I Think I’m Addicted . . .

happiness pic

Hello, Friends!  I’m currently working on a Mother’s Day post (and about ten other posts that are awaiting attention), but there is something I wanted to share with you while those are under construction.  Remember this post about how to influence your kids when they think your advice is, well, so 1980’s?  I’ve heard from many of you in response to that post, and now I’m a bit obsessed with sharing some daily inspiration with YOU.  As much as I would love to blog every day, I can’t do it, but I can give you a few quick minutes of my mornings.  And who said the quotations I’m sharing are just for the kids?  I’m realizing that they brighten my own mornings and reaffirm my own values as I choose them each day.  Trust me; reaffirming your core values daily is VERY, VERY important.

I suggest that you take a few seconds to check the Still Chasing Fireflies FB page daily for a quick hit of wisdom.  Here’s a taste of what you will find from previous Still Chasing Fireflies FB posts.  Share the ones you love with your friends!  (And if you’ve been liking these on my personal page, hop over to the Still Chasing Fireflies one and make sure you have “liked” it so that I can post them in one place.)

Thanks for viewing the slideshow, and watch for that Mother’s Day post coming soon!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not Today Satan and an Invite to Birch Bear!

Blessed Mama

Every once in a while when I’m out and about, I run into someone who says, “Hey, I follow your blog!  I really liked that one post you wrote about that one thing!”  Those compliments always bring a smile to my face; it’s nice to know that somebody appreciates what you do, right?  But sometimes someone stops me and says, “I loved that post so much that I shared it with my sister,” or, “I follow your blog and I told my friend she should follow it, too,” or, “We printed this out and we’re giving it to our coach.”  Those comments definitely warm my heart – because I know that when you SHARE something, you REALLY LOVE IT!  So today, I’m paying it forward.  I found something that I LOVE, and I want to share it with YOU.

A few weeks ago I ordered a couple of new t-shirts to spruce up my summer wardrobe.  I’m getting old, which is evident in so many ways, one of which is that I prefer easy, comfy, and does-not-need-ironed clothes over the high fashion, high maintenance, gentle-cycle-lay-flat-to-dry clothes that I wore before I was tired all of the time.  Still, I was hoping to find something at least a little bit classy or clever, something that would say, “See, I’m cute without even trying hard,” rather than, “Just shut up because parenting is hard and you’ll be a slob someday, too.”

This is when I stumbled upon Birch Bear Co and the cutest stinkin’ t-shirts EVER.

Birch Bear

I have found online shopping to be unpredictable, and I have been burnt on Etsy before, so I ordered one t-shirt from Birch Bear Co with high hopes but lower expectations.  But it turns out that this small business is just awesome.  I loved my new shirt, and when I posted a picture of myself wearing the Birch Bear tee below on Easter, SO many of you wanted to know where I got it that I contacted Kayla Ernsberger, who owns and operates Birch Bear Co with her husband in Michigan, to tell her that I love her work and to ask her to team up with me to help my friends get some fun shirts, too!

Capture

Before you start shopping, let me give you six reasons why I love Kayla’s shop:

  1. The quality of the t-shirts is MUCH nicer than others I have ordered online.  I ordered two more shirts with a discount Kayla gave me so that I could recommend the company with full confidence.  They are all comfy, light, and soft, and the t-shirts are high blend premium tri-blend, which gives them a heather color and a richer look.  (Just FYI – they are not fitted t-shirts, but the V-necks seem more fitted than the crew neck shirt I bought.)
  2. Birch Bear Co has a really large selection (over 700 products), and Kayla researches trending sayings (like the one I bought) and designs so that you can find what you want and more . . . and even more if you keep looking.  It’s dangerous.
  3. Birch Bear Co is committed to the details, which makes your purchase feel special, like it came from a boutique.  My t-shirts came neatly packaged in a small box that felt like a gift in the mail.  (This reminded me of the feeling of opening a Stitch Fix box, if you have had that experience!)
    image5
  4. The branding at Birch Bear Co is smart and adorable.  The logo itself could be a t-shirt, and Birch Bear Co shirts can be identified by the company tag added to the lower corner of each one.  Again, the details.
    image4
  5. If you compare t-shirt prices on Etsy, Birch Bear Co is reasonable, with prices lower than some other shops with lower quality products.  Also, you are supporting a small business.
  6. Working with Kayla has been dreamy.  She loves this business, and she values her customers, and it shows.  She is very responsive to customer needs.

Let me just remind you that I don’t know Kayla personally, that I found Birch Bear Co by accident, and that Birch Bear Co did not contact me.  I contacted Kayla because I was excited and wanted to share her shop with YOU.  Kayla shared with me that she and her husband started this business a year ago when she was looking for a creative hobby.  They made their first sale in June 2016, and Birch Bear Co has been so successful that they have both quit their former professional jobs already to keep up with their shop and their two-year-old son.  Birch Bear Co is ALREADY ranked 299 out of 1.7 million Etsy shops – so I am not the only one who was impressed.  Wow.

Here are two shirts I purchased.  I generally wear a small, but the crew neck shirt has a loose fit, so I could probably wear an XS.  I like the fit of the small V-necks.  (Selfies.  Ugh.)

image2image1

If my co-teachers, Katie and Ann, buy this one, they are in big trouble:

coffee

And there are days when I probably could wear this one:

Cuss a Little

Here are a few more of my trending favorites:

One more thing . . . Kayla is SO SWEET that she created a promo code just for my Still Chasing Fireflies friends.  This code expires on May 5!  Click here to go to Birch Bear Co where you can use this code to get 10% off:

Code

Today’s a great day to have a great day – and maybe to treat yourself to something fun for summer.  Please feel free to share this post and code with your friends.  Thanks, again, Birch Bear Co!  It’s been a pleasure!

 

 

How to Influence Your Kids When They Keep Getting Smarter and You Keep Getting Dumber

Quote Intro

My kids think I’m stupid.

I knew this day would come.  I mean, I used to be that smartass kid myself.

I thought that I knew everything about everything because my age (almost) ended with -teen.  I thought I had the answers to life’s hard questions despite hardly having lived at all.  I thought my parents, who paid for everything and provided everything and fixed everything, were the least smart people on the entire planet.  And I had evidence.  I mean, I got straight A’s in middle school.  What could they possibly know that I didn’t?

(And then when I moved out, they studied really hard and became GENIUSES almost overnight!  I’m not sure why they waited so long . . . )

So now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes when I offer advice, sighing with distrust at everything I say.  How could my knowledge of unclogging a toilet or writing a check compare to their knowledge of sports stats and texting slang?  Seriously.

Yes, my kids think I’m stupid.

But here is something I have noticed.

They think Abraham Lincoln was smart.
They think Michael Jordan is smart.
They think the Beastie Boys are smart.
They think Dr. Seuss was smart.
They think Benjamin Franklin was smart.
They think John Cena is smart.
They think Yoda is smart.
They think Steven Spielberg is smart.
They think Albert Einstein was REALLY smart.
And they think Lebron James is a genius.

Basically, they think everyone is smart except me.

But here’s what they don’t understand: I AM smart.  I’m so smart that I can make them think I’m dumb while I’m outsmarting them.  I’m smart enough to realize that I can trick them into learning the values I want to teach them by teaching those values through someone else they trust.  Like Doc Brown from Back to the Future or Beverly from The Goldbergs.

Dumb parents everywhere, listen up.  Let me share with you my little secret – the Quote of the Day.

image7

Every morning, before my kids head off to school, I scour the Internet for a quotation that feels right for the day.  Sometimes it shares deep wisdom about life, friendship, hard work, perseverance, love, joy, faith, or success.  Sometimes it’s funny.  Sometimes it is a line from a movie we just watched or from a favorite television show.  Every once in a while it is a Bible verse, and sometimes it specifically applies to something that is happening that day, like if my kids need encouragement for a test or a track meet.  The quotation for the day is quickly recorded on two post-it notes, three if I want to be reminded of it later myself, and stuffed into lunch boxes before the kids dash out the door.  If one of my kiddos is buying lunch, then I stick the post-it somewhere in a folder or book for them to find later in the day.

image2

I know what you’re thinking.  Her kids don’t read those things.  They probably toss them in the cafeteria trash can or hide them under an apple or granola bar so that no one else will see.  How embarrassing.

WRONG.

How do I know this?  Because whenever I forget to pack one, they ALWAYS tell me.

Sometimes we talk about them over dinner.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes their friends ask to see them at lunch.  Sometimes my kids reflect on them on their own.  Sometimes I stick them on the refrigerator as a reminder, and sometimes we discuss them when we unpack their lunchboxes after school.  Sometimes I see one from several weeks ago tucked into a folder or marking a page in a book. Cha ching.  If they read it more than once before tossing it, that’s even better.

image5

I hope that sometimes those words of wisdom, not from their stupid mom but from someone brilliant, like Charles Barkley or Will Ferrell, change their day.  I hope that enough of those carefully chosen words over all the days and all the weeks and all the months of school will help to shape their lives.

Remember the days when you could stuff a sweet note into your child’s lunchbox, and he would treasure that little scrap of paper love all afternoon?  Once you hit the tweens, those days are over.  But don’t be fooled, moms and dads.  Your kids still appreciate your influence.  They still want to know that they are loved, even as their growing independence pulls them farther and farther away.

image6

They want your attention; they just don’t want a lipstick kiss from their mother on a heart-shaped napkin anymore.

Because, well, moms are dumb.

But it’s okay, mom.  You’ve got backup.  Because Homer Simpson is really, really smart.

image1

**Maybe you want to pilot a Quote of the Day routine with your kids in the last quarter of the school year.  Let me help!  I included a few quotations above to get you started!  Watch the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page for more each week!  If doing this in the morning seems overwhelming to you, make them all on the weekend instead.  Five minutes and you are finished!**

 

 

Bleed

“There is nothing to writing,” Ernest Hemingway once said.  “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest was right.  Sometimes when you pull up a chair and your fingers stroke the keys, you spring a leak, and the things hidden inside of you seep out.  They bleed onto the page or into the air, and the blood is words, and sometimes when a soul starts bleeding it is hard to plug the hole.  Sometimes the words are a confession and sometimes they are laughter and sometimes they are heartache and sometimes they are love.

typewriter-and-bleed

Like blood, words give life to the thoughts and emotions swirling within us.  And the blood that leaks out when we write or we speak, those words, they have incredible power.

My words.  Your words.  ALL words.

Just think.  A writer can sit down with a blank sheet of paper that costs no more than a penny.

blank-paper

And that writer can add some ink, also nearly worthless on its own.  And then that little bit of ink sprouts into lines that stretch into letters that bloom into words.  And those words, when nurtured, flourish and grow and burst across the page.

Now those words – recorded in that ink on that worthless piece of paper – hold the potential to change a person’s day.  Or a person’s goals.  Or a person’s life.  Those words, although it may seem crazy, have the potential to change the entire freaking world.

This week my students will read “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” arguably one of the best examples of effective argumentation, written from a jail cell after Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for peacefully protesting for civil rights in 1963.  His passion, in the form of words, bled onto napkins and toilet paper and anything else he could find in that jail, and those words continue to move us half a century later.  Just think about that.  A little bit of ink that seeped onto cheap toilet paper in a cold jail cell resonated with people around the world and awakened the social conscience of a nation.

Wow.  Our words have power.

Words can be persuasive, transformative, inspiring.  They can heal broken places or break what was whole.  They can become contagious and quickly race around the globe.  They can penetrate social and cultural divides with ease.  They can provoke reflection and conversations that change the way we think about ourselves and our purpose and our world.  They can excavate feelings that were deeply buried, brushing the dust off our frustrations and dreams, exposing hidden sadness and unseen joys to the brilliant light of day.

Words, when precise and controlled, can evoke feelings with an intensity that makes the page feel like reality and reality feel like the dream.  Ink can be tamed just as a wild horse can be broken.  A person can say things that change people and write things that make a difference.

You might think that only professional writers can harness the power of words.

But you are wrong.

Think of the power of these very simple words at your command:

I love you.  I like you.  I enjoy you.  I trust you.  I miss you.

I messed up.   I hurt you.   I’m sorry.  I regret my decision.  I am sad when you are sad.  I want to fix this.

I did not know. 

I believe in grace.  I believe in you.  I believe in us.  I forgive you.

I am alone.  I can’t do this. I  am empty.  I need help.  I need you.

I am on my way.  I am here.  I am with you.  I am for you.  I have your back.

words-are-your-power

I will fight for you. 

I will help you.  I will stay with you.  I am always on your team.  I will protect you.

I pray for you.  I hurt with you.  I have felt this, too.  I understand. 

I don’t understand, but I care about you.

I admire you.  I respect you.  I am proud of you.  I appreciate you.  I am thankful for you.

I see you.  I hear you.  I know your heart.  I am listening. 

I promise.

I can and I will.  I will tell you the truth.  I will give you my share.  I am thinking about you.  I see your beauty.

I am better because of you.  I want to be like you.  I treasure your advice.  I value your ideas. 

I don’t agree with you, but I still love you.

I am not perfect.  I am no better.  I am glad you are my friend.  I can do hard things with you.  I see your courage.

I am happy when you are happy.  I love to see you smile.  I cherish my time with you.  I do not deserve what I have been given. 

I can’t imagine a better friend.

I choose you.

When you feel powerless, remember that you have words.

When you want your relationships to grow, remember that you have words.

When you want to make a difference in your life, your home, your family, your neighborhood, your world, remember that you have words.

So find blank pages and some ink.  Breathe life into them.  Harness the emotions and ideas that are swirling within.  Let the words that are hidden inside you begin to leak out.

Your words are your power.  Never forget this.

Ready.  Set.

BLEED.

regret

Hey, fireflies!  Thanks for reading this post about the power of words.  I hope you enjoyed it, but my greater hope is that it inspires you to take fifteen minutes out of your week and write meaningful notes to a few of the people in your life.  Maybe there is someone who deserves your thanks or someone who needs you to make something right.  Maybe there is someone who does not know how much impact he or she has had on your decisions.  Maybe there is an adult who needs your encouragement or a child who needs your love.  There are so many possibilities!  You may be surprised by the doors that open when you let what is on the inside leak out!  I challenge you to write three notes this week, and then come back and let us know what you did and how you felt!  Thanks for reading, friends!   ~Mary Ann

 

 

I’m Not Sure How to Mom Anymore

sports

I.

I have two sons.  In just a month, they will be 11 and 13.  And our home, well, it’s not the same as it used to be.  There are basketballs and gym shoes, shin guards and dirty socks at every turn.  There is a constant search for missing earbuds and phone chargers, and “pump up” music, the kind that plays before sporting events, has become the soundtrack of our lives.  There is a funky smell here, a mingling of stinky shoe, sweaty uniform, and Axe body wash, that wafts through the air.  And it is next to impossible to keep snacks stocked in the cabinets.  Almost-teen boys are a lot less snips and snails and puppy dog tails and a lot more bottomless stomach.

I don’t mind wrangling the socks and washing the uniforms, and I’m learning to hide my favorite snacks from the scavengers who live here.  I know to watch for loose balls at the bottom of the stairs, and I’m an expert at hunting for “lost” equipment as we are running late to practice, again.  I don’t even mind the stinky smell.  I mean, I don’t like the stinky smell, but I’m becoming desensitized.  And my mother-in-law buys me candles, so that helps.

What I do mind is that these simple, insignificant changes signal something bigger, a shift in my responsibilities as a parent, a change in what motherhood means.  The canary that represents childhood at our house is barely hanging onto its perch.  I’ve been trying to resuscitate it, but it isn’t working, and the thought of a dead canary here nearly stops my heart from beating, too.

My little boys aren’t so little now, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I’m not sure I know how to mom anymore.

I was skilled at rocking my sleeping babies.
I was quick at chasing my busy toddlers.
I was smart at exploring the woods with my curious preschoolers.
I was impressive at creating crafts and experiments for my kindergarteners.
I was even good at teaching my inquisitive elementary students to read.

But I don’t know how to parent 10 and 12.

 

 

II.

A few weeks before Christmas, my younger son begged me to chaperone his concert rehearsal for fifth- and sixth-graders who play strings.  He pleaded with me several times, and I changed the subject several times, mostly because missing work usually creates more work for me in one way or another.  But he persisted, and the teacher sent out a code red that said something like “We are in need of chaperones” but that sounded to me like “These kids will never amount to anything if none of their mothers even care, for goodness sakes.”  And also I realized that my little boy is 10, and he was begging me to go, and in just a few short months he may be begging me NOT to.

So I signed up.

On the morning of the rehearsal, I was excited to spend a little extra time with my son.  I waited in the office until the secretary released the students for the trip and boys and girls rushed into the hallway with music books and backpacks and violins.  I hurried to the bus to welcome them and watched through the window as my son and his friends approached.  Soon he boarded, giggling and chatting with his classmates, who quickly shuffled past my row to claim the seats in the back.

He may have said hi as he passed by.

I’m not exactly sure.

But I am sure that there was no hug, no I’m-so-glad-you’re-here-Mom, not even a pause for a chat or a fist bump.  There was nothing, really, to indicate that the two of us were any more related than any other pair of people on that bus.

The rehearsal went off without a hitch, and soon we were boarding again to head back to the elementary school.  On the return trip, I glanced behind me every once in a while to see what was happening in the seats in the rear.  The kids talked and joked and laughed and enjoyed escaping the classroom for an hour or two.  When the bus doors opened once again, the students hastily exited to return to class.  And the kid who had begged me to chaperone this trip scurried down the hallway without ever looking back.

And that was that.

My dog wagged her tail and jumped excitedly when I got home, which soothed my fear that I had turned invisible after leaving the house in the morning.  I checked the mirror and pinched myself just to be sure.

Yep.  I’m still here.

Later that evening, to my surprise, my ten-year-old thanked me for going on the field trip “with” him.  He was so happy that I had taken a few hours off work to ride that bus, even though it had seemed like my presence didn’t matter at all.  The truth was that he never intended to spend time with me on the way to his rehearsal.  He just wanted to know that, when given two choices, I would choose him.

Thank goodness I did.  Because I came very close to failing that test. 

I may have felt a bit neglected that morning, but I knew exactly where to sit at the concert that night for a perfect view of my son and his cello.

So there’s that, too.

This is what parenting 10 looks like.

 

 

III.

Last Friday, my older son’s middle school basketball team was recognized during half-time of the varsity game at the high school.  It was a big deal to us.  But as we finalized our plans for the evening, he seemed unexpectedly stressed.

“Mom,” he said, looking conflicted, “you can just drop me off at the high school.  I mean, if you want to, that’s fine.”

Drop him off?  Was this kid serious?

This was going to be a sweet moment.  I mean, he was wearing a freaking bow tie, and they were announcing his name, you know, over the loud speaker.  In front of a big crowd.  At a varsity basketball game.

No, drop off is not an option.   

“Okay, yeah, well, I really want you to be there, Mom.”

Yes . . . I know that. . . So what am I missing?

“But it’s okay if I hang out with my team, right?  You won’t care, will you?”

Oooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh.

Of courseYour team.  Right.  Your friends.  For sure.  Absolutely.  I mean, that will be perfect because I really just wanted to concentrate on the game anyway. 

Yeah.

So my son played it cool with his teammates while I sat alone in a gym packed with people since the rest of the family had other things to do.  It was different.  But I enjoyed observing my son from a distance, seeing the whole picture of who he is without the distraction of the details.  I enjoyed watching how he interacted with his friends and  admiring the young man he has become.  I know I’m his mom, but, really, that kid is pretty amazing.

I didn’t mind cheering for the home team while he socialized since I love watching basketball, too.   But I was shocked that night, because something about high school has definitely changed, and very recently, I think, because I have been teaching high school for thirteen years and I have never noticed.

Get ready for this.  Grab a chair because it’s crazy.  Ready?

High school boys LOOK JUST LIKE GROWNUP MEN now!

Seriously, when did this start happening?  And why aren’t we researching how to make this stop?

I looked at the players in disbelief, imagining what my grown sons will look like and wondering how ALL of those changes can possibly happen in the next few years.  It seems impossible.  Glimpses of the future flashed through my mind, tempered by glimpses of the past, when I was cheering from the student section and my husband was the high school basketball player and everyone loitered at Burger King or ran through the Taco Bell drive thru after the game.

Time is not a distance runner.  He is a sprinter.  He races past at an incredible speed.  Kids grow up, and adults get old, and moments pass quickly and are lost forever.  Our only hope of bottling yesterday is to preserve its memories.  And that only works if we take time to make them.

While we were at the high school that night, my son touched base with me only once.

Yes, when he needed money.

But on our way home, he talked and talked and talked about the events of the evening and the conversation he had with a former coach and the funny things that happened with his friends.  And the two of us decided to run through Taco Bell, just like my friends and I did in high school, even though we had already eaten dinner, even though it was after ten o’clock at night.

I wonder if, ten years from now, he will remember eating those tacos with his mom after a varsity basketball game in 2017.

I hope that he will.

This is what parenting 12 looks like.

 

 

IV.

When I started teaching, I worked at a rural high school in southeastern Ohio with a man named Jim Williams.  Jim Williams was tall and serious and a respected veteran teacher.  He had a dry sense of humor and a quick wit, and it seemed to me that he had read every piece of literature that had ever been written.  He was also the chair of the English department, so he was, at least in my mind, my boss.

I was a novice, still learning the ropes and finding my confidence, and Jim Williams was never anything but kind to me when I worked with him.  But, because of my own insecurities as a young teacher, I felt about fifteen years old whenever we spoke.  My mind defaulted from being the high school teacher to being just another student, although he always treated me as a respected colleague.

So Jim Williams and I didn’t chat very often, mostly because I was more comfortable feeling my real age of twenty-something than defaulting to an anxious fifteen.  When I needed professional advice, he was helpful, but I didn’t hang around long enough to discuss the news or the weather or my life outside of school.  The English wing had no extra room for me, so I could easily escape to my classroom by the gym with any seeds of wisdom he had shared.

In hindsight, I should have devoted more time to learning from Jim Williams than to hiding from him because he shared some of the best advice that I have ever been given.

And it had nothing to do with teaching.

It was a gloomy winter day at the high school when I received a message that my baby boy was sick and I would need to be home for the next couple of days.  Not only was I striving to excel as a teacher at that time, but I was also just learning to juggle the demands of teaching and motherhood.  Before having a baby, I rarely used a sick day, and I often continued working after school until late into the evening.  I took pride in my commitment and my creativity and all of the extra hours that I logged.  I don’t remember exactly what I said to Jim Williams that day, but I imagine that it was some version of an apology for needing to be home.

What I do remember clearly is that he stopped me – so that he could say something profound instead of listening to my nonsense.

Jim Williams said, “There will always be another teacher, Mary Ann.”

Oooooooh.  That burns.  I mean, I’ve been trying really hard to be the best and to do the most and to keep all the plates spinning.  You haven’t even noticed?

He wasn’t finished.

“There will always be another teacher, Mary Ann, but your son will never have another mother.”

See.  I told you he was smart.

Yes, it stung, but I understood what Jim Williams was saying.  He wasn’t telling me that I was easily replaceable or that my teaching wasn’t up to his expectations.  He wasn’t saying that hiring a substitute for a day or two would be equal to my presence in the classroom.  But he was telling me to take a deep breath and prioritize.  And I needed that.  Because sometimes I was so worried about being the best teacher for my students that I wasn’t being the best mother for my baby, even when I was at home with him at night.

Jim Williams was saying that my presence as a mother matters.

And I have never forgotten that.

 

 

V.

Maybe raising 10 and 12 isn’t as complicated as I think it is.  Maybe it’s mostly about presence, about “choosing” the people we love and connecting with them whenever and however we can.  Maybe it’s as simple as being in the same place, even when we are all in separate rooms doing separate things.  Maybe it’s just about being.  Maybe just being is exactly what my sons need.

Don’t get me wrong.  We eat dinner as a family and play games together.  We plan fun events and talk and spend time with grandparents and friends.  Those things are important.

But there are many more hours now when I am not chasing anyone or disciplining anyone or teaching anyone about fractions or saving anyone from harm.

There are many more hours now when I am just here.

And that’s okay.

Maybe parenting 10 and 12 is being close enough to come to the rescue but far enough away to let my children take a chance.  Maybe it’s watching them climb the tall, scary ladder, and then holding the safety net under the tightrope they are walking to become men.

The minutes, they pass quickly, and there is no buying them back when the canary’s song fades.  So maybe I just need to relax, enjoy the journey, and remember that just being matters.

And maybe it matters the most when it seems like it doesn’t matter at all.

 

 

Image Source: Steven Depolo under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

 

Hidden Figures: Lessons on Hope and Courage

hidden-figures-poster

Hidden Figures tells the true story of three African American women working at NASA during the height of the space race between the United States and Russia.  The year is 1961, and while the country is united in a common goal to send a man to the moon, there is racial tension within NASA’s gates and civil unrest outside them.  The three women who propel the movie, Katherine Goble Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, have both brilliant minds and firecracker spirits.  Given the time period, they are considered “lucky” to work as computers (mathematicians) at such a respected government agency, but their experiences at NASA reveal that while technology is advancing at lightning speed in 1961, social progress is often excruciatingly slow.

I believe that every person has a valuable story, a unique life experience that unlocks the door to lessons that we may not have learned on our own, so I expected to appreciate this movie.  What I did not expect was that Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy would become my friends, that they would kick up their feet and make themselves at home in my head.  I didn’t expect that their voices would continue speaking to me long after the movie had ended, that they would unpack their suitcases and stay.

I did not expect this, but I don’t mind that they did.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from this movie, but PLEASE go and see it for yourself!  You can thank me for the recommendation later!

*CAUTION: Spoilers ahead!*

 

  1. Do not allow ANYONE to diminish your value.

Over and over and over again, the main characters in the movie are treated as second-class citizens because they are female and black at a time when both are considered inferior.  Even though Katherine’s ability to calculate complex mathematical equations is exceptional, she is repeatedly underestimated, and when her colleagues begin to recognize her extraordinary talent, she is still resented by men and women alike.  Likewise, Dorothy is not appreciated for her leadership, and Mary is discouraged from pursuing graduate classes in engineering despite both women being highly qualified.

But these ladies know that their value is not determined by what other people say or do or think.  They have a strong faith.  They have an impenetrable self-respect.  They have the love of their families.  And they have each other.

This is what gives Katherine the spunk to challenge the sexist attitude of the man she eventually marries and the courage to invite herself into highly classified meetings at NASA without proper clearance.

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy know their value.  They do not allow anyone to dim their light, and neither should you.  Keep shining.

 

  1. You can be the first.

In one of the most compelling scenes in the movie, Mary Jackson petitions the court to allow her to attend graduate classes at night at a segregated high school.  This is her only option if she wants to become a NASA engineer.  In her plea, Mary reminds the judge of the “importance of being first,” in this case being the first to challenge social norms.  She asks him, “Out of all the cases you gonna hear today, which one is gonna matter a hundred years from now?  Which one is gonna make you the first?”

Being first matters.

But the movie also reveals that being first isn’t easy.  In Mary’s case, being first means going to court.  It means researching and pleading her case.  It means risking rejection and abuse.  Even when Mary is victorious and is granted permission to attend, being first means being unwelcome.  It means proving herself every single step along the way.

Even so, Mary shows us that there is something rewarding about winning an honorable and hard-fought battle.  And if you are the first to do something worth doing, you can rest assured that others won’t be far behind.

But they will never be first.

Because you were.

 

  1. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Even though I was absorbed in the struggles of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy, I couldn’t take my eyes off the white people on the screen.  I know that the actual events took place in 1961.  I know that social norms were very different at that time.  I know, on an academic level, about segregation and discrimination.    But I couldn’t stop watching the behavior of so many white characters and thinking, “How could you do that?”

How could you make Katherine use a separate coffee pot in the office?

How could you intentionally prevent her from having the information she needs to do her job?

How could you deny her recognition and shut the door in her face when she is a critical part of your team?

How could you?

On the way home from the movie, my sons asked some difficult questions.  What would we have been like, as people, if we had been raised at that time, in that place, and indoctrinated with those ideas of right and wrong?  The truth is that I don’t know.

But there are white people in the movie who stand out as exceptionally bright lights.  The brightest of those is John Glenn, who does not hesitate to greet all of the NASA employees, including the black women who have been sent to the side, with a handshake and a warm smile.  He is portrayed as exuberant, kind, respectful – and eager to acknowledge Katherine’s exceptional talent.  Another bright light is Karl Zielinski, a mission specialist who encourages Mary to pursue a career in engineering when she sees that as an impossible goal.

Our actions influence people.  When we turn our heads and ignore the mistreatment of others, we are supporting that mistreatment, and we are encouraging other people to support it, too.  And when we choose to be a brighter light and chart a different course, like Glenn and Zielinski, our behavior is influential, as well.

It’s not a matter of whether we do or don’t want to influence others – because that is not our choice.  The choice is what kind of influence we will have.

 

  1. ASK FOR IT.

You are never, ever, ever going to get something that you don’t ask for, even if you deserve it.  It’s not going to happen if you don’t ask.  It just isn’t.

This idea is a recurring message throughout the film.  As Hidden Figures progresses, we see all three ladies ask (and work very hard) for what they want.  Katherine asks for more data, more access, and more respect.  Dorothy asks for a promotion.  Mary asks for the right to her education.  And even though they do not get what they ask for right away, they do eventually get all of those things in one way or another.

Asking does not guarantee that you will get exactly what you want when you want it.

But not asking does guarantee that you won’t.

 

  1. Protocol is important. Until it isn’t.

“Protocol” is a key word in the vernacular of NASA in 1961.  There is a strictly defined way to do almost everything, and, when there isn’t, the uncertainty sends the people who work there into a bit of a panic.  There is a sense that the same organization that is on the forefront of scientific advancement is so entrenched in tradition and bureaucracy that it can’t see the forest for the trees in terms of social progress.

In one tense conversation, Katherine’s colleague Paul Stafford, who is offended that Katherine has been asked to double check his work, prevents her from attending a meeting by saying, “There is no protocol for women attending.”

Katherine quickly replies, “There’s no protocol for a man circling the earth either, Sir.”

There is an interesting paradox in the movie between the very precise calculations that are necessary to ensure the astronauts’ safety and the flexibility that is also required to allow for scientific – and social – growth.

Rules are important, but rigidity is dangerous, and this applies to so many aspects of life.

 

  1. “You are the boss. You just have to act like one.”

When Katherine seeks permission to attend top-secret meetings so that she will have immediate access to the data that is critical to her job, she looks to her boss, Al Harrison, to override Paul Stafford, the head engineer, who wants to keep her out.

“Within these walls, who makes the rules?” Harrison asks.

“You, Sir,” Katherine answers.  “You are the boss.  You just have to act like one.  Sir.”

With that, Harrison decides to break protocol, and Katherine joins the men at the table.

Katherine’s quick wit reminds us that we often underestimate our own power to change things that aren’t working.  We may not be the Space Task Group director at NASA, like Harrison, but we are the bosses of a lot of things in our lives.

We just have to act like it.

 

  1. Open your eyes to the challenges of others.

Throughout the movie, Katherine maintains her composure despite difficult situations that would send most of us into a fit of rage today.  But when she is scolded by Harrison for taking too many breaks after running a half mile in high heels in the middle of a rainstorm to get to the colored restroom, she finally loses her cool.  Frustrated and soaking wet, she confronts Harrison in front of the entire office, asserting that she is tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.

This leads Harrison to bust up the signs assigning NASA bathrooms to one race or the other, and in a defining moment as the team works on their space mission he declares, “We all get there together, or we don’t get there at all.”

Harrison is portrayed as more open minded and empathetic than many other NASA supervisors, but the reality is that he did not “see” Katherine’s struggle until that struggle threatened to impact the success of the Friendship 7 mission, thus jeopardizing his own success and reputation.  Only then did Katherine’s plight become real to him, and then he became her ally and maybe even her friend.

But that does not negate the fact that she had been taking long breaks for a long time, and anyone with just a bit of common sense could have figured out that running across the campus to the colored bathroom was a ridiculous haul and a waste of her time, besides the fact that it was completely unfair and demoralizing.  But no one expressed concern.  Because it wasn’t their problem.

There are people all around us facing challenges that we choose not to see.

What would happen if we all started seeing them?

 

  1. Do what you love.

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy tolerate a significant amount of disrespect just to do their jobs.  In the film, they choose to work in a field where women, particularly black women, are not really welcome.  They could probably pursue work in a less hostile environment, but they don’t.

The reason these women pursue these careers is because they have a passion that I will never understand – a passion for MATH.

And it’s okay.  I don’t need to understand it.

Because Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy inspire us to find our own passions, to find our own hidden gifts, and to pursue those with a vigor that is intensified, not diminished, by obstacles.

 

  1. Don’t lose your courage. Don’t lose your kindness.  Don’t lose your hope.

At the end of the movie, the audience in our theater burst into applause.  Typically, we applaud for people who are standing in front of us, people who can see and hear that recognition.  But in the movie theater, we clapped for people who would never know, the real Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy, and all of the other people whose astounding resilience has changed life for us all.  We applauded for the people who are more courageous and more daring than the rest of us.

And we clapped for the people who are still striving to reach what seem like impossible goals.

Hidden Figures shows us that people can and will continue to achieve the impossible.

Now we are watching to see who will be first.

 

*Hidden Figures was released by 20th Century Fox and is based on true events.  The book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly was the inspiration for the film.

 

 

 

 

Happy 2017 From Still Chasing Fireflies!

happy-new-year-picture-google-images-advanced

Hey, there!  Greetings from Still Chasing Fireflies!

Friend, if you are reading this, I am so grateful that you are still here, waiting patiently for me.  It’s been a while!  I have thought about visiting you here on many occasions, but I’ve been waiting, too.  Waiting for a certain feeling.  The feeling that it’s time.

And I feel it.

It’s time.

I am SO very happy to “see” you here again!

The blog has been quiet for a few months, I know, but don’t let the silence deceive you.  I’ve been writing – and writing and writing and writing!  In fact, some very exciting things are starting to take shape.  I *might* be experimenting with a novel, and a few screeners *might* be very excited about what they have read so far.  (I wish I could tell you more . . . But I can’t!)  My kids and I have been working on a children’s book; I am IN LOVE with our idea, and it would be a dream come true to see our story in print on a bookshelf someday (if paper still exists by then)!  The publishing world is brutal, but we are up for the challenge, and we don’t expect anything to happen in a hurry.  There are also some essays that may become blog posts, some poems, and some previously published pieces that I hope to share with a larger audience soon.  So if you have missed Still Chasing Fireflies, don’t worry.  I have so much more to share with you!  And it’s really, REALLY good stuff from an emotional well that runs much deeper than I ever knew.

So 2016 has ended, and as one year ends and another begins, it seems like an appropriate time for reflection.  Sometimes this reflection reminds us what a wonderful year we enjoyed.  We are overcome with happy memories of family milestones, new adventures, fun celebrations, and special moments.  We hope that the coming year is filled with just as much joy and satisfaction.

I certainly hope that describes the 2016 you experienced!

But other years, we say, “THANK-GOD-THAT-IS-OVER-BECAUSE-THAT-YEAR-WAS-TRYING-TO-MURDER-ME.”

That was my 2016.

Yes, 2016 will go down in the history books as the most challenging year of my life to this point.  That is partly because I have not had a very challenging life.  It is also partly because 2016 totally sucked.  But the good news is that challenges can lead to deep reflection and incredible growth.  They can make us more confident, productive, and resilient.  They can give us insight into aspects of life that we never understood before.  And there is something very fulfilling about those lessons, even if the journey to those revelations felt a bit like a scene from Saving Private Ryan.

I could write a long, long list of the things I have learned throughout 2016, and I’m sure many of those lessons will inspire future posts, but let’s start with a few that really stuck with me.  Maybe one of them will stick with you, too.

1. You have much less control over your life than you think you do.

Okay, I will admit that I am a bit of a control freak.  It drives me cray cray to watch my kids fold laundry.  Honestly, I have to look away while they are doing it because it is just too painful for me to watch.  (On my behalf, I get this from my mother, who refolded everything I folded for the first 20 years of my life.  Love you, Mom!)  When my kids push the cart at the grocery store to “help” me, well, I can’t stand that either.  I am on a mission, and we have a pace to maintain, Kids.  And when adult people use words like cray cray, yes, that drives me crazy, too.  Grow up already.

I know.  It’s ridiculous.  And it’s all part of my illusion that I have the power to control things, and that if I control things, then I can prevent bad things from happening to me and my friends and my family and all of the other innocent people around the world.

Except I can’t.

I can’t control what other people do and what kinds of decisions they make.  I can’t control how much it snows or how other people drive or when something might go haywire inside my body.  I can’t make someone change or decide who my children will marry or prevent a loved one from having a heart attack or force someone to look at another perspective.  I can’t do those things.  All of them are out of my control.

And I really, really hate that.  Even if it’s true.

2. You have much more control over your life than you think you do.

Wait a minute . . . That sounds like a contradiction to #1, right?  Not really.  We humans tend to vacillate between feeling completely in control of our lives and feeling completely out of control of our lives, and neither one is really true.  Even when things are happening outside of our personal jurisdiction, we ALWAYS get to decide how to react to them.  We can join the people on the high road or join the people on the low road.  We can sulk and pout too long because life isn’t fair.  Or we can choose to marinate in our own anger forever.  Or we can pull on our grownup boots and start hiking down the path that has been charted for us, even if we don’t like that path at all.

Or we can write a novel.

Really, it’s up to us.  But the happiest people take a few minutes (or days, or weeks) to lick their wounds and then find a way to climb the mountain in front of them.

3. There are a lot of people on the low road, but no one is stuck there.

I had NO IDEA how much traffic there is down there.  It is a VERY, VERY CROWDED place. And I get it.  It is very tempting to take that exit when life isn’t cooperating or emotions are running high.  I’ve been there.  I’ve tried it.  I’ll probably be back.  I know.

Some people are on the low road because they took a wrong turn and they don’t even realize they are there yet.  Others popped on for a hot second and are desperately seeking the next exit to get off.  And then there are people who have been there so long that they don’t even need the GPS to stay on course.  They smile and wave and pretend to be friendly as they carefully orchestrate head-on collisions.

Fortunately, the high road is wide, with plenty of lanes to accommodate everyone.  You can merge onto it easily and at any time, and the drivers there are imperfect but also encouraging, forgiving, and kind.  The high road still has potholes, but it is more likely to lead to the destinations you seek, sweet spots like Happiness, Satisfaction, and Inner Peace.

I promise.

4. Belonging to the sisterhood of women is an extraordinary privilege. 

All women have the opportunity to join an ancient sisterhood that is very, very special.  When one woman in the sisterhood suffers, her sisters do, too, even if they have not experienced the same hardships related to marriage, fertility, career advancement, motherhood, aging, or any other challenges that are unique to women across the generations.

Women in the sisterhood protect, support, and uplift other women.  They do not bulldoze them to serve their own selfish interests.

You see, being a female is not a choice, but being an honorable, compassionate woman is.

Surrounding yourself with women from the sisterhood is a choice, too.  DO THIS.

When life is hard, they will be your fiercest allies.

5. Even the best relationships are really, really, really, really, really, really hard sometimes.

All relationships.  Your relationship with your spouse.  Your relationships with your kids.  Your relationships with your parents.  Your relationships with your friends and your siblings and your neighbors.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is a LIAR.

Love people with your words and with your actions to keep those relationships healthy and strong.  Be patient.  Offer grace.  Talk often.  Share feelings.  Put one another first.  Make consistent, small investments.

It’s worth it.

6. Any relationship has the potential to be broken if people are not careful.

7. Any relationship has the potential to be healed if people are willing.

8. If you tell yourself anything enough times, you will start to believe it.

So make sure that what you tell yourself is the truth.

And make sure that what you tell yourself about yourself is building you up rather than tearing you down.

This is so important.

9. The human experience is the human experience.

Your race, your geographic location, your income – none of it matters when it comes to being human.

We humans are all looking for the exact same things.  We all search for validation and love.  We all seek to understand our purpose and our unique place in God’s universe.  We all experience the same emotions, even while living in vastly different circumstances.

This is true for everyone.  Everywhere.  Ever since the beginning of time.

You are no more important and no more human than anyone else, even if you think you are. 

You are no less important and no less human than anyone else, even if others say you are.

Certain experiences humanize us, like watching the birth of a baby or holding the hand of someone who is face-to-face with death.  They pull our wandering spirits and our inflated egos right back to ground zero.

There is something about the pain of a deep, dark struggle that is also incredibly humanizing.  It makes you feel more connected to humanity than you ever felt before.  It makes you feel more whole in a strange kind of way.

10. It is easy to lose sight of who you are, but reconnecting with your true self will open the door to amazing possibilities.

This world is harsh.  It will test you.  It will tempt you.  It will grab you from behind and try to take you hostage.

It is easy to give up.

But you don’t have to.  When you see your face on the milk carton, you can bite and claw your way back to yourself.  You can rediscover who you are and reevaluate what you truly value and believe.  Then you will be much, much closer to attaining greatness in your life.  And you will have a much clearer picture of what “greatness” actually looks like to you.

When you reconnect with what matters and begin to accomplish new goals, there will be people who can’t wait to celebrate with you.  There will also be people who criticize you.  And there will always be people who want to compete with you.

Choose the first people.  They are more fun.  They also have your best interests at heart, and they will propel you forward in positive ways.

Then you can help them fight the good fight and reach for greatness, too. 

11. When you are at the end of your rope, serve others.

It sounds counterintuitive that the most effective way to help yourself is to help someone else, but it’s true.  Acts of kindness are incredibly therapeutic.  They turn your focus outward, renew your perspective, and remind you that every single person has a complicated story.  You get to SEE the good and BE the good at the exact same time.

Volunteer somewhere.  Help a neighbor.  Buy a cup of coffee for a stranger who seems stressed.

Acts of service give you a greater purpose and create meaningful human connections.  And purpose and connections are things that all humans need.  (See #9.)

12. You have some truly amazing people in your life. Make sure you know who they are.

 

Again, I am so very, very glad to be back with you, my friends!  Life will always be full of uncertainty, but here’s to an incredibly fulfilling adventure in 2017!  May all of the wishes you work for come true!

GOODBYE, 2016!

smash-2016

Thank you, Nicole Wheeler Kunko, for sharing this image!

What’s on the Horizon (and How You Can Help)

on the horizon canva

As Still Chasing Fireflies’ birthday celebration draws to a close, it’s time to look forward and make some plans for the coming year.  Here are a few goals that I would love to achieve before Still Chasing Fireflies turns two, but I need your help!  (Be sure to read #4.  It’s my favorite!)

  1. First and foremost, I want this blog to stay true to who I am and what matters to me.  If you see Still Chasing Fireflies straying from its purpose of sharing the emotional ups and downs of being human, please, set me straight!
  2. Still Chasing Fireflies has enjoyed some exciting exposure this year, so I plan to look for more opportunities for publication in the coming months.  If you enjoy the blog, please share it with your friends!  You are welcome to send them a link and an invitation!  All of the blogs that I read were introduced to me by my closest friends.
  3. Now that Still Chasing Fireflies has a strong foundation, I want to build a sense of community!  I invite you to leave comments on the blog or on Facebook. I’m going to experiment with posting more about the blog on the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page and less on my personal page to move the conversation to one place.  If you haven’t liked or followed the Still Chasing Fireflies page, please join us there.
  4. AND HERE IS THE IDEA THAT EXCITES ME THE MOST!  I love to share a good story with all of you, but there are SO MANY stories that I can’t tell because I have not experienced those stories myself.  I don’t know what it is like to live through divorce or receive a cancer diagnosis or lose a parent.  I don’t know what it is like to adopt a child or watch a daughter get married or live on a farm.  I don’t know what it is like to be a minority in a place with little diversity or to raise a half dozen kids or to save someone’s life.  BUT SOME OF YOU DO!  Maybe you don’t want to manage a blog of your own, but maybe you have a story to tell.  Maybe I can help you tell it or help you share it on my blog.  Please reach out to me!  I would love to host a “What It Feels Like” series with guest posts from people who have stories to share.  If writing isn’t your thing, I can help!

What will the coming year bring for Still Chasing Fireflies and for me as a writer?  I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.  But it’s time to stop partying and get back to work!  Thanks for celebrating the first year of the blog with me this week, and please consider sharing your own story here (or even somewhere else) in the coming year!  Your story could change someone else’s life.

Trust me.

This year has taught me just how much our stories matter.

~Mary Ann

My Top Five Post Picks

Wow!  Choosing my top five posts of the first year was harder than I expected!  The first three choices were easy.  There was no question what those first three would be.  But the last two picks were harder.   I wrestled with questions, like how do you pick a favorite child, anyway?  What makes one post better than another?  How did I feel when I was writing each piece?  How much of me was invested in each one?  Does the number of readers who liked each post matter, and, if so, how much?

There were several close runners-up, including this post about my nephew’s cute fishing story and this one about developing “real” relationships with our friends.   And then there were posts that started conversations and made a difference to people, like “A Letter To My Son’s Soccer Coach” and “Yes, I’m a Christian.  No, I’m Not Like That.”  However, the posts that I chose as my top 5 are posts that are so close to my heart that all kinds of hidden emotions start swirling when I read them.  You can click on the infographic below to go to the “live” version.  It has links that will take you to any of the posts that you want to revisit! (Aren’t these infographics FUN?!?!?)

top-5-favorite-posts-on-still-chasing-fireflies (3)

Now it’s your turn!  I REALLY want to hear about your favorite posts on Still Chasing Fireflies in the past year.  Please comment, here or on Facebook or both.  Let’s create a conversation.  Thanks for chasing fireflies with me this year!

~Mary Ann

 

Happy First Birthday, Fireflies!

birthday cake google rights

Last week, Still Chasing Fireflies turned one, a milestone that I am beyond excited to SHARE and CELEBRATE with YOU!  Since my husband (wisely) says no more babies at our house and since I had been feeling a bit blue about my kids growing like weeds right before my eyes, the birth of the blog really did feel like a new baby to me.  I’ve lost sleep over it.  I’ve skipped showers to take care of it.  I’ve wondered if I’ve made mistakes in raising it, and I’ve experienced some of my greatest joy by investing in it.  And that’s just in the first year!

I remember when each of my sons turned one.  Oh, how we celebrated!  I remember the little party hats that I made them from brightly colored cardstock.  I remember wiping frosting from every chubby baby roll after the candles were blown out and the cake was just a heaping pile of crumbs.  I remember my babies’ toothless smiles and chubby cheeks, and, fortunately, I took plenty of photos to commemorate the moments.

First birthdays are a BIG DEAL, people!

For the next three days, I invite you to celebrate Still Chasing Fireflies’ birthday with me!  Today, check out this cool “year in review” infographic that I made with a fun online tool that you can find at piktochart.com.  Each event on the timeline is linked to the corresponding article or video, so be sure to check out anything that you had forgotten or missed!

still-chasing-fireflies-first-year

Tomorrow, I will share another infographic of my personal top five favorite posts of the year, and Friday we will talk about some new ideas on the horizon. Please be ready to comment tomorrow! What was your favorite post of year one?

As always, thanks for chasing fireflies with me!  I truly feel that every milestone belongs to all of us as we journey together!

~Mary Ann