On Leadership in Parenting

March 30, 2013 in BEGIN READING WITH THESE FAVORITES, Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

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I spent most of the week at the Oregon coast for Spring Break. You know, after losing a kid in the forest and dropping another one in the riverThat photo up there? It’s the view from our house this week. Yes. This is one of the reasons living in Oregon, despite the rain, is worth it, man. Miles and miles of this.

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We didn’t spend the whole week together. Greg and his folks took Kids 2 and 3 home after a couple of days. He needed to work, and the kids needed the security and stability of home. Traveling freaks the oldest boy out, and the younger girl likes her own bed. One of the biggest challenges of parenting a thousand children is recognizing their individual needs and accommodating them whenever possible. Kids in big families have lots of opportunities to learn to accommodate others and to be patient and to wait their turns and to do what’s best for The Collective. The Hive. The Group Mind. It’s OK; it’s good for kids to understand community and to practice selflessness and generosity. Except, of course, when they need what they need. And so three left.

Our oldest kid, the teenage girl who’s more capable and independent and confident and mature every day, spent the week in Mexico with our church building houses for people who need them. And when we watch our kids recognize their privileges and resources and choose to give their Spring Break to help build a path out of poverty? Yes. This is one of the reasons parenting, despite the sleeplessness, is worth it, man. Miles and miles of this.

So I stayed at the beach with my two littles for a few days without the internet or computer or Wii or DS or cable or Hulu or Amazon or Netflix. It was good to take a break from screens. Just kidding. We watched 3 movies on DVD and then caught The Croods at the tiny theatre in town. I cried when they learned that following the Light is risky and dangerous and terribly worth it.

And then we walked the beach and found very nice rocks

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and battled the tide, which beat us but not by much, and we ran too fast and contemplated our size, which we decided is both very big and very small.

photo 5 (14)I saw a lot of my boys’ backs, and I thought about this quote:

There go my men, and I must hasten after them for I am their leader.

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I thought, yes. This is parenting. This rush to catch up. This leadership from behind. This battle against the tide which we will certainly lose but only after a very good fight.


And you? What did you do for Spring Break? Or what will you do?


On Finding the Gym and a New Comfort Zone

January 18, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously, Funny, Health by Beth Woolsey

I bought a trial membership at the gym this week which was harder than you might think and not just because it’s a gym and also, Oh Sweet Baby Jesus Smiling Sweetly in His Manger, a GYM.

No. It was harder than you might think because I forgot how to get there.

That’s right.

I’ve been to the gym before, folks, but it’s been so long I couldn’t remember how to find it. Also, I forgot that my fancy phone can hold my hand, whisper assurances, and take me there if I but ask. I often forget this about God, though, too, so at least my phone’s in good company, eh?

I drove around the industrial part of our little town for a while, stomping my feet real loud, hoping to scare the gym out of the brush, but all that scampered out was the ACTION Vibratory Equipment building…

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… and the CLIMAX World Headquarters…

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which went a long way toward proving we have the Very Best Town Ever (Where do I live? Well, you know CLIMAX World Headquarters? There.), and gave me a robust Immature Laughter Workout, but did little to help me find my way.

Eventually, the gym quit hiding, and yesterday I went to a group weight lifting class.

Traditionally, I’ve loved lifting weights as much as I’ve loved having all the kids barfy at once. I’ll do almost anything to avoid it, and, if I get caught doing it anyway, I’m pretty sure  it’s going to kill us all.

Oddly, though, group weight lifting wasn’t awful. Almost as though free weights with good music, better friends and easy-to-follow instruction can be fun. I know; I hardly know what to do with this information, either. It’s like the mountains moved without any warning and I’m still reeling a little, trying to get my bearings. It helps that there was a fundamental flaw in the instruction; Bryanna kept saying things like “use your abs” like she believes we all have some.

Finding a gym to join is a strange thing for me. I don’t consider myself a gym kind of person. Several people have asked if it’s because of the mirrors in the group classes or not yet knowing the right moves. You know, the self-consciousness questions. And I can see that those things might be intimidating but that’s not it at all; I’ve been a mama for far too long to be dissuaded by the little things like public humiliation or making an utter fool of myself. No. My problem is the fact that I’m introverted to the point of being reclusive, hiding in my house and in my head by preference. I interact with friends more often in writing than face to face. I see my neighbors most often when we run into each other at school functions. So a gym? Crowds of people on purpose? This is a push for me. But an important one, I think, to choose to be part of an active, healthy community.

Running worked for me for a long time. Three years or so. I loved putting on my shoes and heading out the door on no one’s schedule but my family’s. Listening to no one’s music but my own (by which I mean my teenage daughter’s because I have no music of my own – I know lots of One Direction songs, is what I’m saying.) But I haven’t run much in the last 6 months, and, while I hope to get back to it, my scale keeps griping at me and it’s time for a change. With my youngest in full-day school this year, I have to acknowledge I’m headed into yet another season of life and adjust accordingly.

Life, y’all. And seasons! And our needs. And adjusting. It’s like it all keeps changing because that’s the way this whole thing works.

So I’m curious. Are you doing anything lately that pushes you outside your comfort zone? Anything that makes you draw on the wealth of abject humiliation you’ve experienced as a human being? What are you doing? And more importantly, why are you doing it?


P.S. Yesterday was free weights. This morning was Zumba. Now, I’m immobilized on my couch. Frozen. Muscles immovable. Apparently, Bryanna was right and I have abs, gluts, quads and all kinds of other whiny, complainy muscles. I can probably get up, but I’m pretty sure I can’t get back down, so I’m staying here. I’m experiencing some discomfort at this time due to a steady increase of bladder pressure. I’m not sure how, exactly, to explain to my bladder that squatting all the way down to toilet depth is simply not possible right now. It’s not that I don’t hear you, Bladder. You’re making some excellent, convincing points. It’s that my quads can’t do anything to help you. Sorry, buddy. You’re on your own.


How to Exercise at High Altitude: a word problem

October 5, 2012 in Beth, Family, Funny, Health by Beth Woolsey

(This is after the Medical Teams International Big Run
with my sis-in-law, Kim, who feels this pic makes her look schlumpy
but really she’s just schlumping ’cause I’m so short.
Thanks, Kim!)

I ran a 5K last weekend.

It was a miracle.

Four show-offy senior citizens passed me, speed walking, on the course. I didn’t care, though. Pfft; not me. I ran a 5K, folks, just four weeks after starting the Couch-to-5K program again. Last time I did Couch-to-5K, it took me 16 weeks to complete 9 weeks worth of sessions. So my running is slower than old people walk? Whatever. I totally outpaced the lady with the oxygen tank, so I’m marking it in the win column.

Greg and I arrived in Colorado yesterday, and today we completed the Vail Pass bicycle tour. We did it because we’re super sporty.

Sure, I huffed and puffed for the 45-second uphill portions and had to walk the bike a time or two, but, you guys, the guide told me during a water break that we have 25% less lung capacity at high altitude, so neither my huffing nor my puffing was surprising. That’s right, I thought, I have a darn good reason for not breathing, and then I posed a mathematical word problem for the guide — and for fun — because who doesn’t love a good word problem?

I’m pretty sure I get it, I said to the guide. Fill in the blank, OK? What I hear you saying is this: If I run a 5K race at a lower altitude and only four senior citizens pass me, then at this altitude when I run a 5K race…

five senior citizens — 25% more — will pass you, he finished.

In conclusion, I’m never running a race in Vail.

The End


 P.S. Greg says both the guide and I suck at word problems (true for me, can’t speak for the guide), and that the question as I posed it was unsolvable because I didn’t provide the total number of seniors and allow for a percentage-based solution. In fact, Greg says, if 67% of the senior citizens (4 out of 6 total, since the nice lady with the oxygen tank was walking with a gentleman companion) passed me at sea level, then 100% (6 spunky seniors) would likely pass me at high altitude since they all, in this case boosted by an oxygen tank, would have better lung capacity than me. I say Greg can bite me.


P.P.S. Free advice for the cautious at heart: always put your bike on a wedge.


Couch-to-5K or 5K-to-Couch? Decisions, decisions.

September 13, 2012 in Beth, But Seriously, Funny, Health by Beth Woolsey

I really wanted to title this post “Butt Weight, there’s more!” Because it’s about running and why I run and my weight, and, you know, butt weight, there’s more. But then I thought that title might be mean to me, and I’m trying to knock that crap off. So, well, this is the conversation I had with myself abou tit:

But it’s funny!
But it’s mean.
Butt it’s funny!
Yeah. I totally saw that. Knock it off.
Fine. Forge tit.
I think you meant to type forget it.
Oops. Those t‘s and the tricky space bar always mess me up.
You’re the most immature person I know, Beth.

So I didn’t do it. Kudos to Mature Me! Woot!


A few years ago, the Couch-to-5K running plan changed my life, although, lately, I’ve been working very, very hard at perfecting my own special invention, the 5K-to-Couch plan.

In case you’re not familiar with it, Couch-to-5K is the remedial learn-to-run program for those of us who always, always came in last in the middle school, one-mile, around-the-track, yes-you-have-to-run-even-if-you-fake-cramps, President’s fitness challenge run. When I was a kid, I could take you DOWN in sprints. But an endurance run? Anything without the words “-yard dash” in it? Nope. None of that. Not even a tiny bit.

The President’s fitness challenge taught me one important life lesson: to detest running. And also to hate chin-ups, or, in my case, chin-up, singular, with my PE teacher lifting from underneath. Come to think of it, I hated all the kinds of sit-ups, too, where I wasn’t allowed to cheat by rolling on my back, lifting my feet, and pretty much just rocking on my hind-end in a general sit-up-like motion ’til that part of the class was over. So there were three important life lessons I learned before entering high school.

Honestly, the fitness lessons from early in life worked well for me until after college. I was neither in nor out of shape, thanks to an OK metabolism and a meh-attitude about buying bigger jeans. I got by fine. Then along came life as a mama and, as bonus gifts, I found myself with whole lotta extra pounds and no time to exercise. I know that sounds like an excuse, but I’d like to present to the jury infant twins, the need to advocate for my kids with special needs, a desperate sleep deficit, and pots full of room temperature, off-brand mac-and-cheese that weren’t going to eat themselves.

I started running when my youngest turned two.

I know. WHAT?

But I did.

At that particular point in life, I was beginning to suspect that it was a bad sign to find myself regularly out of breath while walking to my mailbox, so I thought I might give running a try.

Desperate times, friends.

You guys, C25K starts with 2 minutes of walking and 60 seconds of jogging, and then it repeats, and I will NEVER forget those first 60 seconds because I was ECSTATIC to discover my body could do that. Sixty seconds! IN A ROW!

OK. I just reread that, and I think maybe it sounds sarcastic or like I’m making fun of me, so let me just say. I’m not. I was stunned. Amazed. Thrilled. Hopeful. And I was not more proud even when I crossed the finish line of my first 5K race, slower and more pathetically shin-splinty than any of my friends. The truth is, no accomplishment, no completed goal, can match the terrifying courage required to take that first, lonely step. That step is success.

Over the last year, trying to juggle a job, kids, marriage, and increased writing put running on the back burner. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was intentional about it. I sacrificed my body on the altar of Other Things, and I was OK with the choice. For the short term. But I knew all the while, from the beginning ’til now, that it would have to change.

It’s a funny thing, making real life choices that cause various measures of good and harm. It’s the constant cost/benefit analysis of being human, I suppose. Magazines, movies and books rarely tell us that every decision comes with a cost. But, of course, when you’re a mama and you choose every day between reading another Dr. Seuss book and allowing yourself to go potty, you know it’s true. (You also know you can read Dr. Seuss to your kidlets while you’re sitting on the potty because you’ve tried it and the cost is only dignity which is probably long gone and an easy price to pay, but still… decisions = paying a price. Sure enough.)

So it’s time. My brilliant 5K-to-Couch plan is at its end, and Couch-to-5K is coming back. In part, I’m making this change because it’s time to be a better mommy, and running, it turns out, delivers a mind-blowing endorphin release that ushers me back to gentleness and kindness from moody, mama angst. My kids need me to run.

Do I regret my time with 5K-to-Couch? Nope; I refuse to regret doing what I needed to do.

That’s the thing I’m learning about this life. It’s not about making it perfect or even about balance. Not at all. This life with kids is too extreme — too full of rapid change — for perfection or balance to grow deep roots before they’re dislodged by another lifequake. And that’s OK. It is. We mamas learn to manage every day with new rhythms, using what works and discarding what doesn’t. Today, running is my rhythm.

These are my feet, under my desk.

And they are not going to run themselves.

So off I go, friends, to tackle C25K.


Here’s to life, and to new old rhythms.



Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger.

June 13, 2012 in BEGIN READING WITH THESE FAVORITES, Beth, But Seriously, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

You know how intensely irritating (read: soul-sucking) it is when you’re barely surviving the raising of little littles and you’ve been covered in spit-up and boogers and yogurt and poo for days, and you’re praying for just three hours of uninterrupted sleep (or a terrible car accident that will put you in the hospital for at least a week where soft-spoken nurses will bring you soup and say, “there there” and hit you with a shot or twelve of morphine every couple of hours), and so you post a cry for help (or at least for sympathy) on Facebook – “SO TIRED!” – and some mother / soon-to-be-former friend who’s apparently FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING about the early years of child-rearing says something like, “Oh. You think you’re tired now?? Just wait ’til you have teenagers. HAHAHA!”, and then, to rub it in extra hard, she adds a winky face, and you want to unfriend her but that’s not at all homicidal enough?

You know that experience, mamas?


I just want you to know that Not Every Mama of Teenagers a) thinks that, much less, b) says it aloud. REALLY. I SWEAR IT. LOTS OF MAMAS OF ALL AGES ARE UNITED.

In fact, I was just expressing sympathy to a Mama of Teenagers who was at the hospital all night with her sick husband, and she responded, “Meh. Being barely functional works out just fine when you only have teenagers. They can fend for themselves.”

Oh my goodness. It was such a hope-filled, gorgeous thing to say in the midst of her own exhaustion that I felt I SIMPLY MUST share it with you so we all might feel the warmth of hope together.


P.S. THANKS TO ALL THE UNITED MAMAS OUT THERE! Really. You make a WORLD of difference.


I shared that run-on gem on Facebook last night.

And it would be enough to put here all by itself because it’s true.

But it generated a question that captured my attention. A mama of teens wrote this in response: “I have to say that sympathy is what the young mommas need, not one-upsmanship. But when they ask me, with desperate faces, if it gets easier, should I lie and say yes?”

SUCH a good question. Really. SUCH a good one.

What do we do?

What do we say?

What do we mamas who’ve run and run and run our race on the Mama Road say to our newest members? What do we say when they’re tired? What do we do when their confidence is shaken? How do we help when they’re faltering and wobbly and certain that this race was the worst idea?

Oh, mamas. How do we run this race together? What do we do to become friends and not foes? How do we offer sympathy and share our pain and still encourage each other?

Well, I don’t know – not all of it, anyway. But I know a piece. And I will give you that gladly.

Here is what’s true in the truest way I know to say it.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor. It’s breathless in the running. Breathless in the wonder. Breathless in the pain. And breathless in the joy.

Mothering is a race. Make no mistake. It’s a marathon and more. An epic story that moves, mile upon breathless mile, and coast to coast, and then even further, where no roads exist.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor. And that is a Not Lie to share.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor because mothering changes as soon as we figure it out. And then it changes again, and it changes again, and we mamas keep running. We run no matter the weather, no matter the season. We run when we’re aimless with exhaustion, and we run when we’re sure of our purpose. We run when we’re desperate to sit and to quit, and we run when we’re sure we can go for eternity.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor which is why it’s so strange and abrupt when we find rest in the running. Rest that looks like no rest we’ve ever known. Rest in a sigh. Rest in a triumph. Rest in a cup of coffee or a friend’s kindness or our baby’s first steps. Rest that’s always more fleeting than we’d like, but rest we learn to catch in fits and starts. In split seconds and pauses, we learn how to make the little bits enough.

Mothering is a breathless endeavor, but, oh, the strength! What strength grows from the stretching and the pulling and the soreness of prolonged mothering. New mamas, you’re earning your strength right now, at this very moment, on the altar of weakness, like every athlete that has come before you. You’re winning your strength during every long night as you discover your mama self and forge your resolve and become dependent on the Divine.

This is the Not Lie, new mamas – this is the mystery of the Breathless Endeavor – that strength comes from weakness and that we, the most reluctant of the runners, somehow fall in love with the sacred ground we tread.

No, friends, mothering doesn’t get easier. That’s the Truth. Mothering continues to change us and to challenge us. Always. It moves us and it shapes us. It pains us and it soothes us.

Mothering doesn’t get easier. It gets stronger. 

And therein lies our hope. Not in ease. But in strength.

Strength in weakness. Joy in the journey. Rest in the running.


Chafing Is No Joke

April 30, 2012 in BEGIN READING WITH THESE FAVORITES, Beth, But Seriously, Funny by Beth Woolsey

Chafing is no joke, you guys.

Chafing is no joke, and this is how I know…

I corresponded last week with my friend, Fiona, who wrote many beautiful and wonderful things. We connected. Deeply. About Important Stuff. Like Faith and Parenting. And Irreverence and Laughter. And being Real, Complex People (read: Completely Bonkers).

About Welcoming Others.

About Being Vulnerable and Open.

About Finding Our Place in the World.

And Fiona, of the Tea with a Friend blog, ended her e-mail with this:

I’d better go and do something about my pile of laundry.


It’s almost up to the ceiling.

And whilst I’m trying to tell myself that the reason I put clean pyjamas on this morning after showering was because we’re staying at home all day today, I need to face the reality, which is thus: I couldn’t find any clean undies, and I can’t quite bring myself to go commando under jeans.

Chafing is no joke.

OK. Now go back and read that in a Mary Poppins accent, ’cause the “whilst” and “which is thus” are simply better that way.

Oh, how I giggled.

I chortled.

And then I spent the whole weekend thinking about chafing.

And also thinking about how much cooler pajamas are when they’re spelled with a “y.” Pyjamas. So exotic!

…But mostly I thought about chafing.

I thought about how I’m all counter-cultural in my refusal buy into America’s shorts-wearing agenda anymore. You say shorts; my thighs say capris. Also, capris? SO MUCH MORE FABRIC for kids to wipe their faces on. Win/win, guys. Win/win.

I thought about women who have that most novel of feminine novelties – Legs Which Do Not Rub Together – and I wondered what that must be like, to live a life free from the constant threat of chafing. When I find myself walking behind a woman like that, I am fascinated. I stare and I stare, dropping my head down and to the side for a better view, until I realize that it must look like I’m staring at her butt, and then I desperately hope that no one notices because it’s not like I can say, “But did you see her thighs?! THEY RESPECT EACH OTHER’S PERSONAL SPACE. I mean, come on; that’s, like, WOW!”

I thought about running and the way that endurance events (why, hello, life!) have a way of revealing which parts move well and which parts hang a little too low or rub me the wrong way. What? I have a rash where?

And then I thought about how my sense of uneasiness and transformation lately feels a lot like chafing – as though my most delicate places (you know, like my heart and my soul – sheesh!) are a little red, a little rough, a little sore and uncomfortable – and how that’s to be expected when you change… or when you run life’s race like you mean it… or when you discard your barriers.

Emotional and spiritual chafing: it’s sort of like going commando with life. Freeing. Risky. Vulnerable. Painful. And intermittently hilarious.

As far as I can tell, the trick is in figuring out which of our barriers help protect us in good ways (xoxo, panties), and which barriers need to come tumbling down because they hold us back (this means you, insecurity).

In the end, though, I thought about my gratitude for the friends we meet along the road. The friends who are outrageously inappropriate in acknowledging their humanity. And especially the friends who make me laugh when I’m feeling rather raw and exposed.



I run very fast on my merry-go-round in my dreams.

January 26, 2012 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

“I run very fast on my merry-go-round in my dreams.”
Cai Woolsey, age 5




His cry echoes through the house.

Seriously? I think as I lug myself out of bed to go to my preschool baby. I can tell by his tone that he’s not distressed, so I’m less motivated than usual to come as commanded. It’s the middle of the night. I just Want. To. Sleep.

I shuffle into his room, and I sit down on the corner of his bed, scraping the back of my heel on the metal bedframe that’s jutting out ever-so-slightly past the ill-fitting box spring. I remember I meant to fix that.

Cai is sitting straight up as though pulled suddenly to life by a puppet master. I put my hand on the back of his head at the top of his neck, and I cradle it as I lay my forehead against his.

I do this to communicate that I love him. And that I’m very tired. It’s my loving ploy for sympathy, and it never, ever works.

I whisper, “What do you need, baby? You’re supposed to be A. Sleep.”

I don’t know why I can’t casually say the word “asleep” to my kids in the middle of the night. I insist on making it two words, as though separating the syllables will force them to bend to my will.

Fall. A. Sleep. 

I make sure my eyes are just a little too wide and a lot too crazy because, even though they can’t actually see my expression in the dull green glow of the nightlight, I believe that putting kids back to sleep in the middle of the night requires method acting. I immerse myself in my character. Frazzled, exhausted mama who uses the words A and Sleep with a hitch of a pause in between them. I don’t, after all, want my kids to feel like I cheated them out of a world class performance when it’s within my power to deliver one.

Cai ignores my admonishment. It’s method acting for the child, too, I guess.

And then he delivers his message.

“MOM!” He stage whispers, hot breath on my face. “MOM, guess what? I run very fast on my merry-go-round in my dreams.

Cai, despite the hour and his awaking only moments before, is full of excitement. He’s SO PROUD.

And I can’t help but think that I run very fast on MY merry-go-round, too. And not always in my dreams. I run very fast on my merry-go-round of life. And sometimes that dizzy, panicky run wakes me up in the middle of the night. But usually not in the good, I just ran really FAST and THEREFORE I am AWESOME kind of a way. Which is really very shortsighted of me.

I think that sometimes angels from Heaven whisper to our babies while they’re sleeping. Messages for them. And messages for their mommies.

I know of no other way to explain the wisdom of the child who breathes life into his mama in the middle of the night with his divine vision.

“I run very fast on my merry-go-round in my dreams.”

He didn’t know, not completely, what I meant when I whispered back to him, “Oh, baby. Thank you for telling me. Me, too. And isn’t it FUN?