Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sometimes, it's alright for everybody to get a trophy

When Diana was three, she took ballet lessons through a company that came to her day care during the day. It was perfect for us - she got to try it out to see if she like it, and Steven and I were spared having to race to get her somewhere after school.

At the end of the year, they had a recital for the parents to see what they learned over the year. In the weeks leading up to the recital, there were several rounds of paperwork and forms to fill out to make sure that everyone had the right costume and knew where to be at the right time. Normally, paperwork and forms fall to me to fill out, since I am the keeper of the family calendar.

The recital was a big deal! We invited both sets of Diana's grandparents to come, and got there early to make sure we had a good seat on the end of the aisle for my dad (who has a little trouble getting around). Steven went to scout out the seats, and I went to check Diana in and wrangle her into her costume.
When we checked in, they gave her two different bracelets, and I couldn't quite figure out why. They told me that one was to make sure that they knew she had checked in, and mumbled something about the other one was for something we had signed up for. I assumed it was something like a group photo, and just hurried Diana backstage.

We sat through about 90 minutes of other kids' dance routines, until finally, it was her big moment. We all craned our necks to see and beamed at her from our seats. She looked so proud of herself as she and her friends executed the little routine that they had been working on all year.

It said in the program that they asked all audience members to stay seated until the end of the program out of respect to the other kids dancing, but since my dad needed a little extra time to get up and moving, we decided that we would exit after Diana and get my dad out to his car before the mad rush.

As we were starting to sneak towards the exit, I heard the emcee announce that all of the dancers that were getting trophies would be coming to the stage and encouraged applause for each dancer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw little Diana standing at the end of a row of about 12 girls, all much older than she was, just smiling away and looking so proud.

In a panic, I hunched down, turned to Steven and whispered, "Is that Diana? What is she doing up there?"

He looked clueless and equally panicked, and then, I saw a realization come over his face. He said, "I think I signed her up for a trophy."

Dumbfounded, I asked, "Why would you sign her up for a trophy? They were only for kids that have been dancing with the company for three years!"

He shot back, "I don't know! There were lots of forms, and one day, the lady at the front desk asked me if you had signed all the papers, and just to make sure I signed all of them. I was trying to be helpful!"

Now, my stomach was totally sinking, "But they were only for girls that have been dancing for three years."

"Well, I don't know. I was in a hurry, so when I saw the thing about a trophy, I said 'Hell, yes, I want my baby to get a trophy. I didn't read it all the way through."

I heard the emcee ask all of the parents of the children getting trophies to come down to the front to collect them after they had received it, and I realized that one of us were going to have to go down front. Steven just started laughing, pointed at me, and then, down to the front of the stage, where the other parents were already gathering with their balloons and bouquets of flowers. Steven headed towards the back to help my dad to the door, and I slunk down towards the front trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do to get Diana off the stage before she got a trophy that she wasn't supposed to get.

I crouched in the front of the stage next to a small group of moms, and the woman next to me, leaned over and asked, "Which one is yours?" as she looked at my empty hands and panicked expression. I silently pointed towards the smallest girl at the very end of the line, who had no idea that she wasn't supposed to be there. When she looked at me with a puzzled look on her face, I said, "My husband misunderstood the form, and signed her up. I had no idea this was going to happen." She started laughing, and said, "Well, didn't they give you the rundown when you got her wristbands?"

Then, I started laughing, "So, THAT is what the extra wristband was for!"

She smiled gently, and pulled a few stems out of the bouquet in her arms, and said, "Your baby deserves some flowers if she's going to get a trophy." Then, she got up to go collect her (much older) child and her trophy.

Up on the stage, the emcee got to Diana at the end of the line, and asked her to introduce herself. With the poise of a Miss America contestant, she looked straight out at the audience, leaned into the microphone, and said, "Diana Dawn Bailey". Everyone started clapping, and she started jumping up and down from excitement. I ran up on the stage to collect her and escort her back to where she had gotten dressed, and she jumped up into my arms, yelling, "Momma, I got a trophy!"

I hugged her tightly, and carried her offstage, and just said, "Yes, you did, baby. Yes, you did."

Because sometimes, it's alright when everybody gets a trophy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The night I forgot the words to the Star Spangled Banner

Facebook reminded me this morning that nine years ago today, I had one of the most embarrassing nights of my life. However, in the years since, it has turned out to be one of my favorite stories to tell. It's funny how time changes our perspective life that.

When I lived in Connecticut, Damon Scott, the afternoon personality on the radio station I worked for, also worked for the local AHL team, the Hartford Wolfpack. He was the guy that went out on the ice between periods to get the crowd to play games or ran around the stands giving away prizes. Every so often, I would join him or fill in for him if he had a conflict - the team even made me my own special jersey.

One day, while waiting to go out on the ice, it came up in conversation that one time, I had sung the National Anthem for the local WNBA team, the Connecticut Suns.

I told them if they ever ended up in a pinch without someone to sing, I would be glad to help out. They said they would call if they did, but I honestly thought it was never going to happen. 

So, on the afternoon of October 29, 2008, we got a call at the station that someone had backed out for that night, and they asked if I could cover. I was nervous, but I agreed to sing that night. I hustled down to the Civic Center, arriving just in time to go out for the anthem.

They laid out a red carpet on the ice for me to walk on, and handed me a microphone. The lights dimmed and the announcer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise for the singing of our National Anthem. Tonight, it will be sung by 96.5 TIC's Jeannine Jersey". I walked out, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and started singing.

"Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light...."

I remember thinking, "This isn't so bad. I was nervous for nothing," and then, I opened my eyes.

"What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming..."

I looked around the arena as I sang, and saw the men with their hats in their hands, the children with their hands over their hearts, and felt proud to be asked to be part of this great tradition.

"Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight..."

Then, I looked up at the Jumbotron, and caught a glimpse of myself on the big screen - and something felt really wrong. My lips seemed out of sync for what I was singing. (I know now that the video just had a slight delay, but in real time, I didn't understand what I was seeing.)

"O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming..."

And I froze. I was so thrown off by what I saw on the Jumbotron that I completely lost my place in the song, a song that I had sung hundreds of times before. I paused, hoping it would come back to me - and there was NOTHING. My hand holding the microphone dropped to my side.

The silence was deafening. My face turned red. I felt lightheaded, like I was going to pass out from embarrassment. My eyes started to burn with tears about to fall. I had frozen in front of all of those people, and had no idea what to do.

Then, behind me, I heard one of the guys that worked for the Wolfpack, started to sing at the top of lungs. "And the rockets red glare...."

The people sitting in the section next to where he was standing joined in and started singing too: "The bombs bursting in air..."

And soon, the whole arena was singing, "Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there...."

I laughed, looked at my friend with gratitude, picked up the mic, and joined in. "Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave...O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave..."

The crowd cheered, laughed and clapped as I gave a small wave and scurried off the red carpet and back into the dark recesses of the arena under the stands.

I was mortified - more embarrassed than I could ever remember being in my entire life, but was already laughing at what had just happened. I remember thinking, "If I don't find a way for this to be funny, I am never going to get over it."

So, I started looking for the humor in the situation, and for the lessons I could take away from the experience. Here's what I learned:
1. You can't actually die from embarrassment. Sure, that moment was awful - but I survived it and many other embarrassing moments since.
2. Sometimes, one voice in the silence can make all the difference. My friend saw that I was in trouble and put his own pride aside to help me. I'll never forget his kindness.
3. Help is contagious. When others heard him, they joined in, and together, we got through it.
4. I have a choice - when I make a big mistake, I can let it define me and wallow or I can find the humor in it or lessons from it, and move forward, stronger.

Just last week, I was sharing this story with some co-workers and a woman that was in our office interviewing for a job. We were all laughing because, let's face it, it's kind of hilarious. I love sharing this story now, and I am glad that time has given me the perspective to see how funny it really is!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Warm crow tastes better than cold crow

Have you ever held on to something for way longer than it served any good purpose? A resentment or guilt about something you had done? Have you ever experienced what it's like when you really let it go?

Many years ago, I made a big mistake at work - and it cost the company some money. I exercised some really poor judgement, and to make it worse, I never owned up to it directly. I let my boss think someone else was to blame, and never set the record straight before I left to take another job a few months later.

Instead of looking at what I had done, it was easier to think about what I imagined the management there had done to me (paid me too little, worked me too many hours and many other minor imagined injustices). The longer I let it go without owning up to it, the more I felt justified in doing so. I spent a lot of time, effort and energy thinking about this incident and the people I used to work for - every time I did, shame, guilt and resentment boiled to the surface.

Years later, I had a valued mentor point out that I was letting this incident take up valuable real estate in my head and that I had all the power in the world to make it go away. She suggested that I write a letter to them and own up to what I had done and offer to pay them back. She told me to pray about the situation, pray for the right words, and pray for all of the people involved.

Begrudgingly, I did what she suggested.

I'll admit that I didn't feel better instantly. I kept the people involved in my prayers for weeks. I still thought about that situation from time to time in the months after sending the letter, but then, somewhere along the way, it left me. I am not sure when, but it did and here's how I realized it.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when my sister (who still lives in the same town) ran into my former boss at a concert. She texted me to tell me - and it actually took me a few minutes to even remember who she was talking about. When I finally remembered who she was talking about, I didn't have an emotional reaction or weird feeling - there was nothing. No shame. No guilt. No resentment. Nothing.

My sister followed up with a photo of the two of them together, and it made me smile. My former boss looks great, and I told my sister to share my good wishes to her. It actually made my heart happy to see her smiling face, and I spent a few minutes thinking about the good memories of my time working for her.

If you had told me when the incident happened that I would be better served to own up to my mistake than to stay quiet, I would have told you that you were dead wrong. If you had told me that I could feel that way about my former boss, I would have told you that you were crazy. If you had told me that I didn't have to carry around those negative feelings for so many years, I would have argued with you that I was justified to do so.

I was wrong. It was actually more freeing to tell the truth and to own up to my mistake. The freedom I got from saying a few prayers and sending a letter was a thousand times better than the short term effort of doing so.

I've heard it said that "warm crow tastes better than cold crow" - and I know that to be true. It is way easier to make amends when the incident is still fresh and feelings are still injured. If I let it fester, I can turn it into something bigger and worse than it really is. Worse, if I let it fester, I can make it someone else's fault and convince myself I don't have anything to make amends for at all.

There's a 100% chance that I will make (many) mistakes again - hopefully, they will be new ones and not repeats, but I will make them. This experience was a powerful reminder that the real freedom comes from owning up to them and not in getting away with them.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What I learned after running through the airport

Anyone that knows me knows that I love a good plan and schedule. I live by my calendar and pride myself on being organized. Lately, that has become even more necessary due to my increased work travel. With life getting more and more hectic, it soothes me to be able to look on my calendar and know that everything is "handled".

For the past three weeks, I have been on the road for work and the mommy guilt has been strong. That got kicked up a notch last week when I got a note from Diana's school with instructions for this week's "end of year program". When I put it on the calendar at the beginning of the year, I thought it was some sort of classroom party, so it didn't register that it was, for all intents and purposes, a mini-graduation. I was scheduled to be at a conference all week (and had even told some of my colleagues that I would cover a big meeting at the conference so they could go to their own children's graduations). I figured Steven could bring the snacks or whatever we signed up to bring and that would be that.

Then, when the note came, I knew that I couldn't miss it. Flights were changed, plans were scrapped, meetings reassigned - but it was all going to work out, after a little scrambling. I got up before the crack of dawn to make my flight in order to be home in time, and everything seemed to be coming together until my flight from Phoenix landed in Atlanta.

I knew the connection time was going to be a little tight, but my heart sunk when the announcement came on that we weren't able to pull up to the gate right away. I was in the back of the plane and there were hundreds of people that were going to need to get off before I did. I looked at my phone for the gate for my connecting flight and it was in another terminal. My heart sunk again. I watched the status on my phone change to "Boarding" for my next flight and watched the clock tick forward over and over as I waited for the plane to pull up and the other passengers to get OUT OF MY WAY! (Side note: I didn't actually yell that, which is a testament to some major spiritual progress...)

When I was finally able to deplane, I took off running. Literally. It was not a graceful run, since I was lugging a heavy purse and pushing/pulling a rolling suitcase. Between my huffs and puffs, I muttered "Excuse me!" and "I'm sorry!" to everyone I passed or bumped, but I didn't look back because I was only focused on getting on that next plane. I hobbled down the escalator as far as I could hoping that shaving a few extra seconds off of my time would get me on the next tram to the right terminal, and just in the nick of time, jumped on the tram. When the tram stopped, I shoved my way off and started running again. First, up the escalator, and then, through the terminal, again muttering to everyone I passed.

All I could think was "please don't let me miss this flight, please don't let me miss this flight..." My mommy guilt kept my legs moving, faster than they have in a long time. In my head, I could hear my daughter saying "Mommy, why do you keep working all the days? When are you coming home?" I didn't want to let my girl down.

Finally, I arrived at the gate, right as they were making their last call. There was one woman in line ahead of me, and one person at the gate. Something was wrong with his ticket, so the flight attendant starting working on the computer trying to get it sorted out. I let out a huge sigh of relief and slumped over the handle of my suitcase. The woman in front of me turned around, placed her hands on top of mine, looked me in the eyes and said, "Breathe, baby, you made it." I just nodded and complied. "Take another one, baby. You're okay. I don't want you to fall out and miss your plane after all that running."

I apologized and told her that I didn't mean to be such a mess. I started to explain about my crazy three weeks of travel and having to change everything around to make this flight because I didn't pay close enough attention, and she stopped me and said, "Honey, it's always going to be something. You made it. That's all she's going to even remember. Don't pile on guilt that doesn't need to be there."

The ticket agent figured out the person's issue in front of us and we all made our way down the gangway. My new friend chatted as we walked down the aisle about her travels to see all of her grandbabies that were graduating and how proud she was of them. Her voice was so soothing that I felt my angst just fall away. Right before we got on the plane, she turned around and said, "I mean it, now. No more piling on guilt that doesn't need to be there. Remember to breathe, baby, and you'll be fine." She covered my hands with hers one more time, smiled, and took her seat.

I am so grateful for that woman. She recognized my angst and chose to reach out, instead of ignore. Her kind words of reassurance and the reminders to breathe helped more than she could probably imagine. It was a powerful example for me of the need to pay attention to those around us and look for a chance to connect and offer assurances. She could have been playing on a phone and not noticed or chosen to ignore the panting, hot mess of a mom behind her in line. Instead, she reached out, extended some grace and mercy and it made all the difference.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Back in the saddle

It has been way too long since I have taken the time to sit down and write.

For the past few months, there have been reminders of what I posted "on this day" from Facebook, and it brought back memories of events or moments that I had forgotten about completely. It started tugging at my mind that I needed to make the time to get back in the habit of sitting down to write from time to time. When I take the time to sit and write, I always have gained perspective on whatever has happened and always benefit from taking the time to pause and reflect.

Today, the sermon at church was about the magic that happened when the stone rolled away on Easter to reveal that Jesus wasn't in the tomb anymore and about how we need to let God roll away whatever "stone" is in our way and keeping us from being the person we want to be. One of the things our pastor admitted to struggling with was being in a hurry and not wanting to take the time to stop and reflect. It was like he was reading my mind - I can absolutely relate to that.

So, tonight, after a very lovely afternoon with family when S suggested taking Diana to a movie, I asked him to do that solo so I could have some time to myself.

There's this weird trick that my mind will play on me to keep me from doing something I enjoy - maybe you can relate. It tells me that I don't have time to do it perfectly, so I shouldn't do it at all. If I am not able to commit to writing again on a daily basis, then, my mind tells me that there's just no point in starting again at all. So, a week goes by. Then, a month. Then, because time has passed, I start to tell myself that the next thing I write better be extra significant to make up for the time that has passed. Then, a year passes, and before I know it, it's been two and a half years, and I have squandered all of the opportunities to capture those day to day moments that I have been enjoying revisiting.

This isn't a new phenomenon - I even wrote about it back in 2012 ( And it doesn't just apply to writing. As I said in that previous post, it's all or nothing with me with pretty much everything, but that isn't going to work anymore. I need to shift my mindset back to doing the best I can with the time and energy I have for the day and ask God to roll away the stones that get in my way.

So, tonight, I am basically breaking the silence. I don't know how regularly I can commit to writing, but the beauty of it is, that no one else is actually asking me to commit to anything! The pressure to do something perfectly or every single day is all self-generated, so if I can extend myself a little grace and take the pressure off, I think I will like being "allowed" to write here again.

Today was a day I want to remember. The sermon and music at the Easter service at church spoke to my heart. The weather was absolutely lovely. S and I took Diana up to Blountsville to spend time with his family, ate a fantastic lunch, and then, Diana got to swim in Nana and Big Daddy's pool. As you can see, she had a blast! When I look back in my memories from this day, I am going to be glad I took the time today to let God roll my stone away and help me to get back in the saddle.

First swim of the year!

Life is good!