Sink or Swim

The water is warm and crystal blue—the exact color of his eyes. We approach the pool together, his hand gripping tighter to mine with each step.

“Don’t worry buddy, I’ll be right here watching you the whole time. I’m going to sit on that blue chair,” I reassure him, pointing to a lounge chair next to the pool.

“Actually, you can sit on those blue chairs,” the swim instructor informs me with a flick of her hand, motioning toward another set of chairs tucked around the corner behind a tree. She puts her hands on my son’s shoulders and pushes him toward the water. He looks at the pool as if it’s full of snakes.

“It’s okay, Ev! You’ll do great! I’ll be watching right over there!” I tell him as I make my way to the out-of-view seating area. I plop down next to an older couple—grandparents no doubt—who smile at me.

“She doesn’t like the children to be able to see their parents during the lesson,” the grandmother informs me with a shrug.

I force a smile back, and joke that I typically don’t leave my child in swimming pools with strangers. The swim instructor had come highly recommended to us through a local mom’s group on Facebook, but technically, I knew nothing about her. My eyes lock on Everett through the branches of the tree between us, and I wave at him.

The lesson starts out innocently enough: three kids sit on the first step of the pool, kicking their legs with the upper halves of their bodies out of the water. Everett turns to look at me every thirty seconds or so. I wave to him again, and then move behind a bigger tree branch so my presence won’t be so distracting. Another mom joins me in the sitting area, a friendly acquaintance I recognize from town. We swap pleasantries and eventually both pull out our phones to catch up on e-mails.

After a few minutes of kicking exercises, the swim instructor and her assistants pull the children into deeper waters to practice putting their head under water. Everett starts to cry.

“Stop crying!” I hear the swim instructor bark.

My head whips around on instinct. I stand up from my chair and stare at the pool between the tree branches, squinting my eyes to get a good look at the situation.

“Stop crying! You’re four! You’re too old to be this scared!” she scolds.

I am stunned, frozen behind the tree branches, which suddenly feel more like prison bars. Who does this woman think she is? The grandparents next to me remain stoic and unalarmed, like human screensavers. 

Am I going crazy? Is anyone else alarmed by the way this instructor is yelling at my kid? Just as I wonder if I should yank my son out of the pool and run for the hills, his cries stop. I sit back down, and call my husband.

“Hello?” he answers on the second ring.

“I don’t like this,” I say quickly, “I don’t like it at all. I don’t like her. I don’t like the way she’s talking to Everett.”

My husband asks a series of questions, and we decide to finish out the last ten minutes of the lesson to see if it gets better. The swim instructor barks, “Stop crying!” at my son half a dozen more times. At one point he asks for me, and she says, “Your mommy’s not here right now; she went to the bathroom.”

I am shocked by her bold-faced lie. Everett is looking at the tree branches, searching for me, but he can’t see well between the tears in his eyes and the water dripping down his goggles. There are two minutes left. I am standing behind the tree branches, stuck, imprisoned in the waiting area. I want to take an ax to that stupid tree. I want to slash every branch from the trunk until there is nothing standing between him and I.

The second the lesson ends, I break free from the waiting area and run to the side of the pool. He sprints into my arms with tears in his eyes and chattering teeth. I wrap him up in a towel and scoop him into my lap. His goose bump covered legs drip water all over mine.

“I’m so proud of you, buddy. That was really scary and you were really brave and I am so, so proud of you.”


As soon as we get home, I hop online to the Facebook group where I first found out about this woman. I do a quick search for “swim lessons” and pull up multiple threads where her name had been mentioned. There are dozens of recommendations for her, all stating some rendition of the same glowing review.

My child was terrified of the water on the first day and was jumping in the pool by the third.
She’s a magician – I don’t know how she does it.
By far, the best swim instructor in town.

Again, I start to feel a little bit crazy. Am I overreacting? Am I coddling him too much? I picture Everett on the soccer field in a few years, a red-faced coach screaming at him. I picture him at summer camp, homesick, asking to leave. I picture him at his first job out of college, working for a narcissistic boss who steals credit for other people’s ideas. Trials and unkindness are part of living in the real world. Am I doing my son a huge disservice by letting him quit swim lessons? Am I teaching him to give up, to walk away from a challenge, to quit simply because the instructor wasn’t nice? 

Am I teaching my child that it’s okay to quit the minute something feels hard?

These questions haunt me for the rest of the day, as my mind ping-pongs back and forth between we are never going back there and maybe we should give it one more shot. One minute I’m convinced that the swim instructor was truly awful, and the next minute I think I’m being too sensitive. One minute I think this decision doesn’t matter very much, and the next I worry that this decision will set a precedent for all similar situations we might encounter in the future.

Voices are whispering into both of my ears at the same time, and it’s impossible to distinguish which one I should listen to.

Be an advocate.
Suck it up.
Trust your gut.
You’re overreacting.
Protect him.
Challenge him.

My heart says one thing while my brain argues another—it’s an epic case of emotion versus logic. Who will win today? I keep listening.

You’re doing the right thing.
You’re being a helicopter parent.

That last statement startles me, like the crack of an unexpected firework.


Later that afternoon, I am walking on the river trail with my friend Christina. We are each pushing a double bob stroller with two children strapped inside, bribing them with snacks to keep them quiet. I tell her about the swim lesson, and that I’m wrestling with what to do.

She listens quietly while I ramble, “I don’t know. I can’t decide if I should listen to my gut or if I’m just being a helicopter parent.”

I practically cringe when I say that phrase out loud. It’s buzzing in my brain like an annoying fly. I keep swatting at it, but every time I turn around, there it is.

Christina laughs. “You?! A helicopter parent?”

I smile at her. Sometimes you need a friend to be a mirror—Christina knows I let my kids eat food off the floor and run free at the park. 

She continues, “That lesson sounds horrible. You should trust your gut.”

I nod, all the while wondering why that is so hard for me to do.  

My mind flashes back to a series of moments, a montage of other times I’ve trusted my gut. I remember the time I called the pediatrician and described what would later be diagnosed as an inguinal hernia in my eight-week-old baby. I remember the surgery, my husband and I praying in the waiting room, the relief of it all being over. I remember sitting in the ENT office three years later, staring at a Dr. Suess drawing on the wall, describing what would later be fixed with ear tubes and a tonsillectomy. All of those memories drum up the same feeling I’m feeling right now—a nagging sense of unrest and inner turmoil. I might as well be walking around with a giant red flag sticking out of my head.

Later that evening, I crawl into bed around 10 p.m., rubbing lotion on my hands. I hear the swim instructor’s voice again: You’re too old to be this scared. I hate that she said those words to him. I hate that she didn’t acknowledge his fear, but instead insisted that he was too old to be afraid. Are we ever too old to be afraid? I think of how many times I’ve been scared, both as a child and as an adult. I think of spiders and death and criticism and hospital waiting rooms full of unknowns. I think of times when I was forced to face my fears, and other times when I was able to escape, to pause, to face the scary thing on my own terms another time, another way.

The next lesson starts in less than twelve hours, and my husband asks what I think we should do. I take a deep breath. 

“I don’t think these are the right swim lessons for us. I think he needs to learn how to swim from someone who will let him be afraid,” I finally say.

My voice is confident, but humble—not imprisoned anymore, but a tree itself rooted in the ground, firm and brave, with beautiful branches that bend and sway with the wind.

P.s. Lily Jade is giving away a $300 shop credit. Go win a diaper bag

Can I Kiss Your Feet?

I personally have never been one for footsie or foot rubs or really any foot affection. It’s not that I find feet revolting; I’m a barefoot girl with callouses and flip flop tan lines as many months as Ohio will refrain from frostbiting. it’s just that I’ve noticed a tendency for feet to either be damp with sweat or resembling refrigerated meat, and I’m uncomfortable with both. It’s also an area most likely to get skipped in grooming routines, and I’m not eager to come in contact with untamed areas, nor do I wish for others to encounter mine. But for all the dirt-collecting and grime feet may present, my daughters haven’t acquired my aloof feelings. In fact, quite the opposite.

Ethiopians do a lot of kissing. They give kisses cheek to cheek when greeting a friend, kiss an important document out of gratitude, stoop to kiss a doorway, or kiss the cross out of reverence. They will even bend and kiss the feet of someone as a gesture of honor, respect, and thankfulness. When Cypress, my eldest, reminisces about her life and family in Ethiopia, she often tells of how she liked to kiss her momma’s feet. It is touching to envision her, tiny child that she was, participating in a cultural tradition and even in her limited comprehension, attaching emotion to it.

One day she and I were having a particularly rough time. We were doing our classic battle. Her: a quiet altercation. Me: a loud correction. Her: stoic and response-less. Me: producing enough emotion to compensate for her lack plus three others. Her: unable, unwilling, or too uncomfortable to respond. Me: unable to comprehend how one can have no responses, and determined to conjure up appropriate emotion in her. This was the vicious un-merry-go-round we rode time after time, and can still jump on if we aren’t careful.

 Our personalities drastically differ in how we process emotion. Our fear responses are different. Our cultures of origin are different. And even when my head knows all this stuff, it has taken so many bad rides for me to relearn how to communicate effectively with her. We can skip the nauseating whirl of misunderstanding and offense and go for a walk now, when I take the initiative that the bigger person - the nurturer - should, and set a tone for respectful exchange. She’s starting to feel less threatened by emotions and more aware that no one can read her mind, and I’m learning to speak a little softer and give more space. Sometimes when I kiss her goodnight, we whisper, “good job communicating” to each other. We’re both proud of the progress our relationship is making.

This particular day, however, we were spinning full throttle. We were both hurt and being hurtful. After some time to myself, I cooled off and knew I needed to take the first step in restoring our relationship, so I sought her out.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” I said. “I should have shared my feelings with you respectfully, using a kind voice.”

 She hugged me and said she forgave me, as she is always quick to do.

Then she cautiously said, “I’m sorry, too.”

I hugged her again and she looked up into my eyes.

“Mommy?” She said softly, “Can I kiss your feet?”

 I paused. I wanted to suggest a kiss on my face. Maybe my hand? Kissing my feet not only went against all my germ protection policies, but it was a vulnerability I could hardly bear. However, none of my reservations or aching inadequacies seemed a valid reason to say no to her hopeful eyes.

 I smiled at her weakly and said “sure.” 

She knelt down before me on the kitchen tile and tenderly kissed both of my feet.

 My eyes burned with tears. To have my seven-year-old share a precious first family custom with me, to see her making a valiant effort to communicate big feelings, to experience her display her devotion amidst my glaring brokenness, was one of the most precious and humbling gifts I’ve ever received.

Jesus stepped right into the human mess of bickering and betrayal and muddy feet, and got his hands dirty with love. My daughters, without a bit of theological understanding of John 13 or the metaphors of feet washing, have taught me more about unconditional love than any sermon I’ve heard. It’s like forgiveness and grace, the crucial ingredients of this Jesus love, flow with freedom from a child’s heart and they simply start loving with no concern for the inconvenience or dirt they may encounter.

Our messy relationships give us opportunities to live out personalized and unpolished versions of Jesus’s example with his friends, to be on both the giving and the receiving end of unconditional love. How often, especially in motherhood, are we offered the invitation to show up, either kneeling with a towel, or exposing our own dirt? We practice it when we fall to the floor before the ones we’ve hurt and been hurt by, the ones we do not understand, the ones we can’t seem to agree with, sometimes to the ones only a third our size, and confess our mistakes with bare hearts. We practice it when we’re offered extravagant grace and we resist the shame-driven urge to tuck our filthy, undeserving feet beneath us like Peter felt, and instead extend them toward a kiss, or a basin of warm water.

Maybe the two best postures for living out this kind of love are either with our knees on the floor before someone’s feet, or bending down and taking off our shoes.

Guest post written by Carrie Lahman. Carrie lives in Ohio with her Mr. Farmer and their two curly-haired daughters, who have taught her more about life than she’ll ever teach them. You can read more stories of vulnerability and grace and shaky courage on her blog at and find her on Instagram and Facebook

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

The faucet is leaking, toys are strewn on the floor, and the lack of check marks on my to-do list is painfully obvious. I need to head downstairs and start a writing project while the kids nap, but I see a load of clean laundry dumped on the couch. Should I fold that now? Maybe I’ll bring it upstairs. Oh! There’s the estranged sock I’ve been looking for and the pajamas my son needed last night. I stop in my tracks, wrinkled clothes still in hand. What was I going downstairs for again?

My distracted self eventually makes it to the basement office, and there’s a pile of clean sheets dumped on the armchair. Crap. The laundry baskets are upstairs. Maybe I do need to stop and finish the laundry. No wait. I’m supposed to be writing.

I finally sit down at the computer, determined to utilize these few quiet moments when my toddlers sleep to put thoughts on paper. Without even thinking, I pull up Facebook. I just checked Facebook on my phone, right before I almost started folding laundry. Do I hear a baby crying? I forgot to schedule their pediatrician appointment. I’ll have to do that later. Why am I still scrolling through Facebook?

I feel like I live in a constant state of distraction. Many times, the distractions are good things – interesting articles, worthwhile projects, and responsibilities that require immediate attention. But my mind is so scattered in my attempt to do it all that I’ve lost my mental bearings. Distractions become the focus, and those things that deserve my focus are deemed distractions.

Other times, I have an opportunity to intentionally work, spend time with others, or rest – yet distraction remains my modus operandi. If distractions outside of my control are absent, I come up with my own to fill the void. My mind feels like an internal pinball machine, thoughts and ideas bouncing around incessantly. I can only hope they’ll land somewhere worthwhile.

In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp writes:

In an accelerated, overachieving world, we all take pride in our ability to do two or more things at the same time: working on vacation; using an elegant dinner to hammer out a business deal; reading while we’re groaning on the StairMaster. The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently. You’re compromising your virtuosity. In the words of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”

In our culture that values usefulness and productivity, it’s easy to believe that if we don’t multitask, everything will fall apart. A friend will be offended we didn't return their text message. Dinner won’t get made. Our looming deadline will go unmet. And we definitely won’t have time for ourselves unless it’s coupled with a task – listening to our favorite podcast while doing the dishes, reading a book while waiting for our kids at school, watching a movie while sending emails.

Many times, maybe even most of the time, we have to multitask, and distractions are inevitable. Multitasking is not necessarily a bad thing. But what would change if we allowed ourselves, just for one day – or even one afternoon – to do, as best we can, one thing at a time? In an age when we’re so prone to multitask and riddled with distraction, have we lost the art of focus?

When we allow ourselves to let go of the burden of multitasking, we prioritize better. We’re forced to acknowledge we can’t do everything, and something needs to give. We recognize we are human, and we have limits – and we even allow others around us see our limitations. We no longer believe we’re invincible or perfect, so when that reality becomes glaringly obvious by 9 a.m., our world is not upended.

I strive to work hard, and I do want to be productive. But I’m learning to focus. I can more fully enjoy playing with my kids when my attention is on them, not the email notifications popping up on my phone. I can get finally get the laundry folded when I don’t let the pile of dirty dishes interrupt me. I can rest with a cup of tea and a book at the end of the night instead of filling the silence with mental clutter.

It doesn’t always work out as I plan. Yet even so, I’m learning to let go of what is good and embrace what is best, and to give myself permission to do a few things well rather than half-heartedly attempting many. And I find that as these lessons sink in, my days are marked not by restlessness and distraction, but by thoughtfulness and intention. There’s a surprising freedom and joy that comes when we let go of “doing it all.”

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins (Egg Free!)
Adapted from The Kitchn
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins

Cooking spray or muffin liners
1 cup white whole wheat flour*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, or use liners. Set the prepared pan aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and brown sugar. On medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together, mixing for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the pumpkin puree, applesauce and vanilla extract, mixing after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until combined (don’t overmix!). Gently fold in the cranberries and pepitas.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin (I like using an ice cream scoop for this). Top with a few additional pepitas if you’d like.

Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes before putting it in the oven. Do not skip this step! (read why.)

Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: ”White” whole wheat flour is still 100% whole wheat – it’s simply one particular type of wheat. It’s milder in flavor and lighter in color than some other whole wheat flours. You can easily find it at many grocery stores (I most recently purchased a bag at Trader Joe’s). 

Adventure Awaits

"Higher!” my son shrieked. “Ah! Higher!”

My husband tossed our two-year-old up in the air. In response to the squeals of glee, he continued to launch his tiny body up into the air.

We were outside a coffee shop with some visiting friends, chatting as my husband entertained our son. “I don’t know how you watch him do this,” they said. “He tosses him so high.”

I shrugged.

“It’s really amazing, actually,” another of our friends commented. “Mason trusts him so completely. He has no fear. It never occurs to him that he could fall.”

The truth: it had never occurred to me either.

In fact, until that very moment I’d never even thought of the activity as dangerous. Even now, three years later, after I’ve watched each of my children sail up into the air in this same manner, I can’t fathom a scenario that includes my husband not catching them.


I met my husband at the end of my freshman year of college. He asked me on a date practically out of the blue, and I thought for sure he must have found out that I had been secretly spying on him in the dining hall and dishing to my girlfriends about how cute he was. That wasn’t the case, and apparently, the feelings were mutual.

“I’ll pick you up at six,” he said. “Wear something comfortable… and some shoes you could walk in.”

“What are we doing?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” he said.

I pressed for more information, but he laughed. “Trust me.”

Normally, I would have really put my back into looking perfect for a first date, but the “comfortable” comment made me think that perhaps excellently applied eyeliner wasn’t a necessity this time around. My roommate looked at me in near horror as I threw on my softest jeans and a faded blue t-shirt. While I laced my well-worn Chuck Taylors, she shook her head in disbelief. 

“Aren’t you going on a date?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said as I pulled my hair into high ponytail.

My roommate rolled her eyes, and while I understood her dismay, I wasn’t worried.

He picked me up at exactly 6 p.m. and led me out to his ancient Toyota pickup. He still wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but I’m fairly sure that I fell completely in love with him on that drive. I peppered him with questions as we wound through the Santa Barbara foothills, and then abruptly, we stopped. He pulled the truck over to the wide shoulder and pointed to the towering rock formation on the opposite side of the road.

“I go rock climbing out here sometimes, but we can boulder up the sides. It’s not steep enough to need a rope. There are good footholds. I’ll help you.”

This is where we’re going?”

“It’ll be fun,” he said. He put out his hand. I grabbed it.

And that was it.


I’ve since learned that as much as that date was designed to be a romantic adventure, it was also a test. He wanted to know if I could hang, if I could handle the spontaneity, the slight danger, the height.

In fact, I was a little scared. My heart pounded harder and faster, and my stomach flip flopped more than the typical first date jitters, but he was there holding my hand and that made all the difference.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how significant it was that on our first date my husband and I climbed up the side of a cliff. We sat on the edge and dangled our feet over Santa Barbara, watching the sun set on the ocean until the fog rolled in and lapped at our toes.


This summer we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, and I’ve spent the last several months reflecting on these years, thinking that I should write some Ode to Love in order to commemorate the last decade. But as much as I love my husband, I don’t know that an ode of that nature would appropriately describe our life together.

In a lot of ways, we’ve never climbed down from that first cliff. It was almost as if that first date was the launching point; that ledge only propelled us higher and further. We’ve climbed headlong in to love, and marriage, and school loans, and foster care, and parenthood, and entrepreneurship. We’ve pushed each other to chase our dreams until we’re sweating and tired and panting for breath.

It’s easy for me to look back on our years as though I’m at the top of a scenic vista. I have a great vantage point to see what we’ve climbed and the ways God knit together a beautiful adventure that is fulfilling and exciting and fun. But in all honesty, the last ten years have also been incredibly difficult. The rocks have been steep, and so many parts of the climb have not been easy. We’ve had to stretch to get our grip, and we’ve lost our footholds more times than I can count. As much as my husband has put his hand out for me, I’ve been right there reaching out for him, grasping his fingers when he starts to slip. 

If could sum up the last 12 years since our first date in one big lesson I would say that I’ve learned this: Trust. 

Trust makes me brave. It empowers me to dream bigger and love harder. On that first date, I was scared to climb to the top of the rock, but the trust I had in the strength of his grip and the sureness of his step helped me push past the butterflies in my stomach and enjoy the adventure.

Trust doesn’t mean that I won’t falter. Trust means that no matter how high I climb, I know I have a stronghold.


In keeping with the tradition of our early dating days, our family regularly goes “adventuring.” Sometimes, we head out to a nature preserve to eat hotdogs on the bluff looking out on the water, or we put a few burritos in a backpack and enjoy them on a trail. Usually, we just wander around climbing trees and catching lizards. More often than not it’s exactly as magical as it sounds.

Last week we were on a Saturday afternoon adventure, and my son and my husband were climbing a eucalyptus tree. My husband was about two branches above my son.

“Dad, I can’t do it.” My son hollered up. “I think it’s too far up.”

“You’re already really high – you can get it. I’m right here for you.” My husband bent over and straddled the branch, reaching his arm down to my son. I stepped back to watch my five-year-old navigate up the next branch so that he could grab my husband’s hand.

My daughters cheered as they watched their brother scale the tree. Then my middle daughter looked up at me. “I’m next,” she said. “Daddy can help me climb that tree too.”

“Yep,” I said. “He will.”