Goat Rodeo: about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it. http://www.urbandictionary.com

Most mornings with Kiko feel like I’m at a Goat Rodeo. Today was no exception and unfortunately, no one walked away from it completely unscathed. She stormed out of the house to wait in the misty rain for her carpool; I went to check my computer. This is what I saw on Facebook:

Oh, if I had only known! But wait a minute. I did know. Though I hadn’t seen her midnight post (I go to bed around ten), I could tell from the moment she woke up that today was not a good day. It was her father who didn’t know and who brought this morning to such an unhappy conclusion.

Kiko has never been a morning person; adolescence has done nothing to improve the situation. The challenging curriculum at her all-girls prep school has only made it worse. She does homework until eleven or so and then takes an hour or two to unwind. Her alarm goes off (for the first of several times) at 6:30 AM.

Though I am a morning person, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. I speak to her minimally. I am helpful when possible. I appreciate her good mornings, using those days to sneak in an extra hug, or kiss and chat about life. On bad days, I avoid her. I pack her lunch, pat her on the head and try to never, under any circumstances, overreact to her snide comments, deep sighs and tragicomical complaints.

Tim has no such compunction. I don’t know what got into him this morning, but as Keara lay on the couch, soaking up her last moments in a horizontal position before the incessant verticality of her day, he would not leave her alone. As the youngest child in his family, his internal switch is permanently set to “tease.” As the father in this home, he has a reasonable expectation for respect and response. While neither of these things are bad in and of themselves, (I appreciate them most of the time), they are not great in combination with an overly tired, teenage girl. I didn’t hear the details of their exchange, but he made one crack after another, which she either ignored, or “cracked” back, until she stormed out of the house.

Exasperated, I looked at him and he said, “I don’t know how you don’t engage when she is acting like that.” I started straightening couch cushions. “Don’t you think she’s being unreasonable?” I folded throw blankets. “Seriously, when someone is being such a donkey, how do you not try to get them to stop?” I began to rearrange the trinkets on the entryway table. He finally got it. “Oh, you do it just like you are doing it to me right now,” he said as he turned and stalked up the stairs.

Ugh. He caught me and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was frustrated at him for messing with Kiko, but I didn’t have to ignore him as if he were a cranky, petulant teen. I could have engaged in conversation with him about his concerns. I could have empathized with his pain and his desire to connect with her. I could have recognized that he only wanted to be a good dad, to make her laugh, to start her day on a better note.

But instead of acknowledging any of that, I was smug and if there is one thing I hate being, that’s it. Cathleen Falsani wrote one of my favorite blogs of 2012, called “Deliver Us From Smugness.” If you have time, you should read the whole thing, but one line in particular has stayed with me on an almost daily basis. She writes,

“The opposite of love is smug.”

She goes on to explain that “To be smug is to be excessively proud of your achievements and successes. Conceited. Arrogant. Complacently self-satisfied.”

This morning I was smug with the man I love. I was excessively proud of how I wrangle the Goat Rodeo that is Kiko and her morning routine, instead of humbly grateful that I have crashed and burned enough times to know when and how to walk away.

So Tim, I hope you’ll forgive my smugness. It is the opposite of Love and Love is the one thing I want to be, every day, in every way possible.


As per our family agreement, this blog was read and approved by both parties involved in this morning’s Goat Rodeo. 

Just as I was sitting down to write this blog, I happened to check Facebook and find a post by one of my favorite bloggers in the world, Glennon Melton, and I almost stopped writing RIGHT THERE, as in RIGHT NOW, as in FOREVER, because Glennon has a way of writing that makes me think, “Why do I even bother? Glennon says everything I want to say, but she says it so much better!” Now, if you go to Glennon’s post from today, you might possibly wonder why I would want to say that and today, I don’t, but there are lots of other times when she does, like here and here.

But then I remembered something that Glennon said last month as she was reading a book by Cheryl Strayed,

Dear God, she’s amazing. And I felt myself start to panic a little. OH MY GOD. SHE’S SAYING ALL THE THINGS I WANT TO SAY, BUT BETTER.  I actually thought about CLOSING her book and NOT reading anymore because my heart was panicking and shriveling a bit.

Sometimes, that’s honestly how I feel when I read Glennon, or Anne Lamott, or Paula D’Arcy, but then they go on and on about grace and abundance and then I breathe deeply, and then G (the Big G upstairs) reminds me that I am enough and that I believe in Love and then I can finally try to write again.

So I’m back and ready to tell you a story about my weekend.

It was a hot weekend here in San Diego, like hot hot, like “Texas-hot,” as my kids like to say. They’ve only been there a handful of times, but boy, do they remember. We are also in the midst of soccer season, which means our family had four games in two days. Tim is the manager of The Lad’s team, so we got to set up goals once, take down goals twice, pay the refs, and turn in the scores. Along with all the other parents, we also got to cheer on the sidelines.

Those sidelines were a mass of brightly-colored umbrellas, beach chairs, water bottles and spray fans. There were canopies and sunshades and baseball hats – anything and everything that could provide some relief for the humanity that was slow-roasting in the heat. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “Surely, there is a blog in here somewhere.” And so I looked around to see what I could see.

I saw kids, and I saw parents. I saw players running, kicking and heading. I saw goalies diving, missing, and saving. I saw coaches coaching, cheering and scolding. I saw it all, but nothing that you wouldn’t expect on any given “Soccer Saturday in the Suburbs,” as Tim likes to call it.

So I kept watching Finn’s game, until I was distracted by a commotion happening behind my chair.

As you can imagine, making shade on a weekend like this is serious business. The fans want to be comfortable, but we also want to provide some protection for our players as well. I’m not talking about the players on the field, who were out competing in the sun; I’m talking about the guys on the sidelines, the subs who were resting up to get into, or back into the game.

These 13 and 14 year old young men WOULD NOT STAY IN THE SHADE and it was comical to watch the parents do everything they could to make them, without actually making them.

When the boys were smaller, keeping them in the shade was an easy thing to do. Someone would bring a pop-up tent and someone else would bring a blanket and the team mom would tell them to sit on it and they would. Job done. But as they got older, they wanted to be up on their feet, standing by their coach, or sitting on a chair, and our job got a little harder, but we could shoo them back under the canopy and there they would stay.

But now these boys are young men and we can’t shoo them anywhere. They stand where they want to stand, where their coach asks them, tells them, or allows them to stand. It is no longer our place to tell them where to stay anymore. Their autonomy certainly doesn’t keep us from wanting to protect, however and that is where it gets comical. Each time the subs would move, a parent would move an umbrella with them. It is no easy task to get an umbrella stake into hard-packed dirt, so a mom, or dad would spend a couple minutes twisting, stomping and pushing the sun-protection into the ground. The players would stay put for about 30 seconds and then move on. Parents would wait a minute or two, hoping the players would realize their mistake and come back to the shade. They rarely did, but if they came back, it was instinctively, or by accident, never by conscious choice. Eventually, another parent would jump up and move the umbrella to the new spot and get it settled and then the boys would move on again. This went on for a good 30 minutes, or so before we finally just gave up and followed them up and down the field, like little rajas, holding the shade over them, because really, WE JUST COULDN’T LET GO.

This was the life lesson I was waiting for.

As parents, we want to protect our children. When they’re small, we know what’s best for them, and we can provide it, whether it’s shade on the soccer field, or restrictions on the television. We put a jacket on them when it’s cold, and sunscreen when it’s hot. But as they get older, we think we know what’s best for them and we struggle to provide it, whether they want it or not. The older they get, the more often they are going to step out of the shade we provide. We can twist and push and stomp all we want, but that doesn’t mean they are going to stay put. Our wisdom and support only serve a purpose when our children choose to stand under it.

I cannot follow my almost-grown children up and down the sidelines of their lives, trying to “protect” them from every element that might sap their strength, or burn them a little bit. (Thank goodness I still have Molly to shoo back under the canopy.) Keara and Finn need to be able to move freely, mix it up, and hear what’s happening on the field. They don’t need to be hampered by their well-intentioned mother, telling them to back up, sit down and take it easy. Champions are made in the full light of sun and I need to be brave enough to let them take their place in it.

P.S. We saw a lot of soccer this weekend and a lot of parents, who took great pains to keep their children cool and hydrated on a hot day. Kudos to you. I am not speaking of any one team, or parent. The only parent I am calling out is myself!

There are not many programs on television that I like to watch and even fewer that I’ll watch with my children. With a wide range of interests and maturity levels, finding common ground is difficult, but there is one program we never miss: Project Runway.

(If you aren’t familiar with the show, you can check it out here, but it’s basically a cross between Survivor and American Idol for up-and-coming fashion designers.)

My mother has always been a little concerned about our Project Runway viewing. To her dismay, it’s inspired Keara, her eldest granddaughter, to dream of a career in fashion. To her dismay, her eldest grandson, Finn, has watched it religiously since he was 6 years old, (To be honest, at 13, Finn has backed away from claiming it’s one of his favorite shows.) To her great dismay, little Molly does killer imitations of any and all of the most flamboyant contestants.

My mother has had all this dismay and has never once seen the show. She just saw the impact it had on our family culture and wasn’t so keen on it. And then, Season 10 began and somehow my mother saw it and then the real dismay began. She couldn’t believe I let my children watch. It was chaotic and cruel and the people were crazy and no one was nice. What in the world was I thinking? (Tim has given up asking that question, but he thinks it all the time as well. He is not a fan of Project Runway.)

But Episode 3 of this season gave me the perfect way to explain “what I’m thinking” by allowing my kids to watch the show.

In that week’s challenge, designers were randomly paired up to create a red carpet, runway ‘look.’ Enter Elena and Buffy, two of the most unlikely partners you will ever find. Elena is angry and high-strung. Buffy is a friendly, jovial sort. Elena wears her dark hair in severe French braids and scowls at the camera, while Buffy flashes one smile after another. Buffy even has pink hair, accented with a multi-colored, cheetah patch shaved into the side. Elena designs would fit in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo collection. Buffy could design for the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun boutique.

Their time together went about as well as you can imagine, with Elena bossing, criticizing, and sniping at her partner and Buffy keeping her head down, too afraid to say anything for fear of having her head bitten off. As I watched it with Molly, I thought how we might cover the basic Project Runway Life Lessons – again.

What kind of person do you want to be? A nice one.

How should you treat people? With respect.

Who do we root for? The good guy with the most talent, of course.

Those are the standard conversations Project Runway delivers to our home on a weekly basis.

But then it happened, that little moment where a whole new conversation unfolds.

In a cutaway interview, Elena defended her actions,

“Being from where I am, you need a toughness to survive. If you go to Ukraine, no one is going to say please and thank you and blah, blah, blah. To just survive and eat every day, people really have to hustle. You have to be very strong. The weak ones don’t survive.”

Suddenly her strident behavior made sense. She comes from a place of scarcity and even though she has lived in the States for almost 20 years, the fear of not having enough has never subsided. I imagine that fear gives rise to the aggression and arrogance that Elena displays, not just toward Buffy, but also toward everyone on the show, from contestants to judges to the grandfatherly host.

I recently read a passage from a book and I immediately thought of Elena. The author said, “Where does arrogance come from? The answer, I think, is fear. The more insecure I feel, the more arrogant I tend to become and the most arrogant people I know are also the most insecure. The arrogant ego… is fearful of losing its status if it loses the battle at hand.” In a world of scarcity, to lose a single battle is to risk losing everything.

In contrast to Elena, it’s clear that Buffy comes from a place of abundance, a place where it’s easy to say “Please” and “Thank you” and wait your turn, because there is always enough. (We thought she was from England, but it turns out she was raised in Dubai.) When you are assured of your place in life and in line, you can sacrifice your ego once in a while for the sake of peace and the well-being of the other. You know there is always another opportunity around the corner.

After Elena’s comments, I paused the show and Molly and I talked about scarcity and abundance, about communism and capitalism, and about how our childhood experiences shape us. Was Elena really talking just about food? What else might have been scarce? Maybe kindness and compassion, love, or respect? Even if they were present in her home life, they obviously weren’t abundant in her culture. To this day, their lack affects her perception of the world and therefore the audience’s perception of her.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that Elena is currently listed as the “Fan Favorite” on the official website by a wide margin. What does that say about the typical viewer of the show? Nothing good I’m afraid, but clearly, we are not the typical viewer. Buffy is Molly’s favorite contestant and I asked her to think about what Buffy had in abundance as a child. Probably everything, we agreed. When you think of Buffy as a girl, you think of art supplies, dance lessons, and face painting, but Molly thought she probably had lots of love and patience, hugs and kisses too and maybe even a really funny dad. When you have an abundance of joy, it’s easy to share with others. I guess the same goes for pain too.

Molly and I wrapped up our “talking timeout” by naming some of the “abundance” people we know and how much we enjoy their company, but we also thought about the “Elenas” in our life, who might need a little more empathy the next time we encounter them on the playground, or in life. Scarcity is no fun and it’s scars run deep.

I never imagined I would be having this conversation with my 10 year old on a Saturday morning, but that’s the magic of Project Runway. Under the guise of fun and fashion, it allows me to talk with my kids about everything from politics to economics, morality to spirituality. You aren’t going to get that in 60-minutes or less anywhere else.


Without a doubt, the most important part of my day is the early morning. I set my alarm to wake me up well before anyone else, usually while it is still dark out. Thanks to the timer, I have a freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for me. I get cozy on the couch, the easy chair, or if it’s summertime, on a chaise lounge in the back yard. And once I am settled, I close my eyes, breathe deeply and begin to pray. I might meditate on the words of a master, on yesterday’s highs and lows, or on this day’s hopes and fears. I try to gather wisdom from the universe about who I am, my place and purpose in this world. All this happens on a good day.

A not-so-good-day might begin with any one of these.

I forget to make the coffee. I oversleep and only have a few minutes to pray, before the school lunches have to be made. I have two glasses of wine the night before, instead of one, and wake up with a headache and cottonmouth. I neglect to put on a bathrobe when I get out of bed and spend my time shivering in a fetal position, completely unable to concentrate on any cosmic thoughts at all. Sometimes, my peaceful morning ritual is a comedy of errors.

One recent morning, I tiptoed downstairs and my youngest child greeted me in the hallway, sleepy-eyed and crabby. This particular phenomenon happens with some regularity and when it does, it is not likely that my morning ritual will proceed as I want it to. Sometimes I can successfully distract her with an early morning television show, or a bowl of cereal and a request to please let mom have her little bit of morning quiet time. But then, she is occupying the only unoccupied room in the house, besides the bathrooms. Meditating with a hot cup of coffee on the closed lid of a toilet is not an ideal situation, but that may just be me.

Most of the time, she wants to curl up in my lap and ‘pray with me,’ which sounds so much sweeter than it is. That girl can’t sit still for a minute, and her capacity for silence is even less impressive. So when I found her standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me, I tried to suppress my internal groan. I offered her the usual distractions, which she quickly declined and instead curled up next to me on the couch. We spilled my coffee on our laps; we changed positions six times and we exchanged more words in those 60 seconds than I usually speak in the first two hours I am awake on any given day. I finally got frustrated and stalked back upstairs, leaving her sitting forlornly on the couch. I sat on the edge of my bed and whined to myself about missing my peace, quiet and meditation. However, after that kind of performance, I knew that the only thing the universe was going to tell me was to get back downstairs, apologize to my daughter and love on her. So, I went, albeit grudgingly and sheepishly at the same time, if that’s possible.

Molly feels things deeply, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was immediately forgiven and within seconds, I felt little tears on my chest as she told me why she was up early. She’d had a bad dream and some things had happened yesterday that she didn’t like, so she didn’t want to go to school today. Although I heard a jumbled, early-morning version of what happened, the bottom line is that she doesn’t like it when she comes up short in any area, academics, sports, or clubs. She is constantly comparing herself to her peers, and wanting to make sure that she measures up. This is not a burden we’ve put on her. It’s a burden we’ve been trying to take off her since she started elementary school.

So I held her close to my heart for a moment and then I pushed her away and asked her to look in my eyes. I told her that she only has to be the best Molly she can be on any given day – not the best anything else – not the best anybody else. She doesn’t even have to be the best she has ever been. She simply has to be her best for this day.

As I said those words to her, still carrying the guilt of my bad behavior 5 minutes before, I thought, “What a mantra for all of us. I only have to be the best me I can be this day.”  It doesn’t matter if I am being a mom, or wife, daughter, or friend, employee, or employer. Whatever the world asks of me each day – that is all I can do. When I hold this mantra in my mind, I can pause when I see myself being less than my best, and try to adjust, just like I did after I stomped upstairs and abandoned my sad, little girl.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my best is really pretty stinky. But still, if that’s the best I can do this day, really stink it up, then so be it. Occasionally, I hope I can pause to see the way I am behaving, and ask myself, “Is that really the best you’ve got?” The more often I do it, the more I see the truth that I choose how I react to my circumstances and that if I don’t choose rightly the first time, I can always go back and make amends. And truth be told, I spend a lot of time making amends. I may not always apologize, but there are always opportunities to repair what has been damaged, and heal what has been hurt when I have not been my best self.

And after I got my kids to school that day and the house was empty, there was plenty of time to recover the peace and quiet that had been lost to my early morning companion and I knew that nothing of value had been lost. The universe had spoken to me after all.

I sat down this morning to write an apology email to my husband. I had been a little cranky last night and I still hadn’t shaken the vestiges of my bad attitude by this morning. Apologizing is a habit that Tim and I have cultivated over the 18 long (and happy) years that we’ve been married. When one of us gets a little chippy with the other, or takes a cheap shot, we try to make amends as soon as we are capable of getting a hold of ourselves and putting our best (or at least better) foot forward.

The invention of email has really smoothed the process along for two reasons.

Number 1: We don’t actually have to make the apology verbally.

How many times have you attempted to say sorry, only to have your bad behavior spelled out for you all over again, along with a complete list of all the ways your poor choices affected and offended the person to whom you were apologizing? Verbal apologies can lead to bigger fights if we start defending ourselves, and/or our (mis)behavior again. Email apologies allow my husband and I to adequately express our remorse, our understanding of the ways our choices negatively affected the person we love, and our promise to do better. These email apologies work best when there is also a promise of a physical reconciliation later that day, preferably after the kids go to bed.

Number 2: Email apologies sent during the workday stop the cycle of anger and frustration before we bring it back home.

If I can bring myself to apologize (and mean it, of course) before we begin our commute home, I know our evening is going to go better. I know that he will walk in the door and say, “Thanks for the email,” or greet me with a hug and a kiss to show that we are ‘okay.’ We might still need to talk about our disagreement, but it takes the edge off our nightly routine. When we have failed to at least throw out an opening salvo of reconciliation, then the minute we walk through that door, there is tension. It might manifest itself in a hundred small ways, before we finally get to hash it out upstairs after the dishes and homework are done. The evening meal, the highlight of most of my days, is ruined for me and there is no doubt that the kids notice the lack of joy and casual, easy banter that is normally a hallmark of our table.

So what does all this have to do with Eckhart Tolle’s The Good Earth and Jeff Kinney’s The Diary of a Wimpy Kid? That’s a good question, so here you go…

In The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there is something known as the dreaded “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” originated from a disgusting piece of dairy that had gotten left on the blacktop for far too long. At one point, someone had touched the piece of cheese and thereby became contaminated with it. No one, and I mean no one, was allowed to touch, or be touched by that person; otherwise, that person would become the new carrier of the “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” created a social pariah, someone who was damaged and outcast, and yet at the same time, actively and ingeniously seeking ways to ‘share the gift’ if you know what I mean.  Once you touched someone else, the “Cheese Touch” was no longer yours. In short, the “Cheese Touch” was a really complex and damaging game of tag, which was apparently played skillfully and passionately at Jeff Kinney’s middle school.

I watched an emotional version of the “Cheese Touch” take place in my home a few months ago. My eldest daughter Keara was trying to get ready to go somewhere and she was taking a long time with her clothing, which is obviously not unusual for a 14 year old girl. As her mom, (and I will admit to being maniacally prompt), I got angry at her for taking so long. I started with the “Cheese Touch” that day: anger and frustration isolating me from my community. I scolded Keara for taking so long, being so picky and making us late. The “Cheese Touch” was passed. Now Keara’s younger sister Molly tried to get in the bathroom they share to brush her own hair. Keara slammed the door in Molly’s face and her hand in the process and the “Cheese Touch” was successfully launched onto its next victim. After calming Molly down with an ice pack, I went to work things out with Keara. In the meantime, Finn went to see if Molly wanted to skateboard with him while they waited for us to be ready. In her pain, she snapped at him and told him to get off her skateboard, even if she wasn’t riding it. Another successful transmission! When we got in the car, I asked everyone to take a deep breath, so we could try to leave the house in peace. I looked around to see how we were doing. I was calm; Keara was calm; Molly was calm, but Finn was sitting next to me, slumped in his chair, with a scowl on his face.  When I asked him why he was in a bad mood, he said he had no idea. He just felt terrible, like kicking something. That was the “Aha” moment for me.

In real life, instead of fiction, the “Cheese Touch” has very little to do with a piece of stinky cheese and everything to do with the way it makes you feel. In the course of 15 minutes, I had let my anger fly and watched it travel through 3 other people I love, ending its journey in the still-sweet soul of my 12 year old boy.

I looked at him sadly and said, “Sorry you got it, buddy.”

“Got what mom?”

“The Cheese Touch.”

Since that time, the “Cheese Touch” has become a sort of verbal shorthand for the times when we have taken our anger out on someone else, someone who really didn’t deserve it. And that is where Eckhart Tolle comes in.

I was introduced to Tolle’s idea of the pain-body several years ago when I read a copy of The New Earth. I will keep the explanation short and simple, which Tolle, God bless him, can’t seem to do. The bottom line is that when you are in pain, you carry it around with you, in your body, or perhaps like an extra body part. Your pain is so big, heavy and unwieldy that it cripples you when you try to function normally. Nobody likes carrying around that pain-body, so we do what we can to get rid of it.  I know it sounds strange, but we actually go around sharing our pain-body with other people. We parcel it out through anger, frustration, and sometimes, even violence. We might go around telling other people about the ways we’ve been wronged, or wounded. When our pain-body is inflamed, we transmit our pain to other people in order to ease the burden on ourselves.

Sound familiar? I think it does to most adults who are honest with themselves, and while I can’t adequately explain Tolle’s theory of the pain-body to my kids, they certainly all get the concept of the “Cheese Touch.” They’ve all had it and they’ve all passed it on and really, the two philosophies aren’t that different.

So when I sat down to write that email apology to my husband, I realized that my nastiness over which side of the sink we keep the toothpaste on wasn’t really what I needed to apologize for. That was simply me, trying to give him the “Cheese Touch.” It didn’t really work, because he didn’t feel that badly about it, and I didn’t really feel any better.

This morning, I realize that my pain-body is inflamed. I have been feeling frustrated lately, a little “ineffective” in my roles as wife, mother, writer, speaker, housekeeper and cook. Little things are falling through the cracks, as I neglect too many things on my “To Do” lists. Last night, it made perfect sense to me that if he would simply leave the tube of Crest on my side of the sink, everything, and I do mean everything, would be so much better. In the light of day, I realize that it may not solve anything really significant after all.

So, this is my apology , honey. I’m sorry. I am going to try to hold on to my own pain-body for a little while. I am going to do my best not to touch anyone else with this stinky little piece of cheese, moldering on the playground of my heart.