The Naked Face Project: My Last Post, April 21, 2012

Well…as some of you have noted, I’ve not mentioned the Naked Face Project lately.   I think I’m basically just done with it.  As a matter of fact I have felt a kind of “pushing away” of it and am ready now to continue (and pursure more opportunities) to cultivate a world where every girl and woman recognizes and activates her limitless potential and knows the joy of being!

While I had NO idea the media frenzy and or reach the experiment would have, I am personally very glad I did it.  The three major outcomes for me go a lil’ something like this:

1.)  The spirit-me…you know that one that was here before my body was born and the one that will be here after my body dies…is at last crazy in love with being human. I think for most of my life I have felt an internal conflict…a conflict I couldn’t have named, but I just know it felt like a tug-o-war competition.  The ego me and the spirit me were in constant pull and push mode to see who would win.   This experiment opened my eyes to the incredible joy possible because I AM able to experience WHO and WHAT I am through the human experience.  For those of you not “getting” what I’m saying, might I suggest a great author Eckhart Tolle.  I’ve read his books for years, but in the last several weeks have really understood, at a much richer level, the content of his work.   My yoga practice has also become a much more joyful experience.  The precepts of yoga are very much wrapped around the notion of finding JOY.  The spirit-me can only know of its existence through the consciousness provided in this human experience.  How awesome to have a body, my senses, ways to communicate, my thoughts, nature, relationships, pleasure…all the “things” that come because the spirit-me is on this fabulous, rich and joyful human journey.

Interestingly…how this has shown up…has been having a more light hearted approach toward my body and my appearance.  The first thing I purchased, many people were surprised to know, was a colorful pair of high heeled shoes.   I’ve also purchased more colorful clothing and jewelry.    I’ve recognized that in the past I’ve had a more “puritan” approach toward expressing myself physically and am enjoying the color, the fun and the light-heartedness of sharing the joy of ME through how I show up physically.  This is not to say that the joy of being ME can’t be communicated through other ways besides appearance…of course it can…but now, I’m also getting a kick out of showing up with more color both in spirit and in personality!

A fabtastic group of girls, in Bentonville, AR gave me this tutu. They run in these during their Girls on the Run 5k. I promised them I would take my picture in it at the airport gate. Here's the proof!

2.)  I’ve  become a lot more open about the complexities of figuring out “how to be a our full spirit-selves” in a world that uses words/labels to distinguish who we are…words like woman, mother, wife, founder, runner, athlete, leader…have all been used to describe me.   I’ve learned that I remain the same no matter what “role” I’m playing.  I always hope that my authenticity shows up first and foremost…but in order for what I have to say and what I wish to experience with another human to be at its fullest capacity, I must be aware that how I show up phsyically, does have an impact. In the past I would have seen this as a negative…there’s that tug-o-war going on again between the spirit self and the human one…but now I see this as a gift.  Showing up human and having the opportunity to experience YOU…is awesome…and showing up and having the opportunity to experience ME is AWESOME  too.  Using HOW I show up to further share the spirit of me with you is fun, celebratory and down-right joyful.

3.)  I’m laughing a lot more and certainly less judgmental.  I’m sure this will ebb and flow, but I have to say…and I’m not sure why (any takers want to chime in on this, go for it in the comment section), I’m no longer judgmental, at all, of someone’s appearance, how they show up, their bodies, their clothing.  It’s all gone.  All of it.  There are as many “reasons” for why women and men choose to dress the way they do, opt for plastic surgery, not opt for plastic surgery, wear lots of makeup, don’t wear any makeup, as there are people.  I realize that in the past I was filtering my own internal conflict on the subject through the decisions others had made in regards to their own physicality.

My desire now is to encourage every girl and woman…heck, every person…to lean into their joy and where they find it.  When she, you and I are emmersed in what brings us joy, the spirit-self is fully engaged and the “how we look” in that moment no longer matters…at all.  I want to hang out THERE, with her, you, US!

This is why I so love the work I do.  Standing at the finish line of any Girls on the Run 5k…I am FILLED TO THE BRIM with joy.  I am present, alive and BEING…and it is in each moment in THAT space where everything else truly slips away.

This will be my last public post on the topic.  I have noticed that when I am one-on-one or in small groups of women, they are fascinated by the experiment and want to ask a lot of questions as well as share their own views on it.  I think this is because it is a far more complex issue than it may appear on the surface and it really fires up THE conversation between how we navigate this human experience as the joyful, light-filled and radiant spirits we are.

I am more than happy to converse with anyone on the topic privately now, but do find that I no longer want to discuss the topic publicly.  I want to spend more time in the space of my joy…and that’s conversing with you on a more intimate and authentic level…spending time with the girls in our program and breathing in this delicious world around me.

Namaste ya’ll… and this time I really mean it.

Language and the Big Pink Bow

Alright…so go with me on this.

When we are just little babies, we obviously don’t know words.  So…our parents escort us into the world of words by pointing at a variety of objects and naming them for us.

“Look at this Molly.  This is a chair.”  The dutiful parent points to the chair and says the word “chair” several times over and over.

Eventually, a child begins to repeat the word (or something close to it) and the power of words now becomes one of many ways we communicate within the human context.

Words are wonderful.  They allow us to share our thoughts with one another.  I can visually see something in my mind’s eye and then share that image with you through words.  “Remember Helen, when we laughed so hard at that conference that I nearly had soda come out of my nose?”  (Nice visual, uh?)  Shoot, even now as I write I can start to feel the giggle come up within me.

Words are also very powerful.  They carry a lot of energy.  When I say the words “a mother” a whole spectrum of additional words as well as images can come up…as varied possibly as there are people in the world.  So take a minute.  Say out loud the words you associate with the words “a mother.”  Perhaps jot them down on a piece of paper.

To demonstrate how powerful words can be, now say “My Mother” and see what words come up.  If you are going with me on this little journey, write the words down.

Now look at the difference.

Before we learned words, objects carried very little meaning.  Objects just were things with no label.

Somewhere around the age of 3, we begin to identify with two of the most powerful words we will ever encounter in our entire lives. Boy and Girl.

What got me thinking about all this was something I saw a few days ago while waiting at the airport departure gate for a plane ride home.  A woman was there with her two five year old twins.  One was a boy and the other was a girl.  The boy was dressed in saggy jeans, a t-shirt and some brown coyboy boots.  The girl was dressed in a pink frock and was sporting a HUGE pink bow on her head.  The bow was as big as her head actually.

Well, as anyone who knows me well knows, if there are kids around I am just naturally attracted to them (and they to me.)  Before you know it, the three of us were engaged in a pretty serious conversation about clouds and how much fun it is to fly right through the middle of them.

As i talked with them, I also carried on a bit of a private conversation in my own head.  When we were initially getting to know one another, I found myself automatically conversing with Addy about her big pink bow and how pretty it was.

“Wow!  Your bow is so pretty.  I really like it!”

With Sam, I never engaged him at all in regards to his clothing.  We talked about other “stuff” and while I also talked about all that fabulous “stuff” with Addy, my initial “entry” into conversing with her was over that big bow on top of her amazing five year old brain.

At Girls on the Run events I never comment on a girl’s appearance or relate to her in that realm much at all.  She may bring it up (as in the fabulous tutu I was presented this past week in Arkansas), but I typically don’t stay in that space for very long!  We always converse on the “stuff” of their lives…their fave Girls on the Run lesson; how they felt during the Girls on the Run 5k; what gifts and talents they possess; where their joy comes from…really big stuff as well as the big REAL stuff.

Honing in on someone’s appearance is an easy way to engage…not only with little girls but also with other women.  We do it all the time.

“Wow you look like you may have lost some weight.”

“Love those shoes.”

“Great haircut.  It really frames your face nicely.”

“You look so much better than last time I saw you.  I’m glad you are feeling better.”

I realize that we are all just trying to be nice, conversational and friendly–and it is that friendliness and approachability which so wonderfully connect us, one to another; but I wonder if we aren’t somehow doing a disservice to start with appearance.  I’m in no way suggesting that wearing a big pink bow, wanting to look great, wear a sassy pair of shoes and get the best haircut possible is the negative here.  Quite the opposite.  Sometimes, adorning ourselves with clothes that we feel express or bring out something about who we are is fun…and is one awesome gift of being human, but I do think that maybe leaning  first into something beneath the appearance connection might be a good place to start with someone, especially little girls…little girls who are trying to make their first steps on the path toward womanhood.

At Girls on the Run events, after I’ve introduced myself to a girl in the program, one of my favorite conversation starters goes like this:  “Well Addy.  Nice to meet ya.  So girl…tell me something about you.  Something I need to know.”

The answers I get are as varied as the little girl who answers me, but do you know, not once has the content of what a little girl shared with me been rooted in anything to do with her appearance.  It’s always about what they like to do, their favorite sport or book, or some other remarkable trait that embodies more of the BIG who of who they are, rather than anything to do with how they look.

This morning, I was going for a solo ride on a spin bike at my local gym, when Mary, a good fried of mine, walked over.  We started talking about a number of interesting topics, but somewhere in there she shared with me that she was 61.

“61!” I responded.  “Well gosh, you certainly don’t look 61.”  I said this with as much enthusiasm as I might have felt winning the Lottery.

But the reality is this.  Mary IS 61…and my overly enthusiastic response certainly suggests that there is a normal way a 61 year old looks and she isn’t it…and rooted even more deeply into my exclamative remark is the deeper core belief that “Wow Mary.  You don’t look 61 and isn’t that awesome.  Who would want to look 61 when they are actually 61.  Because after all we all want to look younger than we actually are!”

Now…I’m in no way suggesting that looking young, being youthful or feeling young are things that we should avoid or criticize ourselves for desiring…but I’m back to wondering if there might be another way for me to connect with women outside of the “age” and “appearance” conversation.

I don’t know, but I’m going to give it try.

I’m going to see if I can be more aware of the words I use.  And try to set my radar for times I could use words which see to and speak to the spirit, courage, strength, gifts and talents of someone as opposed to how all that fabulosity shows up physically.

I figure now is as good a time as any to start.  So,  come on now…why don’t you tell me something I need to know about you.

Becca’s Pain, Becca’s Joy…the World Turns.

I really wanted to sleep in this morning.  I didn’t set my alarm, putzed around until midnight and then fell into a much needed sleep with the expectation of allowing only the rising sun to awaken me.

But I couldn’t sleep.

For the past three days I’ve been in Bentonville, Arkansas spending time with our Girls on the Run council there.  The three days were packed with joy, love and warmth.

On Thursday, the day of my arrival, I had the opportunity to visit with two schools.  Bellview greeted me with a a tunnel—in two rows they faced each other, their arms lifted and their hands clasped so I could run beneath them.  As I ran through they chanted:   Girls on the Run is so much fun!  They presented me with the most beautiful tutu, in their school colors of course.  I wore the tutu at my keynote talk the next day in honor of them and again in the airport as I had promised them I would do.  Their enthusiasm for the program and their open hearts filled me to the brim.

Then we moved on to Southside Elementary.

The girls there were in the middle of their practice 5k.  A very windy day, their little bodies  pushed through the strong headwinds and would then wrap around each lap with a fast and spirited run back again with the delicious tailwind pushing them from behind.  Every one of them finished.  Their coaches used streamers rolled out as finish line tape.  Every girl got to break through her own finish line, arms lifted, hearts soaring.

When Becca was done, she walked over to me, her face flushed, her hair blowing in the wind.

Becca is about 5 5’’—a tad taller than me.  She is in fifth grade.  She wears glasses, her eyes are tender and kind  with the slightest twinge of sorrow.  She pulled me aside.

“I want to tell you how much Girls on the Run means to me,”

“Why thank you Becca.”

“Yes, my mom is very sick and I can get very sad.  She has Huntington’s Disease.  When I think about that, I feel tears inside.  But when I come to Girls on the Run every one here lifts me up.  When I am down they help make it all a little bit better.”

We stood there for what felt like an eternity…the only words exchanged between us were those I heard in my own mind, recalling the tender touch and words of my own mother.  The wind whirled around us, its powerful embrace holding  us close to one another, in this moment, this experience, this memory I share with you now.

I hugged her.  She hugged me back.

The following night, the minor league baseball team hosted a Girls on the Run night at the local ball park.  I had the privilege to throw out the first pitch.

Catilin was there with her mom and her dad.   I met them both.  Her mom was in a wheelchair, quite thin, the illness had weakened her body, her ability to talk and walk, but her eyes…oh her eyes…alive, powerful, direct.

“Your daughter Becca was very open with me, today at Girls on the Run, about what’s going on at home.  I applaud you two, for raising such an empowered young woman.  Her ability to share her thoughts, fears and strengths as she did with me indicates a very strong sense of self.  She is quite a love to be reckoned with and as she grows up, I can only imagine the inspiration she will be to many others.”

Her Dad placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders.  “We’ve been very open with her.”  He paused, took a deep breath, looked Becca directly in the eyes and said,  “Frankly, we know no other way.”

The sun was setting, long brilliant rays of its last light, pierced the black clouds of an approaching rain.  I wanted to yell, scream, shout…pound my fists at the approaching storm.  Why?  Why?  Why?

But then…I did only that which I could do.  I asked Becca if she would help me throw out the first pitch.

Sure she said.  “I’d really like that.”

We threw out the first pitch,  Becca and I.   Becca’s mom and dad watched.  My guess is this will be her mom’s last trip to the ballpark.

As I write now, I think about the literally hundreds of thousands of girls involved in Girls on the Run and the stories unfolding in each of their young lives…their willingness to share them with me.  They  sprinkle them like the petals of broken flowers along the cobblestones of my own life’s path.   What a privilege it is for me to share this journey with them.  I am so, so grateful.

I am back home again, nestled comfortably under the blanket of my own life.  Every morning I light a candle and take a few moments to stare into its flame, watch it burn, flicker, shine.  And on this morning, I lovingly hold Becca in the power of this moment.  And I ponder…wonder…wish to know  why we often stop feeling so free to share ourselves…why we stop trusting…why we hold back these beautiful opportunities to connect with our sisters.  Why we are so afraid to say, “I am hurting, I am scared, I need you to help lift me up.”

In twenty years, Girls on the Run will be woven into the lives of literally millions of adult women.  From what I can tell, the world will be a different place then.  The shift is already occurring.  Becca will be all grown up.  And perhaps somewhere tucked into the many memories she will have of her mother, will be the moment we shared on the pitcher’s mound in Bentonville, Arkansas…and if my prayers are answered on this morning, while the candle burns here in my living room in Charlotte, NC,  she will with the same vulnerability she shared with me on the windy day of her practice 5k, seek out one of her sisters and say once again, “I am hurting, I am scared.  I need you to help lift me up.”

The world I live in begins with me.  Today is as good a day as any, to begin.

The Playground: The Naked Face Project

I just came across an article posted by Ashley Judd in response to the media frenzy surrounding the news of her “puffy face.”  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html

I simply can’t imagine what the world must be like for women in such highly visible positions…whether it’s the entertainment industry, politics, news, sports figures…the quick analysis of the person based on their appearance is often both the starting and ending point for many conversations.  I wonder what it must feel like to be portrayed as something you are not on the cover of a magazine, air-brushed and altered.  The pressure to live up to even your own unattainble standard must be excruciating.

I just find that I feel so helpless.  The way women are portrayed in so much of what we see in the current popular media (and further reinforced by the comments made anonymously by those beneath many of these articles) goes beyond just appearance and whether a woman is pretty or not.

A woman’s worth is often tangled up in her “sexual-willingness” and her desire to please others.

Or because there are still so few seats in the corporate boardroom we fight for our chance to sit in one.  We are labeled as bitchy or manly. On the other hand if a woman expresses too much emotion she is labeled hormonal, premenstrual, or professionally inappropriate.

This creates a natural divide between women.  Competing for attention, there is only so much room in the spotlight and we oftentimes nudge each other out to just get our toe in that circle of light.

I tend to think all of this competition starts on middle school playgrounds when our true worth often begins its complicated game of tug-o-war with our sex sppeal and appearance.

(For those of you who have visited here lately, a small portion of what follows is a repeat.)

I think practically every woman (and man for that matter) has a memory that dates back to middle school when this tug-o-war between our true worth and our search to find it externally  begins.

For me, it began in sixth grade.   My best friend Frances, “physically matured” and I didn’t. The attention I had previously received on the playground, especially from the boys began to wane, at least in comparison to the attention Frances was getting.  The spotlight I had previously enjoyed standing in, for being smart, funny and a good athlete disappeared and a new spotlight appeared…one that focused on physical parts I just didn’t have.

I felt invisible. I wanted to be “mature” like my friend, Frances.  A tension between the two of us arose. We drifted apart. Playing “girl” came to her much faster than me and it’s like the two of us were living in two very different worlds; and because I suddenly felt invisible, like any little girl just trying to make sense of it all, I blamed my good friend, for caving, for giving into “being popular” instead of realizing that something else was going on here. I blamed her for my feeling less than, invisible, unloved. I blamed her as if she was intentionally pushing me away. And when I was 11 and feeling “yucky” the easiest way to relieve myself of all that unexplained angst, of not feeling loved, liked or accepted was to speak unkindly of what I thought was to blame.  And in this case it was my good friend Frances.

I’m convinced that the Great Divide that separates women begins here…in 6th grade.

In 1996, I started Girls on the Run.  The program began right here in Charlotte, NC with 13 girls.  Thanks to the hard work and passion of literally thousands of volunteers and staff, the program now serves over 120,000 girls in 200 North American cities.  The program creatively integrates running into a curriculum which provides girls with an opportunity to lean into the challenges that come during adolescence, when this limiting mindset many of us get around that time that somehow who we are isn’t quite smart enough, pretty enough, sassy enough, good enough, can take root.  The girls support each other, open their hearts to one another, grow, evolve and stretch together.

I’ve learned so much from these girls.  Their spontaneity of spirit and curious minds have at times been unsettling in their candor; but it is thanks to the time I spend with them and the values woven within the Girls on the Run fabric, that I’ve taken a really hard look, and even more so recently thanks to the Naked Face Project, at how I may at times, unintentionally perpetuate this culture of separation, this culture of comparison that starts as early as our middle school years and plays out on numerous playgrounds of our lives since then.

It’s hard to stay away from the 6th grade drama, even in our adult lives.  These playgrounds exist everywhere. The temptation to hit the link to a story on Jessica Simpson’s latest “weight issue” or Demi Moore’s current “mental status” is not only strong, but so easy to access. Skipping over the “Housewives of….” series where women are pitted, one against the other is difficult. Putting away the pop-culture magazines and television shows that question whether Sarah Palin has breast implants or Hilary Clinton looks old and haggard is tough.  I mean this stuff is everywhere!

I’m beginning to see, at least for me, that the only way to shift this culture rooted in appearance, competition, and harsh judgment of one another, that starts as early as 6th grade, is to realize we are all valuable, worthy and important to society–every last one of us–me, you, Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Snookie, my mom, Brooke, the girls I serve.  It’s quite simple really…we are all human, just trying to figure it out, brave in the attempt and worthy for simply being here.

So I’ve made a decision, for my own daughter and the daughters of so many in Girls on the Run:  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and put aside anything–conversation, commentary, magazines, television, music, systems, mindsets and philosophies—that compare and pit women, one against the other, and channel all of my energy (and the additional amounts I’ll have as a result of letting all that stuff go) toward the elevation of my little sisters, each other and ourselves, to as the Girls on the Run vision states, cultivate a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

Recently, a Girls on the Run coach shared a humorous exchange she overheard between two of our participants during the Girls on the Run 5k.  A friendly spectator had placed a sign on the course that read “Run like the wind!” One of the little girls read the sign and said, “Run like the wind? That’s impossible!” The other little girl said, “I can run like the wind. I just choose not to.”  I am beginning to see that what I choose and choose not to do is entirely up to me…and that our culture…the one I wish for my daughter and all our daughters is a direct result of the choices, the words, the thoughts and actions I take in my own life.

The world I live in begins with me.

I Could Sure Use YOUR Input!

I’m working on an upcoming TEDx talk and could sure use your input.  To get you thinking…let me start here…in 1996 I started Girls on the Run International.

Here’s the original “blurb” I used back then to help folks understand what the program was all about.

In 1976, I bought my first pair of running shoes. I was fifteen then and like most fifteen year old girls, trying to figure out who I was inside a changing body. I was desperately wanting to be liked by the beautiful crowd–popular with the boys. But I couldn’t fit into the box the world placed over the spark of my spirit. The box told me things I knew in my soul weren’t true: That the way I looked was more important than who I was inside. That being a woman meant keeping emotions like anger to myself. That having a boyfriend meant giving up part of my own identity. But I stepped in anyway. Hours spent trying to mold my body, my lifestyle, my life into what the box required were extremely painful.

So I ran. I’d strap on those running shoes and head for the woods, the streets, wherever my feet would take me. I felt Beautiful. Strong. Powerful. I felt a part of something greater than myself.

On July 7th, 1993, I remember it well. I put on my running shoes and ran at sunset. I’m not sure what instant of the run the box disappeared, but like a glass womb it shattered around me and pushed me out, born to an entirely new freedom. It was a moment of personal awakening.

A year later, I began work on what was to become the Girls on the Run program. The concept, however, was born long before that July run. It was born in 8th grade when a boy in my class told me with disgust that I looked like a boy. It was born when a young woman, weighing 85 pounds and starving herself, told me she need to lose weight to be beautiful. It was born when I took a pregnant thirteen-year-old on a long walk in the woods.

Girls on the Run is a lot more than a running program. It will, I believe, create an entire generation of girls who can live peacefully and happily outside of the Girl Box.

In the year 2030, I’ll be 70. My daughter will be 32. If I have anything to say about it, she will never have to climb out of the Girl Box. Girls on the Run will shatter the Girl Box, like the spirit did for me that July night and help her and other girls feel comfortable simply being themselves.

Since 1996, the program has reached nearly 400,000 girls and our numbers continue to grow.

I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve learned that the “Girl Box” or “Boy Box” shows up in many different ways for each of us.  The Girl Box messages I, “bought into” were generally focused on two things, my appearance and my “social place.”  Girls were, back in the 60’s and 70’s generally slotted into only a few professional positions.  Thankfully that has changed.

I’m working on an upcoming TEDx talk and would love to hear from you and in your words, what limiting/stereotyped messages you received growing up, either from within your own familial circles or from the larger societal/cultural/systemic context within which you lived.  These may not be related to gender.  I don’t need to know specifics unless you want to share them.

Also…when in your life did you begin to realize that these messages were not necessarily real or true or accurate?  Was there an a-ha moment or was the process more subtle?

You’ve probably figured out by now…that I LOVE connecting dots.   I’m working on a “big idea” and am just still in the trying-to-figure-it-all out phase.

You can email me privately at mollybarker1960@gmail.com or if you prefer just write out your thoughts on the comment section right here.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Alright…so I’ve been at this for sixteen years…and I’ve heard a lot.  A whole lot from kids.  Kids say whatever they want.  Of course, while this practice could lead to difficulties later in life, when you are a kid, pretty much anything you say is okay because, you are a kid.  It’s that simple.

I thought this morning I would, because its Friday and I’m just feeling so blessed to work at Girls on the Run, share a few of the funniest things I’ve heard.  I would love it if you are visiting here…you might add your own.  I know there are thousands and thousands of these, because our coaches have shared them with me over the years.

So here goes…some funny stuff for your Friday morning.

I was delivering the GOTR lesson on emotional health.  My question to the girls to kick it off:

“Can anyone here name someone in your family who you think is emotionally healthy, and why you think they are emotionally healthy.”

Quite a few of the girls had shared when one of them raised her hands.

“My mom is the most emotionally healthy person I know…especially since she started taking those pills the doctor gave her.  She and my Dad smooch and hold hands all the time now.  It’s actually kind of gross.”  (Insert big grin.) (My two cents worth here too….hooray to THIS mom for seeking medical support and being so open with her daughter about it!)

I was delivering the lesson on drugs and alcohol and my question to the girls to kick it off was, “Can anyone here name a few drugs you’ve heard about?”

Most listed those we’ve traditionally heard about in the classroom and in the news, marijuana, alcohol and some prescription drugs. Gillian raised her hand.

“Yes Gillian?  Which one would you like to mention?”

“Tabasco.”

I always give the kids the benefit of the doubt.

“Oh Tabasco…I could see how that might be harmful to your body.  I mean…too much of that probably isn’t good for your stomach and would probably burn your mouth.”

It took my daughter Helen, yes…a fourth grader…to inform me that what our good friend Gillian meant was tobacco.   Oh well…I still think Tabasco can be bad for you.

Some of the best conversations at GOTR are had, waiting for the girls’ rides to get them.  I was sitting with Meredith when she informed me that today they had a substitute teacher for her class.

“Molly, you just wouldn’t believe this woman.  She said the F word today.”

“WHAT?”  I said.  “The F word?  Did you tell someone?  That is absolutely inappropriate for the classroom. I should let someone know.”

“I know…I know!”  We were bonding, when I realized that perhaps she and I weren’t really bonding over the same word.

“Meredith…I need to be sure we are talking about the same thing.  Which word is the F Word?”

Meredith cupped her hands around her mouth and whispered to me…”You know…fart.”

Lesson 8 the girls get a chance to practice a 5k for the first time.  Zoe walked slowly to me, with her head hanging low and shared the following quite dramatically.  “Oh Molly…I simply can’t run today.  I am in a period.”

Not quite sure, what she meant.  “Zoe, you are in a period?  What exactly do you mean, honey?”

“You know, in a period of time when you feel cranky, sick and need people to help you.  I’m in a period right now…my stomach hurts and I don’t think I can run.”

I was walking a lap with one of our girls who…how shall I say it…enjoyed watching the clouds go by a bit more than she enjoyed watching the earth under her feet go by (gotta love ‘em!) when we came across a broken bag of potting soil on the edge of the track.  (Someone at this school had done a lovely job of planting flowers and other beautiful plants around the track and on the play ground.)  Without skipping a beat, Nicole pointed to the bag and said “Wow.  Someone needs to pick up that pile of shed before someone slips on it.”

I probably should have said something, but I was laughing so hard on the inside that I just didn’t have it in me.  If you still haven’t figured out why this is funny, just say what she said out loud.

This really wasn’t something a kid said, just something they did.  I was sitting in our “getting on board” circle getting ready to begin the lesson.  Every once in a while when the kids seem really jacked up, I let them run one lap and then we sit quietly for a minute, with our eyes closed, to just get ourselves “centered.”  We were all sitting “criss-cross-apple-sauce” with our hands on our knees and our eyes supposedly closed when I felt, ever so lightly, the touch of the little girl next to me.  She was delicately tracing, with her index finger, the veins on my right arm.  (Over the years, all that running and my “highly developed vascular system” have been the topic of conversation for the girls in some of the FUNNIEST ways.)  I opened my right eye and looked at her.  She whispered.  “Is your skin glued to your muscles?”

My very first time coaching…the girls decided it would be fun to give me a nickname.  They brainstormed for several minutes.   Eventually they ended up with Molly Muffet, of course taken from the popular nursery rhyme.  Unfortunately by lesson two, the whole thing had been shortened to Coach Muff and as hard as I tried to get them to keep it at Molly Muffet or actually create something entirely new, I’m afraid Coach Muff stuck for the whole season.  I just loved when I was at the grocery store and a kid would shout from across the frozen food aisle, “Hey Coach Muff, what’s up?”

Sometimes it takes the girls in our program a little while to get out of that “I have to run to be loved” mentality.  I remember one girl in particular who could be quite hard on herself.  She wasn’t physically in shape (yet but was by the end of the program) to run but just had that feeling (many of us have had it) where she needed to come up with excuses for why she couldn’t run and needed to walk instead.  (What’s funny about this…she could have walked anytime she wanted and that would have been just fine.  It was what she was telling herself on the inside that made it difficult for her to walk…not me or my assistant coach.)

She stopped after a run-walk-kind-of lap and stopped next to me.  “Miss Molly.  I simply can’t run anymore.  My eyelash hurts.”

I assured her that walking was just fine.  (The joyful end to this story is this…she ended up learning how to pace herself, worked up to being able to jog the whole 5k and in the process came to a higher level of kindness to herself.  I just love when that happens.)

So there you have it…a few of the funniest, sweetest and just down-right genuine things a kid says.  What are some of yours?  Do tell!  Let’s rock this Friday and let in the sunshine.

In honor of this particular post…I will close with one of my all time favorite people IN THE WORLD…Art Linkletter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBMOhM31EyM

Molly and Me

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.