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Shine

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Mommy, what's a tomboy?

Early mornings during the week are one of my most favorite times of the day. My oldest daughter wakes up early and climbs into the small space between Chris and me -- her cold toes press against my legs while her daddy hugs her tight and I stroke her hair. It never lasts long because she's "starving." So we tiptoe out of my room, not wanting to wake Baby who is still sound asleep, and we let daddy get the big bed all to himself for a few more minutes. It's a quiet time, relaxed and peaceful, while the rest of the house is still a sleeping house. She sits at the counter eating breakfast with careful bites not to burn her tongue on the warm oatmeal, while I sip my coffee and make her school lunch for that day. A favorite time because it's also when she talks to me about things weighing on her heart.

Am I a tomboy?

I paused. She's always been my quirky girl. Not interested in acting like the rest of the little girls. She was obsessed with dinosaurs since she was 2. Able to name them all and with better pronunciation than most grown-ups. On her 3rd birthday she requested a triceratops party. She likes to wear jeans under her dresses, boots and her fedora hat. She loves My Little Ponies, science and writing. Riding her bike and building LEGOs, drawing pictures of the super-hero version of herself. She's sensitive, in a way that reminds me of me: she cares too much about what others think; she can't watch scary cartoons without hiding behind her younger brother; she prefers playing with one friend over a big group. She's creative and sweet and a firecracker all wrapped up in one. She loves playing dress-up with her little sister. But she's aware of how "girly" her little sister is and she sometimes gets angry about it: "Why does she have to act all fancy?"

I've gently explained that everyone is different. I tell her about my friends who are interested in fashion in a way that I will never be -- but also say I'm interested in running in a way they couldn't care less about. And that's OK. Differences are OK.

I recently watched a TED talk by an amazing speaker, Lizzie Velasquez. She described how one day she found posts on the Internet where people described her as the ugliest woman in the world. Her message was powerful. She refused to let other people define her. I happened to see her message a few days after I watched the documentary, Bully. Heartbreaking stories where children were picked on, called horrible names, beaten up physically and emotionally. The bullies were hell-bent on defining these sweet kids as nerds or losers.

Lizzie Velasquez asked: How do you define yourself?

And it was the question, not the answer, that touched me. Define yourself. Do not let others' words define you.

So I asked my daughter what she knew about tomboys. She said it was a word she wasn't sure she liked. That when this little boy called her that name, it made her nervous and upset. She told me she felt her face get hot and red. She was worried what the other kids would think of her.

Oh, sweet girl. I cupped her face in my hand. Delicate freckles, those mischievous eyes. People will have lots of names for you. Lots of labels. That little boy called you a tomboy because it made him feel better to have a word to describe you. But you, you get to choose who you are. What you want to be. His words mean nothing. They simply don't matter.

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My own words don't do justice to describe you. My Baby, who sparkles and shines.

And they don't. Watching Bully broke my heart. I remembered the times I was bullied and called names as a child. And when I think back to it -- they were labels someone else was trying to place on me. Making fun of my nose. My clothes. My own quirkiness. Seeing the kids in the documentary made me want to cup their faces and say: Those ugly words simply don't matter. Twenty years from now, you'll see that.

When we let someone define us, we let someone else limit us. She is so much more than a tomboy.

I told her about the time I was training for my first marathon. I needed a new pair of running shoes and I went to a local running store, twins in their double stroller and my big girl holding onto my hand, while Chris chatted with the salesman. We both wanted to try the same shoe. I was in the midst of training for my first marathon, up to 20 miles, and up to that point Chris hadn't run more than 10 miles. After he got Chris the shoes to try, I asked for the same pair in my size. He looked me over and said: "I'll let you try these shoes when you are a more serious runner."

But Mommy! You are a serious runner!

I know, Baby. But he didn't.

He took one look at me and maybe thought I didn't look strong enough. Or maybe he thought a woman doesn't run as much as a man -- but he made a mistake. Perhaps he thought a mom with 2-year-old twins and a 5-year-old couldn't possibly be "serious" about running. He labeled me because it made him feel better to do so. But if I had let that man tell me who I am, and who I am not, well, then I wouldn't be running any more.

We choose. We decide. We define who we are and what we are capable of. And when we define ourselves -- it's when we really shine. Our inner beauty, our passions, who we are in our very core -- those are the things that define us.

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How do I define myself? Wife, mother, runner, writer, sensitive, strong, believer and so much more.

My PRs will never garner attention or generate awards. But when I run, I am 100 percent me -- my strengths and weaknesses play out like a cracked-open diary, my emotions often as raw as the chafing from my jog bra. In my ultimate moments of vulnerability, I am twice the woman I was when I thought I was meant to look pretty on the sidelines. Sweaty and smiling, breathless and beautiful: Running helps us all shine. A lesson worth passing along. -Kristin Armstrong

Never Give Up,
Nicole

I'd love to know: How do YOU define yourself?

This post was originally published on MyFitFamily.