Briar Badass

This morning I woke up and read a post on Facebook from my friend, Andy. His tough little wife, Briar, is at the end of a long battle with a vindictive form of brain cancer and no longer responsive. I have struggled with what to write for the past couple weeks while my heart has been heavy. Today I knew I needed to repost something I wrote on my previous blog on March 7, 2012.

I remember the day; the smell of the hospital, Briar’s hands and the overwhelming feelings of helplessness.

I was gifted with this woman’s friendship and I hope her next adventure is pure love and grace. I wish immeasurable strength to her husband as he says his goodbyes.

Wherever you are in the world today, please love on the people you love.

Briar Badass

Let me tell you about my friend.

I’ve used an alias for her in the past because she’s bigger than life and during the day she’s a professional. During the rest of her hours she’s a badass. She climbs mountains, repels down caverns, challenges my husband to push up contests and is the hardest, toughest and most amazing mountain biker you’ve ever met. While I read a book and promise to meet up for dinner she’s adding bruises to her shins and making Trevor cry when she beats him down a mountain.

Today she is lying in the ICU unit of a local hospital and it doesn’t make sense.

Last week we sat around, glasses of wine in hand and I was jealous of her faith in a God I’ve long forgotten. Today she made me pray to Him. After apologizing for my tardiness and kvetching over whether He would be willing to have a chat, I asked Him to look after her, make her wake up, make her whole.

Last week we joked about her migraines, the tumor she was sure she had growing on her brain, her promise to sit down with Livi if Trevor and I are to pass at the same time and make sure our wishes are met, Livi well taken care of, a trust set up, a promise, her promise.

Tonight I held her hand, wishing she’d squeeze it, wishing she’d give us a sign she’s in there somewhere and begged her to wake up because if she doesn’t teach Livi how to be a badass woman, who will? I can teach her about shoes and makeup, but who will teach her to ice climb, ride a bike over rocks so boys weep in her dust?

Who, I ask?

My little friend Briar, who has tiny freckles dotting her wrist, hands soft when you expect them to be calloused from all of her badassness.

No one else.

She’s sleeping in there somewhere and tomorrow the tumor she joked about, the one that turned out to be real, will be removed. She squeezed a hand tonight on request. Word on the street is she wiggled her toes after I was kicked out by a mean, rule-abiding nurse.

Word on the street is she is tougher than this thing in her that is unwelcome.

But, we already knew that.

As a girl afraid of God, I find it odd, but here I am asking you to please pray for my little friend with all the badass stories who is not supposed to be in the hospital. We are not supposed to be talking about the things we are talking about. Not yet.

Not yet.

She is supposed to be awake, cursing this stupid thing on her brain. After all, she asked her neurologist if she could still go on her rock climbing trip with Trevor and her husband, Andy, that was planned for later this month prior to the big, deep sleep that threw us all for a loop.

That’s our Briar.

Wake up, sweet Briar. Get mad at this thing so we can all go back to normal and stop being big grown ups. We’ll help you fight it.

Promise.

Gold Dust Woman

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When I look back on my childhood I remember being a creative and precocious kid. I also realize I may have been borderline weird. I watched opera on PBS and sang gibberish at the top of my lungs, convinced my talent matched the star soprano. I wrote stories and acted them out to a captive audience of Barbies. I wrote poetry. Lots of hilariously bad poetry. Once I learned what a haiku was I could no longer be confined to a rhyme.

I was the only kid in my Catholic elementary school to show up at career day dressed as a “psychic poet.” I wore a flowy Stevie Nicks-esque sundress of my mom’s safety pinned at the shoulders with a black wig because clearly that is what a psychic poet must look like.

Rock on gold dust woman.

My point is simply that when I was a little kid I was creative, funny and uninhibited when it came to expressing myself.

Even in junior high and high school I gravitated to the artsy stuff. I loved English, debate, theater and creative writing. I auditioned and won parts in school plays, attended arts camp in the summer and wrote for the school newspaper in both high school and college. I reveled in any opportunity I had to write. I wrote long letters to pen pals when I was 12, long distance boyfriends in my teenage years and a letter every week to my grandparents when I was away at college. Be it personal, opinion or for a grade I was confident I could communicate anything I wanted by putting pen to paper.

And then something changed.

Somewhere in adulthood my songs, stories and letters gave way to marketing plans, corporate bios and POV memos. I traded my long letters for emails, smart phones and texts. I can attribute much of my success over my career to the fact I can write, but truth be told, I considered writing a chore. Where I used to be able to sit down and write easily, it didn’t come naturally anymore and it certainly wasn’t fun.

But on Mother’s Day a year ago I had a little epiphany.

I had no inspiration as to what to get my mom. Favorite flowers or expensive candle? Blah, boring. Clothes, handbag or jewelry? No. I went shopping for inspiration but nothing called her name and I didn’t want to buy something just to fill a gift bag. Time was running out.

Then it hit me.

I was going to write my mom a letter.

I stole a moment away from my kids and sat down with stationary card and pen, nervous that the words wouldn’t come.

But, they did.

I wrote about how much I love and appreciate my mom. I thanked her for teaching me patience, compassion and the importance of good mascara and an eyelash curler. I wrote how I now understand that marriage and parenthood are really hard work. I wrote how humbled I am now as a grown up with a family of my own, that we are doing the best we can every day with the tools that we have and sometimes those tools feel as useless as a decaffeinated latte.

Seriously, what is the point of a latte with no caffeine?

I wrote to my mother, on Mother’s Day, that if I could be half the mom to my kids that she has been to me, this would be my greatest success in life. I watched my mother as she read my words with laughter and tears. When she finished she looked at me with the utmost sincerity.

“Melissa, you are such a good writer.”

I quickly dismissed the compliment and said I simply wanted to tell her I love her and to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. But she interrupted my humility to say again, “No Melissa, I mean it. You are a very good writer and I am going to treasure this note forever.”

Writing that letter and the reaction I got from my mom made me remember something about myself. I am still creative. I can express myself in words and that I still like writing.

Fast forward to the day Jeanette asked if I would partner with her for Lore and Little Things. My initial reaction was, are you crazy? NO WAY. I didn’t want to put myself out there. I didn’t think I would be interesting or funny enough. When it came down to it writing for a blog just sounded hard.

But, then I thought back to my mom standing in the kitchen on Mother’s Day holding my letter, “Melissa, you are a really good writer.”

I thought of the creative and funny kid I used to be and how I loved to write songs and poems for the fun of it. And maybe I owed it myself to explore and nurture my stories again.

I admit I still have reservations about putting myself out there, especially on the great wide internet. I struggle with what to say and worry that I’m not interesting or funny enough to readers. I share my writer’s block, fears and frustrations with Jeanette who is quick to comfort and then dismiss my whining, always reminding me, “Melissa it’s only hard if you make it hard. It’s just storytelling. Plus, people should be allowed to listen in on our conversations because we are hilarious.”

Even though writing for Lore does feel a little like riding a bike for the first time without training wheels, Jeanette is right.

It’s only hard if you don’t pedal.

So, rock on gold dust woman.

Mean Girls, Mean World

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I remember exactly where I was and what I was wearing the first time I thought my thighs looked fat. I was ten, sitting in my fifth grade class at Forest Hills Elementary in my matching top and bottom separates. They were mint green with navy stripes and I had on bobos because we couldn’t afford Keds.

I know I didn’t lose you somewhere in the descriptors because I’m certain you stopped when I said ten and took note of the word, the age and if you didn’t shake your head you likely paused. I shook my head this weekend as I read an article that said children as young as six are suffering from eating disorders and ten is the magical age they start discussing blow jobs.

What are we doing to our girls?

Bloomberg published an article two years ago that stated a billion women and girls are going to change the face of the global economy. Companies want them to step into leadership roles, fully recognizing the power of a women’s influence in the boardroom and in thoughtful decision making. But, how do they get there safely, confidently and with the least amount of scar tissue when the world wants girls to be sex pots by sixteen? I worry we want to grow our girls into moguls and move our communities forward, but aren’t changing the way we see them or each other, for that matter. Media, misogyny and starlets are an entirely separate conversation that can make me use wild gestures.

The other side of the coin? Forget the men and media who sexualize women and hear me please dear, beautiful, lovely mothers, sisters and friends and let this sentence sit in your heart:

We hate each other.

That is tragic.

Woman on woman hate, shaming and bullying are serious issues. I can appreciate another woman’s beauty, but recently observed a friend tear a woman apart from shoes to hairstyle when I said she was gorgeous. It made my heart hurt as I wondered what wiring caused us to start looking at each other as competitors as opposed to compatriots.

A male colleague recently observed a business woman question her female counterpart who mentioned aspirations of motherhood with a venom that was startling. He suggested women in leadership positions have to lose their feminine qualities and become almost masculine to feel heard, “Jeanette, these women were mean to each other…”

I’m guilty of it myself.

Prior to having my daughter I remember judging a single mom who wouldn’t travel on Fridays because Fridays were her days with her daughters. I am ashamed as I think back to my vitriol, “Seriously, this is business. Get a nanny. Be in or be out.”

Clearly she was in, but her “in” was with her priorities; her beautiful, innocent, learning, wander-filled daughters that needed their mom. She was balancing the powerful and beautiful roles that make women amazing and I was the little punk that wanted her to make things convenient for me and my business.

While I’ve come far, I referred to a male colleague as a girl the other day and my hands immediately flung to my mouth as I sucked in air. It was as if I wanted to pull the word and connotation back Hoover-style.

“That was terrible. What did I just do?” I winced with big eyes.

He smiled in a tender, slightly knowing way, “You have some thinking to do about this subject. You want to help women think differently, but even you are programmed to be more masculine in your role and to think of ‘girl’ as being a derogatory term.”

He was right.

I am typically the only woman in a business meeting. For the most part I lost the masculine vernacular after becoming a mom and finally shed the business suits because I was tired of dressing like all the men at the table. For the longest time I thought that being a woman meant weaker, for shame. I am no longer embarrassed to reschedule a meeting around my daughter’s schedule or discuss my daughter’s funniest new this or that and you better smile and ask me to see a picture.

I came to this place when, after returning from maternity leave, I was asked by an executive how I was going to “make it up.”

Dude, I just made a person. You go make it up.

I flung my mother status in his face while I got back to work by my own terms and timeline. I often think back to the day my daughter was born. I held her in my arms that first night and said to her searching face, “I will always choose you.”

So, I must choose her over and over again as I dig through the layers of conversations we have to have about self esteem, friends and the eventual step into the quagmire that is a hyper-sexualized world. The one that wants her to have a thigh gap, yet run it “like a boss.” She will see it in song lyrics, boardrooms and relationships and I have to figure out how to help her notice it when it arises rather than be conditioned by it.

The collective we has to choose our girls and each other. We have to dig through the layers of conditioning that have separated us and figure out how to come together and force these conversations in our communities, in our workplaces, in our governments, but more importantly in our homes. They should happen in the car, in line at the grocery, every single stinking chance to we have to capture the hearts of innocent, attentive little ears before they fill them with earbuds. If we can tuck these messages into their hearts, a little love note at a time, maybe they’ll build something we can only aspire to imagine. While a colleague has over and over again told me, “Hope is not a strategy, Jeanette,” I’m still sticking with hope.

I’ve got lots of it.