My Book Baby

The inner life of any great thing will be incomprehensible to me until I develop and deepen an inner life of my own.” – Parker J. Palmer

The death of my dad and the birth of my daughter are forever tied together in my mind. The day that I finished all the plans and paperwork to try to get pregnant via IVF, I sat at my desk and thought, “Wow, my world is about to change.” And the next day my dad suddenly died in a bike accident and I thought, “No, not like that!”

Then I spent 9 months taking the recordings I’d made of my dad and the effort I’d begun to write about his life and creating a book about him. On a night in August, at the end of the day I’d finished the very last line edits for the book, I went into labor with Miss O.

The birth of my baby right after I’d put my metaphorical book baby, Finding My Father’s Faith, to bed has meant that I haven’t thought much about the book in the last seven years. Until someone like the wonderful and insightful Vicki Atkinson of the Victoria Ponders blog comes along and reminds me of my book baby and I revisit the delight in the midst of grief of writing that for my dear dad.

Oops – I buried the lede – a podcast episode about my book

And I recently talked about the book, being a pastor’s daughter and the value of recording our loved ones with Troy Headrick in this Wise & Shine podcast. Here’s a link if you want to listen: Wynne Leon on Finding My Father’s Faith.

More Than a Cup of Coffee

When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.” – Helen Keller

Yesterday morning I had a house guest. I could hear that she was ready to come downstairs so before I went upstairs to wake the kids, I made her a cup of coffee and left it on the counter with a note.

When I returned with the kids, she said, “I can’t believe you had time to make me a cup of coffee.

She turned to Mr. D and said, “Your mom is a miracle worker.” I smiled because it really was not a big deal. But no one need worry that I’ll get all puffed up because Mr. D replied,

My mom is a mommy.

It reminded me that as we go through our day, what we do is largely interpreted by the roles we play: parent, friend, sibling, daughter/son, grandparent, neighbor, project manager, boss, boy/girl scout, whatever. Those around us expect us to perform our duties as per our roles. And when we do, it seems then we don’t stand out for all the many things we do.

But that doesn’t make our best efforts any less miraculous. Especially when we are getting it done under tough or stressful circumstances, we are touching others as we do our “jobs.” The stretch that it takes to be a little more intentional, a little more careful or put in a little more effort to do it right will change us and the people around, even if it’s not immediately visible.

We can’t control how or whether other people will see us. But as the Helen Keller quote says, when we do our best, we never know how it’ll touch others. Hopefully for the better.

And if nobody notices, perhaps they have not yet had their cup of coffee. 😊

Has anyone noticed what you have done recently? Or do you have a story about noticing someone else’s best efforts?

Our First Team

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh!’ he whispered. ‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing’ said Piglet taking Pooh’s paw, ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.'” – A.A. Milne

After I landed at the airport on Friday night, I received a text from my nanny as I was making my way home:

“Lessons of the week:

  1. Big sisters make the world go round
  2. You can’t out-bargain a 3-year-old
  3. Sometimes you just gotta go out in your underwear”

Quite frankly, I was impressed that she was able to get Mr. D to go out in underwear when he has more often than not opted for the full on naked this summer.

And then she expanded on the role that Miss O played during the week.

“I’m just so thankful for and impressed by [Miss O]! There were some really emotional moments with [Mr. D] and she was there for a hug whenever he needed it! She helped me find things around the house, helped me interpret some of his words, and has a true talent for knowing exactly where Bunbun [D’s beloved stuffy] is at all times.”

It made me think of my family of origin. I have an older brother who always made me laugh and cherished me. And I had an older sister that was angry that I came along and was jealous of the easy way I rolled through life.

It seems to me that siblings are the first team that we join in life. Not surprisingly, I was delighted to be on my brother’s team when we were growing up. These days we don’t talk all the time – or even all that often. But if I need to feel better about something incomprehensible, no one can match the comfort I get from my brother.

And if I want to know how to do something, I watch my big brother.

When I don’t understand how the world works, the person I listen most to is my big brother.

He’s like a huge filter of the information I take in as if his context provides me a starting point of where I need to go next.

In my business, I frequently help companies turn data into information. That is to say, there is often too many sources of content and not enough time for workers to verify them. For instance, there may be so many versions of the company background sales presentation, that a new employee may not understand which one to use when her boss tells her to start with that. So I help build systems that tell people which content is trustworthy.

I suspect our older siblings are like that – the systems that help us to know where to start. Whether we learn to trust what they say or to do the opposite of what they say, either way they are a reference point. And when they are trustworthy sources, we have an advantage of using them to help us read the world.

I don’t always listen to my brother, agree with him or even talk with him – but I am forever attuned to taking cues from him. And I suspect little D is growing up to do the same with his sister.

When Mr D was first walking, Miss O decided to train him to give her hugs on command. She’d clap her hands and then yell “hug” and he’d come running (some of the time). When I came home after being away last week, it was like that bond they’ve been building for three years was that much stronger. I’m so grateful not only for the team I have with my brother, but that my kids are building their own team.

How do you feel about your siblings?

If you want to see a video of Miss O training D to give hugs, check out my instagram @wynneleon

I’ve also written about the split in my family of origin because I’ve come to see my older sister’s suffering as one that started when we were young as a feeling of not belonging. More on that at Forgiveness or Letting Go?

The Four Habits of Happiness

It all comes to this: the simplest way to be happy is to do good.” – Helen Keller

I was listening to a 10 Percent Happier podcast that featured Arthur Brooks. A professor and social scientist, Arthur Brooks has recently published a book called From Strength to Strength: Finding Success Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. He named a list from research of the 4 most important habits of happiest people:

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Work that serves others

But it made me wonder if everyone can fulfill that formula? First of all, faith means so many different things to different people. But perhaps it’s the trust in one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes (which as Dr. Stein pointed out seems to build off Kierkegaard’s famous quote about living life forwards):

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs

But going down Brooks’ list, what about people who don’t have a lot of agency in their work? I recently heard an example of a hospital janitor. Instead of feeling like he didn’t have purpose in his work as he cleaned up vomit in the oncology ward, he’d framed it as an opportunity to make people feel a little bit better on what might be a low point in their lives.

And this made me think of my life. One of my least favorite activities about parenting is cleaning up spills. On a weekday when we are at work/school/daycare, it’s not so bad, but on any given weekend day, I clean up (or help my kids cleanup up) 6-10 spills a day. It feels like a waste of time to me, like I could be spending more time laughing and playing with my kids if we didn’t have spills.

But of course, despite my best precautions – kids, especially at age 3-years-old and age 7-years-old have accidents. They splash water out of the sink, they tip over the reservoir of paper they were using for a project, paint brushes fly out of little hands, and so on.

Reframing it, I see that I am not cleaning up spills. I’m teaching my kids how to react when things don’t go right. I’m helping them learn to pick up the pieces and continue when we have lost our mojo. And most importantly, I’m building up their belief that they can do it, even when it isn’t fun.

This big picture sentiment when it comes to caretaking is echoed by research professor Dr. Alison Gopnik “Taking care of children, like taking care of elders is frustrating, is tedious, and it’s difficult in all sorts of ways but it is also deep and profound and an important part of what makes us human.

In this way, maybe it is not only work that serves others but also quite possibly a habit of happiness.

What do you think about the four habits of happiness? Is there anything you do regularly that you’ve reframed as work to serve others?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Photos of the Week: July 9

The eyes experience less stress when they can look upon a wider horizon.” – R.D. Chin

Every morning this week I’ve driven Miss O to camp and been treated with the view of Puget Sound shown in the featured photo. This view literally takes my breath away and starts my day with a little nature and awe, which as beginnings go, is right up at the top of my list.

We spent last weekend in Leavenworth, WA which is a Bavarian themed town in the Cascade Mountains. It was there we rode horses and went bananas dancing in the aisles of stores.

Mr. D and I bumped into an incredibly nice crew from Seattle Fire Department who let Mr. D hold their chain saws and cut sticks and lift dumpsters with the jaws of life. If they think showing almost 3-year-olds their gadgets is an effective recruiting tool, they are right.

Miss O gained a gap-tooth grin when she lost her front tooth. I gained a little more perspective about how quickly this blessed job of parenting goes.

What are you smiling about this week?

Holding Space

True friends are those who lift you up when no one else has noticed you’ve fallen.” – unknown

The other night I was reading books with my two-year-old and he whispered in my ear, “You are the best girl.” It was such a sweet and tender moment that gave me the shiver of recognition of what happens when we hold space for one another.

In the Disney Cars movie, Lightning McQueen starts out as the hot shot rookie that only cares about himself until he discovers the feeling of community and values in Radiator Springs and then finally emerges as the worthwhile competitor that knows that there is more to life than winning.

It’s actually in the third installment, Cars 3, that they use the line that Doc Hudson, Lightning’s gruff mentor (voiced by Paul Newman), “Saw something in you that you couldn’t see in yourself.” It’s a wonderful statement about hope and potential.

When we hold space for others, we store the image of their highest, purest selves so that when they are in the messy middle of anything, we can reflect it back to them. This reminds me of friend who became disoriented and demoralized while trying to reach a goal and we sat on a bench overlooking Puget Sound and unraveled why it was she started.

When we hold space for others, we capture the essence of who they are they are in the squishy, vulnerable core underneath any job or external validation so that if they get lost in work or a relationship, we can huddle with them and tell them we still see them.

This brings to me the moment when my friend Doug called to ask if I would climb Mt. Adams with him and his son this summer. He knows I am knee deep in raising these two kids, have been distracted by all that entails and I’ve not been a very present friend, but his offer stirred me deep within and I was so grateful he remembered me.

When we hold space for others as they age, we become the safety line back to the boat of their life, even when they don’t remember themselves. When my great-aunt Wilma was suffering from Alzheimers and nearing the end of her life, her son arrived on his weekly visit to talk with her and bring her favorite treats. She sweetly said to him, “You are so nice. You remind me so much of my beloved son Gary.”

When my son uttered, “You are the best girl.” he was just parroting back what he’s heard said. But he also reminded me that there’s a purity in the simple way he sees me that has everything to do with our relationship and nothing to do with what I accomplish. It made me think that relationships, parenting and families, when they are functional, can be repositories for our essential selves. We hold space for each other for the moments we need to come “home” and recharge.

What does the phrase holding space mean to you? Do you have a good holding space story?

The Deep Story

Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart, rather than a piece of our mind.” – unknown

I have a perception problem that caused a disagreement. I adore my brother. I see him as smart, likeable, responsible, resilient and industrious. I also know he has faults and avoids conflicts, will disengage instead of work things out or stand up for himself and has trouble being vulnerable.

We have another family member that sees him as manipulative, irresponsible, underhanded and arrogant.

Generally, we know the same history of my brother with the ups and downs of his life and interpret the story with our own lenses. I see him as the older brother I can always call and she seems him as the schmuck that dated her best friend in junior high.

In this On Being podcast, sociologist and Professor Emeritus Arlie Hochschild talks about the idea of a deep story which she defines as what you feel about a highly salient situation that’s very important to you. A story that explains how we can look at the same set of facts but come up with different conclusions because of the emotions that underlie the story. Her work has been primarily about our political divide – the deep stories of the red states and blue states.

But I see it at work in the stories of my family. It explains why we see things differently and have this perception problem that no amount of facts can solve. It points to the amount and type of work my brother and our family member would have to do in order to rewrite the deep story.

It also predicts that my brother and I will probably always be in accord through the rest of our lives. For me it makes some sense out of the unconditional love and adoration I have always felt and acted on through our many different phases of life.

Finally, it reminds me that the work of empathy for and listening to others is not only necessary for our relationships but also possibly the most transformative. Because even when we don’t agree on the facts, understanding someone else’s deep story at least brings the a-ha moment of understanding.

Are their deep stories in your family? Are there places where facts don’t seem to matter?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Looking for Evidence

Remember it is who you are that heals not what you know.” – Carl Jung

Yesterday I came across some notes I jotted on my phone of books that my brother recommended the last time we were together.

I adore my brother. He’s 6-years-older than I am and has been the sibling that I’ve looked up to since I learned how to look up. I’ve lived near him my entire adult life, I was very close with his daughters when they were growing up and now he’s very close with my kids. There was even a time 20 years ago when I worked for my brother at his company.

So I think it’s safe to say we have a natural affinity for one-another – we have lovely conversations, enjoy our time together and have stuck together through the ups-and-downs of life.

But I can’t name a single book that I recommended to my brother that he has read. And he reads all the time so it isn’t because he doesn’t like to read. Same goes for podcasts, tv shows (back when I watched tv) and spiritual practices like meditation.

It’s taken me a lot of growing up to be able to say with certainty that it isn’t because I’m his younger sister. I know he thinks I’m smart and he respects me.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has looked for evidence that they matter in the lives of the people close to them. I’m thinking of a comment I once heard a husband tell me that his wife had to vote exactly the same way on a ballot which surprised me for an independent couple.

When my brother eulogized my dad he described my dad’s ability to “meet you where you were at without leaving where he was at.” Coming back to that helps me remember that hearts are the center of friendships, not heads. The work of love is to meet each other so we all know we aren’t walking alone. Instead of looking for the ways I’ve influenced my brother, perhaps I should just count all the miles we’ve walked together.

 I ended up not checking out any of the books on the list from my brother. Not because he doesn’t read mine, but because I like it when he tells me the stories of what he’s read and where’s he been. It gives us something to talk about when our hearts meet.

Do the people in your lives read the books or content that you recommend? Does it matter?

Life Lessons

Every day is an opportunity to make a new happy ending.” – unknown

The other evening on a clear night my kids and I were out riding bikes. As I pumped up a hill, my two-year-old son sitting on the back on my bike noticed the moon bright in the sky. He softly said, “I want to hold the moon.”

It’s a good thing parents and lovers aren’t omnipotent. I assume it would result in the moon being pulled out of the sky on a regular basis.

A few days later my 6-year-old daughter was excitedly awaiting a new clock to arrive from Amazon. She was so excited to have the very first clock that she picked out herself and could set the alarms on. I question why she’d want to start with alarms so early in life but keeping my opinion to myself, helped her track the package. On the day it was supposed to arrive, the status went from “out for delivery” to “undeliverable” right before bedtime.

My daughter was so disappointed. Rightly so and exacerbated by being tired. In that moment, I would have driven the Amazon truck myself to make sure there wasn’t a tired six-year-old lamenting about unpredictability.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m teaching my kids. Fortunately life partners with me so that I have plenty of opportunities to talk about what we dream about. I get to review what we can and cannot control. And I can demonstrate how we can to flex our muscles of patience and perspective when things don’t work the way we want.

Gratefully, I have the chance to assure my kids that we might not always get what we want but we always get what we need. And remind myself of the same along the way.

(featured photo from JOOINN)

Sacred Objects

Everything you can imagine is real.” – Pablo Picasso

My two-year-old son has a stuffy he likes to carry everywhere. It’s a small pink bunny that fits perfectly in his hand and he carries it when we are biking, hiking and most everywhere else, except swimming.

Knowing how important this bunny is, I ordered a backup of the same stuffy. Fake stuffy isn’t worn in the same way so it doesn’t work to soothe if he’s lying down for a nap and I can’t find the real one – it just infuriates him. So when fake stuffy went missing for 6 months, it was no problem.

Until he resurfaced a month ago and now my son likes to carry around both the real one and the fake one, multiplying my problem of making sure we have the necessary parts before embarking on the next part of the schedule.

So, I ordered 6 backups of the fake stuffy for $2 each on eBay and implemented a rotation schedule so there’s only one out at a time but they all look more of less the same amount of worn.

It’s a silly routine but it’s made me appreciate the power of sacred objects. I drink my tea every morning from a mug that says “LOVE” and was the first thing my daughter ever bought me with her own money. Everything tastes sweet in that mug.

And when I use the tools that used to be my father’s, I feel his warmth, energy and enthusiasm welling up inside me and I’m more certain the project will turn out fine.

I have a gold-plated Angel token that I bought for $3 and carried in my pocket a dozen years ago when I was going through my divorce. The touch of it reminded me to have faith that life would work out. Although I don’t carry it anymore, when I come across it in my drawer, I smile and celebrate what faith has delivered.

I can visit the places I’ve traveled in a short trip through my house remembering the laughter with friends as we picked out Tibetan singing bowls or travel through time when I touch my stuffed koala from childhood. They are just objects but they open doors that are shortcuts to places that I want to go.

So I happily do the stuffy dance with my son. He’s taken to telling me “Don’t say ‘Yay’” when I want to celebrate a potty training victory. Something about my natural enthusiasm is overwhelming to him in that private context. Instead I channel it along with my love, sending it along with him in his sacred objects.

What are your sacred objects?