Gorgeous cliff mountain view with clouds beneath and tents perched on the mountain

On Motivational Quotes and a Surprising Teacher

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Co-active Transforum. You can view the original post here.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending several days with an extraordinarily wise teacher named Koan. This sage reminded me of lessons in leadership that I had forgotten. What’s unusual about this particular spiritual guide: he’s a 17-month-old toddler to whom I am known as Auntie Karen.

One of the motivational quotes I’ve seen countless times says, “Life begins outside your comfort zone.”  While I absolutely understand and agree with the concept of stretching into the unknown to discover new realms of possibility, there is an unspoken – and often missed – counterpoint. Rarely, if ever in the popular personal development culture do we celebrate the deep dive into our own knowing that elicits unequivocal trust in who we are at our core. We call this aspect of multidimensional leadership the leader within. It’s the voice of wisdom and compassion, inner strength and acceptance that says with a smile, “I’ve got this.”

For months leading up to visiting Koan and his parents, I’d been anxiously struggling to understand why I wasn’t happier. One part of my life was getting a lot of attention because it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to or thought it was supposed to be. I was frustrated and beginning to lose faith. The day before I went to see Koan, I took a private surf lesson and realized that as a grown-up, I made up a story that mastering new skills is fast, easy and effortless. Surfing reminded me that when you love something and want to get better at it, you practice. A great quote that describes my experience in the ocean, toddlers get instinctively: Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Change occurs in quantum leaps and baby steps. When I was a new mom, I was not a stellar student of my tiny teachers. But now, with years of practice and reflection, I’ve cultivated patience and a grateful appreciation of the present moment. Koan and I played together to make each other laugh. He took my hand so we could explore a nearby rock garden. I sat with him to ease him into his nap, sharing with him the music I play for my Ellie as she goes to sleep every night. One afternoon, he sat in my lap, and we did nothing at all for some of the most blissful moments of my stay, maybe of my life.

I’ve had too many people tell me that they aren’t leaders. Something about the word makes them look to others instead of trusting their own innate power to make a difference, regardless of how big or small it is. Leadership means seeing an opportunity – no matter how big or small – to create something new and taking action. One quote I share frequently:“Leaders don’t know what’s next. If we knew, we’d be followers.” Babies are extraordinary adept leaders who create their future concurrent with their growth into it.

Leaders grow other leaders in belief, words and whispers. In his actions and his toddler essence, Koan offered me a new inquiry to consider in my struggle: what’s the rush? As Auntie Karen, I can observe and enjoy what I didn’t have the capacity for as a young parent, striving to reach the next developmental phase or milestone on behalf of my children who hadn’t yet shown signs that they had inherited my ambition. It was as if once they reached what was expected of their age and stage, I could relax – but growth and learning never ends and I couldn’t keep up. Once I learned that we’d figure it out along the way, I became a better mother and human.

Koan reminded me of who I am as a leader at my core: strong, playful, visionary, patient, curious, wise, confident, loving, calm, gentle and nurturing.

It’s been said by many that “We teach best what we most need to learn,” and perhaps this is why my work has found its home in experience-based leadership development. We learn by doing, and with thoughtful repetition and refinement, we gain mastery. It’s a lifelong pursuit, and I’m not in a hurry anymore.

the ocean with small waves

How to Succeed in the Business of Coaching

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Co-active Transforum. You can view the original post here.

There are no fast-tracks and no short cuts. If you are going to be successful as a coach, you’re going to have to work for it. The path is different for everyone and what works for me may not work for you, but here’s the best of my business development learning that I hope will support you on your journey.

  • Know your work. Get trained, get coached, always be learning about this amazing and transformational work we are so privileged to provide.
    Never stop learning. Not every powerful coach is a certified coach and not every certified coach is effective at serving her clients. One thing all great coaches have in common: practice. Have hundreds of engaging conversations and coach with all your heart.
  • Know your worth. I’ve heard this adage often: “You can only take a client as far as you’ve gone yourself.” Can you coach deeply without having experienced the same challenges as your client? Of course. Will you have more emotional capacity to be with your clients through their challenges if you’ve successfully navigated through your own? Absolutely. In this work we do with other humans, we create spaces for vulnerability to exist and courage to emerge. Be brave and bold and dive headfirst into the study of you with the guidance of a trusted professional. The more self-aware you are, the less likely you are to take on your clients’ struggles as your own and can support them in their growth. As you own your value, you are able to see more potential and possibility in others.
  • Know what you want. Is coaching a business for you, or a hobby? Assuming it’s the former, decide what you want it to look like. I don’t know a single coach who does this work only for the money, and if your business doesn’t have revenue, you cannot thrive – personally or professionally. I am a coach who craves and creates variety and flexibility, and my business reflects that with in-person leadership retreats, remote phone coaching, teaching, facilitation, consulting, mentoring, and writing. I love all of it. There are countless ways to operate in this profession. Choose your own adventure.
  • Be seen, be known. (aka Marketing.) I’ve seen more than one coach get squirmy and squeamish about selling their services. The phrase “shameless self-promotion,” makes me sad. Within those words exists a sense of shame in talking about the value of the goods and services being offered and the value of the person or business making the offer. No more of that, people! Be proud. Do great work and let it shine. Own your business, your expertise, your quirks, your impact, and how people have benefited from working with you. If you’re not sure about the results you’ve helped create, ask, receive, and do whatever work it takes to embrace your awesomeness so you can help others find theirs.
  • Try, fail and begin again. I’ve written before about the relationship between failure and innovation. What I haven’t shared is how many times I’ve failed, changed my niche, altered my marketing and enrollment strategies, canceled my own projects mid-implementation, and how I’ve learned to let go of what I think my work is supposed to be to realize what it is: constantly evolving, just as I am. As Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.”
  • Relationships first. The day of my CPCC certification exam, I drew a heart in the palm of my hand and inside, wrote the word “client.” I wanted my focus to be on the person on the other end of the phone line and not checking off my list of Co-Active skills. It can be a challenge to keep your focus on the relationships with the people who help us build our businesses rather than on the business plans, mailing lists, contracts, and income, especially when clients complete and there isn’t another to fill their place.

Ultimately, ours is a service-based business and to serve, we must stay connected with ourselves and the people in our lives to know what matters most.

woman in a wetsuit smiling and raising her hands after learning how to surf

#32 on My Bucket List: Learn to Surf

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Co-active Transforum. You can view the original post here.

I wrote my first bucket list when I was 25. I kept it in the back of my journal like an expanding grocery list…except instead of things like apples and light bulbs, it included things like make perfect Mexican rice and visit Paris. I had graduated from college, broken off an engagement five months before the wedding, and was in pursuit of my Master’s degree in Counseling while working full-time. My life was demanding and intense, and the list was both practical and aspirational. It served as a placeholder for the dreams that were bigger than my life could manage in that moment.

I was 37 when I updated the list — by then, I’d gone to Paris, figured out the rice, married the love of my life, had two happy healthy babies, and was starting to surface as myself again after a period in which I was known primarily as Jake and Ellie’s mom. The list of “40 things I wanted to do before I was 40” was engineered to keep me moving forward and to connect me to who I was becoming, not bound by the history of who I’d been. On that list at #32: learn to surf.

Four years later, I wrote another list. As part of CTI’s Leadership program, I was asked to come up with possibilities of how I might bring my work into the world in a bigger way. My list was clear, focused, strategic, prioritized and didn’t sound like any fun at all!

As leaders, we choose to create the world the way we want it to be, so when I recognized that my default setting was to try to create work that sounded important, sacrificing fulfillment for significance, I edited the list. Part of my work in the world is to reconnect people to fun and adventure, and to create that, I have to live it. To my list, I added: dance, learn to drive a race car, and (once again) learn to surf.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Malibu in the summer of 2012, I learned to surf at the Into the Fire Surf Retreat, an annual event I co-created and co-lead with my co-conspirator, colleague and Leadership classmate, Gary Mahler.

Surfing had been on my list for a long time, and now the opportunity was within inches. Except, I’d decided it wasn’t the right time. In my mind, the retreat was specifically designed for other people to have an incredible once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list worthy experience, not me.

It’s a deeply ingrained habit that I put the needs of others above mine. Believing that leaders create our worlds, how could I continue to make room at the table for everyone and forget to set a place for myself? At the retreat, I too would have an opportunity to do life differently – exactly like we were teaching our participants.

Doing differently meant talking with my husband, my partner and my friends about my concerns, wants and needs instead of cycling the thoughts in my head. Doing differently meant listening to perspectives unlike mine, and trusting the wisdom when everyone unanimously agreed that I should surf. Doing differently meant working from an unfamiliar model of leadership in which we were learning at the same time as the people we were teaching, and we were not the ultimate experts I assumed we were should be. Doing differently also meant that I’d be co-leading the second half of the retreat with wet hair and no makeup! Every one of these things pushed me outside of my comfort zone and into a new understanding of who I am and what is possible for me.

Leadership requires courage, commitment, self-awareness and a sense of humor. As leaders, we are looked to for guidance. We model the actions and behaviors we ask others to follow and often go first. Doing so is risky and vulnerable and also creates a depth of authentic connection.

Leadership begins with you. Bring your crazy passion and intensity, your dreams and your fears, your reflection and your learning – and bring people somewhere they’ve never been before. The world needs this from you.

I surfed. I fell off my board a lot. I had the time of my life. Just like everyone else, I struggled to get into a wetsuit and worried about what might be swimming beneath me. Not only did I learn to surf that day, I became a person who teaches leadership through surfing. I’d never done that before! Now in our fifth year, the Into the Fire Surf Retreat continues to be an opportunity for profound learning and transformation for everyone. And it’s a ton of fun.

I still haven’t started dance classes, but I plan to next. What’s next on your list?

Karen Pery giving cuddles to a friendly horse during a leadership lesson

ColleagueCorner-A Penny for your Thoughts: Leadership Lessons from a Horse

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Impact Potential. You can view the original post here.

A little more than 100 miles outside of Los Angeles in a quaint, rural town most people know by the Pinot Noirs featured in the film Sideways and home to the estate of the late Michael Jackson, are some of the finest leaders I’ve had the privilege to know and serve. They continue to call forth my evolution as a leader and they do so without uttering a single word. If you really want to break through to your next level of leadership, ask a horse to show you what you need to see.

Penny, a chestnut mare, is a formerly wild mustang. She’s a clever girl, known to unlock the gate of her pasture liberating herself and her friends. Well loved and trained to be ridden, she is the dominant mare in the herd of more than thirty wild and domestic horses at our ranch near Santa Barbara, California.

As herd leader, she is hyper-aware of what is happening inside and outside of the group, constantly assessing risks and potential threats. It’s her job to correct behavior of other horses to help keep everyone safe in their pasture. Strong and clearly in charge, she communicates frequently. She is consistent, fast, and fair and direct.

Now imagine what it’s like to lead a leader like Penny. If you’re riding Penny, she has to trust that you are capable of leading her. She must know without question that you are taking care of her so that she doesn’t have to take care of herself or her herd – and until she believes you, she will test you again and again and again because she truly wants to partner with you. She demands your confidence, and she needs to believe that you believe you can lead her and that you will consistently follow through to keep her safe.

If she’s not convinced of your leadership presence or abilities, she’ll do what she needs to do to take care of herself. On a ride, that might look like stopping abruptly, changing direction, and heading home without being asked or turning sideways down a hill and taking you for an unexpected adventure into the trees.

As a mentor, Penny illuminates your blind spots as a leader. The one time I fell off while riding, it wasn’t her fault or a freak accident. She was going faster than I was comfortable, and I didn’t know how to ask her to stop. I was afraid I’d tell her the wrong thing and she’d actually go faster! Since I wasn’t sure how to ask for what I needed (from Penny or the trainer who was guiding us), I didn’t ask for anything, lost my balance and landed in the dirt – and then of course, she stopped. She was trying to work with me, but I couldn’t see how vital it was for me to speak up and ask for help in order for all of us to work well together.

You take your leadership – or lack of leadership – with you wherever you go. Within the same week I fell off Penny, I received feedback from a team I was leading that I wasn’t communicating enough and my presence was lacking. Coincidence? Hardly. I was leading the horse and the team exactly same way. In both situations, I was in over my head and so focused on my own process and doubts that I missed the opportunity to reach out for support and partnership. I was so afraid of communicating the wrong message, by not communicating at all I made the situation far worse.

Take a lesson from Penny. Leadership challenges are opportunities for your ongoing growth – and they will appear in many forms. Horseman Buck Brannaman said it well: The horse is a mirror to your soul…and sometimes you might not like what you see in the mirror. If you’re willing to look at obstacles as places for you to expand, you will develop greater capacity and range as a leader.

woman smiling in a wetsuit carrying a surfboard

Friday Interview: Karen Pery, Excellent Adventurer

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Excellent Adventures Training. You can view the original post here.

Karen Pery believes that playful adventures transform lives. The CEO and founder of Excellent Adventures Training, Pery spends entire afternoons in the surf or on the racetrack helping people confront their fears head on so they can solve problems, pursue dreams and forge new directions in their personal or professional lives. She sat down with me recently to talk about her work, and excerpts from that conversation follow.

What made you decide to become a personal or executive coach? And why do you feel more people are turning to coaches?

I became a coach after coming to terms with some pretty significant changes in my life. Working as an executive in a high pressure and fast-paced organization, I was shocked when my doctor put me on medical leave. “Your job is too stressful.” I’d had a car accident while about five months pregnant. My work/life balance was heavily weighted towards work and the accident was a big wake up call that I didn’t really answer until I needed to go back to work about 5 years later. During this break and the early years of my children’s lives, I struggled to define myself — so much of my identity had been wrapped into my career and professional accomplishments. Looking back at that time, I was probably depressed. I didn’t make sense to myself anymore. I didn’t know how to put the pieces of me back together again because everything in my life had changed so dramatically.

Going back to work didn’t help.

I would drop my kids at school, drive to work, contributed at what felt like a pretty superficial level compared to how I’d worked before my absence, then stopped everything to be back in the carpool line at 3:00. I was exhausted all the time. It was relentless. I didn’t feel like I was doing a great job as either an employee or as a mother – both of which I’d done quite well without the other.

One day, I realized I couldn’t be the only one with these feelings and this problem: I was highly educated and ambitious, and completely unwilling to sacrifice my personal life for my work. Not only that, assuming I wasn’t the only one, maybe I could do something about it.

The idea that I might change the way people like me could have a different kind of work life was both daunting and thrilling. It was a turning point in my life when I realized I could be myself, bring all of my experience, wisdom and passion, and be of service to others – and I could do it in my time, putting my family first. My work makes me feel like a rock star, like I’ve hit the jackpot, found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and won the lottery – hugely and richly abundant. My life is so much better because I love what I do.

I think more people are turning to coaches for several reasons. First, coaching is a lot more accessible now than it used to be. On TV (even beyond Oprah!), we’ve seen people like Anthony Robbins, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Martha Beck and Cheryl Richardson – pioneers in the field – inspiring people to take positive steps in their lives and giving them tools to do so. Coaching is universal, not just for high-level executives and elite performance athletes. Add to that our country’s economic challenges; without the guarantees of savings or employment, many have been forced to pause, reflect on and seek what matters most, knowing that money does not guarantee happiness. Coaches help you figure out what does. Plus, coaching has been around long enough now to have traction. It works. Do a quick search on “coaching ROI” and you’ll find research and staggering statistics about the power and impact of coaching in business especially.

Who is your typical client and what are they seeking professionally? Are they office workers who don’t know how to get that promotion? Are they folks who want to branch out on their own, but don’t know how to get started? Who is it that comes to you for help and what are they seeking?

I work with two kinds of clients. The first is someone who recognizes they are in a transition and hires me to help them navigate through it with more confidence and clarity. Maybe they’ve been already been given a severance package or sense that that their current project is ending; they know they’ll continue working, but something’s got to change or they’ll end up in the same place again. The threat of uncertainty has them looking to do differently.

My other clients the organizations who hire me to develop the leadership of mid-level managers. They see talent and potential, but have become frustrated that their people aren’t performing to the level they need with the resources they have internally. For these clients, during our work together I take them out of the office on field trips specifically designed to accelerate their learning on a topic. Ballroom dancing, for example, is an incredible way to teach leading and following, especially for managers struggling with supervising and directing a team. We then take the learning from these experiences back into the office and I provide ongoing coaching – typically two times a month by phone – to create sustainable and meaningful change for the individual and the organization.

How do help clients unleash their inner work beast?

You have got to know who you are internally how you are perceived externally. We gather feedback – first from the people with whom you interact most, then with an outside observer. Horses give an incredible 360 evaluation. Seriously! (You can read more about that on my web site).

Along with this, we set goals and start taking some risks. I want you to know what matters most in your present and immediate future, how your life works when it’s going well and how your work works when your life is going well. We ask questions: what does balance look like, what lights you up like a pinball machine, what drives you crazy, what are you longing for, what is most important to you, what’s your dream, where is your quiet place? With new insights come new actions. You try something different, you see what works and what doesn’t, and you report back. Rinse and repeat.

When people are clear about who they are and what they want, are confident that they can take the steps to get from point A to point B, know that they are resilient and can pick themselves up and dust themselves off if things don’t got as planned and can come back to the core knowing of who they are and then begin again, the beast is unleashed.

There is an old saying that if you do what you love, the money will follow. Why do so many people have a hard time following their passions and turning it into a career? How do you help people overcome that fear and see that they can make their life an excellent adventure?

Uncertainty can be terrifying and paralyzing. Many of us have equated financial stability with success and a good life, so it feels ridiculous to give that up in pursuit of a passion that does not have a guaranteed payout. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence, faith, risk tolerance and support to create something out of a dream. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I help people uncover and expose their fears, and support them as they look at those fears head on. I listen deeply and ask questions. We test things out, challenge the beliefs and see what’s true and what isn’t. Very often, when you turn on the lights, you realize that the monster you thought was under the bed was actually just a shadow.

At the Into the Fire Surf Retreat last August, I learned while we were out in the water that one of our participants had nearly drowned as a child. The ocean intimidated her, and she had a tremendous amount of anxiety about her capacity to simply BE in the water, much less learn to surf. So, we just hung out together in the water and played in the waves. I reminded her from time to time that she was doing just fine, that when she was scared, she could take a big breath and feel her feet on the sand. If a wave came, she could hold her breath and go under. There were lifeguards all around us from our surf school and she was going to be okay. We were looking out for her – she wasn’t alone. She was able to leave some of the old stories she had about herself on the beach that day and she got to ride the waves. Her life is different now. To be able to help people to find the adventure in their lives every day makes me feel like a miracle worker.

One of the most interesting things about your business is that you use pursuits such as surfing and horseback riding to get at the issues that are holding people back professionally. How and why did you develop this part of your business and what sort of lessons can people take from a surfboard into their work life?

I learned a lot about myself being stuck in a tree one day. I was participating in a leadership training doing a high ropes activity, and was pretty sure I was going to outsmart the obstacle. Boldly, I was the first to go from my group, so I had neither experience nor observation to guide me, just pure stubborn drive. I quickly found that I couldn’t think my way through it. Determined and frustrated, I received coaching and support from the ground, “Wiggle your butt!” I was instructed to trust my legs more than my head, and when I did, I was successful.

The body is a largely untapped resource for changing beliefs. Watching Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on how your body language shapes who you are has translated into work I bring into every workshop or training I lead. Learning that muscles can access memories better than our minds do (especially for those of us recognizing that we are aging), has inspired me to shift the paradigm about how leaders expand their capacity and develop their potential.

Not quite a week after that day I was stuck in the tree, my daughter had a birthday party at a martial arts studio. The parents all sat around and watched the kids with envy. “I want a birthday party like this,” one said. People want to play, we want to have fun, and we crave novelty. We are constantly learning and making new connections. I believe that playful adventures transform lives.

Think about surfing. Before you even dip a toe in the water, you’re going to want to stretch and know what your limits are that day or that moment. You’ll want to know what the waves are like. If you’re dancing, you’ll need to be in the right shoes. You’ll want to know if there are any obstacles to avoid. Leaders create similar rituals that prepare them for success.

You have to trust yourself, stay positive, be both present and future focused. Clear your mind and space of distractions, know where you are in your body and in your beliefs at any moment. Keep your core strong and stay connected to yourself and what’s around you. Let go of the past, and keep getting up. Choose how you want it to be. Keep your expectations to a minimum and stay open.

These words could easily be the content of an article on executive leadership in Forbes or Fast Company but were actually said to my clients during a martial arts class that served as a leadership immersion field trip.

If you’re surfing, you need to get balanced on the board – too far forward and you’ll get bonked in the head when you fall and the board hits you, too far back, too far to either side, you will fall off. You’ve got to be aware of your body, your center of gravity and where you are in relation to the board in addition to the conditions of the water, and you’ve got to continually be aware and make micro shifts to stay balanced, go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

A beautiful scenic image of cliffs and a beach

Summer of Authenticity: Fully Alive

This is a re-post of a guest post I wrote for Authentic Realities. You can view the original post here.

I once walked a half mile or so on a beach with Karen Pery. While we caught up on our friendship through candid conversation, we marveled at a ladybug attached to my finger for the bulk of our stroll. Every time I think about Karen, I think about that little ladybug eavesdropping, taking in the warm beach breeze and our soothing (at least I think so) voices in easy conversation between colleagues-turned-friends. Meet Karen Pery …

I love summer the way I love Paris. I’m romantic about it, get lost in it, fantasize about it, and, if given the opportunity, would spend my entire life here. I talk about summer as if it were the only season of worth or import. “Spring? Sure, it’s nice. Love the green. But summer…isn’t summer the best?!”

I look forward to the hot, long, lazy days for solace, comfort, ease and freedom. With sand in the car, sunburned cheeks (and the countless tubes of sunscreen absorbed in the planned avoidance of them), barbeques, bug bites, kite flying, chilled chardonnay, summer is perfect.

Our kids, Jake and Ellie, get their multi-colored markers ready to create the annual Summer Fun Adventure list, filled with promises and dreams of water parks, museum jaunts, sleepovers, camp outs, and pool parties. Ellie expectantly waits for my nod of approval that verifies that yes, stone fruits are now in season and we may obsessively begin over-filling our farmer’s market baskets to savor the ripest, sweetest, unapologetically drip-down-your-arm-juicy apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums. Summer is simply the best time of year.

But this summer is different. I am busy and burnt out. The thought of making another list – even for FUN! SUMMER! ADVENTURES! (three of my very favorite words), feels not only daunting, but simply untenable. The words, “I can’t” keep falling out of my tired lips.

I can’t enjoy it right now. I can’t postpone these deadlines. I can’t plan for tomorrow; I’ve got to get through today. I can’t. I’m sorry, but I really can’t.

Crestfallen, I sit here shaking my head. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Not in summer! This kind of detachment is reserved for fall or winter when I know I’ll get through it but I don’t really care.

I notice my back is to the window, and I’m trying to tune out the sounds of the birds chirping in the trees because I really need to focus. And I love birds chirping in trees. No. This is definitely not right.

It breaks my heart not to love this summer, and I’m trying as hard as I can to be here in this particular moment even though, quite honestly, I’d rather be at the beach. I take occasional breaks and optimistically buy a sundress. I load the freezer with popsicles and talk to anyone who will listen about the fun I’m going to have (after I finish these projects).

I need an opening. Something to savor other than the incredible bounty of produce. I need a break, if not from the work or the pressure, but from my obsession with summer-isn’t-quite-working-for-me-can-I-please-speak-to-a-supervisor-thanks?

I find summer in the face of my almost 11-year-old son, Jake. (Who happens to have a summer birthday!)

Jake has been a camper at the same day camp every summer since before he could tie his own shoes. While his friends are off having their experiences at sports camps and sleeping away for weeks on end, Jake contentedly returns to the place he knows and loves and the bus that takes him there.

We rush to the bus stop, and as the kids load on, buckle in, and do whatever they do that the parents aren’t allowed to see in the magical transformation between home and FUN! SUMMER! ADVENTURE! I spy my boy in the window. He sits alone here, his sister occupied with her own friends; his friends will arrive at camp on other routes. He spies me, too.

He waves to me with one finger. I wave back. I mime a kick line with my index and middle fingers. He does the same. We hang loose, ok, make hearts, bunny ears and tiny llamas with our fingers at each other in our silent connection in the parking lot. I’m unselfconscious, totally absorbed and completely smitten with this child and this moment.

And then another mom notices me as I’m making caribou antlers on my head at Jake and waiting for his response. I blow a kiss and he catches it with his own.

“I think that’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” she says.

The moment is sweeter than a sun-ripened peach.

I nod, knowingly. I tell her this is the best part of my day.

And then it happens the next day, and the day after, and I notice that I’ve fallen in love with summer all over again.