Apr 30

Learning to See


I see the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurch with an ache that’s familiar as my daughter’s profile.

My girl didn’t go on the choir weekend. We paid for the trip. She never really wanted to go. We planned and plotted and called it scaffolding.

The day before the trip, she stayed home sick from school.

We prepped anyway. I steeled myself, grieved a bit, thought to myself, ‘she might not go.”

I hoped she would go. Before she was sick, I knew it would be hard to send her off. I also knew she’d have fun, she’d grow into the weekend because her choir director had her back.

My closest friends told me it was OK if she didn’t go. Good God, we wanted her to go. Our older daughter was on a choir trip already. My older daughter is nothing like my younger daughter. She’s been going to sleepover camp since she was 10. She never turns around to catch a glance of me after she walks toward wherever she is going. She is going, going, almost gone.

That’s not my younger daughter. It’s safe to say my younger daughter needs me 200 percent more than my older daughter.

I’m writing this because I saw the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurched with an ache that’s as familiar as my daughter’s profile.

My daughter woke up Saturday morning and the first thing she said was she didn’t want to go on the choir trip.

We didn’t have a graceful morning. We want so much for our daughter to grow into independence faster than she wants to grow into it. We did have a graceful enough morning. She stayed home.

And we didn’t stay home. We went clamming on our favorite beach. An eagle swooped before us and picked up a vole and carried the vole to his/her ending. We drove to our favorite town by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We hiked in the rain and were stopped by the hooting of two owls talking to each other. One owl flew by us to meet the other owl on a tree branch nearby. I read Sam Hamill’s poetry on the sculptures in the woods. Our youngest sat on a statue with our dog nearby and my husband snapped a picture that captured the moment. The moment says our youngest was happy: happy to be with us.

I’m writing this because I saw the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurched with an ache that’s as familiar as my daughter’s profile.

To really see my daughter, I have to keep adjusting what I want. It doesn’t feel easy when I see the girls who seem happy to be on the choir trip. There’s an ache. There’s an ache that I have to meet with the truth: my daughter loved staying home. She’ll grow into her independence on her time table, not mine. And then I’ll miss her the way I miss my older daughter. Because life is weird. And while my ache feels real, her profile in front of me is more real than a picture that she isn’t in.


Apr 26



By Nancy Schatz Alton


I’m on the edge of something.

Its curves lead to my flaws,

the messes I’ve made,

the ruptures followed by repair.


I’m dancing to Prince.

My youngest returns all notes

with her perfect pitch

We’re weaving a story out of song.


One of my oldest friends

hands me back myself:

an introvert who parades as an extrovert

a girl who can’t stop singing.


I find an old hat.

Everyone in the family

tries it on.

We all wear it best.


I’m opening paint cans.

every brush is colored orange.

My skin glows pumpkin.

My daughter snaps a picture.


I’m standing on the S-curve.

I’ve forgotten all the math.

I let go of the equation.

I let the music move me.



Apr 23



Dale Chihuly glass art


I’m empty-handed & full

plate-cleared & almost satiated.

I stare—open-mouthed—at babies & mamas

while nodding at the woman with the teary-eyed teen.

My amazement never ends,

my how-did-I-get-here verbalized,

my seething annoyance at too-much-science homework

handed down—generation by generation.

I want more-more-more!

just like my baby who tore pieces from me:

which I no longer want back.

I open up my palms—wide & say to the universe:

Thank you.

-Nancy Schatz Alton, 4.23.2018


Apr 17

The Nest


I want to be in the choir. In step with the people who are snapping their fingers, stomping their feet, slapping their legs. Harmonizing. I am out of step but fully ready to immerse myself in joy. To say I belong even if I’m out of tune and still learning the song.


I grab backwards and flip through old pictures. There I am: in cross country. At camp. College. Young, tiny, beautiful. Experiencing belonging outside of my home.


My daughters are in choirs. They can’t snap their fingers, but they can sing in tune. They are teens and they are belonging to new worlds. Choir and friendship groups. Camp and school. They belong in our home, too. We make a nest and we settle in. They jump out and fly back in. The nest is always here.


I am in choir with them. Chris is in choir with them. We have a song and a melody. My girls bring us their favorite songs and we bring them our stories. I reflect back their light and I turn my light toward them. I am in the choir. The slip-stream of the now is where I want to be. I gather rocks from the beach and I sweep up dirt. I am weaving a nest for where we are today.


Apr 16



My daughter brought me a song. My Kk handed me a song called “Flaws.” I use it to crack myself open. I listen to the acoustic version and I cry. I cry to touch that place in me that I don’t have access to because it’s deep and scared, scared that someone will see my flaws and run.

Because you know what: not everyone is capable of holding our flaws.

Our flaws.

All of our flaws.

I so want to look up the song lyrics and let them tell this story.

This story of the human journey. How I am close enough to my family to see all of their flaws. To not want to love them. To read the words taped on to my desktop: “The best chance to be whole is to love whatever gets in the way, until it ceases to be an obstacle.” Mark Nepo tells me to love my family’s flaws, to love my own flaws.

Let’s finish what we’ve started.

I wade back to my wedding when my uncle the priest said my husband and I would be mirrors for each other.

Lately everyone in my family seems to be a mirror for me and this mirror is saying: look at my flaws. Love my flaws. Or at least have space enough in your heart to hold my flaws with a bit of grace.

I’ve witnessed my daughter’s anger at getting braces years after her friends had braces. I’ve seen her anger and it looks familiar: it looks like my anger. Oh, anger, hello. Oh, anger, how uncomfortable you make me feel. Like the world can’t love me in my anger. But I can love my daughter and make space for what I’d rather not make space for. All of her flaws, all of my flaws, we wear them. We pick ourselves undone, just like the song says. We open ourselves wide and say: am I still Ok?

I listen to Bastille’s “Flaws,” the acoustic version and I cry. All of my flaws, and all of your flaws, let’s pick ourselves undone. Let’s love each other through the rough patches. And set it to music. I’ll dance although my moves are awkward. I’ll sing even though I can’t match the tune. I’ll come to the dance if you’ll come to the dance. Let’s finish what we’ve started.

*Italicized words are from Bastille’s “Flaws” song.

Apr 13

This Is What You Came For


Photo by K. Kelley

This Is What You Came For

For the call from the accident claim office. To repeat the accident scene. Again. When you don’t want to talk about it anymore because you know the acidic bile in your stomach will churn and rise again.

This is What You Came For

In Capital Letters.

in lowercase letters, what you might miss if you can’t stop thinking about the acidic bile wreaking havoc on your esophagus. you might miss your daughter asking you about Julliard, quietly, while she eats her after-school snack. The girl you worried about incessantly when she didn’t want to go to school and only knew the letter x and the number 0.


“Mom, do you know anything about Julliard?”

To want to go to a performing arts college is enough.

To only want to sing in perfect pitch while listening to music by yourself is enough.

To hear this girl raise her voice in song every day is enough.

It’s enough to calm me down. To think that it’s OK that I get churned up because I know how to calm myself down. I know how to make my girl laugh because I’m willing to act weird. I’m willing to car dance, shrug my shoulders up and down and left and right while adding in hand motions while she sings in perfect pitch as we drive about town.

This is what we came for: the music in between the bile churning times. Can I hear my girl singing? Julliard.



Apr 12



I’ve surrounded myself with pictures of joy. As I sit at my desk, within my line of vision are pictures of people I love smiling with so much joy. My mom, my dad, my husband, myself, my girls. My mom in her 20s, hands on her hips, looking straight at me in the same manner as I like to look at the world sometimes. My husband before I met him, laughing with glee, lanky and bright. Us at our wedding. Chris playing dominoes with me while we were in our 20s before my brother-in-law died. KK at 14; KK as a baby in a backpack. Liz in 5th grade twice; in one of the them she holds a card for me with her Mother’s Day wish for me: love in huge letters and a spa day in small letters.

I’m settling into joy because every day there’s some small mountain of impossibility that arrives as well. A little of this, a little of that. Bliss and hardship. Swallow your joy slowly and completely, says life’s doctor. It’ll sustain you. For sure.

Apr 10

Backward& Forward


Backward & Forward   By NSA

They say the past is gone

turn away

leave it behind


& yet: my smile

confident & dazzling

schools me.


I stare at myself

20 years ago

newly wed


ready &

surrounded by

my childhood


& yet: the hesitant now

no path ahead

no map for the middle-aged.


We are forgotten

& Botox weary

lotioned up


& singing loudly

as our kids

surge past us


into their unknown

how sure they seem

except at 1am, not sleeping.


I am not sleeping

I am hesitant

until I look back


at my smile:

confident & dazzling

I borrow her:


my old self:

excited for my future

I see a path ahead.


I stare at my camera

try to be sure enough

to catch myself here


Startled and dazzling

selfie set

terrified & ready.




Apr 05

I am falling all the way in.


I am eating the breakfast my friend and I used to make together on those lazy long vacation days in Boulder. Back when I was running away from motherhood and into her home to be taken care of. Yogurt, granola, strawberries. It’s nice to take care of myself. Except for when it’s hard to breathe. Then I need the names that show up on my phone. Who reply back to me. Who remind me that I’m lovable even when I can’t breathe. It’s taken so long to turn away from people who no longer find me lovable. To find myself lovable. Even my really tired self who cannot believe my tears are as vast as the stars. The self who looks outward and wants an answer in a blogpost. Until I get to the part that says I need to come up with $1000 for a retreat that will help me birth myself. When I know these tears and those people who love me are enough. Yes, I want to see the Canadian Rockies and work with the very best writing teacher. But more than that I want to believe that not knowing what’s next is where I am supposed to be. I am supposed to be here, tasting the salt that accompanies change. Eating my yogurt-granola-strawberry breakfast out of the soothing peach-colored bowl. Holding on to my love for myself like it’s the shelter from the storm, the refuge that I need, the teacher that I seek. I am falling all the way into myself and calling it home.

Apr 02

Willipa Bay


Every time I land on the Washington coast, there I am: young, seeing the Pacific for the first time. The second time. The third. Every time. How I used to need the Harvard T-shirt bought at a garage sale. How I’ve always had a book with me. Reading: trying to find the answers. Answers. Whatever answer made sense for that trip.

This trip I bring Mark Nepo, who says there is no answer, that the questions keep him alive. I bring my deep sadness at passing time. I bring my middle age tears, which thankfully stop falling for the entire 3-day trip. I can’t find a new book to buy at the bookstore. I grab a bracelet instead. One for my mom, too. The beads similar to the necklace that hung in her room my entire childhood; the one that now hangs in my office.

How much I leave behind only to find it’s all here. The same me, looking for a T-shirt to wear that gives me confidence. Yet I’ve managed to instill confidence in the girls who travel with me. The ones who buoy me with their singing. They sing in tune together with no soundtrack.

Chris still travels with me. I’m still the passenger, slowly learning the coast. How Long Beach juts out, one edge of Willipa Bay. How even the robins look exotic here. How their red breasts are enough. I stand still and let their flying fill me. I am always arriving. I bring my questions with the small knowing that there are no answers. Only this: the robins flying along the tops of the eel grass along Willipa Bay, my family ahead of me walking along the edges of the muddy trail.

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