What toddlers taught me

What toddlers taught me

By Heather Nelson

It’s common knowledge that your 20s aren’t always the best time of your life. Sure, you’re young, you’ve got time to adventure, to explore the world and its twists and turns… But, there’s something about your 20s that’s lonely, taxing and trying. 
If you would’ve asked me August 2011, where I’d be in four years after college graduation, I’d probably have guessed that I’d be working as a journalist full time. I’m two years removed from graduation; I’ve not seen a penny earned for my writing. 

But this isn’t a post about my writing. 
It’s been nearly two years since I took a teaching job at a daycare center. I recently earned title of full time classroom teacher in the toddler room; I teach 2 year olds. It’s quite the task, but I think the toddlers have taught me more than I’ve taught them. 


The amount of patience you need to work with kids is immeasurable. I never considered myself a patient person. I hate waiting for packages to come in the mail and for fresh baked cookies to cool. Two year olds require more patience than I knew I had. The kids are at a critical age of learning. They want to be independent; they want to feel important. I’ve found myself re-reading the same book 10 times because a child requests it. I merely laugh at spilled milk (and the post-lunch mess) that I clean up multiple times a day. I smile when a child repeats a statement or question, even after I’ve acknowledged him/her. And I’ve learned to embrace the question, “Why?” 


The children in my classroom have experienced a lot of change lately. The children seem to easily adapt to their environment. New teacher in the room? OK, let’s get to know her, ask her questions, make her read to us, play with us. The children in my classroom generally embrace change and are able to adapt rather quickly to any situation. I admire their willingness to embrace the new beginning of each day and accept (for the most part) what’s in front of them. As long as it’s not dried cranberries for snack instead of cookies….

This is, above all else, the biggest attribute I’ve gained from my toddlers. My heart grew 10 sizes on the day I became their teacher. Not only because I had to grow in humility, but because I felt like I gained 16 kids of my own. On the worst of days, I can look at my kids’ smiles, hear their laughter, feel the warmth of their hugs, and I’m comforted in knowing I’m loved. There’s truly nothing like walking into work each morning greeted by smiling faces and at least ten, “Hello, Ms. Heather!”s. I love my job more than I thought possible and it’s because of the kids. 

I’ll never regret the path that I’ve taken to get where I am today. I’m always learning, adapting, changing, loving harder…. And if I’ve learned anything about “adulting,” it’s that prioritizing your values and finding a job you love are more important than the salary you earn. 



By Heather Nelson

City of stars,

Are you shining just for me?

I saw “La La Land” with my sister last week. The film’s plot has seeped its way into my brain, the soundtrack on a constant loop in my mind. I can’t stop thinking about how the film connects to my life. 

I left the theater with tears steaming down my cheeks. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, it focuses on two dreamers, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who wish to find success in Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress, and Sebastian is a jazz musician. The two meet, fall in love, of course, and try to make their dreams come true. 

As the story unraveled, I found myself feeling deeply connected to the characters. I’m not an actress or musician, but as a writer, I find myself struggling in the same way the characters do. I don’t live in LA, but I’ve traveled to different, (just a teeny bit) bigger city to search for available writing jobs. …just searching for happiness amidst the cruel world. Desperately wanting out of a life you didn’t dream for yourself as a child. 

Mia and Sebastian face rejection. I, too, have faced rejection through the form of (mostly) email. Rejection can be challenging. In the film, rejection brings about feelings of uncertainty. I’ve felt this more frequently than I’d like to admit. The characters also struggle with identity. I struggle(d) with that, too. I’ve wondered if writing is the career path for me, and how much easier it might be if I just gave up and found a new passion.

But this won’t work. Passions don’t just disappear. You’ll leave yourself wondering what could’ve been if you hadn’t given up. This motivates me most days. I’m certain that I was put on the Earth to write. It’s like “La La Land” — the two characters have their own passions, neither character can let their passion go. I feel this tug, too.  

So, as I watched the finale to “La La Land,” I thought about these things: 

You can’t compromise. You can’t change yourself. You can’t stop dreaming or working toward your dreams. Because those dreams can come true.

Here’s to the ones who dream,
Foolish as they may seem

A toast to 2016

By Heather Nelson

When they go low, we go high. — Michelle Obama

2016, you were quite a low. I’d hoped for better. I’d planned for better. I could complain about how much my year sucked and how many low points I went through, but I won’t. I learned incredibly tough life lessons. 

I was so sure that 2016 was going to be it for me — I’d find the job I wanted, my other half, and fulfill all of my life’s dreams. I’m far from checking off all of my list. 

Life tested me. I spent time on people (men), who weren’t worth my time. I lost friends, who I’d thought would be around forever. I thought therapy would “fix” me.  

I poured myself into a blog that I thought would eventually bring me success in my writing career. I moved (only three hours from home) to pursue it. Instead, the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath me, and I parted ways with the blog. I’m glad I did.

I spent too much time worrying about how to please other people. It exhausted me. The people around me sucked energy out of me but never replenished it. It was a toxic environment. And I had convinced myself it wasn’t.

At first, I felt like a failure for picking up and moving back home. I realized, though, that the plans you make for yourself aren’t always the plans the Big Guy has for you. And while I have a tough time looking to Him for guidance, I believe everything happens for a reason. 
I’m still not working in the field I want to be. On my low days, I dwell on it. I wonder if my path in life is through writing. I wonder if I should give up and pursue other ventures. And when I’m feeling that low, I get little reminders to keep fighting.

Life’s tests, though, strengthened me.
I’m more confident in myself, more aware of my worth. I’ve met incredible people, who uplift me. (And my oldest friends continue to do so.) My family remains to be my biggest source of support. 

2016, you brought some really tough truths to the surface for me. You tested my will. You pushed me further than I thought I could handle sometimes. I’m not sad to see the year come to an end. …Because with each new year comes a restart, a refresh. What has the prospect of 2017 brought us? Hope. 


By Heather Nelson

Twelve years ago, on a crisp October night in St. Louis, Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon hit a lead-off home run to start game four of the 2004 World Series. Flash foward 12 years later, this time a warm night in Cleveland, Cubs leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, blasted a home run to begin game seven.  

Eerily familiar. 

The 2004 Red Sox broke an 86-year curse that night. The 2016 Cubs? They broke a 108-year curse that November night. 

As a sixth grader, watching that game in 2004, I didn’t understand the significance of the game I was watching. I had some clue — the shots back to bars in Boston; the post-game phone call to my cousin, who lived in Boston; the Sam Adams my dad and neighbors drank; the mere fact that I got to stay up late on a school night watching baseball. But, I didn’t understand the years of agony that Sox fans endured. I barely understood how much sports meant to people; I was just figuring this out. 

Last night changed that for me. I know fans of the Cubs — real fans, who’ve stuck it out during the hard times. I also understand sports on a much different level because I live and breathe them. And yet, last night felt extremely familiar for me. Former members of the Red Sox family peppered the teams in the series. On the Cubs: Theo and Lester and Ross and Rizzo. On the Tribe: Tito and Napoli and Crisp. Key men that have helped my team win over the years… 

I felt a certain connection to the Cubs (mostly because I’ve never really liked Cleveland). When Theo left Boston to go to Chicago, I knew great things would transpire. I tried to latch onto the Cubs as my “National League team” but I never paid as close attention as I meant to, and it’s just extremely hard to invest your full self into two teams. Still, for me, it felt right to root for Chicago once Boston was eliminated. 

While watching the game Wednesday night, I had flashbacks to 2004. An anxious energy filled the room 12 years ago, but we never gave up hope that the Sox would pull this off. The same thing happened last night. I got texts from a few friends, who knew I’d be watching. “Who you got tonight?” I told each person that I had faith in the Cubs and that I believed they had the momentum — homefield or not. (Heck, the Sox didn’t win it on homefield the first two times, most recently.) Last night, I was the only one in the Nelson house actively rooting for the Cubs. And yes, I was nervous for them.

The game dragged on, and my anxiety — for a team I’m not even truly invested in — worsened. Cleveland tied the game late, while I was on the phone with my boyfriend, who bet on the Tribe to win. I told him he was bad luck and quickly hung up. (I mean, I wore the same shirt and hat for good mojo.) At that point, I questioned Chicago’s ability to come back and win. I atill had faith, but I was prepared for heartbreak. And in the 10th inning, it happened. 

Cubs fans alive breathed a sigh of relief, and the deceased rolled over in their graves. The Cubs won. Generations celebrated. No more curse. Theo Epstein dubbed some-kind-of magician. Jon Lester earned the win. Grandpa Ross slammed a dinger. Anthony Rizzo with a hand in the final out. 

How did this happen?

I sat on my couch stunned, refreshing my Twitter feed. Twitter served as some sort of validation that I hadn’t been dreaming. I got to relive that feeling that sports gives you when you see players’ (and a city’s) dreams come to fruition. I had flashbacks to 11-year-old me dancing in jubilation after witnessing one of the biggest sports moments of the century. I got to taste another one last night — this one is even bigger.

On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs set free all those chained by the “curse.” The Cubs reminded America why baseball is a beautiful pastime, rich with history. They gave us that fuzzy feeling that’s been hard to find lately. And, my, doesn’t it feel great to feel like a kid, again? 

An Open Letter to Big Papi

An Open Letter to Big Papi

By Heather Nelson

(Published October 11, 2016)


Dear Big Papi,


Thank you.

Eleven-year-old Heather loved you, adored you. Without Big Papi the Red Sox wouldn’t be who they are today. The team I came to know and love (and hate) featured a character known for smashing dingers and flashing his toothy grin.

“Is it Paaahhhpi or Paaaaapi?” I remember asking my dad. And I never forgot.

Eleven-year-old me knew nothing about how terrible you played first base (or why that even mattered). This budding baseball fan didn’t understand the grind that you put in to earn a starting spot on a major league team.

But I recognized greatness. I recognized the lovable character, the charisma beaming from you.

In 2004, you made our (Red Sox Nation) hearts sing. Deemed the Yankee killer. That walk-off home run in Game 4 that would ultimately seal the Yankees’ fate. Ortiz: the hero. Ortiz: the Yankee-slayer. Ortiz: home run hitter. Ortiz: clutch-man. Ortiz: Boston’s guy.

Thank you, Large Father, for giving this sixth-grade sports gal ammunition against the Yankee boys in class. One mention of your name made them squirm. (This trick still works.) Admired by Boston and loathed by all else. Bases loaded, one out, ninth inning? Don’t pitch to Papi.

David Ortiz. No. 34 on your back, but No. 1 in our hearts. The face of a franchise. The star of my childhood. The 13-season veteran. A nine-time All Star, ALCS MVP, World Series MVP, home run leader. A Boston legend. (But not one of those folklore kind.)

Big Papi, someday, I’ll tell my kids about you. How you captured my heart and made me sad to see you depart. How you carried us through three World Series wins, and outlived the “Chicken and Beer” scandal.  You even outlasted A-Rod. Lovable Papi and “Don’t Mess With Me” Papi. The guy who’d do anything for his teammates. I’ll tell my kids about how you genuinely loved the game of baseball, and how you never wanted your time to end.

I attribute my love of baseball to the 2004 Red Sox team — it’s when I fully devoted myself to be a tortured Sox fan. But, you ended that streak for many. You opened our eyes to a whole new world: winning. I couldn’t imagine rooting for any other team. The Red Sox embody charisma, grit, fantasy and everything I love about the sport. It’s hard to imagine life without Big Papi a part of the Red Sox. No one will take your place, Big Papi. “Papi, you are the only, only, only….”

Some people mark their years with birthdays; I marked mine with Red Sox seasons.

Even though it’s only been a day since, I’ll always remember your final game as a Red Sox player. How the team couldn’t deliver, and was swept in the ALDS. That final game at home — your final at bat. You earned a walk; there wasn’t a good pitch for you to take it away for us. I’ll remember angrily watching the opposing team celebrate on our turf, but the Fenway Faithful chanting, “one more year” while I did in my room.

I won’t forget your face — the smile completely gone. Sadness swept over you. One last salute to the crowd. “Papi, Papi, Papi….”

Big Papi, there hasn’t been a player that’s touched our hearts like you have. You made it impossible to miss a game, for fear we might miss a milestone. You brought us excitement filled baseball. Big Papi, you stole our hearts. You made me break that rule — the “no crying in baseball” one. And you might’ve broken it yourself.

Thank you for making 11 year-old me fall in love with baseball.


Heather, a lifelong fan

What’s the problem with Kansas football?

What’s the problem with Kansas football?

By Heather Nelson

(Published September 22, 2016)

The University of Kansas football team secured their first win, in almost two seasons, in the team’s home opener a few weeks ago. Now, as Kansas heads into the bye week, they sit at a 1-2 record.

Rhode Island was never supposed to beat Kansas. Kansas maybe had a shot at beating Ohio. Memphis was always going to bury Kansas. Thankfully, the Jayhawks will escape this week without a loss, but there also won’t be a chance for a second win under Coach Beaty.

Will the Jayhawks secure a win for the rest of the season? Yeah, probably not. Will there ever be hope for the Kansas football team? Yeah, probably not. It will get depressing with each week that passes….

I read some interesting things about the football team earlier this week. Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan discussed that the football program’s problem is not only the revolving door of coaches, but the University’s athletic director.

He said that, “Zenger is the first Kansas athletic director since Dutch Lonborg to fire one of his own hires (Chuck Mather).” …that was back in 1957.

Is Zenger to blame for the problem coaches that have been hired in recent years? Did this string of bad hires — starting with Turner Gil — drive the football team into the ground? It’s hard to say, but Kansas did consistently get worse with each season.

Mark Mangino era

2002-03: 2-10

2003-04: 6-7

2004-05: 4-7

2005-06: 8-5, 8-1

2006-07: 6-6, 3-5

2007-08: 12-1, 7-1

2008-09: 8-5, 4-4

2009-10: 5-7, 1-7

Turner Gill era

2010-11: 3-9, 1-7

2011-12: 2-10, 0-9

Charlie Weis era*

2012-13: 1-11, 0-9

2013-14: 3-9, 1-8

2014-15: 3-9, 1-8

*Clint Bowen interim 2014

David Beaty era

2015-16: 0-12, 0-9

2016-17: 1-2*


Keegan argues that Zenger’s time is limited, especially because the chances of Kansas winning are terrible. It would appear that way, too. Zenger took over the office of athletic director in 2011 after Lew Perkins retired. Under Perkins, the University’s two revenue sports — football and basketball — earned significant wins in the same year. An Orange Bowl win and a National Championship in 2008. Since then, only basketball has come close….

Am I asking for Zenger’s fire? Maybe. Do I have a solution or a suggested hire? Nope. I wish there was a Tom Osborne–archetype hiding out in Kansas somewhere. Something that would bring back Kansas football lore, and glory days — ha!

I think there’s one thing for sure, and something that I’ve always accepted, about the University of Kansas: It will never be a football school. But there’s nothing wrong with expecting more of the program, especially when the athletics department keeps spending money on coaches to build the team and supply wins.

I hope someday, in my lifetime, Kansas will finish with a winning record. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

NBA, please revisit the one-and-done rule

NBA, please revisit the one-and-done rule

Dear NBA,

It’s time to revisit the one-and-done rule.

The University of Kansas basketball program has produced seven one-and-done basketball players. Seven players who played one year with the Jayhawks before moving on to the fame and fortune of the NBA.

The one-and-done rule didn’t exist until 2005, when, then commissioner David Stern, called for a higher age-limit to enter the NBA. The concession closed the collective bargaining agreement, but possibly hinders the potential of talented players who could enter the NBA out of high school.

And that agreement was over ten years ago. It’s time for a change.

I don’t consider myself an advocate for encouraging people to completely bypass college to enter professional sports. Nor have I ever voiced concerns against it. I hate the one-and-done rule, but maybe that’s because it harms more than it helps?

It’s hard to know for certain if a high school athlete will make it in the professional sports world. Sometimes it’s still hard after an athlete spends four years in collegiate athletics.

Basketball is even more unique. Unlike most sports —baseball, soccer, football — it’s a five-on-five game. One star player can change the game — and almost nothing is more valuable than the first round pick in the NBA draft. It means you’re one of the few, the elite.

So, if the one-and-done rule isn’t working, what’s the solution?

There’s been a lot of time spent talking about amateurism and paying athletes to play at the collegiate level. I don’t think that solves the one-and-done problem. Others have discussed a “two-and-done” rule. I don’t think that solves the problem either.

Instead, I think the NBA needs to reconsider the rule altogether. The NBA needs to adopt something similar to baseball’s draft rule.

In baseball’s official draft rules, it states that these are the categories of eligible players to be drafted:

  •    High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
  •    College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
  •    Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed

After the selections, a club retains the rights to sign a selected player until about two months after the draft, or until the player enters/returns to college. If a player is not drafted and does not sign with a club, he may be re-drafted in a future year’s draft — as long as he meets the above criteria.

It would also be beneficial if athletes were allowed to meet with an agent without costing them NCAA eligibility. It only makes sense that a player (and family) would want to consult with an agent who could walk the athlete through the draft process. The player would sever ties with the agent if he remained un-drafted and wished to play at the university-level.

If the NBA were to adopt rules like this someone like Cliff Alexander would’ve had a chance to return to KU, and players like Josh Selby could’ve entered the draft straight out of high school.

A guideline like that also frees the athletes from having to “wait out” their time in college. It’s obvious when a phenomenal athlete joins a university’s basketball squad that he’s not going to be focused on academics. Wouldn’t you be dreaming about the NBA and making millions, too?

So, maybe former commissioner David Stern advocated that the one-and-done rule “produced better players” to allow for “better basketball,” but I’m not buying it.

Look at the system that the University of Kentucky and Duke have created (and thrived in). John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski market to the one-and-done players; the coaches don’t discourage from entering the draft and win titles because of it.

I still hate it. I’m glad KU has only had seven one-and-done guys ever. (Joel Embiid, Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Xavier Henry, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Cliff Alexander, and Josh Selby)

NBA, get rid of the one-and-done rule. Throw it in the garbage. Start over. One year in college doesn’t magically add maturity and talent to a player. Maybe those players would be better in the D-Leagues or on international soil…Selby?

The one-and-done rule needs to be re-visited. Let these ballers chase their dreams — maybe the next MJ or Lebron is out there waiting for his chance.

It’s time for change.