When I was a kid…I was a tomboy.  Every afternoon it was kick the can, flag football and freeze tag well into the early hours of evening’s darkness.  Mom would holler her trademark  (and very Southern might I add) “WHOOOO-HOOOOO” and I would return home, hot and sweaty, for dinner.

I loved any game that involved my own two feet and rules.  Hide n’ Seek, Capture the Flag, Duck Duck Goose.  These were just so much fun!

While later on in my high school years, I got better with a ball and a stick as in field hockey and tennis, the sports I could never master were basketball and soccer.  Something about using my body as the contact point on the ball intimidated the heck out of me.  I wanted some distance from that.  I was too timid, reluctant, hesitant…three traits that make being successful at those games, virtually impossible.

When I started Girls on the Run, there were no curriculum-driven sports programs in existence, at least not that I am aware of.  Positive youth development programs existed, but at that time, none were centered around sport.  Back when I started this, many folks wondered if something like a Girls on the Court or a Girls on the Field couldn’t work also…and my guess is they could…but because I wasn’t as well-versed (nor attracted to) in sports that used a court or a field I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the game of life and the rules of being human.  Through the Naked Face Project I’ve discovered that there are many rules I’ve followed blindly, just because…because everybody else followed them.  I never once questioned the need for makeup, primping, being pretty.  I just valued it, I guess, because everybody else valued it.  (Again…let me strongly reiterate…there is NOTHING WRONG with makeup, primping or wanting to be pretty…but for me I like being intentional with my actions and if I’m doing something “just because” I want to explore that a little more deeply. :))  I’m beginning to see that there may be lots of rules I’ve followed without ever questioning why:  the rules of being a single mom, the rules of dating, the rules of what a divorced couple looks like, the rules of being successful, the rules of being in a relationship.

I’ve started to create a new context, court, field, track, playground for the work I do and the life I live…and it goes a little somethin’ like this:

At that volatile time of adolescence we leave the comfort of childhood and march into adulthood.  The change in expectation can be immense.  It is during this transition where we develop our concepts of worth, self, courage, success, beauty, strength and power.

At this time, we either consciously or unconsciously go marching into the human experience. Before this transition period…we unabashedly share who we are with the world.  We just are…so good at just being ourselves.  There are no “human rules.”  I mean just watch any little girl (or boy for that matter.) twirling, playing…she is truly delighted with who she is.

While taking these vulnerable first steps into  young adulthood, the spirit of WHO we are begins to analyze how to navigate this gift/journey/struggle (all of course depending on how we look at it) we call the human experience.  I know that for me ever since that time, there was this huge game of tug-o-war between the strong, empowered, self-assured girl, ME-girl with the OUT-THERE-girl who wanted so much to be liked, popular with the boys and accepted by others.

This project has opened my eyes to the fact I’ve viewed this as a struggle…an argument, if you will, between honoring the BIG ME–the empowered me, the confident and strong me…within the context of being human, navigating my daily life, holding a job, being in relationships, raising children.

It’s not easy.  We get so many conflicting messages.  So much of the conflicting messages, for me growing up a woman in the South in the 60’s and 70’s was rooted in this battle between appearance and who I really was on the inside.  In talking with others I’ve learned that that battle exists in all of us.  While that battle may not be around appearance it exists…the WHO of who we are is just trying to figure it all out…the rules of the human game.

Where I hope to land and where on occasion I see small glimpses…is a kind of gentle acceptance of it all…the struggle, the journey, the times I am confident and the times I am not.  Instead of viewing it as a struggle I’m beginning to see it for what it is…life…plain and simple.  When I quit fighting in here…inside myself, the joy comes and its much easier to honor ME in all of that cultural noise.  I am slowly marching through this human experience to literally, as the old cliche goes…find myself.

Last year I was attending a Girls on the Run event in Lancaster, PA. As I was rounding out my presentation…I picked one fabulously spunky girl from the audience and asked her to come sit on the edge of the stage with me.

She joyfully marched up to the front of the large crowd and plopped down next to me.

“So…you’ve got a huge audience of people here in front of you,” I said.  “Some of them know all about Girls on the Run and some do not.  If you could in a sentence or two, tell this group what Girls on the Run is all about, what would you say?”

She paused, looked out at the audience and then looked back to me.

Without any hestiation and in the strongest voice ever she said, “I would tell them that Girls on the Run helps you find the center of who you are…the who of who you are…the person on the inside.”

I sat speechless for a few seconds…which when you are in front of a large crowd can feel like an eternity.

“Thanks for that,” I said.  “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Molly,” she says…with the biggest grin a girl could have on her face.

We looked at each other, she and I, Molly and me.  I think the girl pretty much nailed it.