Mary Graham is a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Indiana. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog, Blue. During the day, she teaches high school English and at night (after the girls are asleep), she writes for The Huffington Post, Pearson's Teachability, For Every Mom, her own blog TrustyChucks & various other print and digital outlets. In her spare time, she likes to read, travel, eat chocolate, run half marathons, and then eat more chocolate.
Circus Starring YOU...now open at The Children's Museum!
It's easy to forget how amazing our local Children's Museum is. We take for granted the permanent exhibits, the new experiences, and the events they host.
But as someone who travels across the country with her kids and visits museums geared toward kids often, I can say without a doubt we're spoiled by The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
I get asked a lot how to get kids to read. Friends with kids, blog readers, students’ parents, random people on social media–everyone wants to know how to help their kids fall in love with reading.
The answer to that is really simple and really difficult.
I get it, we’re all busy.
While I would love to have a less-full calendar, and I love the idea that we stop glorifying busy, it also doesn’t mean things can slow down for some of us right now. (I’m ten weeks into the school year at this point and still trying to get new routines and rhythms established right now–it is the most hectic time of year for me and you too, if you have school-aged kids.)
My daughter’s school kicked off their annual food drive this week. As we head into fall, more schools begin their food drive competitions just like they did when we were kids.
Speaking of food drives from childhood, my guilt about an elementary school food drive requires me to participate in all school-related food drives for the rest of my life.
Let me explain.
In my early twenties, a girl I grew up with died in a car crash. As with anyone who dies too soon, it was hard to understand and hard to forget. By this time in my life, I wasn’t really friends with her, but I had some close friends who were. So it felt too real and too close to home.
In sixth grade, her birthday party was the first boy/girl party I went to. It was momentous at the time, but looking back, it was probably just a big let down. Boys stood on one end of the garage and ate all the snacks while girls stood on the other end of the garage pretending we wanted to dance while no one actually danced.
Sixth grade, what a crazy time.
Now years later, Facebook keeps suggesting I be friends with her. Now, after all these years of her being gone, Facebook thinks we should connect.
Every time I see that suggestion, it makes me sad all over again.
She’s gone! I want to yell at the screen—stop suggesting her!
Then I worry about all the other people that are being reminded of her absence every day by a social media website. I wish someone could just log in and cancel her account. Because it would make me feel better. Not her parents who have to struggle daily without their daughter or her close friends who feel a tangible void in their lives; I want someone to deactivate her account so someone who knew her 15 years ago can be less uncomfortable.
I wonder how often these great and wonderful things we love to incorporate into our lives are actually backfiring. How many automatic responses, birthday reminders, and friend connections we have that aren’t real anymore, that bring about pain when they–through a little computer magic–come back into our lives.
When we found out we were pregnant in December, I downloaded a baby countdown app on my phone. Then in January, when I had a miscarriage, I deleted the app. But somehow I must have inadvertently signed up for approximately one hundred different email reminders about this baby that no longer existed. Because at least once a week, I get an email about prenatal advice, how many weeks along I am, or what I should be buying for the baby growing in my belly.
Except there is no baby.
No matter how many times I unsubscribe to an email, another one comes the next week in its place. When I’m least expecting it and, sometimes, not equipped to deal with it.
For the most part, the whole surprise pregnancy and miscarriage time feels like a foggy dream: not real, hard to remember, and some uncertainty about me being involved in it. I’m detached in a weird way.
Then a handy email reminder comes along, and I’m smacked in the face with it again.
Sometimes the memory just stays for a moment and other times the memory sticks all day. Sometimes it comes with joy and sometimes it comes with sadness.
But thanks to automatic emails, the reminder always comes.
It just makes me wonder how much of this life of being connected with technology, is actually beneficial.
Because sometimes it just hurts.
Originally published on Trusty Chucks in March 2013
I was summoned for jury duty recently.
The third time in seventeen months. I didn’t realize until I showed up that after serving, you are exempt from serving again for twenty-four months, and I could have contested the summons. But really, I was looking forward to sitting in a large room waiting patiently for my number to be called and reading a book.
There is no part of my life that involves sitting in one place for a long period of time reading a book. So, truthfully, I got really excited for jury duty.
Please don’t tell anyone I said that.
I don’t actually want to serve on a trial though, because that takes way too much time.
So I was released around noon and got to spend the afternoon walking around downtown, did a little shopping, went to renew my expired-for-three-months driver’s license, and did a little thrifting.
My favorite thrift shop is top secret and in a bad neighborhood. It’s full of gems and I walk away every.single.time with something I love. I will never share this place with anyone, it’s that good.
Don’t ask, I won’t tell you.
While I was there, I was working on adding to my obsessive book collection, and I came across a fabric-bound notebook that looked like a recipe book. When I started thumbing through it, I realized it was someone’s journal. Specifically, a seventy-eight-year-old woman’s journal.
It immediately made me feel guilty for reading it. The very first page was filled with her thoughts on why she needed to get her story down on paper and why she had to do it now, before she started to forget all the best parts.
This made my heart hurt.
Who was this woman? What were her stories? And how did this book end up at a thrift store?
I would like to tell you I bought her journal.I have been known to buy a stranger’s wedding album if I think it might be thrown away. I did not buy her journal. But I’ve thought about it every day since passing it up and I wish I had.
This beautiful old woman wanted someone to know her. She needed someone to remember her stories. She could feel her time near its end and she felt such a pull to make sure someone else remembered her and her life.
I know that feeling. It is sometimes overwhelming. The feeling to be known, to not be forgotten, to not feel like it was all for nothing.
We all need to share our stories; with our kids, with our spouses, with our friends. I want people to be invested in my life and I want to be invested in their lives. And that starts with sharing our stories.
I wish I would have bought that journal.
Originally published on Trusty Chucks in February 2013.
Summer, for us, is a changing of the guard.
I spend the summer at home with the girls and my husband goes back to work. After ten months of being the main caretaker for our two daughters, Daddy heads off to kill bugs for about sixty hours a week.
We are ships passing in the night more often than not.
I keep the girls busy with gym trips, pool time, bike rides, and the occasional movie-and-PJ day. It’s during these two months that I get caught up on all the things that get neglected during the school year: heavy duty house cleaning, closet clean-outs, DIY projects, and home improvements. It sometimes feels like a mad dash to get as much done as possible before I get that return-to-school letter.
On the first day of my summer break and the last day before Chris headed back to work, he mentioned how he thought the transition for the girls might be rough. Going from Daddy-all-the-time to full-time-Mommy. I said he was being dramatic and that it’s not like the girls haven’t seen me for the past ten months. I might have even been a little insulted that he thought they’d miss him and not be okay with me.
Fast-forward a week and Chris has only seen the girls two nights in the past five. With late nights at work and practices with the band for weekend worship, he was gone. A lot.
Saturday night rolls around, Chris is at church and I’m at home. The girls and I spend about four hours outside, playing with every toy in the garage while Harper works up a really nice sidewalk chalk/snot mixture on her face. Chris called to say hi in between church services and Harper wanted to talk to him.
Right now, Harper has this really cute, high-pitched, baby voice. She speaks softly most of the time and I would describe her voice as what a really cute mouse would sound like if it could talk. It’s precious and helps her get away with lots of things she shouldn’t. I know tht later this will come back to bite us in the butt.
So she gets on the phone with her Daddy and tells him three things: “outside playin’,” “miss you, Dada,” and “I love you too.”
And then I hear it.
Chris’ voice cracking as he tells her he misses her too and he loves her so much.
And what I don’t hear, but I know from the tone of his voice is what Chris meant about transitions was about him. About a daddy that was going to miss his girls so much he wanted to tell me, but he didn’t know the right words. That he was dreading going back to work because he knew it would take him away from them for most of the summer. And he knew it would be hard on him.
Maybe he would have been able to tell me that if I didn’t respond immediately with sarcasm and thoughts about myself.
And I’m amazed that, in spite of myself, I was able to pick such a good one.
A while ago, I posted a picture on Instagram of a flower my daughter gave me. She handed it to me, gripped in her chubby little hand, asking me to keep it in my pocket all day while I was at work so I could remember her while I was away.
I smiled sweetly at her and stuck it in my pocket, completely in awe of a little girl that means so much to me and is so much a part of who I am. Of course, little thing, I would love to carry this bent, fake flower in my pocket for you. I couldn’t believe she had to ask me to remember her while I was gone. I know she’s just five and it’s not that deep for her, but for me, it is.
As a mom, it was big and deep and encompassing.
And until the moment she has her own children, she won’t get it. She won’t understand the depth to which everything I do revolves around her (and her sister) in some way. She can’t understand no matter what I’m thinking about, my children are there on the edge or front and center, taking up space, love, worry, and joy. They are in my work conversations, my drive home, my time at the gym, and my quick run to the grocery store. They are in my emails, my weekend plans, my hopes for the future, and my forever.
I am their mother, and it’s not just because I birthed them. It’s not just because I have constantly bruised shins because they climb on me and run into me all the time. It’s not because they look like me, act like me, laugh like me.
I am their mother because I decided to make their lives my life’s work. Not my only work, but my greatest work, my best work. So everything I do, whether I consciously think about it or not, is for or about them.
They will not understand this--can’t possibly fathom this--until they are older and have their own kids. Until their lives revolve around little ones who rely on them totally, and who slowly turn into bigger ones that don’t really need them as much. They will learn this one day, just as I had to, just as my mother before me. They don’t know and then, suddenly, they will know, and it will take their breath away. And they will never breathe quite the same again.
My children are in my bones, my being, and my blood. They’re in my laugh, my tears, and my dreams.
And, as of last recently, they’re in my pocket, too.
Posted originally on Trusty Chucks in November 2014.
I was sixteen and sitting on the bus, riding home from a basketball game. My Discman (also known as a portable CD player for all you young cats) had just run out of batteries mid-song and I was too lazy to take the headphones off so I closed my eyes thinking I’d just take a little nap before we made it back to school.
Then I heard them: my two best friends talking about me. Sitting in the seat behind me, they were talking about me because they thought I couldn’t hear them. One girl complained about me asking her to braid my hair on the bus ride to the game. The other girl agreed that that was super-annoying and that she just wished I would leave them alone. This typical, high school mean girl stuff went on for a few minutes.
It felt like hours.
Just typing this, reliving those moments, makes my stomach twist up. I can recall with perfect clarity how horrible it made me feel. I felt such shame for not being worthy of their friendship.
I was heartbroken and embarrassed. I wished I could disappear; I wished I could instantly get off the bus and make my way home unseen. But that’s not how things work even when you really, really need them to so I had to suffer through the rest of the bus ride home. I don’t remember much after that. I know it didn’t end our friendship, that we still played basketball together, that we still hung out together, I have the pictures and memories to prove it.
But what I do remember is the absolute devastation of feeling betrayed and unwanted. These were my two best friends and they didn’t want to be my friends? Who was I supposed to be friends with? High school without a friend is horrible. I needed them. I liked them. Why didn’t they like me all of the sudden? Or had they not liked me for a while?
Almost twenty years later, I realize that I could have gotten new friends. I had other friends, other people that wanted to be friends with me, and probably wouldn’t have–literally and figuratively–talked about me behind my back.
I was thinking about that story the other day as I was puttering around the house. Wondering what friends I have now that I need to do without, what friends I have now that cause me to feel insecure, betrayed, or unwanted. I know that’s a crazy question to ask myself, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t letting things–people, relationships, distractions–into my life that were taking away from it instead of making it better. I am too loved and too awesome to let people in that make me feel bad about myself.
Also, you are too loved and too awesome to let people in that make you feel bad about yourself.
You know that, right?
It sounds like such a simple truth, but I know it’s really not. I have had friends before that I shouldn’t have had for no other reason than they took more than they gave. I’m not talking about friends that need you for a season and then you need them for a season and you take turns caring for each other. That is wonderful and what friends are for. I’m talking about people that just take. And take and take and take. They never fill, they never serve, they never lessen our burdens or loads.
Those people have to go. Those people need to step back.
I didn’t learn this lesson until my thirties. I had to have some friendships fail to be able to learn this lesson. I had to feel the uncomfortable fit of forced relationships that weren’t meant to be so that I could learn what the healthy, life-giving ones really looked and felt like.
And it was so worth it. Because I’d say the friends I have now, the relationships that are growing and blooming and supporting me, are pretty great.
I want that for you, too. I want you to have friends that make your life better not worse. I want you to have some ride-or-die friends that have your back no matter what. I also want you to know what ride-or-die means so if you need to, Google that shiz.
Having good friends makes every aspect of our lives better. I believe my marriage is better because of my friends. I believe I’m a better mom because of my friends. I believe I’m a better friend because of my friends. So if you’ve got people in your life that leave you feeling less than or are tearing you down instead of building you up, it’s probably time to say goodbye to them. You deserve to have good, real, encouraging friends. Life is too short to be around people that don’t add to your life.
I just wish I had learned this truth sooner.
This post originally appeared on Trusty Chucks.com in April, 2015.
I got roped into another half marathon this past weekend. I wasn’t prepared for it, mentally or physically, but I wanted to do it anyway. I was three weeks out from my last half and hadn’t run any distance more than four miles since. I got excited when the invite came late Friday morning, I quickly said yes, and then as reality set in that I was running the next morning, I started to regret my quick response.
I do this often: committing without thinking and then immediately regretting my decision.
Because soon after I agreed to run, I was standing in front of the mirror doubting my legs could carry me another 13.1 miles. Doubting I had the mental strength to do it with less than a day to prepare myself. I spend the week before a race thinking about it all the time. So how was I going to do this when I had less than twenty four hours to psyche myself up?
The afternoon before the race, my daughters and I made a quick trip to the sporting goods store for race fuel and one of those ridiculous running skirt-things because it was going to be hot on Saturday. (Side note: I brought it home, but couldn’t bring myself to wear it. I’m going to have to ease into the running skirt. It’s like a whole level I’m not ready for.)
On the way there, the girls and I were talking about why we were going to the store and what mommy was going to be doing in the morning. The idea of running so many miles or so many minutes hours is completely abstract to them. Five minutes, depending on what’s at the end of those minutes, is either the shortest or longest time in the world. Time has no meaning to a three year old and miles are incomprehensible to a five year old. So talking about running is difficult.
All they know is Mommy goes to the gym after work and comes home red-faced and sweaty. All they know is sometimes Mommy gets up early in the morning and comes home wearing a medal and walking funny. All they know is I run races and that I always win.
Because I do win, I win every race I run.
I win against all those years I didn’t run and paid the price in my waistline and energy level. I win against myself and all the doubts I have as I lace up my running shoes every day. I win against the voices in my head that tell me this distance, this time, will be too long and I’m not ready, that I can’t do it. I win against poor self-esteem and mean things said to me in middle school by cruel boys. I win against the idea that all runners are a size two and should run in sports bras and teeny-tiny running shorts (running skirts, perhaps?). I win against the negative body image that will one day try to convince my daughters their bodies aren’t beautiful, they’re not skinny enough, they’re not good enough.
I win every time I run.
So when I walked into the house on Saturday morning with another medal around my neck and blood staining my sock and shoe (again…), my girls cheered loudly and asked if I won. And I answered there were lots of people that finished before me, but, yes, I won. I won because I tried my best and I ran 13.1 miles.
I won because less than a year ago, I was celebrating running three miles for the very first time.
I won because I finished. I won because my daughters need a strong, powerful, confident, healthy mom to shows them they can do anything they want to even if they feel scared or unprepared because sometimes you just need to jump and figure it out as you go.
Saturday morning I jumped and on the way down, I was reminded I win every time I run.
And that was enough to keep me going.
This post originally appeared on Trusty Chucks.com in June, 2014.