The TED Talk That Never Was

I am a TED Talk reject.

Admittedly, my talk wasn’t all that provocative or novel. It clearly didn’t qualify as an “idea worth spreading,” which apparently is TED’s tag line.

But I was on a mission to conquer my fear of speaking live on camera, and what better way to do so than with a potentially global audience?

I am nothing if not ambitious.

I downloaded all the TED Talk guidelines about how to give a magnificent presentation that TED himself would watch. (And I learned that TED isn’t actually a person but an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.)

I picked out my dress for the talk. It was purple because that color looks fabulous against TED-Talk-red.

And I told all my friends that I was trying out. Blasted it out on Instagram. Gave a preview of my talk on Facebook Live.

So when I received the “We had a very competitive pool of applicants…” rejection email, I was disappointed. Surprisingly embarrassed. Even ashamed.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if it was worth it. All that effort and energy, for what?

I have a hard time with inspirational quotes about failure. Stuff like, “It’s the process, not the destination that matters.”

Because the destination does matter.

I struggle with questions like, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” Because the honest-to-goodness answer is that I’d try to fly.

There are always consequences when we fail, real risks that cause real problems.

Problems like dying, which is what would happen if I jumped off the top of my house and tried to fly.

So as I reflect on my TED Talk failure, I am going to tell you something a bit different than these inspirational quotes, questions, and sayings.

Something that is, dare I say, an idea worth spreading.

Because next week, I am giving my own version of a TED Talk. I have reserved the same theater where the actual, real TED Talk event took place.

There will be cameras to film it. I even have a live audience. And yes, I will be wearing my purple dress.

At first blush, this may seem like a stubborn act, a rejection of my rejection, so to speak.

But it isn’t.

I was asked to teach an online class and they needed to film it. And because I’d put all that effort into preparing for my TED Talk That Never Was, I was ready.

I was ready.

For me, that’s what failure is all about. That is my idea worth spreading.

Failure makes you ready for the next time. But this time, the next time, your are smarter, wiser, and a little more brave.

Am I nervous about my non-TED Talk? Absolutely.

People might not show up. And if they do, they might not think my ideas are all that provocative or novel.

They may find my purple dress to be a bit much.

I may very well fail.

But if that happens, I will learn new things. I’ll end up smarter and wiser.

Braver.

And I will be ready for the next time.

 

Post-script: Eat your heart out, TED.

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Strike

A few years ago, I had a mental breakdownthrough about Mother’s Day.

We were finishing up Mother’s Day brunch where I’d spent most of the time reminding my kids to please eat with their utensils, to please stop fighting under the table.

I didn’t want people to think I was a horrible mother on Mother’s Day of all days.

Their behaviors were amplified, highlighted, and contrasted with the ideals of being the Perfect Mom.

So by the end of the ordeal, when my husband asked sweetly, “What else do you want to do today?” I slurped down the rest of my mimosa, surveyed the disaster on the table, and said, “You know what? I’m taking the day off.”

“What does that even mean?” he asked in confusion, “Are you saying you don’t want to be with the kids on Mother’s Day?”

“No, that’s not really it, although it’s close,” I replied. “I just don’t want to ‘mother’ on Mother’s Day.” 

We were both aghast. And for a second, I wondered if it was the mimosa(s) talking or a deeper, darker truth that I had denied until now.

Turns out it was both. 

My mimosa-inspired revelation was quite clear. I don’t want to “mother” on Mother’s Day.

I don’t want to go home after brunch and be asked to make lunch when they just ate their body weight in pancakes. They should be good to go until dinner. (Speaking of dinner, I don’t want to make that, either.)

I don’t want to go through the Friday Folder (which I do every Sunday night) to find stuff like *surprise!* next week all the third graders need to dress up like Pilgrims.

(What do Pilgrims even wear? Whatever it is, I guarantee it’s not hanging in my daughter’s closet.)

Or your child has been assigned to bring 23 individually sliced pieces of mango for the “Fun Fruit Party.” (Dear Mrs. Teacher, have you ever sliced a mango? It’s a slippery nightmare involving a knife.)

I don’t want to negotiate how many more minutes my son can play video games. Or how many bites of broccoli he has to eat before he can go back to playing video games.

I don’t want to do any of it.

As much as motherhood is celebrated, it’s a lot of work. And as much as moms love their children, sometimes we need a break. What better day than Mother’s Day?

We don’t labor on Labor Day, so why should we mother on Mother’s Day?

Don’t worry. As I established earlier, I am not a horrible mother on Mother’s Day of all days. 

We still have our traditional celebration in the morning where the kids express their love with handmade cards, my husband his appreciation with flowers.

We still go to brunch where the kids eat like wild animals and I down a half-dozen mimosas.

But then, as soon as someone says, “I’m hungry. What’s for lunch?” I go wherever the day beckons, as long as it’s out the front door of my house.

One year, I went to the office to work. I focused on a project until it was actually done rather than when I needed to take my son to soccer practice.

Another year, I flew out to Florida for a business trip. I settled into my clean hotel room with its perfectly-made bed and watched a movie. All. By. My. Self. (And it was rated R.)

Most times, I just wander around Target. Stores are usually closed on Mother’s Day, but Target has the decency to stay open. They probably make a killing with all the mommies half-buzzed on mimosas.

So to all you Brave Moms, hang up that Perfect Mom apron. Take a day for yourself and hold your own Mother’s Day Strike.

Enjoy the one day out of the year when there is no laundry beckoning you to fold it, no dirty toilets shaming you into cleaning them, no children whining for you to fill their bottomless stomachs.

For one day out of the year, allow yourself to be unbound by time or expectations or anyone else’s agenda except your own.

For one day out of the year, have a Happy Mother’s Day.

 

happymomday

On Motherhood (Parental Advisory: Explicit Truth & Inappropriate Musings)

I didn’t want to do this. I really, truly didn’t.

But as Mother’s Day approaches, I feel obligated to share a few perspectives on motherhood, as well as some of my very best dance moves.

Just in case it helps one mother make sense of her experience.

Just one.

Because what I’m about to say (and show you) is probably going to make many more mothers feel confused. Maybe even a bit uncomfortable.

And that’s okay, because I would prefer mothers feel confused and uncomfortable rather than, say, guilty or ashamed (the two emotions most commonly associated with motherhood).

So this post comes with a Parental Advisory for it’s explicit truths, the first of which is this photo of me. Yes, that’s me. I’m on Day 2 of my daughter’s recovery from ankle surgery. The ankle she broke when her older brother/babysitter double-bounced her on the trampoline.


I look as bad as I felt. Which is really bad.

My daugher? Oh, don’t worry. She’s doing great. Much better than her mother, actually. Here’s a picture of her.

And now for the inappropriate musings.

I think motherhood is a lot like climbing Everest, losing your legs to frostbite and wondering,

“That was an amazing experience, but would I do it all again?”

?

As I deliberate upon this question, I realize that it is possible to appreciate and critique something. To see beauty while noting its imperfections. To understand that something is good but also has a very dark side.

For example, let’s take Diet Coke.

I love Diet Coke. I’ve been known to drink so much Diet Coke that I shiver with cold. One of the reasons I have a Costco subscription is because I can buy Diet Coke in bulk.

I also know Diet Coke is probably going to give me cancer. Like some newfangled, mysterious cancer that doesn’t exist yet.

Something like ear cancer.

And yet I am still able to enjoy my delicious, bubbly, acidic Diet Coke even though it may very well kill me.

Now I’m not equating motherhood to death by ear cancer. As any mother will tell you, motherhood may make you want to die, but it will not let you.

My point about Diet Coke is simply to reinforce what I said earlier.

It is possible to appreciate and critique something. To see beauty while noting its imperfections. To understand that something is good but also has a very dark side.

For me, that something is motherhood. Because it is hard. Like gut-wrenching, soul-killing hard.

And no one is talking about it in any real way that matters.

I didn’t lose my temper until I had kids. I didn’t drink wine every night until I had kids. I didn’t think I was a horrible person until I had kids.

I’ve done stuff that never shows up in Parents Magazine or the Love and Logic book or the “How To Keep From Killing Your Child” website that unfortunately doesn’t exist. 

I’ve spent time fantasizing about very bad things. Like suggesting they swim the length of the pool without swimmies or play hopscotch in the street or hitchhike home from school.

(My Top 3 Mothering Fears are child drowning, child getting hit by a car, and child being kidnapped. And yet I fantasize about them sometimes.)

Would I climb Everest again? I’m not always sure.

But I’m already up here on top of Everest with no legs. And I’m not sure if I can climb back down, so I wonder if it was worth it.

Especially in the grocery store checkout line when they spill their brrrberry slushy in my purse while reaching for 20 packages of Skittles.

Especially when they fight at the dinner table after I’ve taken the time to actually home-cook a meal, which is a very special occasion that should be treated very specially.

Especially when they say they hate me. 

Especially then.

There is a space that exists in the world of motherhood. A space that is just a little left of center, where we feel all the love our hearts could possibly hold, where we would not hesitate to lay down on railroad tracks for our children.

And yet in that same space, there live emotions like anger and resentment because let’s be honest, who really wants to be run over by a train?

I want to be clear. I love being a mom. I really, truly do. And I am a pretty good mom on most days.

But I’m not a Perfect Mom. And I’ve finally stopped trying.

If you can identify with anything I’ve written in this post, I have some good and bad news for you. The bad news is that you aren’t a Perfect Mom, either.

The good news?

You’re a Brave Mom, and I love you.

xoxoako

PS – In case you haven’t seen this on my Facebook page, I invite you to watch a video of me performing an impromptu dance routine for my daughter. She’s sitting on the toilet, feeling sad because her ankle is broken. I’m trying to cheer her up by making a total fool of myself. Because that’s what Brave Moms do.

PPS – If you know another Brave Mom, share this post with her. Then go get a drink together because you probably need it. 

I Wished to be a Sparrow (Reflections on depression & faith)

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I stood in the field alone, looking out to the western foothills. The sun was starting its descent from day to night, but it wasn’t quite sunset.

Not quite.

It was the magical time just before. The window through which everything is more vibrant in color, more alive, rimmed with gold. My favorite time of the day.

“This is when they should bury me,” I thought.

This is when they should lower my body into the ground, when the sun turns the world golden before its arc into night.

When the leaves on the trees flash a bright spring green. And the cottonwood floating in the air looks electric. When the long grass glows warm, its tips a blur of undulating white.

When everything is just a little too bright, just a little too beautiful, just a little too intense.

Just like me.

I was out in that field looking for God, not for salvation but for some sign that things would be okay after I died. For me and for the people who would miss me so, so much.

Depression is like being dead in a world that is cruelly alive. Cold and hollowed out like a corpse, you try to connect with the living, try to feel the warmth of their hope, but you can’t.

My only tether to this life was my love. For my mom, my brother, my friends. For the dreams of what my life was supposed to be. For my children who had yet to be born.

But the pain was becoming greater than my love, and so I was preparing to die. I didn’t know how exactly. That was for later, after I’d made peace with myself and with God in this field.

After I knew I’d done my very best to live. Because I wanted them to say at my funeral,

“She did her very best to live.”

I noticed sparrows darting back and forth across the field. As the sun began to set, they emerged.

Dozens and dozens of them flew about, only a few inches above the glowing grass, catching bugs in the last light of the day. A few of the braver ones flew close enough that I could hear their chirping and the swish of their wings.

They were exuberant and joyful. And I contemplated why they were not afraid. Their minds could not comprehend that the setting sun would rise again the next day, but they flew like it would.

They had faith that it would.

I wished to have that kind of faith.

I wished to be a sparrow.

 

Remind Me to Start a Revolution about that Next Time

This is the third morning in a row that I’ve woken up at 4:30 a.m. I thought it was a fluke, but three times in a row isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. And within patterns, there is usually meaning.

What does it mean to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for three mornings in a row?

To figure it out, I need to write because something is swimming around at the edges of my subconscious, swirling in the purgatory between my unconscious and conscious mind.

Writing allows me to fish it out, to cast a line into those unknown waters and wait for the tug of recognition. And when it comes, if I finesse the rod just right, if I don’t pull too hard or too gently, that something will emerge, thrashing and alive from the depths.

I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an excerpt from a book I was reading, a clever line written in jest by the author about an issue she cared about but not quite enough to do anything about.

“Remind me to start a revolution about that next time,” she wrote.

I cast that out across the expanse of my subconscious and wait, senses alert. What do I care about but not quite enough to do anything about? What do I want to start a revolution about next time because right now, this time, is not a “good time”?

fishing

The cursor on my computer screen blinks. I am patient and quiet. Is anything there? Or better yet, is anything there that I can handle right now?

Because I am not sure this is a good time to start a revolution, thank you very much.

I’m married with two kids and a dog. I work full time. My family is coming off four weeks of taking turns being sick with the flu because apparently “the vaccine didn’t quite match up this  year.”

I’ve somehow managed to contract pink eye, most likely from all the visits to the pediatrician’s office. (Because, flu.)

And last night, my nine year-old told me there’s a lice outbreak in her classroom and she thinks her head itches…

So no, it’s not really a good time for me to start a revolution, unless it’s to set fire to my house, my eyeballs, and my daughter’s hair.

Unless it’s to quit my job as a mother/wife/caretaker and tell somebody else, anybody else, that I’m all done now.

In fact, even if I don’t start a revolution, if I’m really, really, really honest with myself, I AM ALL DONE BEING A WOMAN IN THIS WORLD.

Oh wait. That’s it. That’s the something that I want to start a revolution about next time, and it just landed at my feet, thrashing and alive from the depths of my subconscious. There was no waiting for the second and third tug, no finessing of my rod. It just burst out of the water like Jaws.

I am all done being a woman in this world. 

Is that even possible?

How can I quit my job as a mother, wife, caretaker and overall keeper of my family’s universe, because I’m pretty sure it would all implode into a black hole without me?

How can I stop feeling the conflicting demands of work and motherhood where being in one place means I’m not somewhere else, so I’m always, always failing at both?

How can I acknowledge the pain of my stay-at-home-mom friends, women who didn’t understand how their “choice” would drastically limit so many of their future choices?

How can I tell my daughter that even though she’s smart and hard working, she’s at an incredible disadvantage compared to the boys in her class?

How can I?

How can I not.

I am all done being a woman in this world. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth, and not doing anything about it? That makes me a co-conspirator in everything that hurts me, my daughter, other women, and men for that matter.

Since I can’t really be all done with my identity as a woman, I guess that means I’m all done with this world. I’m all done with a world that makes it so incredibly hard to be a woman.

Does that make me a revolutionary?

Perhaps. It all depends on how I move forward from here. And while I’m not sure what this will look like exactly, I do know this. My efforts will not be unrelated. They will not be flukes.

Like waking up at 4:30 a.m. three mornings in a row, there will be a pattern with meaning.

And if anyone looks closely and cares to fish it out, they will find it for themselves.

I am all done being a woman in this world. And I’m starting a revolution about it this time

One-Night Stand Activism (Waking up after the Women’s March)

For many women who attended the Women’s March, becoming an activist was kinda like waking up after a one-night stand, looking over at the dude sleeping next to you and wondering, “Now how the heck did that happen?”

The evidence is there. Hand-made signs propped up in the garage. Maybe a pink hat or two in the front hall closet. You know who your Senator is and how to reach him. (I say “him” because I have an 90% chance of being right on that.)

And perhaps you’ve sent him an email or called his office about issues you had no idea even existed four weeks ago. (Cabinet nominations? I didn’t know that was a “thing” until this year, and I’ve been a card-carrying voter since 1992.)

You’re conversant in a slew of acronyms (ACA, NoDAPL, NSC) and new phrases like “alternative facts” and “false media.” And you’re really, really pissed about them.

Even though I’ve identified as a feminist since my high school days, I never considered myself an activist. That label was for angry people. People with issues. And I considered myself a relatively nice person with a relatively normal, issue-free life.

Mostly because of privilege (of which I have a lot, despite being born female) and partly because I’d lulled myself into believing that women were on the rise.

activist
Who are these people? And how did I get here?

But right after the Trump Apocalypse, I signed up for the Women’s March. I’ve never marched in anything before except high school parades. To me, marches were a thing of the past.

Yet like a newly-hatched sea turtle with this overwhelming need to get to the ocean, it was calling me, and although I didn’t know exactly why, I knew that’s where I needed to be, even if the seagulls tried to eat me.

Speaking of seagulls, I was nervous that my daughter and I might be risking ourselves in some way by attending. Marches can take on a life of their own, and given the right circumstances, they can turn into mobs, which are legit dangerous things.

That said, I struggled to envision a bunch of women setting cars on fire or breaking windows. Violence and mayhem are not typically a women’s way of dealing with conflict. And really, who’s gonna clean up that mess afterwards? We knew better than to do that to ourselves.

Then there was the fear of the counter-protesters rolling in with their hate and maybe even their violence. But deep inside, I knew all the nice ladies with their cute pink hats would become poster-wielding ninjas if something like that went down. (Especially the grandmas. They seem especially angry nowadays.)

It did cross my mind that some crazy person might shoot at us. So I took stock of my life and decided I’d make a good martyr for middle-class mothers. That’s a segment of society with a lot of untapped power, and seeing one of their own go down might be just the ticket to unleash it.

So all told, I felt quite safe. And strangely ready to die if needed.

Does that make me an activist? Yes, I think it does.

And if you’ve read this far into my post, you might be an activist, too.

You might be an activist if you are afraid of terrorists attacks (I mean, who isn’t?) but don’t think throwing hate at the entire Muslim world is going to make us safer.

You might be an activist if you have a uterus and would like men to stop talking about it, let alone making laws about how you use it.

You might be an activist if you care about the environment, public education, science, or national security. Because all of those things are under attack right now. (And I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

You might be an activist if you have a child. Or know a child. Or sometimes see a child at the grocery store or at the park. Because what’s imprinting on their young minds and hearts as “normal” is anything but.

You might be an activist if your family immigrated here one year ago or hundreds of years ago, and the thought of a wall brings up memories of communist Russia.

Speaking of Russia, you might be an activist if you wonder just how much they were involved with Trump’s election. (Or you might be a paranoid conspiracy theorist.)

You might be an activist if you have a friend or loved one whose nationality, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, ability or socioeconomic status make them even more vulnerable than they were before. As if they were not already vulnerable enough. 

Yes, you might be an activist, and you probably always were. Because like most people, you probably value things like love and respect. You probably were taught to believe America is the land of the free and the brave. And you probably know this is only going to get better if everyone, every single one of us, finds that little bit of activist in ourselves and does something.

Even if it’s just reading this post.

xoxoako

PS – Share this post with a friend and you’re not just a one-night stand activist, you’re a revolutionary. (More on that in my next post.)

No Longer Anonymous: Alexis Kanda-Olmstead Overcomes the Terror of the Publish Button

This came out today on WordPress Discover, and I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for your support of my writing. xoxoako

 

Alexis Kanda-Olmstead’s moving essay on body image, “Making Friends With This Body,” was the fifth post on AKO Collective — a blog she started in August to showcase her writing. We spoke with Alexis about her blog’s origin story, her inspirations, and Blogging University.

How did AKO Collective come to be?

My first blog was written under a pseudonym for many reasons. First, I didn’t identify as a writer, so I didn’t want to be judged as one. And second, I swear. A lot, actually. And not just tiny swear words. I employ the biggest, baddest ones regularly. So I wrote an anonymous blog to keep my very responsible, high profile job in education. And so that other moms wouldn’t cancel playdates with my children.

It was after visiting a fellow blogger that I realized this “shadow blogging” thing wasn’t allowing me to reach my people via social media, which is very important to blogging. It wasn’t helping me access the truest parts of myself, which is also very important to blogging. So I started AKO Collective, which is a complete departure from my first blog. It’s not about parenting, there are no swear words, the material is much more hopeful in tone, and children are not harmed in its making.

I hit “publish” on AKO Collective in August and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack. To be out there, with my name on something that is my creative work, is quite terrifying. I still find it very uncomfortable. But more than the anxiety, terror, and discomfort was this very strong feeling, a knowing almost, that this was necessary, that it was time.

Read more…