With a Grateful Heart

On Friday, the boys and I drove down to the Valley for a long weekend with my parents. The main purpose of our trip was to participate in the Mega Memorial 5K in Harlingen, a memorial run for a dear friend and former training partner, Meg Jorn. For a woman who dedicated most of her life to distance running, it was a touching tribute to a life tragically cut short. Family, friends, former competitors, and training partners all rallied together for a 5K race in her honor.

Race participants released purple balloons in her honor and her best friend, Dayna, read a beautiful poem and released twenty-six monarch butterflies into the clear blue sky. Moving speeches by both her husband and Dayna brought all of us to tears as we celebrated the incredible life she lived and how she had such a profound impact on her family, friends, and community.

Meg lived a “mega” life. She pushed herself professionally and athletically inspiring so many along the way. Her spirit will live on for years to come, but it does not make her loss any easier to bear. A quote on her Facebook page truly sheds light on the kind of life Meg tackled with gusto and strength, “Life is precious…..let us try not to waste it!”

Meg lived by an exceptional mantra. Life truly is an incredibly precious gift. The threads that make up the tapestry of our lives give us so much to be grateful for. In life, we never know how much time we have with the ones we love. Living each day to the fullest surrounded by the ones we love is such an amazing blessing.

Coming home this weekend allowed me the opportunity to bid adieu to a woman who taught me so much as we shared the road and miles and miles of words of encouragement, laughter, and joy sharing something we both loved- the pursuit of athleticism achieved through training and achieving PR’s. It also reminded me how important the little things truly are. Happiness is seeing your grandparents light up when they see their great-grandsons, catching up with your godmother and clinking glasses as we sip on prosecco, and witnessing the powerful love a big brother shares with his baby brother through a simple kiss and a hug.

My mother made an incredible Thanksgiving spread for us while we were home this weekend. Savory, comforting, and truly delectable, she put all of her love into the preparation and presentation. My mom is my rock, and a woman I derive so much strength and inspiration from. Who I am today is a tribute to the amazing things she has done for me all of my life to help me grow. I am truly grateful for the love, kindness, and grace she encourages me with daily, and I don’t know where I would be without her unconditional love and friendship.

Thanksgiving offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the profound blessings God has graced us with. Our health, happiness, family, friends, and all of the other infinitely beautiful blessings we call our own. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and family and friends around your table. Even after tomorrow, let us remember that we have the opportunity to start each and every day with a grateful heart!

Remembering Granddad

Earlier this week marked the fourth anniversary of my grandfather’s death. For those close to him, he was best remembered for how deeply he loved my grandmother, D’Ann,  how dedicated he was to his work, and his passionate fire for the Texas A&M Aggies.

He was anything but the warm and fuzzy type. He cursed like a sailor and never apologized for his temper. For most of his life, he maintained a strict exercise regimen. Like clockwork, he was up by 5:00 a.m. and out the door for his daily morning walk. Rain or shine, he ventured out; often bragging that he was “airborne.”

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My grandfather smoked like a chimney for most of his life. Most of my childhood memories include him puffing on a cigarette alongside my grandmother. When she became deathly ill with a lung infection though, he quit smoking cold turkey. A habit I can’t imagine was easy to do. There were few things my grandfather wouldn’t do for his beautiful, D’Ann. Married for over 50 years, they shared a love of traveling, tall Cuba Libres, and brown pelicans.

Hard work paved the way for a very successful career. It started first working on the railroads with his father and brother and later traveling further south to pursue a profession in the shrimping industry. My grandmother was anything but pleased about moving away from San Antonio to the quiet town of Port Isabel, but my grandfather soon made her realize the opportunities were plentiful on the coast. The two of them settled into life in South Texas with my father and uncle. Working at the docks meant long days in humid and hot conditions, especially when the season opened and closed or an imminent hurricane was in the Gulf.  His work ethic instilled in me the importance of working hard for the things that matter most in life- your family and career.

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Since my grandfather passed, the fall seems a lot quieter than I remember. He never missed a Texas Aggie football game on television. He’d hoop and holler at the screen cheering on his alma mater with the gusto of a yell leader. If the game turned south, however, he often had very vocal and profane words he’d direct at his beloved team. This usually meant a lot of “G D’s” as I often referred to them when I was younger. Being a member of the Corps of Cadets brought him great pride. He carried the spirit of Aggieland in his heart until the very end.

In reflecting on his life as a son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and Aggie, I’m grateful for the moments we shared. For him, my accolades as a runner brought him great pride. I loved calling him after a race and sharing my accomplishments with him. How I wish Sean, Liam, and Atticus could have met him! I know he’s smiling down on me from a comfortable chair in Heaven. His feet are propped up and he’s enjoying the view from above!

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An Open Letter to my Baby Bear

Sweet Atticus,

It’s hard to believe that a year ago today, the doctor placed your tiny body in my arms. I remember vividly holding you close in those first few moments together and whispering in your ear how much I loved you. My world forever changed that day in ways I could have never imagined. Just thinking about all 5 pounds 15 ounces of you makes my eyes well up with tears. You, Baby Bear, are the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished, and I will worry about you for the rest of my days on this earth.

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So much happened in your first year of life for both of us. I successfully mastered nursing and still find great joy in being able to spend quality time with you every day rocking you in the rocking chair my own mother once rocked and nursed me in. It truly is amazing how things come full circle! Your little hands and feet have grown and so has your length and weight. You’re now just shy of 20 pounds, and my chiseled arms are from lifting and carrying you around with me all through the house.

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There were nights where I wondered if I’d ever sleep through the night again. You would wake up every two to three hours to nurse, and in a zombie like state I would shuffle through the darkness to comfort. But a year later, I can say with gratitude that you my littlest, sleep through the night and for the most part so do I. I find myself waking from time to time if you cough or stir just to check on you as I peer into the monitor. But most nights, that’s just my mommy worry getting the best of me.

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Blank stares gave way to first smiles and baby coos of happiness. Tummy time, something you absolutely loathed initially, turned into playtime before I knew it. Rolling over, sitting up, pulling up, and now trying to walk came on so quickly. Leaving you alone for even a split second isn’t possible anymore. You’re in to everything and always require an incredibly watchful eye.

Exploding diapers, runny noses, teething, and drooling all made their mark on numerous occasions. Some of these moments were laughable. Others were downright disgusting and smelly. But even still, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it for a second.

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You bring so much light to my life- watching you crawl with great curiosity across the hardwood floor or pulling up onto your tippy toes to reach for something you need to know more about. Your smile and belly laugh melt my heart in unimaginable ways. I live for those moments to see you so happy in your father’s arms or underneath your brother’s hug.

The Lord blessed me infinitely when he brought you into my life. I look forward to all of the little and big things your future holds. I ask for continued patience, guidance, and love as I make every effort each and every day to be the absolute best Mama Bear for you and your big brother, Liam.

Happy first birthday, my sweet Atticus. “I will love you forever, love you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby bear you’ll be!”

A Balancing Act

Dr. Seuss put it best with, “So be sure you step, step with great care and tact. And remember that life’s a great balancing act.” (excerpt from Oh the Places You’ll Go). These simple yet poignant words encompass all the hats we Mama Bears wear as wives, mothers, professionals, and dreamers. Finding time to give your spouse the support and love he deserves, showering your children with positive affirmations and hugs, fulfilling your professional obligations with fidelity, and squeezing in tidbits of time for self care prove day in and day out to require incredible time management skills and an uncanny ability to multi task.

In the course of day, what we set out to do is nothing short of superhuman. Getting up before the sun rises, getting ourselves and our children dressed, packing lunches and backpacks, inhaling breakfast and downing coffee, dropping the kiddos off at daycare, and zipping off to work and it’s only 7:00 a.m.

The work day kicks off to a running start at 7:30 a.m., and it’s parent meetings, guidance lessons, individual student counseling sessions, lunch duty, academic team meetings, 8th grade tours, college rep visits, and a slew of emails and phone calls are all in a days work. Somewhere in the midst of all of this I manage to pump twice, usually while I’m returning phone calls or emails as I also try to eat lunch.

When 4:00 rolls around, I’m out the door and making a bee line to daycare to pick up the baby bears who I absolutely cannot wait to see. It’s hugs, homework, sharing the best parts of our day, and some playtime all before dinner. During the week, it’s leftovers or low key dinners that simplify life. Then it’s bath time, which is one of my favorite parts of the day because it’s relaxed, there’s lot of laughing, and the splashing and smiles are perfect too.

Then it’s books and bedtime for the boys, and it’s time for a role reversal. I change hats from a mama bear to a runner and head out the door for some sweat, solitude, and reflection. After pounding out a few miles, the hat changes again, and I step into my role as a wife. Sometimes we catch up over a glass of wine or enjoy one of our favorite shows. By this time in the evening, it’s been an incredibly long day for us. Papa Bears, after all,  walk their own tight rope every day too.

Through it all, their love keeps me pushing forward. Making the best of every moment, even the less ideal ones. This week, for example, sweet Atticus is contending with a sinus infection and has been feverish. I’ve had to leave work early for the last two days to give him a little extra TLC. Such is the life of a Mama Bear though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To all of you Mama Bears out there, balancing your load with beauty and grace, pat yourselves on the back for all of the things you accomplish daily in life. You are a force to be reckoned with. You are a doer, a lover, a mother, and so much more. Take it one day at a time, life each day to the fullest, and remember the words of dear old Dr. Seuss, “life’s a great balancing act.”

Running is a Gift

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I first met Meg, the summer before I started my junior year at The University of Texas. I was recruited by a former teacher to run as the anchor leg for The South Padre Island Beach Mamas at the Beach to Bay Relay in Corpus Christi. I was the only runner on the team who wasn’t a mother but perhaps because of my hometown roots, they made an exception. I remember immediately being in awe of her athletic abilities and her incredible abs. I hoped that one day, I too would exude a similar running prowess.

Fast forward five years, to my first year teaching. I spent the fall training solo for the Houston marathon, driving to the beach on the weekends to complete my long runs with Norma and Karen. After the marathon, as my mom and I waited to board the plane, Dayna approached me about running with her group. I was eager to train with others as running in the quiet, dark early morning hours had proved to be rather lonely, so I agreed to join them the following week for a run.

For the next two and half years, Meg, Dayna, Michael, Scott, David, Mark, and I met multiple times a week for training runs. We gutted it out around the Marine Military Academy track for morning speed work sessions, ran up and down the McElvy Trail hills over twenty times a run in hopes of preparing for hillier marathon courses outside the Valley, and ran so many loops around the Harlingen Country Club, it’s a wonder we didn’t get dizzy. We charted out long run through the streets of Harlingen and parts of San Benito, always finding our second wind on the last stretch sprinting towards the Heart Clinic.

Each of these runs was special in its own right. Meg and Michael, the oil and water of our group, were always at each others throats. We often joked they bickered like an old married couple even though we all knew Meg’s heart forever belonged to Bill. Their opinionated banter often had us roaring in laughter. Sometimes just Meg, Dayna, and I ran delving into more serious topics of conversation about our lives, families, hopes, and hardships. Meg was always such a source of strength and support. She had a way of making even the most difficult of times seem managable.

When I moved to Houston seven years ago, leaving those friendships behind was so difficult. Who would I train with in a new city? Who could match their personalities and the dynamic we all shared? It seemed like such a daunting thought thinking about starting all over again.

Every holiday or visit I made to the Valley up until pregnancy included a run with my Harlingen running crew. Each time, it was as though I had never left. We picked up where we left off, filled each other in on what we’d missed, and always talked about our next big race and the training it would require.

Yesterday we lost an incredible gift. Meg, you will be missed by so many. Thank you for the privilege of being a part of your inner circle while I lived in Harlingen. You inspired me, encouraged me, and supported me in so many ways. You taught me the importance of balancing a career, a family, and a passion for running. Your beautiful smile and strong opinions were truly my most favorite things about you.

Last night searching through email archives I found a note she sent me when I first moved to Houston. It truly encompasses the kind of friend she was.

 Hey Sweetie,

My best wishes to you for the SF marathon. I bet you will do a great job & exceed your expectations. I hope so anyway! Please post your time on Facebook when it’s all over so we can see.

I am running again, trying to get back into shape during the season I hate most in South Texas! It doesn’t seem fair that someone can train for over 20 years of their life and be dedicated and committed to a sport, and get “out of VO2 Xchange shape in a matter of Weeks!! I am stubborn. I will get back into shape for Philadelphia my birthday weekend – Nov 20. Dayna is doing it with me!

Should be cold in Phili in Nov. I hope so anyway!

Hope you are doing well & happy at your new home. We get to Houston  a few times a  year. I will try to track you down.  Wish you the best for the race & your new job/ studies.

All my love,

meg

Running is a gift not because of the physical and mental benefits it provides but because of the amazing training partners you share the road with. When you look past the miles, sweat, and body odor, there is a vulnerability that comes from laying it all on the line when you lace up your running shoes. There’s something that happens in a long run when you let your walls down and pour your heart out.  A running friendship is truly an exceptional gift with exponential payouts.

Meg, you will forever have a special place in my heart. May you find eternal rest in Heaven. Godspeed!

The First of Many

For parents, the first day of kindergarten is undoubtedly a monumental day; a day that signifies your little one really isn’t so little anymore. Monday marked Liam’s first day of kindergarten. Because of Hurricane Harvey, the start date was delayed by almost two weeks. When the big day finally came, he was absolutely ecstatic.

The night before his clothes were picked. He was eager to wear his new Star Wars tee and blue laceless sneakers. His lunchbox was prepped with Cheez Its, a ham and turkey sub, a yogurt pouch, and a Rice Krispie treat; all compliments of Lunchables. I don’t usually encourage Lunchables but was more than happy to appease his first day lunch request this time around. He set his alarm and went to bed full of excitement.

In the morning, the smiles and excitement continued. He posed for the obligatory first day pictures, even requesting the opportunity to take a photo with his little brother. We dropped Atticus off at daycare and headed to Shipley’s for a special first day breakfast of donuts and strawberry milk. On our drive to school, he chatted about the things he was looking forward to most- recess and riding the school bus back to daycare.

We arrived a little before 8:30 and stood alongside other families eager to walk their children in on their first day. At 8:30 several very excited teachers ran out of the building yelling, “It’s the first day of school!” This signaled the beginning of his first day. Together we walked hand-in-hand down the hall towards his classroom. It was a sea of backpacks, lunchboxes, and children. I could see a few nerves creeping in slowly across his face. I leaned down and whispered to him that it was ok to feel nervous. I always felt nervous on the first day too.

When we walked into the classroom, his teacher greeted him with a hug. He found his seat, gave us both incredible bear hugs, and looked longingly at us as we waved goodbye and walked out. Leaving him behind was bittersweet. I knew he was more than ready academically and socially for this new chapter, but leaving him behind was difficult, nonetheless.

At the end of the day, Sean and I picked up both boys together at daycare. This is a rarity but one of the cars was in the shop so we carpooled to work that day. Liam greeted us with a giant smile and raved about his first day. He proudly marched out of daycare with a hat made out of construction paper and sentence strips that said, “I  rocked my first day of kindergarten.” His enthusiasm and praise were music to his parents’ ears, no doubt!

Now halfway through the first week, our kindergartner is still eager to get to school in the morning and comes home with positive things to say. I couldn’t be more grateful he’s off to a great start! Here’s to an incredible school year!

New Beginnings

My career as a school counselor began three years ago at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School, a small inner city Catholic school in the heart of the Fifth Ward in Houston. It was here that I developed a comprehensive guidance program and built a rapport with my students and their families. I could have never prepared myself for the joy that came from helping others academically, socially, and emotionally. It was a difficult school to walk away from; but when a new opportunity knocked, I answered.

Two years ago, prayerful intentions led me to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School where I continued to grow as a school counselor. With an open heart and an open mind, I found my work incredibly rewarding and very quickly grew to love the faculty, students, and families. My days were brighter because of elementary students’ bright smiles and hugs. My heart was happier because of the joy that came from coaching cheer and track; a position I took very seriously as I suited out for practice just like my athletes and led them in workouts around the track. I challenged myself in many ways professionally- leading accommodations meetings, advocating for students with learning difficulties, and meeting the social and emotional needs of many, including faculty and staff. Professionally, I was happy, fulfilled, and content.

Then on the Friday of my first week back at work, I received a phone call from the Director of Admissions at St. John XXIII College Prepatory High School. They had a school counseling vacancy and expressed interest in having me come by for an interview. I found myself immediately torn. I loved the work I was doing at St. Elizabeth but recognized the tremendous opportunities for growth the new position offered. Despite the conflict I felt, I knew I at least needed to interview for the position because I didn’t want to leave myself carrying around any “what ifs?”. My first interview went well, which led to a callback from the principal, and second interview with him. By midweek, I was offered the position, and knew I had a significant amount of soul searching to do.

After prayerful consideration and several heart-to-heart conversations with my closest family and friends, I decided that this opporunity was too good to pass up. The timing was far from ideal; leaving my current position less than a month into the new year and taking on a new role in a new school later in the game. Nevertheless, I’m eager to embark on this new journey and challenge myself professionally in new ways.

A few weeks ago, my post focused on the adage, “everything happens for a reason.” God put this new opporunity in my lap for a reason. This did not happend by accident. My principal notified the faculty and parents about my new position this afternoon. I’m incredibly grateful for his support and look forward to what the future holds. My last day at St. Elizabeth is this Friday. I will take the next few days to say my goodbyes and prepare for this next phase in my professional life.

So here’s to new beginnings, moving forward, and embracing the adventure that lies ahead. Thank you St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for the tremendous opportunities. You will forever have a place in my heart!