Last month I had an op-ed featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Three weeks ago, I finished writing a new op-ed. 

Today, that document continues to sit on my desktop. 

I haven’t submitted it anywhere. And while I know the subject is important and needs to be discussed, it is no longer a priority. 

The world has turned upside down. In jarring ways, perspectives have been opened. 
Routines, careers, passions, relationships and ideas have been put on hold. Shelved, to shift energies and efforts toward survival. Rightfully so. 

But that does not mean those routines, careers, passions, relationships and ideas are not meaningful, worthwhile or valuable. 

I hope, dearly, that we can see it through to the other side of this unthinkable with as little loss of life as possible. 

That is priority number one. 

And I also hope that the routines, careers, passions, relationships and ideas that have been paused can re-emerge more thoughtful and powerful than before.

I’m a mom, feminist, and fan of J. Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl halftime show

The Super Bowl is broadcast in over 130 countries in 30 languages. Viewership estimates for the 2020 game range between 99.9 and 102 million, making it the tenth most watched game in Super Bowl history. With that many people tuning in around the globe and so many brands using it as a platform to promote their products and services, it is undeniably a cultural touchpoint.

Fox reports that 103 million tuned in for the 2020 halftime show—over a million more than actually watched the game.

My husband and I recorded the game with plans to start watching as soon as we got our two-year-old and three-year-old to bed for the night. We finally turned it on around 8 p.m. but by 9 p.m. I was so tired, I went to bed. 

When I woke up the next day I immediately saw online chatter of the halftime show and as the morning went on I heard more from parents in our community. 

Parents who watched with their kids or hosted watch parties for their children and their friends were left flabbergasted during the performance. Do we turn it off? Let it play? Valid questions for any parent to have, especially if children other than their own were in the house.

I finally got a chance late Monday afternoon to watch the show. Initial takeaway? I liked it. As the day and week went on, I read articles pushing for a parental warning for future halftime shows, listened to Alt.Latino radio unpack the show, and discussed it with friends and family. 

While a warning or rating can, of course, help a parent decide whether or not to let their children watch the halftime show in their own home, it won’t prevent school-aged kids from hearing about it the next morning at school, at a practice the next afternoon, or seeing it on YouTube or news loops for the next week. With 103 million people seeing the show in real time, it’s going to be talked about. 

When Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” occurred in 2004 I remember it being the talk of the high school halls the next day. I did not watch the halftime show that year (I’d, once again, gone to bed early). But, in 2004 our high school selves didn’t even have our Motorola Razrs yet (they didn’t hit the market until the third quarter of that year). So, the wardrobe malfunction was largely contained. It wasn’t at our fingertips to search, pull up, and watch and discuss among our peers. Today, the average age at which a child receives their first internet-enabled cell phone is 10. Even if your child does not have a cell phone, they likely have a peer in a class or practice who does. The halftime show is accessible long after the game is over and when parents won’t be there to police it.

As a parent, I would rather have my children watch the halftime show with me. Where I can guide the conversation, provide context, and answer questions they might have.

Sure, there were elements of the show I wouldn’t have chosen to have performed exactly as-is, but it wasn’t my show to choreograph. And that is a lesson in and of itself: the artist gets to decide the scope of a performance, not the audience. 

Ultimately, J.Lo and Shakira’s halftime show was a performance of empowerment. It was a celebration of culture and women. A championing of career. A call to be who you are, unapologetically.

Songs from across their decades-long careers were included in the mash-up and cultural nods were peppered throughout the performance. Shakira’s widely-memed tongue-flicking is an act of celebration in Lebanese culture called zaghrouta. Their clothing and dancing echoed carnival celebrations throughout Latin America (also already seen by and introduced to any kid who has watched the animated children’s movie Rio). This attire also was not new or atypical for Shakira and J. Lo performances. A concerned parent can do a quick search on announced performers and see previous shows. And as far as a “family-friendly” expectation for the Super Bowl goes, I’d be curious as to know whether parents are discussing the rap sheets of some of the athletes competing in the NFL (past and present). And bottom-line? Women can wear what they want. 

Shakira and J. Lo are two of the most-recognized Latinas in the U.S. and yet xenophobic Americans still only want to view them through a specific lens—a belief that J. Lo and Shakira should only perform in ways that Americans deem to be “appropriate” or “acceptable.”

When J. Lo brought her daughter on stage, started with Springsteen’s Born in the USA, and launched into Let’s Get Loud, I got chills. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s performance is ushering in the next-generation of Americans to a more accepting society. A place where what you wear, where you come from, and what your gender or sexuality is, does not dictate what you accomplish or who you become. 

This was a performance about being you–with pride, of not forcing yourself to fit into someone else’s prescribed notions or expectations for their comfort. All things I want to teach my children (along with discussing the elements of the show I could’ve done without) when they’re old enough to stay up for the halftime show, and I can stay awake long enough for it too.

So, yes. Let’s get loud. 

Not now doesn’t mean not ever

Raising a two-year-old and three-year-old, we talk a lot about patience in our house. Usually hourly. They want a juice box, the toy the other one is playing with, to watch a show. It’s not the commonplace things they have trouble waiting for, but those that are special, exciting. A treat.  

We talk about waiting our turn: “you will get it, but not yet.” We talk about asking nicely and not whining. And we expect that one day this will all click and we will no longer need to have these conversations. 

But last night I realized I probably need to be having these conversations with myself. 

Why do we expect toddlers to wait patiently when we still haven’t seemed to have mastered this skill as adults?

Sure, by the time we’re adults we’ve learned to wait for our food at restaurants, for our turn in line at the BMV, and even for the weekend–all of which are commonplace things. But what about the bigger items? Those that are special, exciting. A treat.

An essay I wrote was accepted for publication last month. Which was exciting at first but the longer I’ve had to wait to see it in print, the more restless I’ve become.  

This kind of impatience isn’t just contained to career. Some of us could be waiting on friendships, test results, perceived milestones for ourselves or our children, a home. 

In the face of rejection and silence it can be easy to believe that this is how it will always be—especially when the disappointments stack up. We forget, just because something isn’t happening right now, doesn’t mean it will never happen.

It’s usually the things that are special, the ones we want the most, that are the hardest to wait for. 

So, when the weight of another let down, missed opportunity, or heartbreak hits, do not be fooled. This is not how it will always be. Not now doesn’t mean not ever. There are more tomorrows ahead. Plenty will be filled with disappointments and rejections but plenty will also be filled with victories. 

Our turn is coming. It may not look how we initially thought it would, it may not come when we want it to. But it will come. We just have to be patient.

New Year, New Books

I haven’t been active on this page the last few months mostly because what my writing outside of work has centered on. As you get older some things become less black and white while simultaneously becoming more clear. What and who you devote your time to pans out after some tricky negotiating. What you hold close–particularly in today’s age of oversharing–becomes more sacred.

I ended 2019 with the same people, in the same home I started it with. That simple and enormous fact I am grateful for. As Levi and I headed to bed before 11 p.m., I crept into each of our kid’s rooms to check on them (despite being able to see them on the monitor) and physically felt the weight of this gift: their tiny backs rising and falling under the palm of my hand.

I began 2019 with no resolutions and am doing the same for 2020. No sweeping transformative plans or hard-set goals. Unburdened by the confines of a resolution, I am free to follow whatever sets a spark.

For me, 2019 was a year of reading. I finished 13 books which, to an avid read, may be a typical quarterly quotient. But, as a work-from-home mom with a two-year-old and three-year-old, it was the most I’ve read in years. I also started reading five other titles and ended up not finishing them because, once again, time is valuable and I wasn’t going to spend it slugging through a book I wasn’t gleaning anything from or enjoying.

2019 Titles

  1. Circling the Sun, Paula McClain, Historical Fiction, 496 pages, 1/9/19
  2. The Witch Elm, Tana French, Crime Fiction, 528 pages, 1/24/19
  3. Educated, Tara Westover, Memoir, 334 pages, 2/22/19
  4. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Hannah Tinti, Coming-of-age Fiction, 376 pages, 4/4/19
  5. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, Historical Literary Fiction, 6/23/19
  6. Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Literary Fiction, 6/29/19
  7. The Gifted School, Bruce Holsinger, Literary Fiction, 8/3/19
  8. Dominicana, Angie Cruz, Coming-of-age Fiction, 8/18/19
  9. Wild Game, Adrienne Brodeur, Memoir, 9/6/19
  10. This Tender Land, William Kent Krueger, Literary Fiction, 11/7/19
  11. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert, Romance, 11/15/19
  12. The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell, Psychological Thriller, 11/24/19
  13. The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes, Historical Fiction, 12/13/19

2019 Top Three

  1. My favorite book of 2019 was Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. A switchback narrative centering on the lives of Yale Tishman, a gay art director living in 1980s Chicago when the AIDS crisis hits and Fiona, the younger sister of one of Yale’s closest friends who is grappling with her own family in modern-day Paris. Eye-opening and heartbreaking, The Great Believers had me missing the characters for weeks after I turned the final page. The Great Believers won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie medal, the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
  2. My runner-up read of 2019 was The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. This switchback narrative tells the story of former con Samuel Hawley and his teenage daughter, Loo, new-to-town outcasts who are running from and reasoning with their pasts in an attempt to build a more settled future. Tinti masterfully captures place, painting vivid images of Alaska, Wisconsin, Arizona, and a fictional Olympus, Massachusetts that made me want to pack my bags and head to Gloucester, Massachusetts for a long weekend.
  3. Rounding out my top three is Educated by Tara Westover. A memoir detailing the incredible arc of growing up in an isolationist household with no formal schooling, escaping those bonds, and fighting to discover knowledge and receive an education–no matter the cost.

Reading is an active pause from our everyday lives and own narratives. The direction our culture is headed–with social media becoming enmeshed in our day-to-day–is a breeding ground for a self-centered and comparative society. It doesn’t lend to empathy.

When you read a book you step into the complex story of another person–not a picture or post of a single moment or experience. Spending time in the mind and life of someone else–whether real or imagined–and considering their problems and motivations demands perspective of our own life.

In 2019 I read over 5,000 pages in which I got to glimpse into the life of a Dominicana child bride immigrant in 1960s New York City, a girl who grew up in colonial Kenya in the 1920s and became a record-setting aviator, and a man who lost everything to the AIDS crisis in a time when there was little to no support to those who were suffering.

New year, same me. But hopefully 2020 will be another year filled with new books that prompt me to see things differently, connect me with people from other places and times, and remind me to be grateful for my own story.

Personal Records

I’ve run races where I had a time in mind I wanted to finish in and I’ve run races where I simply wanted to finish. And it seems like when it comes to running, these personal records (PRs) are the two most common goals. Since running my first half marathon nine years ago, I’ve discovered there are other kinds of goals. They may not come with the same outward glory, but in a funny way, they can have a bigger pay-off. 

The 2019 Akron Marathon marked my fifth half marathon and it was big for a couple reasons. First, it was the first half marathon I’ve ran since having two kids. Second, it was the first half marathon my husband, Levi, has ever ran. 

Over the past ten years Levi has joined me on countless long runs—on his bike. He is an athletic guy but long-distance running was something he simply wasn’t drawn to. He did, however, know running was important to me. So, he kept me company and gave me peace of mind as I logged early morning runs, cheered me on at every race, and wrapped ice around my legs afterward.

We’re not entirely sure how we ended up registered for the Akron half. Levi swears I asked him to run it and I swear he asked me to run it—funny how that happens. Somehow, we said we were going to do it and spent the next three months training. 

As I was training, I knew I wasn’t likely to come close to my half marathon PR time. When I hit my PR of a sub-two hour half I trained hard, had a goal time, and running was a high priority in my life. 

But, a few years and kids later, my priorities shifted.

Levi and I jammed training runs into odd hours of the day—in the dark, in the heat, pushing our one-year-old and three-year-old in strollers—wherever and however we could squeeze miles in around caring for our kids, working, and summer travel. 

I was happy to be running long distances again, happy my body could run long distances after having two kids in less than two years, and it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to PR. Run your race I’d tell myself when starting out on a long run, and I let my body and how I felt guide how fast I ran.

As summer stretched on Levi and I were able to do a few of our long training runs together. For the first two, I ran faster than him. On the last one he was running faster than me, but at mile 10 he looped around to finish the final mile alongside me. When I saw him sweep around and start back toward me, I was both relieved and happy. I can do this. I thought.  I’m not in this alone. 

Race day came and we tiptoed out of our house at 5:45 a.m. to not wake our sleeping babies or my parents, who graciously volunteered to babysit. It was unseasonably warm and humid for late September but we were glad race day was finally here and we were both looking forward to crossing the finish line. 

As we waited with thousands of other runners in the start corrals we agreed if we were within sight of each other toward the end of the race, we’d finish together. 

We were separated early on but the crowd support and constant hills kept me distracted and propelled me forward. At mile seven I heard a voice behind me. “Where have you been?” Levi flashed a smile and fell in stride alongside me.

By mile eight Levi and I were both struggling more than we had on any of our training runs—the hills and weather were taking a toll. At mile nine we came to the biggest hill of the course and as we crested it we agreed we’d finish out the last four miles together. 

With the biggest hill behind me and only four miles ahead of me, I felt good. I was hitting my stride again. And at the same time, Levi hit a wall. 

So, I slowed down to stay with him.  

He repeatedly told me to run ahead, but to me, a 10-minute difference in my finish time wasn’t as important as finishing a half marathon alongside him. If you had floated the idea to me a few years ago to intentionally run slower in a race, I wouldn’t have considered it. But, at this race, where I didn’t have a goal time and I already knew I was going to be crossing the finish line, staying with Levi was easy. My goal was to stick with him like he stuck with me on that last training run. 

People passed me and I didn’t care. I read spectator signs, drank a Dixie cup of warm beer from a block party at mile 11, and when Levi’s quad cramped up and he had to walk some more I walked with him and offered up my best pep talk. 

When I think of the younger version of myself—the one who would have never considered slowing down her pace in a race—I know I had more to learn. I didn’t get a personal record in this race but in a lot of ways I am more appreciative of the outcome. My goal wasn’t about my finish time or whether or not I’d cross the finish line, but about the people I love. It was about running this race with Levi after we spent the summer training together and caring for our young family. 

Sometimes, it’s not about the miles, minutes, or medals, but who you are running with. And that rings true on and off the course.