My own life…

If you know me in real life, you probably know that I’ve been married for a long time. I got married relatively young, 20 years old, and am now 34. I’m just a few years away from having been married for longer in my life than not, and because I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last 14 years, my relationship with my husband, Paul, has been the defining one of my adult life.

If you know me in real life (or even just through social media), you probably also know that I love to travel. I enjoy traveling for work, for pleasure, for necessity. I like flying, I like roadtrips, I like trains. I love packing and staying in hotels. Whenever I meet someone new on a trip, the pattern of conversation goes like this: “Oh, how long have you been married?…14 years!? Wow, you must have gotten married so young!…And your husband lets you come to [insert destination] without him?”

One of the dangers for women, especially, is losing their sense of SELF after they get married or have kids. I see my friends who are wives and moms fighting the good fight all around me to hang on to who they ARE outside of these roles. Of course, OF COURSE, who we are evolves over time to include being a mom, being a wife, etc. OF COURSE, Paul and Cooper are the most important people to me and I would not make a decision that would put those relationships in jeopardy. But I have an independent streak a mile wide, and it’s extremely important to me to make sure Michelle is still in there. That she – that I – don’t get lost in who I am to everyone else. And the thing is – I really think this is healthy. When I know myself, I’m better able to BE Paul’s wife and BE Cooper’s mom.

So, yes. My husband “lets” me travel and seek adventures with family members and best friends. He “lets” me have girls’ nights. Early in our marriage, Paul and I realized that the biggest difference between us is I need more social interaction than he does. He’s a homebody and doesn’t need holiday parties, birthday dinners, cookouts and whirlwind weekend getaways as often as I do to feel balanced. We figured out (after a few frustrating arguments) that he didn’t mind if I attended these things alone, and I didn’t mind if he didn’t go when he didn’t want to. “You don’t care if I go without you?” “No, you don’t care if I don’t go with you?” “No! So, we both get what we want?” YES. There have been plenty of times where Paul does guy stuff without me – he has an annual weekend party with a group of college friends where they eat junk food and play board games or computer games together. A few years ago, he went to Puerto Rico with some guys to hang out on the beach for a few days. Once a week, he and some guys from our church get together for male bonding (believe me, you don’t want the details). And I “let” him do all of that because, just like I want to know myself, I want Paul to know himself.

One of the most controversial things I ever say about marriage is that I don’t need my husband. I don’t think it’s healthy to need him. I WANT him. I want him to be in my life, I want to do things with him, I want to know him better than anyone else. I want to live with him and raise Cooper with him, but I don’t NEED him to feel complete. It is empowering and enriching to know that we are together because we WANT to be – not because we feel like we couldn’t live without each other and not out of a sense of obligation. Just simply because we want to be. And because we WANT to be together, it is not threatening to us to encourage each other to have “our own lives.” Obviously, there’s a balance necessary here – we make time for date nights and our own weekend trips and time that’s just for us to reconnect with one another. But I have my stuff and Paul has his. And it works for us.

And having said all that….I went to the Oscars this weekend! This was the second year my best friend Bird and I got to be part of our favorite event of the year. Last year we sat on the red carpet bleachers as fans, this year – through some connections we made last year – we were hired to work the same event. It was a BLAST. We worked hard and it was a LONG day, but we had the absolute best time. And now, for sure, I don’t think we can ever go back to watching it at home on TV. We’re addicted and we have to keep going back! I’m so grateful for opportunities like this – it’s my favorite thing about being an adult. And I’m SO thankful for a husband who “lets” me have my own life and supports these crazy ideas that I come up with.


Checking out the red carpet the day before the ceremony. Isn’t she beautiful??



The big snow…

Here in the southern United States, we count ourselves lucky to see a few flakes once a year. If there’s even a HINT of accumulation, there’s a run on bread and milk at the grocery store, and everything shuts down. You Yankees and Midwesterners can make fun, but it’s actually one of the things I like most about the South.

I only remember a handful of “big snows,” ones where the sky actually did churn out several inches of precipitation. We had a decent snow three years ago, but the last one I remember that measured over six inches was when I was a junior in high school.

This winter, the weather has been crazy. We saw flurries before Thanksgiving and have had temperatures ranging anywhere from mid-seventies to single digits. I NEVER expected a snow like we got last week, though. Almost eight inches in our small town outside Charlotte, NC, and every bit of it beautiful. The ice they called for didn’t turn out to be as bad as they thought, so we got the really pretty stuff – huge flakes falling for days and snow so powdery it was hard to form solid snowballs. Cooper could NOT get enough!

We bundled up (with plastic bags between layers of socks because we don’t really stock up on snow clothes) and took long walks through our neighborhood admiring it all. Cooper’s very favorite thing was eating the snow. Eating it right off the ground or straight off the branches of our bushes. He loved it. We made snow cream (“ice cream made of snow!?!?”), but once it was done, he preferred just plain old snow. Anytime we were outside, he had a handful to munch on. It was hilarious.

We have absolutely no guarantee to get another snow like this for a long, long time, and I’m so glad this one happened while Cooper’s old enough to enjoy it and remember it.







Resting in the struggle…

I posted recently that my phrase for 2013 was “notice happiness.” Keeping those words close really brought about a change in perspective for me over the course of last year. I wasn’t intentionally searching for a key phrase for 2014, but I got one anyway. Right before Thanksgiving, I felt the words “choose grace” drop into my heart as a gentle challenge for this year. 

I love the dictionary definitions of grace – unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification, a virtue coming from God, a special favor, an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency. And I love the responsibility that “choosing” grace puts in my hands – in a given situation or moment, I have the power to give grace or withhold it. It can be as simple as not giving into impatience at Starbucks, or as huge as forgiving someone for a great offense. Either way, I acknowledge that I have a choice in how I react to those situations, and I WANT to choose grace as often as possible. 

I am faced right now with a situation where I’m trying to choose grace and, I’ll be honest….I’m struggling. I’m definitely not there yet. I find myself on a thought pendulum, swinging from extreme to extreme. I have yet to find the balance. My constant inner monologue goes something like this:

“Is there such a thing as TOO MUCH grace? If I forgive someone for something, am I basically letting them get away with that thing? Shouldn’t there be consequences? Oh man, it’s probably wrong to WANT someone else to suffer consequences. Well, it’s only human. Yes, but I don’t want to be ‘only human,’ I strive to be better than that,” and it just goes round and round. 

I truly think there is a very deep spiritual truth to be learned in this situation. I believe that going through it is bringing me closer to God and closer to people, ultimately. And yet I struggle. I struggle to forgive, I struggle to choose grace. I know it’s because I’m afraid of looking like a fool. I’m afraid of being taken advantage of – or just being perceived as taken advantage of. Afraid that someone will feel like they got away with something. Afraid God won’t do what I think (in my vast wisdom) needs to be done on the other side. So, I struggle. I want to choose grace. I want to WANT to. But I’m not there yet. 

This weekend, I felt a whisper of comfort as I pondered the whole of the situation and why I was struggling so mightily to get to a place of peace. I’m not one to lightly throw around the phrase “God spoke to me,” but in a quiet moment, I felt peace that can only be divine creep into my heart. With it came this comforting thought. Perhaps it was God speaking. 

“The struggle is good. It shows how important this thing is to you. It shows that you’re not making a flippant decision or a decision that will easily be reversed down the road. The struggle shows how much you care. In the end, you will choose grace because it’s the right thing to do, and you’ll KNOW in your heart of hearts that it IS the right thing because of this struggle. You’ll find the right way, and it’s okay to let the struggle wash over you for a while so that YOU can be confident in the choice you make later.” 

For now, I’m clinging to that thought – that I’ll move past wanting to want to, I’ll get to where I want to, and I’ll keep going all the way until I’m able to do it. I don’t know what that will look like. I don’t know if it will come with consequences or not. But I’m okay with continuing to ask those questions. I can rest in the struggle, knowing it’s leading me to a better place. 



Back to the real world…

After two weeks of Christmas vacation, I have to admit – I was a little ready to be back at work. Yes, I was thinking about the tasks I wanted to accomplish in 2014 and started making to-do lists in my head those last few days, but honestly….I was ready to get some time back to myself. As much as I still struggle with a bit of parental guilt about working full-time, I realized over the break that I’ve also gotten spoiled by it. I’m fortunate enough to love my job and the people I work with, and I love feeling more satisfied with my career than I have in years. The “real world” is a good place for me right now, and I was excited to re-enter it after a nice long break.

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That is NOT to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with Cooper and Paul and our extended families over the break, though! We had such a nice Christmas and got to store up some quality time with each other. It was great! In the last few days before I went back to work, my sister was stranded in New Jersey trying to catch a flight home in the middle of the polar vortex (!!), so we had my nephew, Gabe, with us as well. He and Cooper love each other like brothers – meaning they want to be together all the time, but endlessly annoy each other! It’s a constant pendulum swing between being snuggled on the couch watching Bakugan on the iPad and one of them crying while the other defends their actions. You parents with more than one child…I don’t know how you do it! 🙂 Because it was so cold while Gabe was with us, we took the opportunity to do some “big” indoor activities – Sports Connection, bouncy house, Chick-Fil-A. We had a blast!

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We have some big personal and family goals for 2014. I’m excited about this year and what it holds for us. Now….it’s time for me to get back to work!

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Notice happiness…

Last year, 2012, was a rough one. At about this time last year, I wrote about how glad I was to put 2012 behind us and move into a new year, a fresh start. I can honestly say 2013 did not disappoint. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve cried tears of joy over how wonderful this year has been. This year, we moved back into the house we own. I went to the Oscars. I saw Aaron Tveit in a sold-out intimate concert…TWICE. I took a new full-time job I love. I saw four shows in New York in three days. I watched my boy fall madly in love with the beach. I started on the journey of producing a feature film. This year has been truly unbelievable.

This year, I adopted a phrase taken from The Happiness Project. “Notice happiness.” The idea behind it is that it’s easier to notice unhappiness, frustration, discontentment, upset. Because we tend to notice those things more often, we subconsciously assign them more weight in our minds and our memory. So when we look back over a day or a week or a year, it seems like we’ve been unhappy a lot. You could even start to believe you ARE unhappy, like your whole life is just a series of unhappy events. The point of “notice happiness” is to simply take a moment and NOTICE when you have a happy feeling, a happy thought, when you share a laugh with a friend, or feel a breeze on a hot day. I had a lot of “big” moments to notice happiness this year. But equally important were all the small moments I took the time to notice. The summer day I was driving down a back road with my windows down and country music blaring. The sunset on Ocean Isle Beach just a few weeks ago. The evening Paul and I spent reading on the couch with the TV off. Those were moments when I could just sit and feel happy….BE happy. It didn’t take long to notice a difference in my attitude and outlook on life. Like, “hey! Look at that! I’m happy!” I’m not saying there weren’t any frustrating moments. I’m not saying I walked around in a cloud of positivity all the time. But I learned a HUGE lesson this year about how much control we have over how we feel about our life. My challenge to you in 2014 is to notice happiness. Assign weight to small moments of joy. Feel yourself imprinting them on your memory so that when you think back, there’s a glow around your day or your week or your year.

I know not every year will have as many over-the-top crazy good moments as this one. But every single day has small moments worth remembering. Notice them. Notice happiness.

“Is Santa real?”

Have you gotten this question yet? This is our first year. A few weeks ago, when Christmas decorations were really starting to be noticeable (you know…right after Halloween! Ugh.), and after watching The Polar Express, Cooper dropped this one on me. “Is Santa real?” Having already thought through my answer, I said, “Well, he’s a real character in Christmas stories and movies, but he’s not a real person. He’s just a character. Like Iron Man.” And Cooper, bless his little heart said, “But….Iron Man IS real….” I had to laugh! Who knew the superhero bubble would be harder to burst than the Santa one?! I said, “Right. He’s a real character in books and movies,” and just let it go. I’m okay with Santa being lumped in with Iron Man. 🙂

As I’ve posted before, we’ve made the decision not to “do Santa” with Cooper. I never believed in Santa and was still able to enjoy movies like Miracle on 34th Street and stories like The Night Before Christmas. I never felt gypped on the holiday, and Christmas has always been a magical time of year. If you do Santa in your family, I don’t think you’re a bad parent, and I don’t judge your choices – as long as you’re making them with your eyes open. Do your thing. But here’s why WE choose not to do Santa.

We don’t want to lie to Cooper. Ever. This is where the heat usually comes into the debate, so I figured I’d start here! Do Santa if you want, justify it however you like, but the fact is if your child asks, “Is Santa a real person?” and you say “Yes. Yes, he is,” you’re lying to them. We want Cooper to trust us and what we say and we want to respect him by always telling him the truth. So, even if there were no other reasons, this one would be enough. Yes, we’ll still watch Santa movies. Yes, we’ll still read Santa books. But we won’t ever say or insinuate that he’s a real person who brings the gifts on Christmas Eve.

We want to avoid an early crisis of faith. I know that may sound dramatic, but it’s happened before! Almost every person that believed in Santa at a young age has that moment they’ll never forget when they found out he wasn’t real and they’d been duped. Sure, most people laugh it off as a fun game for kids, but some of those kids develop a seed of mistrust of their parents. And for some that mistrust leads to questions like, “Well if they lied about Santa….are they lying about Jesus too?” Yes, Christmas is a super fun holiday for kids and a magical time of year. But we believe it’s magical because it’s a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We want to be very clear that Santa is myth, Jesus is Life. Crises of faith will creep in at various points in Cooper’s life, it’s part of growing up. But this one is avoidable.

We want Cooper to know the gifts are from us. This one’s the only one that borders on a selfish reason for not doing Santa! But I don’t want Santa to get the credit. I want Cooper to know that the gifts are from his parents and other people who love him, and I want to hear a “Thanks, Mom and Dad!” rather than “Santa knew just what I wanted!” on Christmas morning.

We want Cooper to know we give him gifts because we love him, not because he was good or bad this year. We want to teach Cooper that we give gifts at Christmas because we received the greatest gift of all — God’s son, Jesus. God’s gift to us was not based on behavior or a reward system. God gave us Jesus and Jesus gave his life because he loves us, not because we “deserved” it. To honor that gift, we want Cooper to know the gifts he’s getting are simply because we love him, not because he scraped by with enough good deeds to end up on the “nice” list.

Our parenting philosophy is that our goal is to produce a good adult, not a good kid. I want Cooper to seek truth in every aspect of his life. I want him to enjoy fiction, but know the difference between fantasy and reality. I want him to be trusting and trustworthy. All of these things inform our decision to skip the Santa rituals. However you decide to approach your own holiday traditions, I hope you are parenting with intention and lots of consideration for both the present and the future. As long as you’re doing that, I honestly believe you can’t go wrong!

A whole new world…

This week, I watched my baby turn into a little boy right in front of my eyes. It’s been a gradual progression, of course, but there was something about this week – having so many days in a row to observe him uninterrupted – that just sealed the deal for me. A few highlights:

* We saw the movie Frozen over the Thanksgiving weekend. I really can’t recommend this movie highly enough. It is absolutely gorgeous, with brilliant voice talent, great humor, and a beautiful lesson about true love. Cooper sat through the whole movie with his little kid-pack of popcorn and fruit snacks and laughed in all the right spots. At one point, the characters are talking about what an act of true love might be. Cooper had moved to my lap at this point, and he turned to look at me and said, “Like this, mama,” and gave me a big hug. “That’s love!” Oh my goodness, talk about MELTING!!! It was such a sweet moment, not just because of the affection he was showing, but because it meant he was really following the story and applying it to his life. Precious.

* Thursday evening, after a long day of visiting with family and friends, I went upstairs with Coops to get him ready for bed. When we walked into his room, I saw his bed had been left a mess after playing earlier in the day. I said, “Cooper, straighten up your bed so you can sleep in it.” Cooper: “I don’t want to.” Me: “You can’t sleep in it like that, fix it.” Cooper: “I don’t WANT to.” Me: “Cooper. Make. Your. Bed.” Cooper: “NO!” {sidenote: we use a variety of consequences depending on the situation and the offense, but we always spank for direct disobedience and talking in anger} So, I walked over to him with the intention of popping his bottom for that little outburst, and Cooper threw up his hands and said, “Okay, okay, okay, I’ll do it.” I stopped walking and said, “Okay, prove it. Fix your bed.” As I walked over to the dresser to get his pajamas ready, he said under his breath, “Whew. That was a close one.” Haaaahahahaha, I couldn’t help but laugh SO hard at this!! It’s probably my favorite thing he’s ever said. The best.

* Most mornings, if I’m actually running on time, there’s about a ten minute gap between when I leave for work and when the nanny arrives. Paul is always there, of course, but he hasn’t been feeling well the last several days, so I was trying to let him sleep in as much as possible this morning. When it was time for me to go, I told Cooper – settled in, as usual, with a Pop Tart and his iPad, that Kelly would be there in a few minutes and Daddy was in his room if he needed anything. I said, “Do you want me to wait until Kelly gets here to leave?” He said, “No, I’m fine, you can just go.” And as I locked the door behind me, I thought, that’s a big boy right there. He’s independent and strong and can be left unsupervised for a few minutes at a time. I felt so proud of him and so excited about what the future holds for this boy of mine. Fun days ahead!

November 2013. Photo by Pranee Loffer of Beauty For Ashes Photography.

November 2013. Photo by Pranee Loffer of Beauty For Ashes Photography.