Living in the gap

Living in the gap

Our 4-year-old asked for a pencil and paper. We were at my husband’s office visiting, and she developed an urgent need for writing implements. We handed them over, and Aaron and I continued our conversation – till we noticed she was writing something.

She was copying down the Arabic alphabet from a graph in the book. Her initiative, her drive, her curiosity, her thirst for knowledge and understanding never cease to amaze me.

Of course I took a picture.

be kind: we're all living in the gap

Then when I went to post the picture on Instagram/Facebook, I hesitated.

There have been so many posts rolling around complaining about moms who do nothing but brag on their kid on their Facebook page. I thought about it again, and hesitated again.

Then I posted this on Facebook:

I know I post a lot about how awesome my kid is – and I know it can get annoying. Too bad. Every kid needs someone who pays attention, who notices what’s unique and amazing about them, who champions them. I wish every kid had that. So if you want to post on facebook about how awesome some kid is, some amazing thing they said or did, some spark of genius, or creativity, or compassion you noticed in a young person – rock on. The world needs more of that too.

It wasn’t till that post started generating some positive response, that I finally worked up the nerve and posted the picture about my daughter above.

But why did I hesitate in the first place?

Why do I place so much stock in the opinion of whiners?

On a logical level, I don’t give a crap what everyone else thinks – but there’s that little girl, deep down inside me still desperate for acceptance and approval. I grew up with an overwhelming fear of being obnoxious and annoying; it was one of my greatest fears, and it kept me isolated.

I have this idea of who I am, and who I think I should be. I think I should be someone who is not driven by fear, especially fear of the opinions of others.

Then I take a look at my behavior and it doesn’t always match.

I think my choices as a parent should be based on what will best help my daughter to grow into a strong and compassionate woman of integrity, but what I do is different. I watch myself making parenting choices based on what I think will negatively or positively impact my popularity. It takes me right back to Freshman locker banks at my high school – an anxiety ridden place, indeed.

This entire scenario reminded me of Ira Glass talking about how a creative person’s sense of taste develops before their skill, so there is this gap between what they think they should be doing and what they’re actually able to do.

That story was life-changing for me.

It’s not just about creativity

While Glass was being specific about creativity, I think his point carries over to many other aspects of our lives.

We have this vision of the world, we have this vision of what it means to be a good parent, a good person… We see how our own attitudes and behaviors play into that vision. We know we want to “be the change.”

But there is this gap.

You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to be different, better, and that’s it, done. It takes practice. Years of practice.

But life happens in the meantime. We are all living in the meantime – in the gap.

We don’t get practice time, and then go out and live our lives after we’ve perfected ourselves. We go out and try things, see if they work, we fall down, we get up, we embarrass ourselves, we don’t die of embarrassment – but we don’t get to practice life without an audience. And that audience usually has an opinion. It doesn’t matter.

Life is not about perfection. It’s about doing the best we can, and when we miss the mark, learning from it, course correcting, and moving on.

We need to remember to be gentle with ourselves, to remember that we’re living in the gap. To just keep trying.

And when someone else offends us, well, maybe they’re living in the gap, too.

be kind: we're all living in the gap

So here I am, waxing on about wishing I could be as brave as I think I should be, and my little girl just wanted to practice writing new letters.  I’m so proud of her, and I want the whole world to know it.

P.S. She calls the Arabic alphabet “letter parties.”

Syndicated on BlogHer

Three-Year-Old Beats Breast Cancer, Causes Me to Think

Three-Year-Old Beats Breast Cancer, Causes Me to Think

This morning I heard the story of Aleisha Hunter, who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when she was three years old. I had to rush right home to hug my baby.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I understood that my daughter’s risk for developing cancer was increased, but it didn’t occur to me that she could develop it as a toddler.

That’s an odd thing for me to say; since my diagnosis, I have been drumming in to my friends and neighbors, and everyone with whom I interact online, that no one is too young to get breast cancer. I tell people not to let a doctor, or anyone else, be dismissive of a breast lump or discomfort, or suggest it couldn’t be cancer because of your age. It was easy for me to say a 20-year-old is not too young to get breast cancer, but my mind did not allow me to extend that caution to toddlers.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this diagnosis and how to manage the fear, particularly in reference to my daughter. How do I teach her to live her life at full speed, while still teaching her to take care. I don’t want to teach her to be fearful; I don’t want her to live a life of timidity and fear. On the other hand, I don’t want her to be dismissive of danger. Where do you find that balance? I have thought about teaching her to do breast exams, but the time frame I had in mind was a whole lot closer to puberty. Actually, that probably still wont change. But I want to find ways of discussing breast cancer and breast exams, not as a way of looking for a monster that is to be feared, but just a part of self care, like putting on a seat belt when you get in the car, not an anxious event, but one you wouldn’t overlook either.

But, as in other aspects of parenting, I think the best way to teach her to not let fear take control, to teach her to balance boldness with prudence, is to be a good example.


I’m nearly done with treatment. I have two weeks left of radiation and then six months herceptin and then I just get on with my life, hoping the beast does not return. I can’t say it will be back to life as usual, because post-cancer life involves a bit of looking back over your shoulder. Post-cancer life means scans every six months to see if the cancer is regrouping for another attack. Post-cancer life means every ache and pain takes on a new meaning, it means asking “Am I being a hypochondriac, or would ignoring this ache be irresponsible?” It means paying extra attention to what lawmakers are doing – will their actions restrict my access to insurance or health care? Heightened awareness is a necessity. The trick, it seems, is to find a way to prevent that focus and attention from becoming a fixation and translating into fear.

And I’ve got to figure this out quick, because I have a little girl watching my every move.

My heart goes out to Aleisha, and her family. She underwent a full mastectomy, inluding lymph node disection, and is expected to make a full recovery. Thinking ahead to those awkward years of puberty and breast development, I hope she is able to develop and maintain a strong and healthy body image, and that she too finds a way to balance boldness with prudence.

I also hope that by spreading this story we can help save more lives. Breast cancer is not a disease of the aged, it can strike at any time. Please check your boobies.


Three-Year-Old Beats Breast Cancer, Causes Me to Think


I just joined an online challenge called 21*5*800 hosted by Bindu Wiles. 21 days. 5 days of yoga per week. 800 words per day.

I am so excited about this challenge.

The group is actually on day 4 of the challenge and I just got started. I’m just going to start where the group is, then add a few extra days at the end, probably just picking up the prompts I dropped from the first few days.

I’ve already decided that I while I intend to write my 800 words every day, I probably won’t share all of it, although I may share a portion. I want to get into a daily writing, and yoga, practice. I want to be able to be honest in my writing, and I have learned that I have to be much too careful about what I publish in this format. That said, today’s topic is relevant: Fear.


Fear has become a big part of my life since my breast cancer diagnosis. Fear of death? Certainly. Fear of pain? Oh, yes. Fear of being a burden on my family? Absolutely. Fear of the effects of my cancer on my one year old daughter? Terrifying.

I have found that the yoga helps. I’ve learned to breathe through the movements: the tough stretches, holding a challenging pose. That practice transfers to the uncomfortable and painful procedures. A deep breath and long slow exhale as I endure the poking and prodding makes all the difference. The pain is still there, but it is a bit more manageable. Focusing on my breath takes my focus away from the pain.

Fear takes me out of the present and puts me into the future – a future that is unknowable, yet my imagination tries it’s best to find every worst case scenario. Pain forces me into right now – so does my yoga practice. When I’m in now, what might happen doesn’t matter. Every moment has an infinity of possible outcomes.

When I’m seized by anxiety or panic, the yogic breathing can settle me down. Cleansing breath: long, slow exhale opens up more space in the lungs for a deeper, fuller inhale. Raise the arms to expand the chest, then slowly lower them as I exhale. Before I know it, I’m focusing more on how my body feels and improving this critical function. The fear is still there, but it is a bit more manageable. Focusing on my breath takes my focus away from the fear.

That’s not to say that fear is unwarranted. I have an aggressive form of breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, complicated by another rare form of cancer that has a pretty grim prognosis. This is not something I can ignore or wish away. I also cannot focus only on the present. I am submitting myself to these procedures and chemotherapy, sacrificing my comfort and well being in the present, because I fear what will happen if I don’t, and in hope of improving my well being in the future.

Fear and Hope.

What I need is balance.

That takes me back to yoga.


You can learn more about my cancer story here:

my cancer story | Judy Schwartz Haley


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