It’s a break, not a breakup

My hair and I are taking a break.

Am I sad about it? Yeah.

Do I wish it didn’t have to be this way? I really do.

What happened? I don’t know, I’ve been kinda busy lately, I guess. I just need some time to figure things out.

Tonight as I was in the shower not washing my hair, my hair was all “Um, hey. Can we talk?” And I was all, “Of course, Hair. Shoot!”

Hair: Well, I’m just wondering when you’re going to wash me again…it’s been a couple-three-maybe-four days?

Me: What? What? I can’t understand you, Hair.

Hair: Yeah. Sorry. Um, it’s sorta hard to talk when I’m all tied up in one of these black rubber bands from Target, you know?

Me: Oh, snap. I’m so sorry, Hair. Let me take that out for you.

Hair: (sucking in fresh air) Oh, wow. Thanks, Emily. That feels so good! I can breathe! Man, I don’t remember the last time I—

Me: —Hair, I know what you’re about to say, and I just want to apolo—

Hair: No, no. It’s ok. You don’t have to do that. I mean, I see what’s going on. I get it.

Me: No, Hair. I’m serious. I miss you. Really, really miss you. I love you. I mean, you’re my hair! I wish it weren’t like this right now. Sometimes I get a little nostalgic about all the great times we’ve had together…

Hair: Yeah, me, too! Like when you used to curl me for work a few mornings a week?

Me: Yeah! Or when I put in extra product and hot rollers to make really big, flouncy curls?

Hair: Oh, yeah. And what about that special stuff you spray all over me when you use the flat iron? Gah! I love the way it smells!

Me: Me, too, Hair. I even like just hanging out with you and letting you air dry. You have some really nice natural waves, you know that? I mean it. I really take those for granted sometimes.

Hair: And I love when you do that one French braid on the side of your head…

Hair: Look, Emily, I don’t want to belabor my point or anything here, but I think the only thing you’ve put on me in a while is that aerosol powder.

Me: Oh, you mean dry shampoo?

Hair: Yeah. You use, like, a LOT of it. I’m not a doctor or anything, but aren’t you worried about respiratory toxicity or something?

Me: I wasn’t until you mentioned it…

Hair: Maybe you could try actual shampoo more often?

Me: Hair, I hear you. I love you. And I really wish I could commit to that right now. I just don’t think I have the time to put into that kind of relationship. There’s the baby, the boys, and work is crazy right now and I’m not getting much sleep and I’m just not mentally prepared to to dry you and…

Hair: I know, Emily. I’d like more of a commitment but, like I say, I get it. I just miss you.

Me: Honestly, Hair, I didn’t realize you had feelings until right now, but let me tell you the truth: I’d give you all the water and shampoo, deep conditioning and heat protectant spray, curling and attention in the world if I could. Maybe I just need some time to figure things out. Could you wait for me? Would you do that?

Hair: Yeah, that’s cool. Take your time, Emily. I’ll be here. And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with that Nancy Drew ponytail and the messy fake bun in the mean time. Whatever you do, just don’t do the mom chop or I swear I’ll…

Me: Aw no. You’re safe on that, Hair. I think we did enough pageboy during my childhood. Never again.

Hair: Never again. Ok, well, let me know when you’re ready to talk about that bikini line…

Me: Don’t even.


(1) My coworker, Lindsey, coined the “Nancy Drew.” (2) Fake bun (3&4) Behold, the only time I have done my hair in at least three months.

Mama does Lolla

photo 2

Daytime crowds.

You’ve never seen crowds like this. This is all new.

You’re trying to make yourself as narrow as possible to sneak through a converging labyrinth of girls in high-waisted denim shorts and crop tops or sheer bodysuits, and shirtless guys sipping from CamelBaks. You don’t even bother to say “excuse me” because, at this point in the day, the teens are well into their molly, their cocaine, their smoke and no one cares. But they’re also not moving. Because, like you, they’re here to see The Weeknd, and they won’t budge.

You first started listening to The Weeknd three years ago, when one of your friends said he thought you should. So you did. To all his mixtapes, almost every day, but only when the kids were in bed and you were alone because he sings about sex and drugs and pain in a way so real and so raw that it feels private, like a secret you’re keeping for him.

This guy sings words and ideas you can’t believe one would admit so openly. He comes out with darkness—society’s and his own—in a way that slays you. You’re mesmerized and a little bit floored. The boldness! His music becomes your escape to a totally different life, not one you want, but one you want to understand. You’re intrigued by the “XO” (ecstasy + oxycodone) devil-may-care sensibility that The Weeknd embodies. It’s a middle finger to everything judgey and a thumbs up to recklessness. Essentially, a complete departure from your entire existence.

The intrigue is not about recklessness for you—it’s that you want to be that open. Wide open. Without a thought to who might care, and without a care of what they might think of you.

At the time, the only people you know who love him as much as you do are your friend in LA, the radiant chick rapper you met at the resale shop (Loretta Mars. Check her out.) and the rival gangbangers who showed up to your block party that one summer and scrolled through your iPod like, “Damn, mami!”

This night, though, thousands of kids are holding up XOs with their hands and talking about how much they hope he does “I can’t feel my face.”

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls.

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls, just before Sylvan Esso and, later, The Weeknd.

Bye-bye, buddy system.

One hour earlier, you were watching Sylvan Esso finish her set in the grove with two girlfriends. “I don’t care at ALL about The Weeknd,” one of them says and the other one just smiles. “You’re on your own for that show. See you at 11 at the Givers after show.” Your girls go to Paul McCartney to hang out with dad jeans, high fives and pyrotechnics. You plan to meet at a bar in Wicker Park to see a show at 11 p.m. You head a different direction.

You push through crowds of very young people until the density is such that you are in some way touching another human being on at least three sides of your body. You stay there.

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words “Everyone is 20.” If you look closely, you’ll notice a shirtless male wearing a CamelBak. Take note. You’re about to meet him.

“Hey, um, why are you so dressed up?” a voice asks over your left shoulder. You look up to see a tall, shirtless guy wearing a CamelBak.

“Oh, am I dressed up?” you ask.

“Like, yeah. I mean all the other girls here are in like, bras with their asses hanging out of their shorts, and you’re in a full-on dress.”

“Oh, yeah. Looks like you’re right,” you say. “Maybe cuz I’m not 20?”

“Oh, ok,” he says, smiling. “Cool.” He’s adorable in his strapping, blond, youthful glory. And he seems nice. So you ask a question.

“So, hey, is The Weeknd, like, hugely popular with all the 20-year-olds? I mean, when did that happen?” You decide it’s best to go all in with the Old Lady bit. “I thought I might be able to get up closer 30 minutes out of his show. But this is crazy!”

You really had no idea. You just figured he got popular when he did that 50 Shades of Gray song. “I dunno. I’ve been listening to The Weeknd for about three years,” the guy says. “His music helps me focus. I love it.”

The young guy introduces himself, asks you why you’re there. How did you first hear about The Weeknd? What are your favorite songs? What do you hope he plays? Do you live in the city? What do you do for work? What do you write? How old are your kids? He’s just turned 21. He tells you that you don’t look “old.”

“Definitely not 35, not that that’s old at ALL. C’mon, you’re only 14 years older than me. That’s nothing. I mean, you’re really pretty, too. That’s why I first talked to you. I would NEVER have guessed you were as old as you are. Which isn’t old, for the record.” Two girls centimeters in front of your face turn around to survey you and smile-scowl. You think maybe they would like to be talking with him, so you smile at them and turn your body away from him to give them an in.

He moves in closer to you, says it’s so nice to have a conversation with a girl who’s not like all the other girls there. You tell him to keep an open mind to the younger girls. You’re sure there are young women his age who are devastatingly lovely, but sometimes being 20 is not about knowing or showing it. But 20 is good and fun and important.

You wonder if you should move, because you’re not there to get your swerve on with a 21 year old, but this guy and his friends are so cute and warm and good, so you stay put and chat casually until the sky goes dark.

Waiting for the show to start.

Waiting for the show to start.

The Weeknd comes out and opens with one of your favorites from “House of Balloons.” It’s almost exhilarating. You wish you were up closer, but the energy is still buzzing. Arms are up, everyone is dancing. You know all the words.

“Can you see ok?” the guy asks right in your ear.

“Yeah! I can. It’s great!” you say, still watching the stage.

“No, really. Can you see ok?” he’s yelling in your ear. “You love this guy. Don’t you want to see him better?”

“Ummmm? I think this is good,” you call back to him, eyes on the stage.

The guy leans down and his face drops in front of yours. “I’m asking if you want to get on my shoulders.”

What the hell? Those are words no one has EVER asked you. You burst out laughing.

“Oh, no way! You’re sweet to offer, but I’m a big girl and I’d probably hurt you. There’s no way. But thanks!”

He gives you a discerning look and steps back. You notice he’s ridiculously cut. (because he’s shirtless and wearing only a CamelBak. Right. How had you missed this till now?) “As long as you’re not more than 500 pounds, which is what I bench, I’ll be fine. And you’re nowhere close to that, so don’t worry about me. C’mon, Emily. It’ll be fun!”

You giggle nervously and fear streaks through you. Would it be fun? You wonder for a split second. No! The answer is no! Wait. It’s NOT appropriate for a woman your age to do such things. What would people say? No!

You emphatically decline again and you keep dancing. Nervously. You notice several girls on shoulders around you. But they’re 20. You are embarrassed and terrified that you even considered the invitation for a second, but he won’t leave you alone about it and deep down inside you really, really want to say yes.

“Emily. Everyone else is up, so you might as well get up, too. Come on. You’ll have fun.” He takes your hands in his and squats down in front of you.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

As if out of body, you watch yourself agreeing to this nonsense before you can stop it. Because you’ve wanted to go to Lollapalooza since Pearl Jam was there in 1992 and you’re fucking there and you are free to do as you please and you don’t know a soul in the crowd and as you place your thighs on either side of the back of his neck, you panic because you are just way too sweaty, way too heavy, way too sober, way too amazon, way too scandalous, way too old to actually do this and the next second you’re in the air, wobbling precariously—it’s seriously kinda scary for a couple ticks—till you find your balance on the shoulders of a 21-year-old body builder and the girls in front of you are looking up at you with absolute glee (must be the molly) and you know you look shameful perched above the crowd in your blue dress and 35-year-old-ness and you had your 7-year-old son there with you earlier in the day for goodness’ sake and it all feels obscene and deplorable and Absolutely. Fucking. Amaaaaazing.

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he's pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he’s pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

You cannot stop smiling. At first it’s out of embarrassment, but then you realize you are literally in the clouds, high above a sea of people all rocking to an artist you love. You note that The Weeknd would probably be extra proud of you for not caring what the people think. You laugh and relax slightly as the guy dances beneath you and you can’t help but think of the Guns & Roses concerts you watched when you were a kid and MTV still played videos, and when you confess this tale to your sister the next day she asks you if you flashed your boobs because that’s what you do on shoulders at concerts, right? (No. Der. It’s not 1985.) Up there on this adorable kid’s shoulders, it’s just you, arms outstretched, bathed by stage lights in front and a blue moon behind. A literal blue moon. You look up at the sky, at the stage and throw your head back in laughter. Then a couple euphoric minutes later, you ask the guy to kindly bring you back down. He doesn’t hear you, so you have to touch his face and repeat your request. Your cheeks MUST be as flushed as the hot pink lipstick you’re wearing. And you don’t even care.

The girls in front reach their hands out to help you land safely. “Why so soon? I could’ve held you for so much longer,” the guy says with a huge smile. “Did you have fun?!”

You had SO much fun.

“Any time you want to get back up, just let me know,” he grins.

You know you won’t ask him—or anyone—to hoist you up again. It was sort of like crowd surfing…it was awesome that one time in college, but you don’t need to do it again. The ground is fine for concert viewing, thank you. You feel strangely grateful to this guy and you wonder where he came from and why that just happened. And you’re still smiling. And you dance. And the night is young. And The Weeknd plays on.


Just because, here are pics that tell a different story from the day…

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.


Just some cats rappin’

Mamas and boys

Mamas and boys


Lil drummer boy

We actually had the best day ever together.

Silly faces.

Up front. Charlie's first rock concert. First Lolla for us both.

Up front for Cold War Kids. Charlie’s first rock show. First Lolla for us both.

Victory is mine! I conquer swim meet angst and release an old nightmare from the depths.


Peace out, old demons. I got my victory on and loved every hundredth-of-a-second of it.

I’ve had a recurring bad dream for nearly two decades.

I walk into an important swim meet or a killer high-yardage workout for which I’m ill prepared, and everything (EVERYTHING!) is riding on how well I swim. I always try to explain that I quit swimming years ago, but my coaches won’t hear it. They make me swim anyway. And I’m gripped by fear, inadequacy and insane awareness of my mom belly.

I know people who have actual nightmares, so I recognize this doesn’t qualify, but I still wake up breathing hard and patting the bed around me.


This is me. In the black suit. On the blocks. Lane 3. Rocking my first track start in 17 years.

Past-life regression, swim-style

There’s much to be said about my former life as a competitive swimmer, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. When I was 15, the most important thing in the world to me, besides boy craziness and an undying, unrequited fondness for Josh, was qualifying for Junior Nationals.
  2. I missed the Junior Nationals qualifying time by two one-hundredths of a second.
  3. I thought going to Junior Nationals would make me awesome. I thought not going made me un-awesome.
  4. I spent the next two years of high school training really hard in and out of the pool, sometimes six hours a day, to shave those last two one hundredths off my time.
  5. I never swam fast enough to qualify for Junior Nationals.

On realizing I was never going to Junior Nationals, which would’ve been my ticket to both awesomeness and a decent Division I scholarship, I was devastated. Openly so for several months, and covertly so for a lot of years.


This is me trying to beat the boy in lane 1. (Revelation! In this masters meet, we were seeded solely by time, so I ended up swimming against both sexes and all age groups, depending on my seed time. Yet another way–like the fact I swam the 100 IM–in which Masters reminds me of being 7 years old.)

But it was more than just a race to me, my coach said so.

Enter Hank Krusen, one of my all-time favorite coaches. He pulled me aside during practice one day about six months after my fateful so-close race in Oklahoma City to give me a piece of his mind:

The 100 breaststroke is just a metaphor for life. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put your whole self into it. Then, when it comes time to race, trust you’re ready. And go for it.

I see you holding yourself back. Why? Think about it and find the answer. If you don’t fix this, you’ll come up against this theme for the rest of your life. It’s a JOs cut now, but someday it’ll be a job, or a relationship, or a calling or any number of things. You’ve got to go for what you want. Nip this in the bud now so it doesn’t become a pattern in your life.

So much for happy-go-lucky teenager. It was a tough little chat for 16-year-old me. But Hank’s words still ring true.

The Coach Hank effect

Now any time I feel simultaneously afraid and electrified by anything, I take notice. Why the reaction? Is fear holding me back? Once I’ve explored the feelings and determined fear is showing up as a saboteur, I get behind the part that feels electrified, go for it and see where it takes me. It can get bumpy, but Hank’s advice has proven to be spot on. I think his advice is how I ended up joining a masters swim team last fall and, furthermore, entering a masters swim meet a couple weeks ago.

To be sure, leading up to the meet, fear and electricity were in a stranglehold, generally fueled by a vague question with endless applications: What if I don’t meet expectations?


This is me again. Swim caps make me look so pretty. (Photo credit: my amazing friend, Kellie. She is the bomb diggy. So much so that she morphed into a proud mama as soon as I stepped onto the block and snapped 600 photos of me swimming.) It’s kinda hard to believe how awesome she is.

Surprise! The whole racing-again shebang exceeds my expectations. 

There’s much to be said about the High Ridge YMCA US Masters meet, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. I qualified for nationals in the 100 breaststroke—masters “old-people” nationals, but still. It felt awesome. I also qualified in three other events.
  2. I felt joyful and alive from the moment I got in to warm up till the end of the meet. I had so. much. fun.
  3. I was mysteriously calm before each of my races, two of which I won. (Woot.)
  4. My nightmares are gone. In fact, Peter D. Malone and Hank Krusen have made nary a visit from the depths of my sleeping unconscious since I swam in the meet.
  5. I will not be going to Nationals. This is key. I may have healed an aspect of my teenagey swimmery self, but I’m not even trying to pretend I’m suddenly Dara Torres. This is still just about having fun and getting a workout.
swim smiles

See how much fun I had? Even without my face on (because you know how much I love playing with eye makeup), it seems I was really freaking happy.

So, WWTET*? (What Would Teen Emily Think?) 

Let’s time travel for a moment. I think my 17-year-old self would chuckle at the idea of 34-year-old me competing in a masters meet, and being psyched about qualifying for Masters Nationals. It wouldn’t smack of “cool” to her, after all.

But after she laughed behind my back, I think she’d also feel kinda relieved. Reassured to find there was indeed life after the only life she knew, and life after missing the mark that meant so much. Comforted to know the richness of her world 17 years in the future. And I think her heart would feel lighter knowing she’d eventually find joy in swimming once again.



Fast approaching: My first swim meet in nearly two decades.

I’m swimming in a swim meet this Sunday. It’ll be my first in 17 years.


See? It’s for real. I’m swimming the 100 IM in a swim meet for grown ups. I repeat the 100. Not the 200 IM, not the 400 IM. The 100. And a bunch of 50s. Cha cha cha.

Mysteriously, I ended up in a pool back in October. I suppose I wanted to take an interest in myself again, I wanted to give my body the gift of movement, to tell my arms and legs and everything in between, “Hey, I see you. You made a couple babies and you want to be strong again. I get it. And you deserve that. I appreciate all you do. Let’s spend some time together.” And swimming is what I knew, so I went for it.

I stumbled upon a soul sister of a masters coach and small crew of laid-back, smart-assed, superfun swimfriends. We don’t do crazy yardage; we just get exercise. We gab during sets. We take long rest intervals. We do social kick. We laugh. We goof around. We enjoy being in the water. It’s nothing like the intensity that permeated my olden days. Let it be known I was never a swimming phenom, but it was my entire life at one time. I may not have been bound for the Olympics, but I trained like I was. (Possibly because one of my teammates actually was training for the Olympics and ultimately won gold in 1996. I just kinda ate her wake.) I always adored my BFF teammates and did enjoy a good race back then but, compared to high school, my swimming do-over is a chilled-out dream.

And so here I am approaching Sunday, when I’ll swim four races, three of which I haven’t swum since I was approximately 10 years of age because only summer leaguers and Masters swimmers rock 50 flys and 100 IMs. That said, I did decide to try the 100 breaststroke, which I last swam the spring of 1997, at the Kansas high school state meet.


State championships, circa 1997. What’s up, Manhattan, Kan.? I think this was snapped just before my last race. Also known as my forever farewell to 12.5 percent body fat.

Missing the mark

Long story short, this race was my thing. I was never the very bestest at it, not even regionally, but the 100-yd breast was my race. So when I missed my junior national time by two one hundredths of a second (the difference between a so-so college scholarship and a bigger scholarship at a slightly better swimming school) and ultimately never got back down to the time I needed, it devastated me.

Looking back, it’s clear I had more than college riding on that time (1:07.49, btw). Because, see, for a lot of years of my life, I thought swimming was all I could do, all I had to offer. I had school and I had swimming and I was fairly good at both. I wasn’t very pretty, I’d never have a fantastic body and I didn’t think I had a great many other gifts, but people told me that I was an elite athlete and that I was smart. Somewhere along the way, I decided my value in the world rested solely on two pillars: Emily Hughey is athletic and smart. Stop.


I loved a pool from the beginning. Betcha I didn’t give a flip about what I was and wasn’t back then. What’s athletic? What’s smart? What’s pretty? I’d yet to identify with any of these things as constructs for self worth. Also, how cute is my mom?

Thanks to the encouragement of an outrageously cool boyfriend who saw me for way more than I saw myself (three cheers for Sam, y’all), I made the decision to see what else I could be, foregoing the chance to swim in college and quitting the sport after State, at which point I enrolled in the University of Kansas, joined a sorority and the newspaper and decided that Emily Hughey would be fun and smart. Stop.

Fast forward 17 years, a couple careers, an expat stint in Mexico, typhoid fever, eight years of meditation, an intricate soul mate relationship-turned-marriage, two children, one Enoughness Project and worlds of change later. I’m 34 years old and in the pool again—the same chlorine, the same black line and the same stroke count in from the flags to the wall—but this time around:

  1. I’m not all that smart, thank goodness. It’s such a relief not having to know everything.
  2. “Athletic,” “smart,” and “fun” aren’t even in the top five of things I have to offer these days. Oh, unless we’re out drinking, in which case “Fun Emily” reigns.
  3. While it’s just as unnerving to be in a swimsuit in front of boys as it once was, I’ve miraculously grown to (mostly) appreciate my body aesthetic for the first time ever.

Then what the deuce is up with the stuff that’s coming up right now?

If I’m supposedly so different from teenage Emily, so evolved beyond my adolescence, why are some of the familiar not-good-enough beliefs about myself cropping up as I get close to this meet? For example…

  • If I don’t swim less than 10 seconds over my best time from when I was 15 years old, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t win all my races, am I not good enough?
  • If I lose, am I not good enough?
  • When there are other swimmer moms with way hotter bodies on that pool deck, am I not good enough?
  • If I take my race too seriously, am I not good enough?
  • If I’m not light-hearted enough about it all, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t have an appropriate amount of fun…

Is this fun enough!? Can I be laid back about swimming in a meet? Can I have fun racing again? We’ll see…

When I bore my friends, compassionate pals that they are (d’ya hear me, Sister, Brian, Jeff, cin and Kellie?) with this rant, they say, “Just have fun. Who cares? This is about fun. Your time doesn’t matter.” But, fact is, I’m not practiced at having fun swimming. Swimming was always a loaded thing for me. Swim fast; get props. Don’t; don’t. So if you want to feel good, you better do well.

It’s taken me a full four months just to get used to enjoying workouts—and I finally do. victory!—but this have-fun-and-be-chill-about-racing-don’t-link-performance-with-self-worth thing is new territory. How will it unfold?

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but the good news is I get to face it head-on at 8 a.m. Sunday, when the first gun goes off and my little guys, who’ve never even seen me in goggles, are cheering for me in the stands.

Wish me luck?


I left this note, along with three lonely mozzarella sticks, for Brian and the boys before I left the house one recent Sunday afternoon. The swimmer Emily of old never would’ve had this on her training table–candy corns in abundance, yes, but never something loaded with so much fat. I invite that Emily to sit down. This time around is about fun.

Surprise! Professional portraits prove more pleasurable than…alliteration, I guess.

Yes, the cocked hip is weird and unintentional. Kip would. not. look. at the camera, so I’m sure this odd positioning must’ve helped. Nevermind all that. We did it! We got professional family photos taken! And I didn’t hate it! And I actually will consider doing it again! It’s amazing!

I never sent birth announcements for our sons. We don’t do holiday cards. (But I really do love getting yours, so please keep us on your list.) No one is shouting out the adorable Quinn family on Facebook or blogging about how delightful it was taking our pictures in the dewy field that weekend morning.

Historically, the phrase “professional photographs” makes my teeth hurt. And so I don’t do them.

On the other hand, Andrea, my way cooler little sister, loves preserving family moments professionally. To give you a landscape of her diligence versus my neglect on this matter, Nora, my glorious niece and goddaughter, is one year old and they’ve already had professional family photographs taken three times. My boys are four and five and we’ve had our photos taken once. But I thought I looked awful in all the shots, and we never did anything with them.

So…a couple weeks before we celebrated an early Christmas with my parents in Kansas, and Andrea was all, “Sister, I’ve arranged for a photographer to come to Mom and Dad’s house Saturday when you’re in town so we can get some pictures taken of all of us,” I was all, “Oh. Uhh. Ok. That’s…really…nice.”

And she was all: “Dude! What’s your deal?”

And I was all: “Ok, I don’t really know. I just hate getting pictures taken.”

And she was all: “Why!?!?”

Because I feel pressure to look happy and perfect and amazing all at once. I spend so much energy trying not to worry about appearances and then I’m supposed to pose at flattering angles and ask my kids to smile so that we have a happy family memory preserved in excellent lighting? My childhood memories of professional photos include all the women in our family picking at each other and their daughters and telling them to stand up straight and hold their tummies in and it wasn’t fun at all. But what I really hate is the part of me that will pick at my own kids, sweep the boys’ hair with my fingers, tell them to smile and bribe the little guys with candy if they will just stop hiding their faces in my torso. I can’t be expected to look delighted when in fact I’m petrified that, when these pics come back, I’ll find myself looking stressed out and very much the opposite of a gleaming mother.

I don’t remember if I spoke this aloud to her at the time, but it doesn’t matter because my sister knows how I feel about all this, and she’s given me one or two great pep talks on WHY it’s important to get photos taken.

What I did say was this: “Whatever happens, know that I appreciate you wanting to preserve these memories. And I ask you to give me a lil room to figure out what my deal is. I promise to try really hard not to suck when it comes time to get our pics taken.”

And she was all: “Cool.”

So, the second Saturday in December, I made myself look a lot like a news anchor, the Quinn men and I got all dressed up in shades of blue and purple, and we snuggled together in front of the wall in my parents’ living room.

Does my family of origin not look like everyone’s favorite warm, engaging and credible-looking 5 o’clock news team?

And, know what? It was actually kinda fun. It could’ve been the ease, grace and eye of the photographer, or the fact that she used to be a pediatric nurse and knew just how to talk to my boys—one who was being a touch obnoxious and the other defiantly reticent. Or it could’ve been the fact that my enjoyment of the group and the day conjured some primal desire to capture an official portrait of our family. Whatever it was, the fact is, I’m glad we did it.

You probably still won’t find giant portraits of four Quinns dressed in coordinating colors on the walls of my home or in your mailbox in December, but I bet we’ll do this again before another five years go by.

See here for more images from the shoot with Lori Ruf, and check out Lori’s work at Lemon Tree Photography. And, KC peeps, hook it up with her next time you want your pix done. She’s vivacious, easy to be around and great with the childrens. Everybody’s happy.

The greatest gift of this photo shoot with Lori Ruf was scoring several never-before-captured snaps of my little guys and I interacting authentically and joyously in our own way.

I’ve never seen our playfulness and snugglelove in action like this before and it melted this mama’s heart to see it in still. (yep, because nothing is so heartwarming as a head lock…)

Can we all agree my news anchor hair really does look kind of amazing here? I’m pretty happy we got that on film, too. (because it may never look like that again.)

In time for the Winter Solstice, let’s all explore my boozy alter ego!

AKA, MEETING MY DARKNESS AT THE DOOR LAUGHING AND INVITING HER IN (Special thanks to Rumi for the alternate title)

We all have many sides. Some are light, some are dark. And that’s that.

Personally, I have Empathetic Emily, Joyful Emily, Compassionate Emily and Deep-Connecting Emily. On the darker end, I’ve got Self-Absorbed Emily, Serious Overthinking Emily, Talky Emily, Worrying Emily, Judgmental Emily and…

Coming soon to a cocktail party near you: Saucy, Unbridled Emily. (Mom and Dad, feel free to discontinue reading here.)

And she's off. Little Miss Life of the Party.

And she’s off. Little Miss Life of the Party.


Boozy alter-ego: Is she light or is she shadow?

Let’s explore this a bit, shall we? Except in the case of very close friends, who have to deal with my complete personality with some frequency, Saucy, Unbridled Emily usually only makes an appearance while cocktailing. So, because she surfaces when I’m in a less conscious state, it follows that she plays for Team Shadow. (Naturally, our Team Light traits are probably fielded by the personality aspects we want everyone to see in the light of day. The ones we can cultivate.)

After reviewing the fuzzy details from a particularly big night for Saucy, Unbridled Emily at a superbly festive cocktail party, and then feeling the aftermath of “Oh, boy. Did I really go there?” I feel called to explore her. After all, she must be trying to tell me something. I’m not done delving on my own yet but, for starters, I *think* she wants me to grow comfier with her and with owning the things she’s about. She wants me to embrace and display my whole self, not just put my socially acceptable “pretties” on display as for company. In case it helps convince you to explore your own version of a shadowy alter ego, Winter Solstice is next week and we could all be taking advantage of the seasonal support to dive into our own darkness. ‘Tis the season for that.

‘Tis also the season for parties and drinks with friends, which means Saucy, Unbridled Emily has been climbing out of the shadows more than usual. She’s very pleased to meet you, by the way. In fact, she finds you riveting. She wants to know all about you, and she has no taste for small talk, so she’s probably going to say some bold things to coax you into sharing some of your own real stuff. If you shock easily, it might be a little uncomfortable at first, but you’ll warm up as you go along and, in the end, you’ll at least have a modestly entertaining conversation.

Linds and Em

Saucy, Unbridled Emily likes to wear sparkly things. She’s loud. She’s flashy. She’ll tell you like it is. And then some.


Let’s take this out of the third person because, holy cow, it’s time I own the fact that “she” is actually me. I am Saucy, Unbridled Emily. There. I feel better already. Now let’s give some examples of what you and I might chat about should we find ourselves sharing a couple bottles of bubbles, or something with bourbon in it.

Top 10 conversation topics Saucy, Unbridled Emily is most likely to bring up after her third glass of wine

  1. Why we should either go out dancing or put on some 90s jams and have a dance party right in there in your kitchen. Excuse me, Pandora, can you play “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang.”
  2. The clear vision I had of a past life with you. What? You didn’t know I believed in past lives? Oops. I guess we’ve never talked about this before. Yeah…sometimes I have psychic experiences, which sometimes involve visions, which might sometimes involve you. In a good way, though, I promise. It’s totally not as weird as it sounds…
  3. That time I was propositioned by swingers. No, no, no. I hailed a cab long before the catsuit actually came out of the closet.
  4. The metaphysics of Sensory Processing Disorder. Let’s talk about today’s ultra-intuitive kids and the book I’m going to write about them. But first, who needs another drink?
  5. Couples therapy. Mine, that is. Likely as a segue to suggesting you get some, too. Because marriage is hard for everyone, you know? And it’s worth working on. Once you see how normal I am, there’ll be no question therapy is right for you, too. Right?
  6. Outlandish stories about my husband when he was a young, single wild child. Fine. You won’t quit prodding about why he went home early, or why he’s not out with me, so here’s your answer: A.) He’s more of an introvert than I am. Like, by a long shot, B.) He was tired and didn’t want to drink any more and C.) He got his hardcore partying out before we even met. Here, let me tell you about the time he was a ski bum in Aspen in the 80s…
  7. My deep admiration of men, and of women, for all the magic that each of them hold. Hush. No human is hotter or better suited for me than my husband, scout’s honor. But a girl can still enjoy the human form and spirit, especially while she’s drinking like the good sorority girl she was.
  8. The names and personalities of my spirit guides. I know, I know. Crazy town. But the thing is, you have spirit guides, too. Yes, really. Hold on. Lemme see if I can tune into them for you… Maybe? Nope. I’m a little fuzzy right now. But you totally have spirit guides. Ask me about this again when I’m not drinking.
  9. Tales of one or two unconventional relationships from my single days. I mean, didn’t you experiment, too? Oh, you didn’t? Oh, ok. Now this is awkward. I’m gonna get another drink now.
  10. All things TMI. (also, bawdy jokes, prodding questions and a general vulnerability floodlight.) It’s so great getting to know you better. Thanks for opening up so much. I hate small talk, so this conversation is the bomb.

Get a few glasses of wine in me and we’re diving right in. Because, after all, I mean, who likes small talk?

Small talk? I will not have it. This is my serious listeny face. It's a face I might make while you dish up some of your real-life stories. (I can't be sure of this, but I suspect my Oprah's Lifeclass face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening to you talk about real stuff face might look similar.)

Small talk? I will have none of it. This is my intent listening face. I suspect my Oprah studio audience face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening  face might look similar.

PART TWO (Here come the gratuitous selfies)

Let’s explore a little more about how I feel when I look at Saucy, Unbridled Emily. What purpose might she be serving, for example? What am I to learn from this side of myself? (Feel free to apply these questions to your own boozy alter-ego, whomever he or she may be.)

What I like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I’m fearless.
  • I laughingly own up to my shortcomings.
  • I brazenly claim the stuff that makes me awesome.

Those all sound like things I might want to apply to my life across the board. However, when I wake up the next day to find a more conscious version of myself is in charge, it still feels a little icky.

What I don’t like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I experience a sense of vulnerability from sharing details of my inner life.
  • I feel a sense of shame for losing sight of my normally steadfast commitment to higher consciousness. Simultaneously, I feel concerned that “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” were nowhere to be found in Saucy, Unbridled Emily’s spotlight.
  • I’m embarrassed about certain parts of myself. Like, the fact that I turn into a loudmouth hedonist when I choose to imbibe.

It’s true. Saucy, Unbridled Emily is a hedonistic, show-offy aspect of my makeup that, somewhere along the road, must have been deemed frivolous and indulgent and inappropriate and dirty and naughty and not allowed and therefore stuffed into the darkness only to emerge when my tight controls were compromised. Around that time, “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” began their salad days, gradually evolving into deft oppressors of Saucy, Unbridled Emily, and other shadow sides. See, look how socially appropriate I can be. But, as we know, when you push something down, it’s going to keep coming up until–

See? There she is!

See? There she is! No more hiding. This moment just calls for a selfie, don’t you think? (Admittedly, this pic is rather chastely inspired, as I sent it to Brian because I was appreciative of the fact he’d made me breakfast that morning. Lest anyone think I’m into sexting. It’d surely take a lot more drinks for me to go there.)

Boom! It’s so obvious! You can’t turn away from it, girl. Look at it, look at it, look at it…

Aw, man. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been using occasional big-drinking nights to silence “Nice Girl”* and “Good Girl”* so that saucier sides might emerge.

*I use scare quotes here because what the deuce do “nice” and “good” even mean? The expectation to be “nice” and “good” is woven into many a woman’s inner fabric, still without clear definition, I might add.

Hear this, Socially Appropriate Emily:  Saucy, Unbridled Emily refuses to be pushed down any longer.

These shadow sides of ourselves, whatever they look like to you, want to, need to surface. And there are two ways they can come out:

  1. Getting yourself chemically uninhibited or otherwise “weakened”
  2. Asking for it.

I’ll be darned if I haven’t repeatedly done both of those things this holiday season. One, alcohol. Two, prayer:

“God, please help me to discover and understand all that stuff I’ve pushed down over the years because I somehow decided it’s not fit for human consumption. Yep, I want to see that stuff, and I want to embrace it. I know it’s in there because I can feel it prickle me sometimes. I want to understand it. I want it to not be so scary and powerful anymore. And, whatever it is, I want to integrate it into my everyday persona. I want you to shine some light on it and make it visible so that I can move beyond and be bigger and better for you. Cool?”


I find a lot of people who don’t want to know what’s lingering there in the dark. It’s terrifying. It’s deep down there for a reason—not going to bring it up. Don’t even go there. What would happen?

I’ll tell you what can happen when you “go there.”

Just Saturday morning, after a very back-bendy yoga class with a friend, I found myself standing on the curb in the noonday light crying in her arms. Our casual after-class conversation got real when a truth from the darkest corner of my shadow came rolling off my tongue. I was safe with her, but this part of me was painful to release, because it was not at all in line with who I’ve long thought I’m supposed to be in order to be “good” and “nice.”

I showed her my darkness. After she beamed her own warming, understanding light directly onto my patch of spiky, neglected shadow, do you know what she did? She thanked me. She said my vulnerability was a gift to our friendship, and she wrote me: “Know that there is no judgment, only compassion and empathy.” I felt a kind of emotional freedom I never imagined. She then sent me the Rumi poem that follows.

In one very well-timed, no doubt divinely orchestrated conversation with a true and wise friend, all my tremendous fear of these darker aspects of myself softened into curiosity, even compassion. I’m still figuring things out, but I can see a faint glimmer of how I’ll feel and who I’ll be once I’ve completed the process of observing, embracing and integrating my various shadows into the me everyone sees. It’s hard to describe, but this future vision is so comforting, so surprisingly empowering.

In any event, for the time being, Saucy, Unbridled Emily, (and all the other shadow aspects of myself) I bid you a warm welcome to the Guest House.

The Guest House

By Jelaluddin Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my fifth chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the throat chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think it's pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me. All of me, all the time.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my throat chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the fifth chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think remembering this sticker is pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me, how to express my true self, all the time.

Enoughness Project #14: Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle

ENOUGHNESS PROJECT. This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I  abstained from frivolous material purchases, focused on accepting all blessings that came my way and practiced gratitude for all that I have. It was liberating. And in so doing, I uncovered a quest for enoughness that went much deeper than buying stuff. So the project continues in a more freeform format. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives and drives; grow my understanding of when/why I do things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

Like Kip, who's pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a certain level of intensity for me.

Like Kip, who’s pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a distinct level of intensity for me.

Remind me again, God, of when I’m going to rise above sense attachments and body consciousness? Just when I think I’m making all this progress in my Enoughness, I hit a speed bump. Make that a lane rope.

The background is that I’m swimming again after nearly two decades off. In short, I wasn’t ever a swimming superstar but, along with plenty of others, I trained like one. Thing is, I hated those long, grueling swim practices. Racing = fun. Workouts = miserable. I banged it out for six hours a day at a point during high school. By the time I hit age 18, I also hit an existential crisis: I can’t do this anymore. I am more than just a swimmer. I am more than my 100 breaststroke time. I am more than my body weight. So I quit the sport and began exploring other stuff.

By “other stuff,” I generally mean parties, sorority life, guys, freedom, study abroad-ness and journalism, the importance of which is reflected here in this devastatingly hot pic of my fellow campus newspaper pals on our last night of production, circa 2000-ish. If you were in college around this time, I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize the Charlie’s Angels pose. We were cool.

Fast-forward 16 years.

I inexplicably find myself in a YMCA pool talking hip rotation and intervals with a charming coach and masters team mate. It’s all going well, I’m having fun, feeling good, my shoulders aren’t revolting, I’m laughing a lot during the practices and I’m enjoying exercise for the first time in eons.

And then, one night, out of nowhere, it occurs to me that my flesh operates like Jello when I push of the wall. Subsequently, because of the way we push off the wall at the start of each set, others can see this gratuitous view. So I switch lanes in an attempt to hide. (It would take too long to explain why this made sense at the time, but just know that my crazy reared its head.)

This type of crazy is not who I am right now, today, at age 34, mom of two, wife to Brian. But pull on a swimsuit, stare at that black line, move through water and, on some level, I’m bound to be transported to another time, another unrelenting version of a younger, supremely unsure Emily.

swimming collage

Just a little stroll down my swimming memory lane… (photos found in a duffle bag in my parents’ house.)

Clearly, as I immerse myself in swimming again, my old body stuff is surfacing. What’s next? Replacing food with Diet Coke? Not eating for two days before I plan to weigh myself? Throwing up when I feel like I’ve eaten more than I “should”? Well, no, of course not. Unequivocally, none of that is next for me. But the old themes are coming up, so I figure they’re asking to be looked at.

Observing my crazy

It’s interesting to observe how my beliefs about myself shift as soon as I end up half naked in a pool wearing a swim cap and goggles, the uniform of my past. While this new swimming-again thing is insanely fun on the whole, and I love how I feel as a result of my new exercise regimen, I’m noticing a familiar mean voice that comes up when I’m doing something really nice for myself and for my physical body.

My inner mean girl goes for the throat.

Despite my best efforts at being conscious and loving, when the inner mean girl pipes up about my physique, I give into her. If she were ridiculing my spirit, or my mothering, or my whatever else, I’d tell her to sit the hell down. But because she’s talking about my body, I sit back and take it.

My inner mean girl isn’t allowed at yoga class, so I’m kicking her out of swim practice, too.

It’s interesting to note the mean voice was far out of earshot last Saturday when I inexplicably–and ecstatically–worked my way into wall-supported pincha mayurasana in Keely Jones‘ tantric vinyasa class at Yoga Tree Chicago. (Forearm stand is the one pose in all of yoga I’ve always felt was out of my reach.) I almost didn’t believe it when I felt my feet touch the wall behind me as I perched on my forearms. I’ve never felt so confident, free and grateful. I was fully grounded in my present-day self, and fully in contact with my own power. So how can I bring that sense of self, freedom and gratitude into the pool and all other areas of my life? For one, I can ban the inner mean girl from swim practice.

Clearly, like yoga, this sudden swimming-again thing is another opportunity for me to get in touch with my body in a healthy, loving, relaxed way. And so it is decided: Through my twice weekly adventures in the laid-back-est masters team you ever saw, I’m going to move beyond this rash of negative body consciousness even if it means putting my rotator cuffs to the test. Until I can love my body for all the many ways in which it’s awesome, and detach from equating my physical form with my general enoughness, I hereby vow to let my curves jiggle off as many flip turns as it takes.

Paddling off into the sunset–without my inner mean girl.

SIDEBAR: Five ways I could’ve differently handled the impulse to hide my pool-cruising body, had I not instead jumped back into adolescent paranoia.

1.) I could’ve found it within to appreciate the fact that my body isn’t the same as it was when I was 16 and aiming for a Division I scholarship. For example, after bearing two kids, I could choose to be ok with the softness that comes with motherhood for some of us. What’s to hate about softness?

2.) I could’ve acknowledged my discomfort with public swimsuit-ness, put it temporarily on hold and decided to dive into that uneasiness with a nice, long meditation after practice.

3) I could’ve remembered that Marky Mark did not ignore me when I walked past him this summer. (Why did I not think of that? Admittedly, my mental picture of his gaze is not as elevated a tool as examining the true source of my discomfort within. But it’s certainly more fun.)

4) I could have remembered how much my husband loves the very flesh in question and taken refuge in that sweet sense of appreciation rather than fixating on imperfection.

5) I could have just enjoyed the fact that I’m having fun getting exercise in a pool and decided not to care that my un-Olympic curves were on parade.

A lesson in finding the blessing in the muck

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are five healthy fingers.

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are four healthy fingers.

Oh my peas, I have a cold. And I’m tuckered out. Everyone in my house has a cold, so until they’re healthy, mama marches on as usual. I’m coming off a week of temporary solo parenting while the man was at a conference and he came back sick and tired and in need of rest, too. Which means I got no rest last weekend. And this week has been a bear. (are you crying for me yet?)

The work deadlines have been bumpier than most weeks. I’m coughing a lot. My youngest squished these gelatinous Halloween eyeballs into a thousand jiggly crumbs on the living room carpet such that I had to jack the vacuum up and down to catch all the pieces like I was playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The dogs nudged the lid off the bathroom trashcan and dispersed its contents all over the floors of my office and bedroom. Brian’s artisanal breakfast sausage habit has reached a crescendo and now everything in my closet smells like his morning feast. Obviously, this is a sampling of the more trivial stuff.

Without going into detail about the bigger issues, everything and everyone coming at me was making withdrawals from my energetic bank account.

I vented a little when my next-door neighbor, Gwen, who we drive to work in the morning on our way to school, asked me how I was doing. I was fully expecting woman-to-woman empathy. Instead, she had a little something to teach me:

“You’ve got to be thankful for the messes because it means you’ve got wonderful little children. Right, boys?” she called in her booming voice, laughing, toward the back seat.

(insert record screech) What? I was looking for some sympathy. I’m here feeling burdened by life, you know…

“You got to thank God for the dishes because He gave you food. You be thankful for the laundry because it means you have clothes. Be thankful for Brian being out of town because it means he’s got a job and takes care of your family,” she said. “He makes a mess? Say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me a great man who’s home with me.’ You got to say thank you to God for these things.”

Charlie announced my tears as soon as they sprung. “Oh, Mommy. I know you’re crying now,” he sounded amused. “Ok, well it looks like you’re crying for happy. So why are you crying?”

Gwen just smiled out the window. Gwen, the one who spends five days a week working in an assisted-living facility playing games with and caring mostly for mentally ill adults and her nights playing nurse to her husband, a stroke-victim who used to direct traffic in the Loop, serve as the neighborhood watch for our street and listen to jazz on his front porch when he retired. Now he calls to her at all hours of the night and she goes, she helps him and she thanks God for it. She yearns for a break, a vacation, some time for herself but, amid it all, she’s still grateful for what is.

I hesitate to name call, but what an out-of-touch diva I can be!

I face messes and other challenges because I have three affectionate, devoted, protective, hilariously quirky dogs; two brilliant, inventive, boisterous, physically strong little boys; and one luminous, soulful, powerful, inexplicably adoring husband. I have a cold because I’ve been out in the world touching a thousand different experiences and drinking in life as it comes.

Ok, ok. I get it, Gwen. And thank you for helping me see through a different lens. When in the swirl, it is helpful remember the source of it. Chances are, it’s a blessing.

Why the marriage of cooking and TV triggers my deep shame, or, how I kicked in the windows at the shame factory

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I’d been cooking much lately.

“Uh…I guess so,” I felt a little forlorn. “Kind of. But not like I used to.” Like, Oh, that’s right. I used to cook kind of a lot. We must’ve talked about food before I started serving buttered noodles three times a week. What happened?

Following a discussion about cooking with kids underfoot, I remembered I used to make some pretty cool stuff. As I internally reminisced about intricate curry pastes, lamb racks, raviolis and tinga de pollo, she mentioned her kids didn’t flip for the eggplant pizza she made from scratch, dough to toppings, but they absolutely loved the battered-and-fried eggplant on its own. What’s more, the kids even helped her make it.

This is how radically unglamorous it looks when I cook with my kids. Here, I become aware that Kip has been snapping pictures of us sauteeing from his perch on my left hip.

When I observe talented friends like this one, and the mythical moms of the blogosphere, as they whip up balanced, beautiful meals that everyone eats and enjoys, all I can fixate on is this: What are their kids are doing while they cook?

I picture them helping alongside Mom; coloring at the kitchen table; cleaning up their toys; practicing their handwriting; building castles out of magnatiles… It all makes me want to cry because, clearly, either my own children are defective, or something is wrong with me. It must be one or the other, right? (insert ironic tone)

I have a confession that renders me exceedingly un-spectacular in the world of parading wonder moms: When I cook, and “cook” can mean “throwing cold cuts and grapes on a plate” or “stir-frying skirt steak and broccolette,” you know what my kids do?

They watch TV.

If I’m cooking in the kitchen, there’s a TV hookup going on in the sun room.

Of course I’d rather not plug the boys into the hypnotic box (have you seen the research?), but if I don’t, I do not cook. Instead, I yell. Loudly and sometimes till my throat hurts and everyone is crying. I clean up tremendous messes. I intercede because Charlie is stepping on Kip’s head. I snuggle Charlie close after Kip whacks him with a dog bone. I banish Ralph outside because he snapped after too many of Charlie’s attempts to put a knight helmet on him. Despite my most valiant efforts—Library books on tape! Playdough fun factory! Whisks and mixing bowls full of soapy water!—my boys simply do not play quietly on command. The moment I enter the kitchen, the library book is ripped, the playdough is in someone’s mouth and the whisks are swords. Without the distraction of TV, I sure as sunrise do not feed anyone. And, as love-filled food feels important to me in nurturing my kids, my husband, my friends, my family and myself, when it comes to conscious meals vs. the evils of TV, I’m in quite a pickle.

If my aforementioned friend weren’t a refreshingly righteous chick with charm and verve and likability even beyond her chef skills, I might’ve crawled inside my inner shame factory and sat there rocking, sucking my thumb and repeating “peanut butter is not a food group; TV is bad,” for 48 hours.

But that would be rather fruitless, now wouldn’t it? Much like the shame-laced affair between TV and cooking in my house, I suspect we all have triggers that plunge us needlessly into our inner shame factories. And I hereby implore you to shut that mofo down.

Grrr. No room for shame in this house. Photo credit: Kip Quinn (“Make a siwwy face, Mommy, bahcuz, I’m a gonna take a pit-cher of ya.”)

You may have a separate set of triggers as a man or woman, as a partner, as a parent, as a professional, etc. On some days, the shame factory is going off from all angles. On other days, usually when we’re living in the moment and with intention, it’s boarded up and prepped for demolition.

This week, I swung the wrecking ball at the shame factory and dusted off my cook’s cape to save the day with a meal that would expand both cultural and nutritional horizons. (Who’s a parading wonder mom now?) These things take a little longer than 30 minutes, so consciously—and without the usual guilt—I plugged the kids into a full hour of PBS. I made peanut sauce. It wasn’t valiant, and, yes, it did include peanut butter. I stir-fried chicken, onions, zucchini and bell peppers, then tossed the stirfry in the peanut sauce and basil and served the dish with rice. Voila!

Did I expand any cultural or nutritional horizons with this meal? Nope, but it sure felt good to take the time to cook it, guilt free.

The boys refused the zucchini and the bell pepper, and the last couple bites were given as reparations to the dogs for four years of torture, but the boys pretty much ate the chicken and rice besides. Victory? Not until the shame factory is razed and I can be definitively gentler on myself for all future mealtimes.

We human types slog our way through countless trivial dilemmas every day. As parents, even the most trivial decision seems monumental because the wellness of our spawn is often at stake. The question of “do I take the time to cook something more complex and turn on the TV, or do I keep meals simple and play with them longer?” raised my awareness of the judges everywhere, outside and inside. Either I chastise myself for turning on the TV or for not preparing a thoughtful meal, for feeding them frozen stuff or for not allowing them the important lesson of enjoying mealtimes.

No matter my choice, something always seems to be lost. But we can’t allow ourselves to feel like we’re always failing, now can we? Alas, we live in a dualistic world. There is no clear right or wrong in a catch 22. You just pick one and trust it’s right for the moment. The only thing we can really control is being mindful and intentional about our decisions, and doing the best we can in each moment to care for ourselves, for our kids and for the world. If that means serving up buttered noodles at every meal or turning on the TV so we can boil water in peace, so be it.

My remedy: Whatever I do, do it consciously.

My sample inner dialogue: “Feeding my kids good food is very important to me. Tonight, they will watch TV so I can take the time to execute the kind of meal that matches my value of good eating.” Or, alternatively, on a different day: “I feel more than 30 minutes of TV might not be the best thing for them today, so tonight, I will feed them PB&Js.” All is as it should be and, this way, I won’t get side tracked into shame. (BTW, this can be applied to everything, not just to mama stuff.)

Burn, shame factory, burn.

Charlie savors my creation. (Note the stacks of laundry in the dining room. Yet another reason I don’t classify as a wonder mom: my house is never ever even close to perfect.)

Kip opening wide for peanut sauce chicken

Wow. The world around is kinda nice to look at.

Kip in the trees

On most days, I’m a chronic phone checker. Email. Facebook. Texts. Voicemails. Being distant when I’m with my kids–or with anyone, or with no one–goes against everything I believe, yet I, too, get sucked into the technology vortex. I’m usually oblivious while I’m there in the moment until someone says, “Hey!” and I snap out of it. However, today, after I dropped Charlie at summer camp and ventured to a new park with Kip, I decided to set my bag, my phone, my to-go cup of coffee and even my shoes on a bench. Kip and I wandered around the park, playing, chasing, climbing, touching, hanging and marveling.

Grass so green, so soft. Mushrooms growing inside a hollow tree. Bark the color of eggplant. More bark shaped like a peacock feather. A giant iridescent beetle. A guy dancing a little bit while running.

It seems ridiculous to be just now realizing this, but this kind of beauty is always around. I only have to notice it.

It’s hard to see just how big and iridescent it was, but this was one large, shiny beetle. And it was actually pretty cool.

Shoes off, the grass felt almost feathery.

Peacock-feather bark

Kip and his twig art

A magical hollow tree

Enjoying our time together