shared, or viewpoints I’ve held will do even a fraction for the lives of this nation, as the silent men and women behind the scenes who make sure daily that I am able to maintain a sense of freedom I don’t deserve. You see, it’s easy to offer advice on something you’ve never experienced, because don’t we all have just the grandest imaginations to think we know one another’s pain? 

Well today, to honor the men and women of every branch of our services, I offer you my greatest admission – I do not know how you feel. I do not know what you go through. I can’t imagine the things you have seen, the places you’ve been, or the sacrifices you consistently make for strangers. I do not know the sense of integrity that runs through your core. I do not pretend to have even an ounce of the bravery you bleed. I cannot know the heart, the mind, or the spirit that overwhelms your being just in being you. 

Today I have no advice. No opinions. I offer no viewpoints. No outlook. No stance. I simply, humbly breathe in this Fourth of July with gratitude for all that you are. God bless America’s hands, and feet … from the first soldier to the last – your debt of time, of protection, and of selfless courage inspire me to the highest act of praise I can give … my silence. 

Elle 

6.26.18 Broken Angels

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“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” Michael J. Fox

Today I had the privilege of meeting a fresh from heaven darling for the first time – the beautiful daughter of my sweet friend, only two-days-old. I was immediately drawn into every detail of the encounter and tried to memorize the feeling of just being in the presence of this special moment. I took in every thread of their growing tapestry … from the way her daddy smiled a new smile, seemingly reserved just for her, to the way her toddler sister bragged about her new baby, to the precious handful of nicknames her mommy designated with each tender cuddle or kiss. It was holy, this love. It was pure. It was family in the way family should be. She was an angel born into a home that adored her. How I wish this was always the case.

A few weeks ago, I experienced quite the opposite. I was in a restaurant with my mom on a trip. I had just come off of an interview for a piece I was writing and I couldn’t wait to tell her every detail. But just as we both got our waters, a family was seated at the table behind us, and my concentration to the conversation was shattered for the next forty minutes. The family of five was soon to be six, as evidenced by a supremely uncomfortable and exhausted looking wife. She had dark rings under her eyes and did not smile once in the entirety of their visit. I’m not sure why she would however, as her husband was constantly berating the three kids whose ages ranged roughly between two and six. Between arguing about the expense of things, to nitpicking the way the oldest son was eating, to refusing to get his child a refilled drink, to displaying annoyance at having to cut food into pieces, or push up sleeves, or pick up a fork that fell … it literally hurt to witness such distain, such anger.

I kept losing my place in conversation and had to apologize to my mom over and over again for my distraction. She understood of course – the whole restaurant did at that point. My stomach turned in knots as I wrestled with determining what bothered me more … the fact that the three small children barely looked up from their plates out of fear, or the fact that another young life was being born into this already love-starved family. And as simple as it sounds to state it – I was so mad! I was so angry at the absolute disrespect this man had for the lives he brought into this world, and at the woman who not only allowed him to speak with such force, but then reinforced his words with her own jabs of disappointment and criticism at the children.

I hate doing nothing. I loathe when people say, “It’s not my concern,” because it’s just NOT true. Statements of copping out due to social graces are a weak excuse for doing the right thing. Being humane is everyone’s concern. Being kind is within everyone’s capability. After having taught for the past fourteen years, can you guess which type of family I see more of? Can you imagine why I might desperately wish to adopt so many of the past students I’ve taught? Do you understand why I spent as much time nurturing their emotional health as their educational growth? Because by the time so many of these middle school children reached me they were broken angels … and I had to wonder how long it had been since they had someone absolutely adore them. If ever.

Before leaving the restaurant that day, I stopped at that family’s table and took a moment to gush over the kids. I said how well behaved they were. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes. I chatted about how I bet they were so excited to be great helpers to their parents with the new baby and how lucky their mom and dad were to have them. They looked up. They smiled and sat up a little straighter. And that was it. It was nothing … but it was everything I could do within that moment not to cry – not to yell, “How dare you,” to a complacent set of parents who didn’t realize the triple blessing before them. Hearts, after all, only turn hard to protect what once craved the love they weren’t given.

As for tonight … I am going to focus on this morning. I have to. I am going to see the sunlight that filtered into a room littered with new baby toys, with big sister joys, and with a mom and dad overflowing with tired exhilaration at the fact that their hearts just multiplied the amount of love they thought they could hold. I am going to imagine tiny, perfect breaths, rosebud lips, twitchy smiles brought on by invisible memories of heaven. And I am going to do my best to dream the impossible dream, that every child will be loved the way they deserve to be loved, appreciated for the miracle they really are, and found before they are ever lost.

Love fiercely, protect just the same … whether they are yours, or not.

Elle

6.18.18 So, So Glad That We Did

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“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
― Jane Austen

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Friendship is the place for absolutely

for let’s do this,

let’s try that,

and I can’t believe we actually did.

Friendship is for

did he really just say that?

she didn’t –

and for are you serious right now?

Friendship is never saying no to a weekend –

a dinner

a drink

a dessert

or a midnight snack.

Friendship is the comfort to have uncomfortable conversations,

it is the assurance that no topic is unapproachable,

it is the reality that you’re never too far from one another’s truth.

Friendship is the belly-aching laughter you cannot contain …

the giggle you can’t suppress …

the middle-of-a-memory snapshot you’re forming every minute that you’re together.

Friendship is the ability to let time pass without offense,

without guilt,

without the need for recompense.

It is ageless … a mural drawn in portion each time you’re together –

a story

lengthening like an epic,

yet steady in its delightful character choices.

Friendship is never allowing one moment to be stale,

cliche,

or tired.

It is always new, learning pieces and parts,

bits and actualities that ever clarify the reasons you chose one another.

Friendship is the place for without a doubt,

for let’s do this again,

let’s try that next time,

and I am SO, so glad that we did.

 

Go love your friends, RIGHT NOW!

Elle

6.11.18 Three Words Seem

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It wasn’t love at first sight

it couldn’t be

because your heart wasn’t free 

But you saw me

and in seeing me

somehow

knew

that later …

that someday –

someday might be ours

Within the turn of three moons

within the shifting of stars

the constellations hung bright

over a gated garden

Filled to the brim with silent secrets 

exposed

You kissed me then,

but someday

still didn’t belong to us

A walk in the forest later

safely tucked beneath shadowed branches

atop a bed of leaves let down to soften our footfalls

truths were exchanged …

scars were bared …

and we gave one another the gifts of our darkness,

In doing so, who could have known

that touching the broken places

illuminated the light 

that always tried to surface beneath the cracks

That was my someday –

you became my someone

My anxious fingers trailed over white lace,

waiting to be stilled in yours

waiting to carry the new weight of a promise

sealed with a ring 

and a kiss

and a covenant

I promised

and I meant it

We have had many seasons since,

our trips around the sun have bathed us in both shelter and storm

Some adventures are met with bravery and joyful defiance

others are met on our knees

but we face them with a legacy that sustains us

On our worst days you ask me if I’d prefer it were someone else

and heart full of frustration 

I am crestfallen

Because always, 

even then, 

even there, 

even when we are surrounded with ashes and maybes …

You are my person

and this is our someday – however raw and real it may be –

and I am yours

There are two sets of eyes that blink back at us now

setting our hearts and minds ablaze with glimpses of the future

And regardless of reflected personalities –

the set of his jaw,

the line of her brow,

they are the multiplication of us …

twice the benediction of grace 

the result of passion personified

In them – you made me 

a whole new rendering of what I used to be

How can I thank you enough for that gift?

The capacity of being more through you and with you

than I could have become a thousand times over alone

I cannot ever

adequately describe how light 

three

words 

seem

When I need them to carry the weight of the world

my world –

you

So while it wasn’t love at first sight

because time didn’t belong to us 

yet

You will forever be my

love in foresight

owing to the fact that all my tomorrows 

in this life

and any someday’s beyond …

belong to you

6.1.18 The Last Time

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“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go – and then do it.” Ann Landers

So tomorrow is the last day of my son’s fifth grade year. This is monumental for many reasons, but the greatest of which is because he has been in my class all year. Let me begin by saying with emphatic resonance that I WOULD NEVER, EVER CHOOSE THIS. It was supremely difficult for numerous reasons I’m sure you can imagine, but mostly because I was paranoid for a YEAR that I was going to screw him up (even more than the poor kid is already likely to be with having me for a mother).

Imagine having your mom see you in your most formative time of social development on a daily basis. Imagine her seeing the way you interacted with friends, with less-than-friends, with girls! Half of the year I just wanted to close my eyes to give the poor kid some privacy and the other half I wanted to give him a, “What do you think you’re doing” death stare. Either way – it is supremely unfair. I was way harder on him than I’ve ever been with anyone else in my fourteen years of teaching. And I was way harder on me too.

But somehow, after all the prayers, and the tears, and the what if’s … I’m sad that tomorrow is it. I’ll be honest … my son is amazing. His nickname from day one was Mr. Handsome Face. He gave me hugs whenever I asked for them and even sometimes when I didn’t. He forgave me a million times for embarrassing him. He told me he’s learned more this year than ever before … me too.

I learned that this boy is courage personified.

I learned that this boy has integrity, just like his daddy.

I learned that this boy does know when to fight for what’s right, he does defend the weak, and he does put the needs of others before himself … even when mom “isn’t” watching.

I learned that this boy isn’t afraid of asking why history had to be that way, and if there’s really a chance we won’t need to repeat it.

I learned that this boy internalizes way more than I thought he did, that he most definitely cares what mommy and daddy think, and has more stress to live up to an invisible standard than I gave his little heart credit for.

I learned that this boy deserves my respect, my defense, and always, my love.

I learned a lot in fifth grade.

Sometimes I look back at pictures when he was nothing but a bundle of gurgling smiles. Other times I can’t bear it because it hurts too much to think about the times I might’ve missed a “last time” without even noticing. When was the last time I lifted him into the sky for an “airplane ride” at my feet? When was the last time I played pirates in a bubble bath? When was the last time I tucked tooth fairy money under his pillow when he still believed? When was the last time I rocked him to sleep?

Did I know it was the last time?

Did I even realize it was close?

Or was I too busy DOING motherhood instead of BEING his mommy?

Well … tomorrow is a “last time.” I can’t miss it even if I tried. Tomorrow is the last time my son will raise his hand to talk to me in class. It is the last time he’ll give me a mischievous grin across the rows of desks at some private joke only we understand. It is the last time I’ll have a son in elementary school. It is the last time I’ll be afraid that “Mrs. Harris” didn’t measure up to mommy and vice versa.

I always struggle with the end of the year – with students moving on, and beyond the memories we’ve formed toward those awaiting. I hate goodbyes. And it is surreal that somehow, though I’ll take him home with me in the afternoon … I think it is my son … this beautiful fifth grade boy … that I will miss the most – for the last time.

My heart hurts a little – okay a lot.

Elle

5.23.18 Brave

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I want to be brave 

because 

I so 

admire 

the way it looks on other people

There are times in my life that I thought I was … 

but looking back –

the reflection of those memories seem much closer to 

seeking adventure

than requiring bravery in its truest form

which is – Necessity

Brave isn’t a character trait, 

it’s a state-of-being

and the bravest people I know don’t get credit for life

they just live it

So to:

The under-appreciated, marginalized, minorities in society

The citizens of nations who didn’t choose to be born unblessed by geographic happenstance 

The ill of body or mind in a world that makes you feel disposable for being “un-perfect” 

The overstressed, single parents who didn’t ask to do it alone

The children who’ve become accustomed to seeing themselves as an interference

To me? 

You  

are 

the 

brave 

ones. 

And I’m sorry. 

I’m so sorry that every day you don’t have a choice

but to be brave.

This wasn’t the way the world was supposed to welcome you

This wasn’t the life to which you were intended …

Precious little though these words might do

I want you to know

that I recognize the weight of your armor 

and when I see your tired faces

weary with

expectations

insinuations

and constant

degradations

I wish I could 

be 

more

So that I could 

do 

more

for you.

But I’m just me

and I’m not brave

because life never trained me

on battlegrounds like yours

Still, I want you to know

I see

I care

And the one thing I can offer – the truth?

God didn’t plan this part

In no cosmic design were you ever meant to be

less

than the children of divinity 

you are

Your purpose has a place 

and the cartographer of the stars in the heavens Himself

has charted the course of destiny you were meant for

But we are fallen

and life

is acutely unfair

I still want to be brave 

because 

I so 

admire 

the way it looks on other people

I’m just sorry

that wearing brave

was never a choice

you were given to make

 

Always,

Elle

5.17.18 Pack Your Own Sunshine

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This week I was inspired by my friend, author Bibi Belford. This past year she published another children’s book called, Crossing the Line. It is a fantastic novel about race relations in Chicago post World War I, and the courage it takes to “cross the line” between what is right, and what is easy. And while I encourage you all to read it for its fabulous themes, rich historical context, and the ethical challenges it sparks – this was not why I was inspired by Bibi. 

Next week she is traveling to my school to do a speech for my students, because this week … tonight in fact … she will be receiving the 2018 Christopher Award in literature. This amazing award is founded upon the ambition to, “Make a positive difference in the world by the use of their God given talent.”  The ceremony is in New York, only I just found out, Bibi will now, not be able to attend. This morning, due to inclement weather and a litany of flight cancellations and no potential standbys … she cannot get there in time. My heart literally broke for her. Here is the opportunity of a lifetime, and because of something as mundane as weather, she cannot be a part of her moment. 

After receiving her email, I replied immediately, and this is what she said, “ … It’s alright. Never know what disaster we’ve been blessed to miss …” I was shocked. Awed. Impressed. Humbled. Honored to know her. Honored to call her my friend. So often, the smallest of inconveniences can seem to sway my day, and in an instant I’m whirling like a tropical storm. Here, in the midst of a true storm, in the face of utter chaos, Bibi chose to see what she had, instead of what she was missing. It is no wonder this amazing woman won an award dedicated to morality and strength of character. If you care about education, inspiration, positive social change, or a dose of positivism, I challenge you to follow her on Instagram @authorbibibelford or Twitter @BarbaraBelford or even Facebook as Bibi Belford. She is worth associating yourself with, I promise!

Bibi reminded me that in the trip of life, we need to pack our own sunshine. So this is my little digital suitcase … a list of instant “happiness” I can always count on to brighten my situation. 

Elle’s Insta-Mood Lifters

  • Nutella (just a spoon … no cracker or bread necessary or desired)
  • Romantic Comedies (I may or may not rewind the cutest kissing scenes like a thousand times … I love the fluttery feeling of love)
  • Peanut Butter (again … just a spoon … why tamper with perfection)
  • Calling My Sister, Mother, Cousin, Girl Best Friend, Guy Best Friend, Mother-In-Law, Sisters-In-Law, Kindred Spirits (there is nothing these individuals wouldn’t do for me, and don’t already just by existing; I love you all so much)
  • Books (old books, new books, haphazard stacks of books, books in rows, books on shelves, books for kids, books of art, books, books, books – did I say books?)
  • Rereading Old Letters (yep … I kept all the good ones, I don’t believe in burning a memory, even if it didn’t last)
  • Baby Pictures of My Babies (there is nothing like the remembrance of knowing the bubbly froth of giggles you inspired once upon a time)
  • Pizza (because yeah … enough said) 
  • Daydreaming About My and My Husband’s First Kiss (it was epic … best kiss of my life, so good I had to marry him) 

There are about a hundred more go-to’s, but these are my first string for a dose of sunshine. I pray that you are always able to pack your own light. Find the joy in every day, even if you need to use a flashlight between the cracks and fissures of chaos. I pray, that like Bibi, you’re able to hold on to your perspective, even when the world tries to warp it. 

Tell me how you keep your mood alight. What is your number one strategy to insta-boost your mood. 

All my love,
Elle 

5.9.18 Out Once More

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins

Two weeks ago the unthinkable happened … the young daughter of some friends of ours passed away after battling cancer for a year. I thought I was prepared for the funeral, after all, I’ve been to my fair share of them – I wasn’t. Though funerals were literally something I grew up with, I’ve only been to one other child’s funeral, and they were equally, agonizingly, heartbreaking – both for seven-year-old girls.

I don’t have words really, to describe how it feels to see their parents … it is surreally painful because instantly I’m forced to imagine myself in their place – and I am lost. So although I have no right to even pretend to know how it really feels, this poem is what came out of my emotions. All my love, all my prayers, casting hope to anyone who understands this pain. All my love to anyone who lost anyone whose lost life matters to them as much as their own. I so desperately wish this void was not a burden you must carry. We were not intended for separation. God knows … this is not the end.

Elle

Out Once More

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

I think that it’s “returning to normal” that I find the most offensive.

Things like …

casual conversation

filled with, “How are you?” and other equally unpleasant

pleasantries.

In those moments I feel every too-quick heartbeat

and it seems supernaturally unfair that involuntary responses

are not, in fact, involuntary –

because I literally need to remind myself to breathe …

to release.

Sometimes I can’t stand the sun’s arrogance – that it has the audacity to rise when I,

when she

no longer can.

And it hurts in places I can only describe as

the absence

the empty

the lost.

And I cry with a voice I don’t recognize as my own,

because “we” no longer are …

and I can’t remember how to find who I was

before.

Returning to a “normal” place in this life is somewhere I can’t find.

And so it seems I’m chasing a new normal –

something I’m seeking but am not sure I’ll be able to recognize

being in the state-of-being that I am,

or am not.

But even now,

even here

in this

in-between …

I can’t bring myself to hate the world,

because she loved it …

and I can’t hate my life,

because she was a part of it –

and as I live on

in some way

so does she.

It’s not in the way that I hoped for,

but she believed in hope,

and so must I.

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.