shoe shopping with Jack

My Journey to Me

Daycare pickup is my favorite part of the day – a shocking revelation if you consider that halfway into my first pregnancy, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mommy.

Some of my friends know that I struggled with depression throughout college but especially during my first semester at the University of North Carolina (UNC), when I transferred to North Carolina State and moved to Raleigh to live with my grandparents shortly after exams ended.

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially after my sister’s Batten disease diagnosis and the 12 difficult years that followed forced me to finish growing up more quickly than most of my early-20-something peers. In fact, nearly two decades passed before I understood exactly what happened that unhappy autumn in Chapel Hill.

I got injured my senior year of high school and couldn’t play soccer when I arrived at UNC. That, coupled with severe homesickness and a general lack of self-confidence, sent me spiraling downward.

Lots of kids get homesick, but my situation was more complex than that. I had identity issues. Suddenly, at 18, I had no idea who I was. For most of my life, I’d let “things” define me. The sport I couldn’t play. The visual arts I gave up to focus on creative writing. The school paper whose editorial staff I couldn’t crack (I wrote for my high school newspaper for three years, but the Daily Tar Heel turned me down). The serious boyfriend and parents and siblings I left in Charlotte. The close friends who chose other schools.

When all of those “things” went away, I thought I had nothing left. The damage ran so deep that I needed years, not months, to recover.

I’m older and wiser now, but I’m still the same person who lost her way among the leaf canopies and winding brick sidewalks of the UNC campus all those years ago. That’s why, as a working adult who runs races and a nonprofit and writes books and blog posts and travels to far-flung national park trails to lose herself on purpose, I secretly worried that if I became a mommy, I’d have to pull back and once again lose the “things” that make me who I am.

I went through with it, of course, and my brother and sister-in-law threw a gender reveal party for us on Mother’s Day last year. The moment those blue balloons burst out of the box? That was the first time I experienced what felt like excitement about my baby. And the moment I saw him for the first time? That was when I fell in love.

gender reveal

Fast-forward to the smile that played on my lips during my drive home from the office this afternoon. To the love that flooded my heart when I leaned down to lift my sleeping son out of his crib at school, and he opened his eyes and grinned at me.

I’m seven months into this thing, plenty long enough to learn that I don’t have to give up who I am to be a good mother. I have to navigate more challenges and be more creative about how I tackle my to-do list and survive on less sleep. Like anyone else, I’ve always fallen well short of perfect, but for the first time in my life, I’m okay with it.

But Jack hasn’t asked me to give up any of my “things,” and I feel certain he won’t make that kind of demand even after he starts talking. Motherhood hasn’t robbed me of anything that makes me who I am. Instead, it’s made me into a better version of myself. I still work and write and run and hike. I’ve learned to train for races with a jogging stroller at less-than-ideal times and pump while making dinner and answering emails and write blog posts while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a baby who won’t let me out of his sight.

This motherhood thing isn’t easy. But more than ever, and maybe even for the first time in my life, I know exactly who I am and what makes me happy. My “things” are important, but they’re still just things. And my heart is full.

walk with Jack

Life, in a Blink

My son is six months old. People said blink and he’ll be in kindergarten, but I didn’t believe them.

It’s true.

six months photo

Somehow, five seconds after the hospital gave us our discharge papers and sent us on our way, I have a 19-pound ball of love who joins me for runs and smiles on command. Jack’s eyes are the color of blueberries, and his fuzzy, reddish hair shines like gold in the sunlight. He goes to all of my book signings (he’s my biggest fan). He has a favorite toy and a best friend at school. I look around my house, with its white furniture, china and glass, and kick myself because I haven’t started childproofing yet. I see parents kicking a soccer ball with their kids and imagine teaching mine how to dribble and pass and make overlapping runs.

book signing Quail Ridge Books

I’m a creative and a planner — an odd blend of sketchpads and poetry, Excel spreadsheets and productivity apps. I view life as one long story, and I’m always writing a couple of chapters at a time. I want to be ready for the next milestone, the next first, the next step in the journey.

But I also want to live in the now. I want to see it and hear it and smell it and feel it. I want to hold my son and feel the soft, warm puffs on my collarbone when he snuggles up to me long after we should both be in bed. I want to talk to him about things he learns at school — alligators and the color green, triangles and the number three. I want to take him on walks and leave my earbuds and my phone at home and tell him about the clouds and the trees and the birds and watch his face light up with each new sight and sound, all so exciting and wondrous because he’s seeing and hearing them for the first time.

I have three manuscripts in my head and a five-month-old published book to promote. (Still don’t have your copy of “Run to the Light?” Get it here.Twenty-nine states and a rare disease charity to run. I can’t get to it all, even though I sleep just five hours a night and work through lunch most days.

But I want to live guilt-free, even if I don’t clean my house or run 15 miles or write 1,000 words a day. I want to look at my son and succumb to that smile. I want to give him the mother he needs, even if I can’t always be the writer and runner and rare disease advocate I want to be. And if I succeed, real life may be my best story of all.

the road ahead

19 Goals for a Joyful 2019

It’s 62 degrees outdoors, and a high, thin fog hugs naked branches painted on a flat, gray sky. Though unseasonably warm, the gloomy weather feels appropriate in this moment, on the last day of 2018. The gifts once nestled beneath my Christmas tree have been unwrapped, the plaid tree skirt left bare, and while the tree’s white lights still twinkle, they’ll soon be extinguished, too.

I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions, at least not the classic, eat-better-and-exercise-more variety that pack gyms throughout the first few weeks of January. Instead, I view the holiday as a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals for the next 12 and beyond.

In some ways, my own 2018 will be difficult to beat. I ran four races in three states. I took a top-three finish in a 10K and wore a blindfold in a half marathon. I landed national coverage in Runner’s World.

CLT Marathon 2018

My sweet son, Jack, made me a mom in September.

newborn Jack

I appeared in a short film, “At the Edge of Hope,” highlighting inspiring stories in the fight against rare disease. I spoke at TEDxCharlotte again, this time as a special guest. I published my first book, “Run to the Light,” a true story of what it means to believe. My peers at the agency where I work in content marketing named me employee of the year. I also said goodbye to my sister, Taylor, a true hero and the inspiration for everything I do. Taylor died following her long battle with Batten disease just six days after my son was born.

When I look back at 2018 years from now, I think I’ll remember it as a rare collision of indescribable pain and immense joy. There won’t be another one like it, yet I’m excited to look forward and make the best of this next trip around the sun. So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at 19 goals I hope to accomplish in 2019.

  1. Eat clean. Not a diet, this is more of a lifelong commitment to eating whole, minimally processed, satisfying foods. I cook from “Run Fast Eat Slow” and its sequel, penned by American distance running icon Shalane Flanagan and chef Elyse Kopecky, almost every day of the week. Following the principles outlined in these books gives me more energy and happiness as well as fewer migraines and burnouts.
  2. Save more. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see and experience some of the most beautiful places on this beautiful planet, from the blue glaciers of Montana to the green fins of Kauai. By finding creative ways to save, I can ensure my son grows up experiencing the world’s wonders, too.
  3. Choose time over money. This may seem like it contradicts the previous goal, but in those instances where spending a little more money gives me more time with the people I love, I’ll always spend more. This may mean using a grocery delivery service or ordering my clothes online.
  4. Get more sleep. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to sleep with a newborn. Caring for my son, especially now that I’m back at work full-time, makes me so tired that I’m more than happy to turn out the lights at 11 p.m. (early in this house).
  5. Try new things. Whether it’s a new restaurant or a new trail, I’ll welcome new experiences and treat each one like an adventure.
  6. Get back on the trails. I was pregnant for 75 percent of 2018, so I didn’t get to spend much time hiking or running trails. In 2019, I want to get back to getting lost in nature, and this time, I’ll get to take my son along for some of the ride.
  7. Run in at least three states. With 21 states in the books, I’m almost halfway to my goal of running in all 50 to honor Taylor’s legacy and raise awareness of Batten disease. Those daycare tuition bills may make it tougher to hop on a plane in 2019, but I’d like to aim for at least three states. California and Wyoming are already on the books. Where else should I go?
  8. Set a new PR. I have almost all of my pre-baby fitness back, and I’d love to set a new personal record (PR) for at least one of three distances – 10K, 10 miler and half marathon – in 2019.
  9. Make more music. I inherited a grand piano in 2010. I grew up playing this piano when I visited my grandmother, and I can’t wait to teach Jack to make music with it.
  10. Start book number two. Whether I finish the young adult (YA) novel I drafted in college, start writing the YA fantasy idea I’ve been chewing on for months or pick up something entirely new, I need a project.
  11. Dabble in a new book genre. I studied fiction writing in college, and my first book is a memoir. Having a small human under my roof has rekindled my love for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I’d love to start writing (and illustrating) stories for kids again.
  12. Keep showing book number one the love. I like to tell Jack thanks for making me a mommy. Well, “Run to the Light” made me an author, and though it hit shelves in November, I know I have to work hard to keep it in the eyes and minds and hearts of readers. I’ll get started with a book signing and reading at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books on January 5. Want to hear about other upcoming events? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
  13. Grow as a pro. I’d love to write books all day, but I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to write about different things all day. I’m committed to building and developing my content marketing career in 2019, especially on the strategy side as well as mentoring younger writers.
  14. Be a good mother to my son. Becoming a mommy is the best thing I’ve ever done. And no matter what goals or challenges I take on in 2019 and beyond, raising Jack is my most important job.
  15. Be a good wife. This may mean something different for everyone. For me, I married my best friend and won’t let that change, even as we tackle new stressors like parenthood.
  16. Have fun. I’m hyper focused, but I still like to have fun. In 2019, I’m giving myself an unlimited free pass to eat ice cream, play games or do nothing at all – whatever I need in that moment to relieve stress and be happy.
  17. Be present. I’m not sure real balance exists, especially for working moms. But if I can’t be all things to all people, and if I can’t be everywhere at once, I can at least commit to being present and focused on the moment at all times, whether I’m working on the computer, running in the woods or having dinner with my family.
  18.  Choose joy. Confronted with terrible loss and great pain, my sister always chose joy. And living as she did is one of the best ways to honor Taylor’s legacy.
  19. Don’t forget to look backward. I think people celebrate the New Year as a fresh start and a chance to move forward. But I’ll never forget where I’ve been – the pain or the joy.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? What are your goals for 2019?

Laura and Jack

A Letter to My Infant Son

Tonight, it will be 10 weeks since you told me you were on your way. And for the next 30 hours, you inched forward on your journey into the world, giving me plenty of time to think about how my life would change when you finally arrived.

Thirty hours is nothing, of course, compared to the 36 years I waited to meet you or even the 12 years I waited after I married your daddy. First, I waited because I was young. Later, I waited because I was scared. Scared of facing tough choices. Struggling to find balance. Forgetting who I was before I became a mom.

I was afraid because I knew you’d turn my life upside down.

I’m so glad you did.

I fell in love with you the moment they placed you on my chest. I loved your tiny hands and feet and the delicate red fuzz on your head and the way you knew me as if we’d already spent nine months together, because we had.

I love to wear you against my body and feel the squeeze of tiny arms and hands as they clutch my sides and the little puffs of your breath, warm through my shirt. I love how you imitate the whale sounds I first played for you in the hospital room we shared. I love how you shrug your shoulders when you sleep. I love how your blue eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile. I love how they look into mine when I hold you.

I love how every day with you is exactly the same yet entirely new. How you can look at the turning blades of the ceiling fan in your room or the white lights on your first Christmas tree or your own face in the mirror with the kind of wonder adults experience maybe only once or twice or three times in a year. How you make things like reading and writing and running harder but also better.

I miss the things I did before I had you, but not as much as I miss you when we’re apart.

I want time to stand still, but I can’t wait to watch you grow up. I want to share my joy for words and art and music and the outdoors with you, but I’ll be okay if you don’t love them like I do.

I love the beautiful, perfect baby you are today and the kind, brave man I hope you will become.

I wasn’t sure I wanted this adventure, but now I can’t imagine life without you. Because you’re the best thing I’ve ever done.

library

The Truth About Book Publishing

With so many books in the wild and politicians and celebrities writing and publishing memoirs in a matter of months, it’s easy to assume that the book publishing business is, well, easy. After all, some estimates pin the number of available print titles on Amazon at nearly 50 million (though Amazon keeps such information, and its formula for book sales rankings, close to the vest). But the instant bestsellers that garner six-figure advances and fuel nationwide book tours paint an unrealistic picture of the journey for most authors and, indeed, most books.

I majored in English literature with a minor in creative writing. I sold my first short story before kindergarten (granted, the buyer was my piano teacher, and the cover price was one dollar) and wrote most of a young adult (YA) novel during my senior year of college. I’ll admit that when I graduated, I thought I’d snap up an agent and a big New York publisher before I turned 25.

Of course, reality looks a little different. For two years after finishing school, I worked long hours at my marketing job and coached a soccer team and planned my wedding. I didn’t have much time to finish that YA manuscript or take the publishing world by storm. I was the quintessential modern writer, which is to say, I did many things in addition to writing. And when my 7-year-old sister, Taylor, was diagnosed with a devastating, inherited illness called Batten disease one month after I got married, my priorities changed.

I could have given up my comfortable, ordinary life in southern suburbia and chased my childhood dream. I could have lived on ramen noodles and cheap white bread and rented a studio apartment in New York instead of buying a house in Charlotte and cooking real food in the kitchen. I could have driven my Honda Civic for hundreds of thousands of miles and stared at the screensaver on my computer instead of buying economy class plane tickets to experience the images in real life. I could have done all of those things and still failed to achieve my dream. Because the book publishing business is complicated, and talent and effort aren’t always enough. Indeed, they rarely are.

Here’s a true story.

For seven years, I fought a monster called Batten disease. I did everything I thought I could do to save my sister’s life. I helped found a charity called Taylor’s Tale. Instead of writing the next great American novel, I wrote blog posts and brochure copy, speeches and scripts. I honed my craft, even if reality didn’t look quite how I’d imagined it. Meanwhile, Taylor kept getting sicker.

In 2013, the efforts and gifts of countless family, friends and perfect strangers started bearing real fruit. But it was starting to become painfully clear that we couldn’t harvest that fruit quickly enough to save Taylor. I almost quit (everything). Instead, I put on a blindfold and ran 13.1 miles – an act that served both as a publicity stunt and a deeply personal way to honor my blind sister. The run achieved those things, but it did something else: it saved my life, or at least my capacity to hope. And in August 2014, on a plane bound for Oregon and another race, I started writing a new book.

For the next 10 months, I turned piles of sticky notes and years of blog posts and thousands of pictures and memories into an 81,000-word manuscript. Meanwhile, I crisscrossed the country, running races to spread Taylor’s Tale. I wrote the final chapter on a chilly May morning in Fargo, North Dakota (state number seven), hunched over my laptop at the kitchen table of a friend’s parents, who’d taken me in for the race. The following weekend, I sat on my patio in the warm North Carolina sun and read my own book, cover to cover. One month later, I sent it to book publishing people, sure it’d quickly find a good home. In fact, I told my husband that when we boarded the plane for Hawaii in September (state number eight), I’d be celebrating a signed contract.

But the book business rarely works like that, especially for debut authors peddling a memoir centered on an ultra-rare disease. I started recording rejections in an Excel spreadsheet, copying and pasting the text of the personal replies I received (26, in case you’re keeping score). I looked for consistencies in the feedback. I read comp titles, taking copious notes. I reworked my query letter. I revised my opening pages, moving them to a later chapter and adding a prologue. And in moments of weakness, I complained to my husband about the so-called book industry experts who loved my writing but didn’t believe it would sell.

Then, on a cold night in February 2017, I got not one, but two offers. A few months later, I signed my publishing contract under a wide open sky in Montana, where I’d traveled to run the Missoula Half Marathon and hike in Glacier National Park. And on November 1, 2018, “Run to the Light” became a real book.

book and blindfold

Of course, Taylor didn’t live to see that day. She died on September 26, six days after my son (her nephew) was born. But I like to think that her spirit lives in many places – not just in the pages of the book she inspired, but also in the hearts and minds and souls of the many people she’s touched, and in the promising work Taylor’s Tale continues to do in her name.

Finding a publishing home for “Run to the Light” was, at times, as frustrating as writing it was rewarding – and took twice as long. I almost grew to prefer the form rejections over the long, complimentary emails from respected agents who took time to explain why they couldn’t make an offer. The form rejections felt like a first date without sparks, while the personal rejections felt like a real relationship that ended in heartbreak.

But I refused to let it go. My sister taught me that if you believe in something, you don’t quit. You keep chipping away, trying new angles, peeking beneath unturned stones. So that’s what I did.

The writer’s life isn’t for the faint of heart. For every overnight sensation celebrating that signed contract with happy dance GIFs on Twitter, there are thousands more on their third or fourth or fifth manuscript, still seeking publication – or who published their first but needed 10 years to write it. Thinking about it in that way, I feel lucky to have found a publishing home for the first book I finished (and only the second I started) while still in my mid-30s.

If you’re working toward a similar goal, I hope you’ll take a page from my sister’s story and keep at it, no matter how many roadblocks you hit. The intricacies of the modern book market have made it exceedingly difficult to jump from unknown author to bestselling author. But as an editor friend once told me, it only takes one (person who believes in your book and you), no matter how many rejections you receive. So keep working. Be willing to consider options b and c and d. If you’ve written a good book, you have a real shot.

petroglyph family

Running Toward Motherhood

I’m going to be a mom.

Today, I’m in week 22 of what BabyCenter and The Bump and my doctor say should be a 39-week journey, and I’m excited.

Okay. Actually, I’m terrified.

I married my high school sweetheart in 2006. For 12 years, I’ve been perfectly happy working full-time in marketing, hiking remote trails in Utah slot canyons and Washington rainforests whenever I feel like getting on a plane (and can afford it), dashing off to run out-of-town races and working by the glow of my laptop at all hours of the night. Writing a book. Scheduling tweets. Running a charity on the side. I’ve made time for my family, but I’ve never had time for kids.

Then, I turned 35. And a little voice in my head whispered, “What if?” What if I wanted to have kids later and couldn’t? Would I regret it? I’d certainly have enough to stay busy. But would I feel whole? Could I leave a real mark on the world without contributing my DNA?

I think I told my husband I could do this the same day I realized I’d never know the answers to those questions, regardless of whether or not I took the leap.

I don’t regret jumping. But I’m still scared.

I don’t want to struggle to find real balance for the next 20 years.

I don’t want to suffer from mommy guilt if I miss a Kodak moment because I went for a run.

I don’t want to have to always choose between reading a bedtime story or writing my next book.

I don’t want to leave all of the squeeze-through-slot-canyons and hang-from-the-side-of-a-mountain and run-another-half-marathon-blindfolded adventures on my bucket list unchecked.

I don’t want to forget who I am or who I was before I became a mom.

But I also don’t want to miss an opportunity to share this amazing world of ours with my son. To teach him to love the sunlight on his face and the ground beneath his feet. To watch him grow into first a boy, then a man, with his own hopes and dreams and loves and fears.

That’s why I’m scared but excited, too. Why I already call him by the name that we chose for him. Why I wasn’t upset when I ran a half marathon last weekend and took almost 30 minutes longer than normal to reach the finish line. Why I started Pinterest boards to collect cute nursery ideas (I went with a woodlands theme to symbolize his parents’ shared love for hiking) and miniature boy clothes and encouraging quotes.

I don’t think I’ll ever find real balance (a mother friend recently told me that balance is bullshit). I hear myself tell friends that within eight weeks of my due date, I’ll launch a book and run 13.1 miles blindfolded and go back to work, and I know I sound crazy. But here, at 22 weeks, I’m starting to realize that I’m okay with that.

Because I know that no matter how crazy it gets, it will still be the greatest adventure of all.

Run to the Light: Cover Reveal

Almost any author will tell you that the road to book publication is arduous and long, like a marathon course that scales high mountain peaks and snakes through twisted canyons. Maybe that’s why, for so many of us, the book doesn’t feel real until we see the final cover.

My beta readers, editors, family and friends know that I wrote Run to the Light in a 10-month whirlwind of intense late nights and weekday lunches and early weekend mornings. In fact, the actual writing happened so quickly that when I completed a first draft of the final chapter, I cried a little at the kitchen table of a friend hosting me for a race in Fargo, North Dakota. As much as I wanted to watch those pages become a real book, I didn’t want the writing to end.

I can’t capture the book writing process in a single blog post, but I thought it would be fun to share the story behind the cover scheduled to hit shelves in November 2018.

I always knew that I wanted one moment from the book’s final chapter to figure into the cover. In it, I’m running alone up a tree-lined street, leading thousands of other runners in a half marathon for which I received a 30-minute head start for safety reasons.

I asked my friend and colleague, photographer Rusty Williams, to help me bring the scene to life.

Rusty scouted the area several times. He wanted to understand not only how the morning light interacted with the thick canopy of trees and the pavement, but also how much traffic we’d have to contend with as I ran up and down the road, again and again, to make sure my photographer captured the perfect shot. (My husband, John, attended the shoot to help make sure Rusty and I didn’t get hit by a car).

The scene Rusty and I reenacted that day happened on one of the most beautiful streets in my hometown, but that isn’t why I chose it.

Here’s the thing: in real life, I couldn’t actually see the tree canopy or November sky above me or the ground beneath my feet, because I was blindfolded. When I ran through that tunnel of trees without the tether that had connected me to my guide for most of 13.1 miles, I saw my sister’s life and my own with perfect clarity. After years of suffering, I finally understood I’d received a great gift, no matter how much pain came with that gift. And since that moment, nothing has been quite the same.

I was alone in the tunnel of trees. My gait felt smooth, my body weightless, my breathing effortless. I thought maybe I could run forever. I touched the only photo that existed of Taylor finishing her first race, attached to my armband. It felt both heavy and light on my arm.”

Originally, I’d envisioned the cover with a photo of me running alone beneath the trees, just as I’d done on race day, so Rusty and I focused on capturing those shots.

We spent the better part of the shoot waiting for the morning light to look just right as it soaked through the leaves and shone on the pavement.

cover 1

This was our favorite from the bunch:

Laura running

For the heck of it, Rusty also took a few photos of my blindfold lying in the road. We thought we might get an interesting image for the back cover or for marketing the book.

blindfold photo

But when I shared Rusty’s work with my publisher, they preferred the blindfold concept for the front cover. They felt it was more unique and also more striking than the shot of me running, especially as a thumbnail image online.

When I saw the final result, I knew they were right.

Run to the Light book cover

While I didn’t have total control over the cover design (authors rarely do, except for those who self-publish), I appreciated that my publisher gave me a say in the process and allowed me to work with a photographer I know and trust. Run to the Light won’t be the last book I write, but it will almost certainly be the most personal.

This entire journey has been a blessing, from the earliest outline to the completed manuscript and finished cover art. I can’t wait to share the result with the world in November.

If you live in or near Charlotte, I hope you’ll join me at Park Road Books on Saturday, November 10, at 2 p.m., when I’ll sign copies of Run to the Light and read from the book. Subscribe to this blog for news about additional events. If you want to suggest a location, feel free to contact me

The Cost of Doing More

I’m injured again.

The human body is a beautiful, capable, complex machine. Sometimes, it can also be fickle. I figure that’s why I can run a half marathon blindfolded without getting hurt, as I did four years ago this month, yet roll my ankle reaching for a shirt in my closet, like I did last week.

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