A Call to Womanhood: A Girl Like Me

A Woman Like Me

I think sometimes we keep our eyes shut and our hearts occupied when we are moving towards a destination. I know I have been guilty of this in both the literal and metaphorical journeys of my life. Sometimes I find myself where I hoped to be and feel a bit empty. How did I get here? What were the moments that led to this?

I am working on it.

It took four planes to get me from America to the Dominican Republic last week. Four airports full of people leaving and arriving and hoping and sleeping. I kept my eyes open. I had one layover in the Vegas airport that stretched from its expected “barely tolerable” three hours to a “my goodness this beyond the pale, I don’t care how first world that sounds” five hours. I had plenty of time to write little thoughts, eat big sandwiches and watch the people around me.

I settled into my gate with a book and even more food, when a woman with two dogs approached the counter.

She was what polite characters in fiction would call “big boned”. Her clothes were wrinkled from travel and her spaghetti straps pressed into her shoulders. She wore white scuffed sneakers and a bit of lace sock peaked above their tops. She held her lips in a tight purse and her eyes were as creased and tired as her clothes. The dogs looked more well rested than their owner. One was large and white. His ears sharps and eyes curious. He rested his nose against her stomach. She held the other under one arm. A little bit of a thing with more fur than flesh. The man at the counter looked at her with confusion and expectation.

She stood defensively before she spoke, each white shoe planted firmly on the stained carpet.

“Hello, sir. These are emotional support dogs. I’m taking them out to Virginia and need to check them to come on the flight with me. I’ve got all the documentation and before you say anything, know that everyone has been giving me problems all day and in the end, they have all decided I can keep traveling.”

He smiled and murmured something before typing into his computer. After a few moments he looked up,

“This airline must have different rules than the other ones you have been traveling with so far. I’m only allowed to let you take one dog with you. Let me call my boss. Until then please take a seat.”

Her shoulders slumped and she led the dogs away, sitting them and herself on the floor next to the counter.

Over the next hour and a half, I watched documentation be disputed, phone calls made and superiors called over. The woman was on guard and terse. She was universally frustrated and dismissive with all the agents, even the ones that showed concern. The initial agent that helped her was always kind. The others were not. One employee would walk over every few minutes to ask her supercilious questions and then smirk at the people around him when she answered. Her flight came and went. She called her sister to cry.

“I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to get these out to you, but everyone is being so mean.”

I started crying, too.

The dogs were a bit restless. Wandering around her and whimpering when she wouldn’t let them walk away. The agent with the smug grin walked over when the white one yelped,

“You are going to have to control those dogs. This isn’t a kennel. Ma’am.”

“You think I don’t know that? I’m doing my best. They are just tired. I am tired, too. You ever been tired?”

A woman sitting behind me had been witness to the dog dilemma as long as I had. She was well dressed and her lipstick was fresh. The gold hoops in her ears swayed as she shook her head and leaned over to her husband,

“Enough with the dog sob story, already. Who is this woman. She is crazy.”

He chuckled and circled his hand around hers.

The words to tell her off were tumbling  out of my mouth when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.

A woman and her two teenage daughters sat down next to the woman and her dogs. The fifteen year old started petting the big white dog, while the older one let the little dog crawl onto her lap. Their mom put her hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“Tell me the names of your dogs.”

The four of them talked about the dogs while the agents at the desk continued to call and type and look official. The polished woman with the chuckling husband chuckled about something else. And I sat in the middle of everything and let the lesson I’d just learned seep into my bones.

The passions and plights of our fellow sisters may not always make sense to us. Heaven knows, a lone woman demanding to get on a plane with a dog the size of a miniature horse and one the size of a mouse has the air of the ridiculous about it. But, she was trying to do something that was important to her. And my approval of her situation doesn’t really matter one little bit. All that matters is my understanding of her heart. We’ve all got pursuits, hopes, problems that make no sense to outsiders. All of us will be the “tired woman with the dogs” to the women around us at one point or another. We’ve got no choice in the matter.

What we can choose is our reaction to our fellow sisters when they find themselves in that place of isolation. Will we shake our heads and laugh knowingly? Or will we get down on the floor next to them and ask them to give us the names of the things they care about?

I plan on spending much of my time on the floor. Want to join me? I’ll scooch over a bit. There’s plenty of room.

Want more information on the human trafficking sting I did after all these plane rides? Read here and here. And check back next week for more.

 

Red Light

The Day I Was Arrested For Human Trafficking

I participated in a human trafficking sting last week. Read the first part of the story here.

It’s not hard to find children being sold as sex slaves. The poorer the country, the easier it is to find someone willing to trade in children in great quantity and at a low price. In the Dominican Republic the going rate for a night with a child is $150. Some places it is much more, others much, much less. Since the earthquake in Haiti, the influx of Haitian children being kidnapped and sold into the Dominican sex trade has been overwhelming. They are kept in small rooms with small windows and small hopes. Of course, not all children being trafficked have been ripped from their families. Many still live at home, where their parents walk into their rooms jostle to them awake or call them in from playing with friends when it is time for them to meet a john.

Across countries, languages and races the process of procuring little girls and boys for a few hours, days, months or permanently is very much the same. Ask questions of a few of the right people, show an ability to pay, smile and joke while you talk about what you’ve done to kids in the past. Boast a little. Be comfortable. Be friendly. Don’t flinch. It’s not as hard as you would think. Trading in children is abhorrent. There is a small part of us that feels like we would be able to sense the smell of rot coming from anyone involved in something so tremendously bad. Surely, being in the same room as them would be difficult, carrying on a conversation and finding similar points of interest – absolutely impossible. Of course, we are wrong. The pimps have other jobs, look like you and me, and buy cakes for their kid’s birthday parties. They are just people, not monsters.

Which is, of course, the most monstrous thing of all.

Alan* works in the field for Operation Underground Rescue. He goes out, finds the sellers and prepares the situation on the ground for upcoming rescue missions. He befriends low lifes, visits strip clubs, immerses himself in the underbelly of the places he visits. By the end of the descent into ugliness, he has set up a sting.  Usually this means staging a party where the pimps will bring the children, accept payment and then get arrested by local authorities. When Alan landed in the DR four weeks ago, he planned to spend ten days finding a criminal and setting up a party. It took two hours. By the time I had landed in the DR as an operative, there were eight pimps and 26 children scheduled for the party the next day.

Tim Ballard, the founder of OUR, has created an organization that is as precise as it is compassionate. When OUR goes into a country to rescue children, they do so in partnership with local and state government.Once the children are rescued they are put in the care of OUR approved non-profit organizations that also work fully with local governments. The Dominican government was especially cooperative, providing police detail and increased insight into the local situation. The men and women involved with OUR have decades of combined experience in Homeland Security, ICE, the FBI, military and police work.  I used to think the A-Team was a figment of the fevered 80s. These people are the real A-Team, providing enough know how and creative thinking to put the fictional John Smith to shame.

The preparation in the house the night before the sting reflected their expertise. Cameras were placed in every room while the exits and floor plan were studied and secured. These were not cowboys out for a thrill. They are men who take the harm to children very seriously and are called to this work. There were some smiles and a few moments of laughter, but they were subdued. Tim and a team leader held a briefing on the operation before bed. We were each given assignments, discussed potential problems, were instructed on our exit strategy and placement during the sting.

Upon arrival, the kids would be taken into the backyard to the pool away from their pimps. I was assigned to the backyard along with three other men. Our job was to keep the mood light, serve the kids soda and snacks, play ball and keep the children from the dealings going on inside. The men and women selling them would be kept in the living room, where Alan and Tim, posing as the purchasers, would laugh, negotiate and accept payment. There would be other operatives in the room and one undercover Dominican cop. Once the deal was closed, the police outside the building would be given a signal and they could come in and arrest the pimps and the undercover agents. Those of us who would be in the backyard were told to retreat by the outside stairs to a second story room while the cops took the house and secured the kids.

After the meeting, I took a shower to wash the travel and sadness off of my face and hair. When the water got cold, I got out and into my pajamas. My room had a balcony looking over the city and I took my notebook out there, intending to write. The humidity attached itself to my wet skin and the sounds of a city full of dogs, laughter and late nights came out of the dark. I stared out into the night looking for something I couldn’t name. When I didn’t find it, I went to bed.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next day was hot and bright and I tried to open my eyes wide enough to see the light. Two of the undercover operatives were bringing the pimps and a bus full of children to the house around one. The team spent the morning finalizing mission details and getting the house ready for the party. The oddest moment was when we took dozens of beer bottles to the upstairs bathrooms and dumped them down the sink. After rinsing them out, we filled them with Red Bull. Most of the operatives involved in the sting don’t drink, so this was a way to appear drunk and ready without actually consuming any alcohol. (By the end of the sting, I’d drunk three Red Bulls – that HAS to be worse for you than the beer that was originally in those bottles. But man, did I feel awake.)

I put decorations around the pool while the film crew finished their preparations. I’d been struggling with a question all morning and finally decided to trust one of them with it. Arms full of blown up balloons, I walked over and tried to sound casual,

“So – I know this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but – at the end of this, will these little girls and boys know that I wasn’t a bad guy?”

He looked at me kindly and shook his head,

“We have to stay undercover. They will always think you were just one of the many bad people in their lives. It’s the hardest part of this job. Without question.”

The balloons fell from my arms and floated down around my ankles. Some of them popped as they hit the heat of the concrete. Intellectually, I knew it didn’t matter one whit who I was to these kids I would never see again. All that mattered was that they were saved. I knew that. But my head couldn’t convince my heart fast enough to keep the tears off my face.

One of the operatives opened the back door and told us the kids would be arriving in three minutes. We finished arranging snacks and then grabbed a few beer bottles. I’d traveled thousands of miles to document the rescue of child sex slaves, but when they first walked into the backyard I felt too overwhelmed to observe much more than the feelings they evoked. Can I tell you how rich life can be? Can we help you discover the worth that shines through your eyes? Did you know your voice is more powerful and more empowering than any one damn thing I could ever give you? Who did this to you? I’ll hurt them. I’m so, so sorry. This is our fault. Westerners are the number one customer of the child sex trade, with Americans at the very top of that list. My neighbors, my citizens are the ones that have created this climate of enslavement. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I am so sorry and I know that doesn’t fix a damn thing.

After a moment, my eyes and mind focused and I began writing notes on the inside of my heart. They looked like the kind of kids you see waiting for the middle school bus. Some were confident and direct. They had been doing this for years. Some were scared and held hands while retreating into the nearest corner. They had been doing this for years, too. One set of girls had been sold that morning for the very first time by their grandmother. She’d hit them out of the car and onto our waiting bus. Many of them would not meet my eye, confused and wary of the only woman in the group. There were a few boys with elaborate hair dos and ready smiles. They had all gathered together and looked at us expectantly.

I don’t speak Spanish, so I started moving from the outside fridge to the kids, distributing soda bottles to anyone who would take them. One of the operatives came from a family of singers and performers, he gathered a group of girls together and asked if they could sing. They nodded yes, and started to clap and sing out one of their favorite songs. Their voices rang out and bounced against the windows of the house. The atmosphere in the backyard swayed with the cadence of kid’s voices and everyone began to talk and laugh. I played volleyball with a few of the girls. The kids started jumping in the pool.

The pimps sat just inside, negotiating the services and sale of each child. They didn’t seem to notice the noise. The backdoor opened and my team leader called for me.

“Megan, Tim wants you inside.”

I looked at him for a moment and set down my beer bottle and walked in. When I got inside, he handed me red bull in a scotch glass and then walked back across the room. I leaned against a wall and looked on, trying to appear only mildly interested in what was going on in front of me. Tim, Alan and the pimps were seated around a coffee table. There were three groups of sellers, eight people in total. Each group negotiated their deal separately. When one group was negotiating, the other two would confer and then come back asking for the kind of deal the other one had gotten. Tim would laugh, his blue eyes lively, and call to one of the men across the room for more money. The table was full of pesos. Right now, the currency exchange is 43 pesos to one US dollar. I had underestimated the time it takes to count out thousands of dollars in a currency so deflated. The room was filled with the excited laughter of the pimps and the smack of money against the hard surface of the table. Each hard sound was representative of one more child, one more sexual service purchased. The pimps were drinking and laughing and boasting about how young the children were they had brought. One woman, who looked about twenty five, exhorted the services of a pair of twelve year olds while shaking her hips and touching Alan’s shoulder. He smiled up at her and counted more pesos out onto the table.

The oldest and meanest pimp there was a man named Felipe*. He worked alone. When he wasn’t trafficking children he was hustling at resorts, selling coke and sitting in strip clubs boasting about the things he did to the kids he sold. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was broad. When he looked at you, he turned on a smile and an offer. He had been paid and was getting restless while the other pimps finished their deals. He looked back at me and then got up and asked a few men who I was. Was I one of the men’s wives? No, just a friend, they said. He looked back at me and walked over.

“Espanol?”

I shook my head, “Just English.”

He grinned, “That’s okay. I speak English, too.”

He leaned a bit closer and I could feel his hand briefly on my elbow.

“You having a good time? Alan is great. He is having a good time.”

I smiled back and laughed.

“Isn’t Alan the best? He’s a good guy. I like him because he knows how to throw a party.”

Fidel’s eyes fixed on mine and his smile got a little wider.

“So you like to party?”

Leaning in a little, I giggled again,

“Oh, I love to party.”

He had moved his hand back to my arm when people in the room started shouting. While we were talking, the deals had been finished and the signal given. Police men holding AR-15s were advancing into the room. Felipe pushed past me. I walked to the back door, still sure I was supposed to follow my protocol and climb up those backyard stairs. When I opened the door, a cop was waiting there. He pointed his gun at me and shouted in Spanish. With my hands above my head, I retreated back into the room and followed the lead of both the criminals and operatives. Arms still extended, I kneeled down on the tile and then lowered myself onto my stomach. Police walked around the room, one grabbing my hands and twisting them behind my back.

The tile we were laying one was white and newly cleaned. With my chin pushed to the floor, I watched the operation finish on its reflective surface. After everyone was secured, the pimps began to be led out, one by one, separated and handcuffed. My arms ached. One of the operatives across the room caught my eye and winked. Everything was okay. Operatives and pimps were still spread out across the room’s surface when the back door opened one more time. The police were leading the children out of the house and into the front yard where a bus waited to take them to a safe house filled with psychologists, food and potential. I was laid out directly in their path.

Some of them cried as they approached. Sniffles and hiccups and the noise of sounds being kept behind gritted teeth. They stepped over me and around me and on me. I was just one more obstacle as they made their way to a place where they would be given the option to choose a new life. At that moment, I hated myself. I hated that this was all pretend for me, that I could step out of their reality while the remained immersed in it. I hated that I was the last obstacle before they could walk out that open door. I hated myself for my inability to do more. I could see the children in the shined surface below me. Arms crossed against their chests. Heads bent. Hands held. Their bare feet touched my skin as drops of water fell from them onto my legs and back and head. I know now that the moisture came from their wet bathing suits. But at the time, with my brimming heart, I thought it must have been full of the salt of their tears.

One last post tomorrow to wrap things up. Until, then… Want to help? Be smarter than I was while laid out on that tile. Know that you CAN do more. Head to OUR and sign up to become an Abolitionist. With a recurring monthly donation of just $5,  you help fund new missions every single month. For the cost of a few diet cokes, you get to directly participate in and fund the freedom of children as young as two years old. Let’s abolish slavery, shall we? I know, I KNOW, we can make a difference. I’ve seen it. Now, let’s get started.

*not their real names. Not even close.

Traffic Stop

photo

I can’t share name or places in this article. I’ll fill in those blanks after the operation finishes. Until then, this.

A few months ago, an organization asked me if I would accompany them on a mission to rescue a group of children from sex slavery. I said yes. And then immediately regretted my decision. After all, I’ve got responsibilities, a home, a husband and children. Who did I think I was? Tearing off to another country to document the rescue of children I have never seen and never will see again. Didn’t I know my place?

I realized, I know exactly where my place is. Of course, I do.

So I got on that plane.

Well, planes. Four of them to be exact. We flew through thunderstorms and meals and deadlines. Of course, aside from a few moments of unfettered people watching, it was all surprisingly dull. Leave it to mortals to make flight pedestrian.

And then we landed.

Airports all seem to maintain the same code of cold anonymity. Some dress it up and some dress it down but at the end of the day; here is an ad for liquor, there is a place to buy some combination of bread, meat and cheese, over to the left is one more fee you weren’t expecting and, of course, don’t forget the one on the right.

It is the panorama that waits outside each airport’s sliding doors that first beats humanity back into your travel weary heart. In this place, the environment is felt even before it is seen. It is warm and humid. The kind of hot that makes it hard to tell when your limbs stop and the air around them begins.

We were met at the airport by members of the team that would take part in the mission the next day. They were all smiling men with wide builds. The kind of guys that make up the foreground of military movies and doomsday saviors. I was the only girl, a thing they acknowledged in their behavior and speech without making me feel small.

On the ride from the airport, the organizations founder explained the upcoming mission and answered my questions.

While we talked my eyes wandered outside and his answers blended in with the landscape around us.

How old are most of the children you rescue?

Often around 11 or 12 but many are much younger or a little older.

The cars streamed into one another, their honking and brakes seemed to be the only thing keeping them from becoming one fluid mass.

Are the pimps part of a larger crime network?

Once in a while, yes. But for the most part what these people are doing is so abhorrent the larger crime syndicates won’t have anything to do with them. Human trafficking is mostly cellular. Which means that when we take down one group, it stays gone forever. Tomorrow we are assisting in the arrest of three separate groups.

The narrator in my head told me the sides of the road are littered with fruit stands and people and bikes piled high with hopes of commerce. But “littered” is the wrong word. That implies misplacement or waste and is the judgment of an outside source. This place is vibrant and brimming and beautiful. The red, yellow, green, pink and cracked concrete stand as ready contrast to the blue ocean. Children hold onto their mother’s hands as they cross from dirt to pavement to dirt again. The air smells like salt and sea and grilling corn and meat. I am the one that is misplaced.

What happens after the children are taken away from the pimps?

We work with an amazing U.S. based non-profit that helps return the children to their parents. When the parents were complicit or unavailable, the children are placed in an approved setting where they can be rehabilitated. Despite out best efforts, some of them do eventually return to the life. Listen, you have to understand. For some of these kids, the sex trade is all they’ve known since they were small enough to be in kindergarten.  We are rescuing them, but we are also taking their only known life from them. Luckily, most children we take out of the situation do not return to it.

The streets were now as congested with buildings as they are cars. Technicolor posters stretch across rooflines filled with pictures of chicken and rice and tires.

How do you know how many children you will rescue tomorrow? How do you know they are as young as you think?

We’ve met them. We met the traffickers a few weeks ago and they showed us all the children. There are thirty of them. The youngest one is eleven.

The only thing that kept my Margaret and Viola from being one of the thirty I will meet tomorrow is circumstance of biology and undeserved blessing. I looked back outside. The ocean was gone and the streets were narrower.

What does it mean to save one child when millions have been trafficked since man’s first lust and millions will be trafficked in the years from this moment? Why would American civilians risk their lives to help in countries in which they have no stake or claim? Who are we to interfere? What about the children in the states, across the street, at home? Questions that can be addressed, for which there are good replies and better discussions.

I could dimly see the outline of the validity of those questions, but I could not feel them. I only felt a space where I could not tell where my body stopped and the place around me began.

We pulled up to the house where the sting was being staged.  I unpeeled myself from the hot seats of the car and took a breath.

It was time to go in.

Real Life Every Day Lessons I Learned When My Post Went Viral

Real Life Lessons I Learned When My Post Went Viral

I wish I looked like this when writing. But, I really look more like Josey Grossy from Never Been Kissed.

About ten days ago, Huffington Post published an article I wrote at the end of 2012. When they asked to publish it, I didn’t really think anything of it. It would go on one of their blogs and a few people would read it. I didn’t even edit the thing before I gave my permission for it to be shared.

And then my online world exploded. The thing went viral. Hundreds of thousands of “likes”, thousands of shares, so many comments…most of which hated me…and mentions on everything from national morning shows to Australian mommy groups. It was a thing beyond my control. Still is.

I’ve learned a few things from the goodness and the mess that followed. And yeah, I think I’ll start applying them to everyday life…you know the thing I live every other day except the day of viral velocity.

Don’t Expect Readers to Understand the Whole Conversation.

Man. I am so used to this space. Where each essay leads to another and you and I understand that this is a conversation of give and take. That what I say about manhood in one essay is buoyed up by what has been said in the writing that preceded and followed. That conversation didn’t exist on Huffington Post and I was naïve to think the HuffPo readers would come here to find it.

I think the same can be said about our everyday interactions. The people that inhabit your home and inner circle understand the conversation of your life. They can follow when you pick up mid-thought and can you let you set down long enough to catch your breath without demanding more. They know that not everything you say is an irretrievable statement of ideology. They let you grow into your ideas and search your mutual acquaintance for context. When, however, the lady in the aisle at the grocery store hears a fragment of one of my conversations, that is all she has to judge me by. Whether her judgment is fair or not, doesn’t really matter. It is, what it is.

Sometimes I am the lady listening in the aisle and sometimes I am me. I am working on remembering that. (And loving the thousands of ladies angrily listening in my proverbial aisle right now.)

Impersonal personal attacks really hurt. And are pretty damn funny. Like that person that just tweeted,

@meg_in_progress you are a piece of s&%t.

I cried. And then I laughed. So. No, thank you. And. Thank you.

Let’s see the ridiculous in the everyday anonymous hurts of our lives. How can someone who has nothing to do with the little or big parts of your life have anything to do with the little or big parts of your heart? Those PTA women, the group of girls at work, the neighbor down the way? They don’t know you. They aren’t an integral part of the fabric of your life. It is okay if they don’t like you. You know what else? It doesn’t matter if their dislike is valid, delusional or some godforsaken place in between. Just strive to do better each day. Smile when they walk by. And for heaven’s sake, laugh a little. I mean….no one’s ever called me a piece of feces before. I can check that off that bucket list I keep hoping to compile someday. (Man. Would that have made it onto my bucket list? Is that pathetic or revolutionary?)

It’s okay to disagree. Hey. You. Yeah, you. It’s alright if you and so-and-so don’t see eye to eye. Disagreement is the great fertilizer of discussion. Just try to keep from slinging it in the other person’s eye and everything will be okay. Better than okay. It will be expansive and inclusionary and, you know, interesting.

At the end of the day, no one moment – no matter how good or bad – defines us. Keep moving forward. There has been plenty of good in this moment. And there has been plenty of bad. And now it is time for the next step. Let’s take another step.

My next step? I’m on my way out of the country to write about efforts to rescue children from human trafficking.

I started writing because I felt like I wanted to empower women. I’m stepping onto that plane in a few minutes for the same reason. I won’t be sharing the children’s faces or names. But I will let you know how you can help, too. Follow along at @meg_in_progress on Instagram and Twitter.

Let’s do something good.  

Your Dreams are Stupid (Time to Get Some New Ones)

Welcome Good Morning America viewers! It is delightful to meet you! Interested in reading my Five Reasons You Should Have Sex with Your Husband Every Day? Read it here! Interested in dreams and goals and finally touching those stars that glimmer in your hopes? Read on! 

 

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Fabulous hand lettering by the ever lovely Kelsey of She, in The Making

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. If you believe the internets, instagram gurus and that meme your grandma keeps posting, your dream is just one “let’s do this thang” moment of clarity away. It would be nice if words set against filtered sunsets were true.

But much of the time, they’re not.

And, right now, if you’re anything like me, your dream is probably stupid.

I used to want to be a country music star. I’d twang my way to the Grand Ole Opry and other less countrified stars would write my name into their songs to get more nashville cred. Singing from a stage in sequins and heavy eyeliner was my dream. But my voice is just alright, great for funeral solos and church service. I’ve never really wanted to live more than a few hundred miles from family, so Nashville was out. And I just couldn’t seem to take the time to learn to play an instrument or read music or understand the composition of a song because, you know, sleeping.

Nashville Meg was a stupid dream because it had nothing to do with what I’ve been given and I wasn’t willing to work to fill in the blanks. I didn’t really want it.

For a long time, I thought I’d grown out of foolish dreams. But then I took a long hard look at where I put my aspirations and time. I was still dreaming..it was just in a series of pinterest sized boxes instead of big, grand storyboards. As we get older, so many of us think we’ve matured past the big dreams that take up time and money and energy. But really, we keep dreaming…we just do it on a much smaller, less …well…inspired scale.

“When I was a kid I used to want to be a princess that could build robots that killed dragons. Man. Isn’t that ridiculous? I mean, the kind of thinking I used to put my energy into is hilarious. Hey, can I smell your cupcake? I’m off sugar for the next 282 days because I saw an article that said I’ll look like a Victoria’s Secret Model by the time I’m done. Do you mind if I do crunches while we talk?”

Oh, yeah. That’s a  MUCH more rational dream.

Adulthood is not a time to abandon dreams, it is a time to honor them. But first, we need to figure out what the heck is worth inhabiting our dream space. We need to clear out the stupid to make room for the golden.

Get rid of the dreams that distract. Whether we are talking a perfect reign of domestic goddessness, the chance to dance with N’Sync on stage (am I the only one that wants this?) or absolute and complete mastery of your craft, it is time to abandon the impossible.

The beautiful thing about abandoning the impossible is that in doing so, you generally realize it is also the unnecessary and even unwanted. Who wants a Stepford wife when you can have a real live woman that laughs about the spaghetti sauce on the floor or the dirty babies dancing in a puddle? Dancing with N’Sync sounds nice, until you realize that JC Chasez would be up there right along Justin Timberlake. And complete mastery of your ever-loving craft? Can you imagine the tedium that would follow? What are we without our desire and ability to move ever upward?

These impossible dreams are poor stand-ins for the real thing. They keep you dreaming rather than achieving and they negate the real value of your efforts. You are worth more than the inflated paper on which they are printed. Get rid of them.

Stop dreaming other people’s dreams. Let HER cultivate her IG following. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Let HIM drive the car with the price tag of two vacations and a new roof. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Let THEM eat #whole30nodonutsnomatterhowmuchyouwantone. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. If those things are really part of your dreamscape, great! Make them your own. Emulation can only take any of us so far. And every once in awhile, take a step back to make sure they are still making you happy.

True happiness is a deeper and more abiding experience than any of us are willing to admit most of the time. Let’s start seeking that kind of joy and let’s stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Figure out the stuff of which lovely, lovely you is made. Listen, YOU are worth getting to know. Remember that awful movie Runaway Bride? Julia Roberts plays a hardware store owner (riiiiigghhht) in upstate NY who has spent the last several years leaving a half dozen men at the altar on their wedding day. This is breaking news, so, of course, Richard Gere shows up to investigate the story.

Why Richard? Why is she breaking hearts? Answer! Our Julia has never taken the time to know who she truly is – she’s always just conformed to be like the person she is with at the time. How do we know this? Well, her horrendous pick of wedding dresses for one. But also, because in every relationship, she’s ordered her eggs just the way her partner did. Girlfriend didn’t even know how she liked to eat eggs! And if you don’t know that, you don’t know nothing. Fast forward to the “find herself” montage, where she eats 25 different preparations of eggs to figure out what the heaven she likes. ( I think it ended up being eggs benedict? Which is not much better than not knowing in the first place. Yeck.)

You know what kind of eggs I’ve been eating? My kids cold, leftover scrambled eggs. Both literally and metaphorically. And it’s enough.  We can each wake up 30 minutes earlier, go to sleep 20 minutes later or run away from home/work long enough to take some time to figure out who we are and what we want. Read. Pray. Meditate. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Get in there.

Who are you? What makes you happy? What are you doing when you feel the most fulfilled? Are you with your children? Are you creating? Career making? Cooking? Writing? Giving parking tickets? A mixture of a few things in different ratios?

Answer those questions and you’ll be closer to discovering what your souls been dreaming of than you’ve ever been.

When you’ve gotten to know yourself – to appreciate the hopes of your soul – even seemingly small dreams hold a great and sparkling weight. So often, my most held dream is simply the act of a day lived well. Children loved, husband kissed, a good book read. So often, somewhere between the apparent smallness of my dream and the fulness it lends to my heart, I glimpse something grander. Beauty begets beauty and dreams beget dreams. As you move through the grace of your day to day hopes, you will be given insights and understanding of the bigger aspirations that make up the locomotion of your soul. Write them down as they come and visit them from time to time like the good friends they are.

Once you’ve found something that lights your fire, don’t forget to stoke it. You want to write a cookbook? Then cook. You want to create a loving family? Then love. You want to build a new life? Start living. You want to be on the world’s stage? Don’t wait for anyone to invite you up, build the damn stage yourself. So often we look at the groundwork of our dreams as the preliminaries, but it is really the frame upon which all the trimming rests. Without it there is nothing but a heap of good intentions. So honor it, respect it and sweat like hell on its behalf. It will repay the favor. Tenfold.

Here’s the thing about your stupid dreams – the ones that are safe because they keep you from trying for what you really want – they’re a dime a dozen. Anyone can come up them and most of us have. You weren’t sent here to be predictable and cautious. You were sent here to be YOU. And YOU is so, so good.

Dream bigger. Dream bolder. Color outside the pinterest sized boxes. Fill up the storyboard of your life.

It’s time.

© megan conley 2012

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