mom to the rescue

I was a freshman in high school, playing in a weekend basketball tournament down in San Diego. It was the off-season and this was sort of like an extra-credit team, separate from the high school team. It was for those of us who wanted to improve and hone our skills before the real season started up again. My parents weren’t able to come to this tournament because my dad had to work and my younger brother had a track meet. My mom was president of the youth track club and had a million-and-one things to do at the meets—especially back then, in the days of dirt tracks and non-computer timing. Plans were made for me to drive down and stay in a hotel room with one of my new teammates and her mom. I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed nice. My parents made me promise to call between games and tell them how I did.

After the first two games, I felt close to tears. I had traveled all this way… just to sit on the bench. They weren’t even close games, but the coach didn’t put me in once. I felt embarrassed and unworthy. Like everyone was laughing at me behind my back. Why was I even on this team? I had busted my butt in practice, the same as everyone else. Why was I singled out as not good enough to get a chance in the game?

{Side note: at the time, I thought this was unfair, but I also felt to blame. Like there was something wrong with me and that was the reason I sat on the bench the whole game. Now that I’m older and can look back with some perspective, it makes me angry. This was a high school basketball summer league. This wasn’t even Varsity, but Junior Varsity. This was not the WNBA. These games were not life-and-death. If I was good enough to make the team, I should have been good enough to play in the games. Coaches of our youth need to remember the power and influence they hold. Sports are meant to build up the confidence and character of kids and teens—not tear them down. For a long time, basketball was something that tore me down and made me feel bad about myself. But that’s a post for another time…}

When I called during a break after our second game, my mom answered the phone. “Hi sweetie, how’d it go?” she asked.

“I didn’t play,” I reported numbly.

“What?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I sat on the bench the whole time.” I bit my lip, trying to keep the shame from leaking out of my eyes. I wanted more than anything to teleport home, to my snuggly warm bed, where I could just pretend this weekend never happened.

“Sit tight,” my mom said. There was a firmness in her voice I recognized. My mom is the kindest woman I’ve ever met, yet she is also the fiercest. She has taught me, by example, that one should never mistake kindness for weakness. “Hang in there, Dal. I’m on my way.”

I’m on my way. When you are feeling sad and alone, are there any more beautiful words in the English language than those?

Never mind that my mom was exhausted from being on her feet, running around, leading the track meet all day. Never mind that it was a 3-hour drive to San Diego. Never mind that I would be home the next day. She knew I needed her right then. So she was coming, right then.

You know in books and movies, when a superhero will sweep down from the sky and save the day? That is how it felt in my little world when my mom arrived that evening. She swept me off to dinner, and suddenly I could breathe again. I was safe again. I could just be myself. I could cry if I wanted to. I could be angry if I wanted to. I could be anything I wanted to. My mom was there with me.

The tournament continued the next day, and even though a large part of me wanted to just quit and go home early, a larger part of me did not want to be a quitter. I wanted to stick it out. I was hopeful that maybe I would get game time the next day. Mom said not to worry, she would get a hotel room and I could stay with her. The next day, we would go to my games, and hopefully I would play. And then she would take me home.

Only… the hotel where our team was staying was booked up. “No problem,” Mom told me. “We’ll just go to a different hotel nearby.”

As we drove around, every hotel glared at us with NO VACANCY lit up in red fluorescent lights. Later, we would find out that there was a NASCAR event in the city that same weekend, and all the hotels were booked up for miles around.

We drove and drove and drove. Eventually, when we had almost given up hope, we found a motel with one room available. The person working the front desk excitedly informed us that it was the king-sized suite with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub. I don’t remember much about that room. I’m sure it was overpriced. I do remember we were both too scared to try the ancient jacuzzi tub. The bed was probably not very comfortable, but I slept like a baby because I was just so relieved to have my mom there with me.

That basketball tournament may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me then. I felt so lonely at the beginning of that weekend, but then my mom came and the rest of the weekend I felt so loved. Her presence turned everything around.

That was just one of many times my mom has come to my rescue. When I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I flew from Los Angeles to the Bay Area because we were long-distance and I wanted to do it in person. Then I had to fly back home. I am usually a nervous flyer, but I was not nervous on that flight because I was too overwhelmed and sad. My mom picked me up from the Burbank airport with a chai tea latte from Starbucks and a great big hug, and seeing her made me feel just a little bit better. Four years later, she would be the one boarding a plane, this time to Indiana, to come to my rescue in the aftermath of the second big break-up of my life. She helped me pack up my belongings, sell my car and all my furniture, and tie up all the loose ends of that chapter of my life. I remember eating cheese and crackers and drinking wine, binge-watching Friday Night Lights together. I remember her neat lists of tasks that brought order to the days and made me feel less unmoored. I remember laughing with her about some childhood memory, and feeling for the first time like I would be more than okay—that I would not just survive, but thrive, without him. My mom has always made me feel stronger than I feel by myself.

I know that Mother’s Day has come and gone, and this post might seem a little belated. But for some reason, the memory of that hotel with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub popped into my head this morning, and it made me think about my mom, and all the times she has dropped everything without a second thought to come to my aid. As a child, it is easy to take that sort of thing for granted. Now, as an adult, I feel suffused with gratitude that I somehow got so lucky to have her as my mother.

Sometimes, when I am feeling discouraged, I think of driving with my mom down that nighttime freeway towards the next exit, searching for a hotel room in the midst of all of those NO VACANCY signs. At times, that can feel like a metaphor for life. At times, it can seem like there will never be a room that is meant for you. But, I promise, there will be. You just need to keep driving long enough to find it.

When I get discouraged, I try to remind myself of that night. Because it was not an experience of despair. In fact, I don’t even remember feeling very worried. I felt sure that, eventually, we would find what we were looking for. And I was content, in the meantime, to be in the passenger seat, my mom behind the wheel, Bonnie Raitt singing on the radio. I looked out the window at the lights of San Diego, dotting the hillsides like fallen stars. I knew everything was going to be okay. After all, I had Mom by my side.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as jumping-off points for some “free-writing” of your own:

  • What are some memories your treasure with your mom?
  • When has someone come to your rescue? When have you come to the rescue of others?
  • If you ever feel lost or discouraged, what gentle words might inspire you to keep going?

so thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, dear people! I hope all of you are spending time with those you love today.

“Give your most precious people your most precious gifts: love, time, effort, and attention.” — Greg Woodburn

me and greg

I am filled with gratitude for so many things.

For my family.

wedding reception family pic

For my sweetheart.

me and sweetie

For my friends, near and far, and for all the memories we’ve shared.

mustache bash

friends at booksigning

me and Dana

with xun and hai

For this adorable pooch with his goofy doggy smile.

murray

For delicious meals cooked and shared with those I love. For healthy food to eat that makes me feel energized and vibrant.

healthy food

For books that make me think and feel and imagine and learn.

eckhart tolle book

For beautiful art. Especially art created by my brother and my students.

art

For work that is meaningful to me, and makes me feel of worth. For students who are creative and brave and hard-working and make me proud to be a teacher.

student published

with writing campers at ceremony

For the opportunity to travel and go on adventures.

with allyn and allyson in paris

view of bridges from apt roof

allyns siblings

For sunsets and sunrises and the ocean and sunny days and rainy days and fields of sunflowers.

sunflowers

And I am thankful for you lovely people. Thank you for visiting my blog, reading my thoughts, commenting and sharing. Thank you for letting me into your life, and for letting me into yours. I am grateful for you every day!

Now, go hug those you love. And eat some pie. 🙂

pumpkin pie

 

a year of Wooden: week 8

Happy Wednesday! I’m off to Seattle for the AWP conference — so excited to be surrounded by tons of writers and reunite with some dear friends. But before I leave, it’s time for final February “year of Wooden” challenge!

a year of wooden

This year I am doing “a year of Wooden” following the teachings of Coach John Wooden, and in particular his 7-Point Creed.

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.

Last week, the challenge was to reach out and do a favor for a friend. I brought a chai latte to my friend Michelle who is recuperating from surgery. We usually have a Starbucks date every Wednesday, but she was in too much pain to leave her apartment, so I thought I would bring the Starbucks to her! She was so surprised and happy, and we had a wonderful long visit. I’m so grateful to have met her!

starbucks

This week, the challenge is to send a thank-you note to a friend. Tell them what specific things you are grateful for about them and their friendship. What details do you love most about them? What special traits do they bring into your life?

I’ll leave you with wise words from Coach Wooden on making friendship a fine art:

wooden friendship quote

Questions of the day:

  • Have you done a favor for a friend lately? What was your experience?
  • What are you most grateful for in your friendships?

gratitude jar

Hi, friends! A quick post today about a new habit I’ve started this year that I’m really loving so far. I’ve kept a gratitude journal in the past, which is a terrific way to cultivate awareness of the many blessings in your everyday life. As I learned last year doing my kindness challenge, gratitude is such a major component of happiness. I sincerely believe that a grateful heart is a happy heart.

This year, instead of keeping a gratitude journal, I am using a gratitude jar! Every time something large or small happens in my life that I am grateful for, I write it on a slip of paper. Then I fold up the slip of paper and drop it into a glass mason jar.

This is a wonderful visual reminder of all the blessings in my life, and I know it will be such a fun and moving exercise at the end of year to dump out the contents of my jar and relive all the happy memories.

Here is a neat website where you can virtually share what you are grateful for, and read the gratitudes of others: http://www.thegratitudejar.com/

gratitude quote

Questions for the morning:

  • Do you keep a gratitude journal or gratitude jar?
  • What is something you are grateful for today?

year of kindness challenge: week 48

year of kindness button

Hi everyone! Hope your week is off to a good start!

Someone gave me an article from the latest issue of O: The Oprah Magazine called “The Do-Gooder’s Guide to Better Health” that claims “practicing philanthropy is one of the surest steps you can take toward a happy, healthy life.” The article cites studies showing that acts of kindness lead to a longer lifespan, greater happiness, better pain management, and lower blood pressure. Woo-hoo!

Last week’s kindness challenge was to brighten someone else’s Thanksgiving. My family hosted a bunch of my brother’s friends from business school; most of them were far from home and had nowhere else to go. They were so grateful! I also sent cards to a dozen of my friends letting them know how thankful I am to have them in my life.

The Week 48 Kindness Challenge is to help someone put up holiday decorations, write/address holiday cards, or wrap presents. Do you know a busy parent or perhaps an elderly neighbor who could use an extra hand? My friend Jewell used to need help addressing her holiday cards because her hands shook from her medications. Another idea: go to a mall or shopping center and offer to wrap gifts for free!

xmas cards

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn AT gmail DOT com.

Have a joyful week!
– Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 47 weeks!

Questions of the day:

  • What acts of kindness happened in your life this past week?
  • What are your favorite ways to spread holiday cheer?