Jul 13

Our Song


Our Song by Nancy Schatz Alton

Your blossom into speech is slow.

Your smile covers every inch of my skin.

You reach for my hand as we walk.

How long it took to meet someone who I felt no need to give words to.

You’ve taught me silence, how it’s enough to hold our wishes quietly,

especially when we don’t believe them.

Oh, I didn’t believe you would break into song on a big stage.

You have. You did. I was in the wings wishing I could see you.

All that prep with me learning how not to speak

and you learning how to show your secret self:

the song in tune, your smile from inside breaking over the listening faces.

We walk, not talking, hands clasped, arms swinging, an ancient song.

Until we do talk: we’ve been thinking the same thing. We smile and laugh.

The silence broken to mark our marvelous togetherness.


*blossom into speech is a phrase from the poem “The Student” by Dorianne Laux


Jun 27

Holy Fire/Dirty Bathroom Mirror


Today’s the first day since June 7th that I’ve been home without kids for more than a few hours. Ah, I thought, I’ll have hours to work.

Ah, my focus is not focused today. Even writing this feels not easy. We’re half in summer and half out. I’m right in the week between our family’s two summer trips. I just finished writing a back-to-school feature while my brain tries to quiet down to this noise: my eldest is a junior! Two years left! Two years left!

Two years left to teach her how to cook. To soak her in and watch her eventually pass her driving test. Two years in to prod her to do her laundry completely on her own.

A fire alarm that screams “Two Years! Two Years! Two Years!” is not a song I can sing to very long. My Sweet Carolina is off at her beloved summer camp and just knowing she is happy there, that thankfully is beginning to douse the alarm signals that have been on repeat lately.

But that is where I am at: gasping at the god-damned-hourglass just like every parent of a high schooler while marveling that I won another year with my youngest when we decided she’d repeat her kindergarten year. Just, yes, that’s crazy: that spot of joy during a dark time was knowing I’d have an 18-turning-19 high school senior someday. I’m that stinking parent that people might call helicopter except my kids are so old that I say, ‘call me helicopter, the sound of my blades sound pretty nice even as my bathroom mirror is a disgrace thanks to my girls.’

Since my mind has too many blades slicing every neuron I still have in half, I’m not even sure this is worth publishing. Last night I went on a walk and saw a fire in the distance, black smoke curling around city skyscrapers. That’s what’s up ahead: who I have been for quite a long time now burning down.

I know the parents who have gone before me will scold me: your kids are a forever deal, just enjoy the now. But when my husband said a few years ago that these are the salad years: oh, he was speaking the truth. Last night I finished reading a memoir  by a local author who wrote about parenting his “willful skateboarder sons.” The book “Kickflip Boys” ends in the same place of yearning I see up ahead: with Neal Thompson mourning a time that he lived with his three best friends. His two sons/best friends were no longer to be permanent residents of the home he shares with his wife/third best friend/their mom.

Ah home, my sweet holy home. It’s quiet here today, just me knocking out some deadlines, thinking about a fire up ahead, pondering if I should clean the bathroom mirror or leave it as a testament to all that is holy in my life.

Jun 15



Do you know how lucky I feel? On a day like today when we’re celebrating endings and the sun shines, I know I have it all. Because who else gets to watch you sporting striped pants with confidence?

So often, I write to get out of a downward spiral. I forget to note the goodness. The emails I get from educators that let me know they see my kids. Or how one of those kids has learned the fine art of apologizing (in no small part because I had to learn it first). As I sit and listen to Bastille’s lead singer sing about flaws, I marvel at how life is showing me how to finish what I started. With joy, as often as possible.

It’s Friday and my eldest is finishing her finals while my youngest is enjoying summer break already. I’m over-caffeinated and happy. I hope you are good, too.


Jun 14

Flip Book


Flip-book, Memory Edition by Nancy Schatz Alton

I am leaning across the fence.

You are backing away.

You stitch tank tops.

I stitch longing

while remembering need:

Your need for me

gathered in a flip book



stop freeze.

I am leaning across the fence.

You wear stripes, like me.

Your hair, long & thick, not like me.

You flip your hair over my head.

We laugh.

I look good in your hair.

We are a flip book.

You move away, I lean in.

I step back: freeze.

Listen to the way the chain-link fence reverberates.

The sound of silence is not silence, but longing:

Metal against scuffed shoe. I remember & it echoes.


Jun 04



Dale Chihuly glass art

Tell me, why does this one precious life feel hard? Even as my mind plays with the word hard. Is it the right word? Is hard allowed when so many have it worse? Why is my mind a trap that cycles me like a washing machine stuck in the spin cycle? Has that metaphor already been overused? What am I but a complicated metaphor? Even as I remember my friend’s poem that reminds me I can stop pushing the rock up the hill, I push the rock up the hill.

I mean, I switched to the 8-pound weights right as I can’t even imagine what life will be like as my first born needs me in a different way. Should I practice standing still instead of swaying?

This is only half of what this is about. How the older I get the more I ache to find meaning because time, which I know isn’t real, is still running out. It’s as real a thing as anything as the world changes way too fast. As people who are gay can’t purchase wedding cakes at cake shops and children are taken from their parents at our borders. The arc of time is bending into my brain until I need to write. I need to write to try to make myself OK with hard.

This is hard. There I said it. Change is hard. I stand still and watch myself be OK with hard. I’m in a hard place and I’m hungry for joy. Joy is the 8 pound weights and the bike ride with my husband and laughing too hard at the sitcom because my abs are hungry for laughter. What do I want? I want to be a joy catcher. It plays with the seams of hard and makes me really hear the herons chirp as I stand beneath their nests. I rub the edges until I split open my heart. I think it’s the only way forward. You can tell me time isn’t real, that the sun is dying. I can tell you that my high school physics teacher hung a poster that read, “Will the world end in fire or ice?”

Fire. I’m betting on Fire.

Jun 02


Blue hills

I collect heat and retreat. The dog rests on the wooden floor, fur thick and dirty from the smell and roll. Hair and skin cells dot air and surfaces. My wound remakes itself into pink skin.

I hear someone call out mom. I reply. Outside noises make me wonder if the call out was mine. It was because I hear a never mind reply.

I’m listening to the noises, wondering at the oils that taint my hair with rugged body. It’s a look that always hears the junior boy tell me he’s never seen a girl with her hair such a mess. I stop washing it every day, defiant so many years later. But really not defiant, just bored and wondering how to do something new. Something small that won’t keep me up at night. Because doing something big feels too risky. It seems like I might trade my shaky happiness if I turn to sharply toward anything.

I can’t sign up for a writing class. What if it goes not the way I need it to go again? I’m not interested in learning that lesson again so soon. Even as I circle classes and wonder, I still grow strong with my not taking a class. I read the poems I like again and again until they live in my brain. I swim through my suffering because Melissa Stein is wearing a groove between my neurons and I am firing toward self-knowledge.

The self that can’t decide what is next. I sit in my stewing. My stewing notes the bumblebees gorging on anything that is pink. The birds bathing in my yard’s dirt. The dust on every surface that plays with the air. Even though that’s not science. Science is my daughter’s brain remaking itself at the same time my skin shuffles back together around the thread that closed the wound that I made while making lunches for a girl who is no longer a girl.

The breeze carries the future in through the open door. That’s as close as I let myself go: feeling the air circulate along my skin. My younger daughter closes the front door.



May 18



I want to write in the third person to get some distance from my flaws.

I want to believe Madeleine L’Engle when she writes that our flaws will get us through.

I want to tell you that my youngest donned a helmet and a harness and climbed halfway up the rope ladder and almost made it to the climbing wall. That she hugged me when she was done. It was success to just get her onto the rope part of the climbing exercise. It was success for me to say yes when she asked to come down.

I watched other kids get to the top. I cheered with the class.

And the boy who told my daughter she did a good job, he’s the one that saw her for who she is and reminded me yet again how I get in my own way. I mean, I saw that too, but I also let my mind muddy her success as I wondered why she didn’t go a little bit further.

The tree root I rested on reminded me of my own strengths, how re-framing is the only way I get through the day. How I closed my eyes and knew my mind will never get me where I need to go. Only loving gets me through. I knew success when I saw it: Annie on the wall, Annie hugging me in victory. I also knew the feeling of watching other kids and wondering at how different they are. How easy it is to cheer the Olympic athlete. How easy to be jealous, too, to want what is not our life.

When I was in high school, I peaked as a runner my sophomore year. It was glorious to make the varsity team. I never had a year like that again with running, but after that it was the team that was the gift. Lately I’ve been piling through high school pictures, so I can remember what it was like to be 16. At 16, belonging was everything. There I am, next to my teammates, joking around on the bus. There’s the locker sign they made me that reads, “Best Singer.” Not because I was the best, but because I was the worst, but I loved singing and I sang loud and often. I spread my joy and my friends were glad for it.

My tale today isn’t perfect, and my flaws don’t seem to get me through. But sitting on the tree root with my eyes closed, I came to that knowing once again that every kid is on some path that is not visible from the outside. And my mind tricking me into thinking my kid should be the one at the top: um, not helpful. More helpful: the boy that sees my daughter and says, “Good job climbing.”

It’s also easy to heap envy or even dislike to the kid on the top. And then I remember the girl on my cross-country team who won state every year. How gracious and funny and human she was, sharing with us things I won’t even write here. She made me faster because I ran with her at every practice. She’s probably why I peaked sophomore year. That’s what people are talking about when they say classes should be mixed. It would be great if the hierarchy would disappear in those mixed classes. Yes, it would be great if life were perfect. Instead, it’s just this: Messy, me re-framing while sitting on a tree root. My daughter hugging me so happily after she un-clipped her harness form the climbing rope. The air cool and clean and the trees not caring about my flaws.




May 11

Fear & Freckles


Photo by K. Kelley

The years lay down a soundtrack that no one can fall asleep to. Isn’t that why Buddhists ask us to clear the mind? What do you want to believe? That all is suffering, or that each moment is new?

When I take the time to really look at your freckles, I find the path out of my misery.

But still and yet.

So much is unknown. Like the end of the story. Where the arc of history is leading. If her story ever becomes as important as what he said, what he wanted, what he claimed as his.

Yes, I need more freckles and less rage.

A Buddhist I follow tells me fear is under all the anger. Yeah, fear that the world will never change. “Be the change you that wish to see in the world.” Do I need to deviate and tell you who said that? (Writer Brian Morton tells us there is MORE to this bumper-sticker rendition of it.) Will it matter, this being the best me I can be even if I can’t read the news due to the overwhelming grief that bleeds all over my skin as I read it?

The dictionary says faith is complete trust. People who practice religion tell me their faith wavers. Is faith a living thing? Water what you want to grow. My head is full of so much thought. Still, I’m going to water those freckles. And practice turning away from the news while I learn how to swim in the suffering.

May 10


Blue hills

Advice by Nancy Schatz Alton

“In fact it takes a long time to realize/ your suffering is of very little consequence/ to anyone but you.” –Melissa Stein, from “Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

When the suffering comes the entire house sleeps

Or it feels like that

But the noises tell you otherwise

The rain drips from the gutter

The fridge cycles on and off

Your daughter turns over

Maybe she wakes for two seconds.

Still, the dark is your only company

And she doesn’t make tea

She is silent

Remember how the teens told you

The speaker advised them not to give advice

When friends complain?

How ridiculous, said your teens,

We want advice!

They aren’t 47.

At 16, there’s an answer that sounds right

Existentialism is different at every age

And suffering has consequences:

Some people will leave you when you are ugly

Some people won’t.

Some will say as they drive you to get you finger stitched up

Why don’t you go ahead and cry?

This is a consequence of love

Both the leaving and the staying

You get to grieve the leaving

Send pictures of the stitches.

Your amazement at how the body heals

Worthy of amazement.

Life’s grand pageant: shared.


May 07

Not Sleeping


Perfect Blue Tube

The endings pile up and I lay awake at night and think about faith. Not faith in a specific God, but faith that all will be well enough. That I will let go of the outcomes for my kids and they will fly well enough, fly away from me. My oldest stretches and leans away from me hard. If I try to peck closer in: snap, stand back.

And it’s not a hard snap. It’s a lie-awake-at-night and think about faith snap. How my faith in institutions wanes but my faith in my kids grows. It has to grow because their time needing me to hold them all up: it’s over.

A song blows in my ear: “This is how the summer ends.”

Summer isn’t ending, but a new season has been approaching for such a very long time. I’ve been saying hello to it again and again.

Last night I thought about faith. How the world is asking me to have some faith that all will be well enough. To recognize that my friends and family and strangers hold me up. And they’ll hold up my kids, too. That I can fall asleep before my eldest is done with her homework. And she’ll call my name an hour later and I’ll fumble awake. What does she need?

She needed help pulling down her blind.

That’s it. That’s all she needed.

I’m starting to be more silent. Don’t ask about the geometry. Or the small plans. Or the big life plan. Lay in your bed late and night and decide you need some faith.

I wake up in the morning and I have more faith. Which gives me more love. And I hand it out for free.






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