Feb 03

A Full Day’s Work by 9am

Author photoYesterday I wrote a Facebook post about how parenting is hard, and I asked people to compliment a parent even if the only compliment you could come up with was about their shoes. Because who doesn’t love shoes?

I made sure to note that I was not having a hard time parenting at that exact moment. I don’t want to belabor my own difficulties and I was truly in a good space.

Today I’m OK but by 9am I felt like going back to bed. I woke up a few times last night with a pain in my breast. Which means I probably pulled a muscle in my chest or that I’m subconsciously worried because at age 45 I hear about new cancer diagnoses way too often. So I throw myself out of bed and take a shower and make the coffee and sit on the couch and drink the coffee and try to simmer an almost life-long fear of cancer. Because, you know, I have to wake the kids up for school.

And I wake the kids up for school. The tween has decided she is sick as soon as she opens her eyes to look at me. The teen doesn’t move. I enlist the husband’s help with the teen. I ask the tween to go through the motions of the morning before we decide if she needs to stay home.

And the details are minute and boring, but the next 45 minutes were full of what to do. A thermometer. No temp. The husband thinking it’s something else. The tween saying no. Me noting that she felt sick after school yesterday and rebounded, recalling she was worried about a science test yesterday and on Monday she was worried about not getting math and possibly needing to repeat 4th grade. The teen turning into her chipper self after almost not making it out of bed. (Aside: how does she do that? I want some of that.)

After we decide the tween should try school this morning, she tells me about her teacher telling some kids (not her) that 4th grade may be repeated if they don’t write proper headings on their papers. We have her place of worry. The tween repeated kindergarten and even though I reassured her two days ago that she won’t be repeating 4th grade, well, a science test on the parts of the human body that she might fail today, surely I’m wrong and she will have to repeat 4th grade.

My sensitive tween makes me remember my sensitive days in late elementary school. Going home early because my stomach ached with worry. The parties I wasn’t invited to. The girl who slapped me. Being taunted for being smart. The comfort of home. The warm TV, the meal I got to eat in front of it, the books I read that took me far away from my achy stomach.

Oh, if we could all wrap ourselves up in the comforts of home, the ills just outside the front door dissipate and almost disappear.

But the trick is that we have to step through that front door and face those fears so we realize we aren’t repeating 4th grade. The science test score doesn’t matter. Love does. The girl who slapped you in 5th grade makes really good copy now. My sensitive soul is good at wrapping my girl up in the love she needs. My husband’s can-do attitude gets the kids out the front door in the morning.

And I’m sitting here piling through my emotions recalling an email I read while drinking that morning coffee. In it, Meghan Leahy wrote:

“When emotions don’t move, they can become toxic. Aggression. Depression. Anxiety. Numbing out.

Big emotions in our children are messy, often inconvenient, and sometimes scary.

But they are normal. They are needed. They are human.

Here’s a mantra: All emotions are welcome in this family.

My emotions are moving right now, finding a place on the page. I put them here knowing that giving them to you is just what I do. In case you need these words. Watching my tween wave goodbye and knowing she was really OK, well, that’s a long day’s work all done by 8:15 in the morning. My Facebook post yesterday was right. Parenting is hard work. And my shoes look good.





Jan 25

The Not-Striving Place

photoLIZLately I yearn to be done with striving. Wouldn’t it be nice not to strive, I think. Just who am I striving for?

Often I find myself striving for my family. And this is good except when it isn’t. Except that they all can strive for themselves.

When my tween is sick and her teacher emails and asks if we can catch her up on some work before she comes back to school, everything in me aches as I read the email. I already pushed my youngest to do her reading tutoring and it took bribing her, a trip to Starbucks with my gift card.

Even as I say no, I think how much I want to push her to strive to be the best ever student. This vision of how I aimed to be the best student long ago stops me. Screech. Striving led to pats on my head and 5th place and 2nd place and my name on a column in the high school paper. Which led to never being good enough and so much time in my bed surrounded by too much darkness.

To strive. Like the locker poster I can still see in my head, pasted on the Seniors’ lockers one day during my high school years, an ad from Time Magazine: “To be the best. What else is there.” Lee Iacocca.

My new yoga class for people with bad backs is the antithesis of striving. The teacher laughs when she is nervous, and it reminds me that showing nerves is OK. And we almost do nothing in class and this is the closest my back and hip and calve muscles have gotten to feeling better in years.

To not strive. After I told the teacher no homework for the tween, I drove through so much rain to pick up my cranky teen. She unloaded her angst on me and I pushed my way through making dinner. And my husband walked in and said barely nothing and my grief and anger and tears erupted. I am so done with striving. My animal tears wouldn’t stop and they almost stopped me from going to yoga.

But my friend texted and says I could cry at yoga. She picked me up and took in my tears as we stood in the hallway where all the shoes watched us.

It’s OK to be angry, she said.

It’s OK to be full of grief about so many things, she said.

It’s OK to be tired from taking in your teen’s emotional energy. From being her safe place and taking all of her tears and angst in, she said.

And I can take your anger, your grief, your tiredness, and your tears, she said.

We’ll need a drop off time, I said.

And we chuckled just a bit as my tears found their end.

I walked into my gentle yoga class and practiced not striving. It’s a remarkably easy yet hard place to be. I think I’ll stay for a good long while.





Jan 18

She’s Turning 14

deception6You know what? When your daughter’s almost 14, there no holy crap she’s a teenager. There’s more, oy vey with a swear word in between she’s almost ready to leave. Except she’s not. She’s still her baby self when she’s sick, especially on the weekends when she’d like to be hanging out with her best friend.

I never planned for this, these days as a parent. Some kids practice being parents. Some people plan their whole lives for the day they hold that baby in their arms. And then there are people like me. I think I assumed I’d be a parent but I more deeply assumed I’d never marry. I never dated anyone more than a handful of months until I met my husband. I was firmly sure of the fact that no one wanted to put up with me on a long term basis. Heck, it’s taken until age 45 for me to figure out a good enough way to put up with myself on a daily basis. (Side note on how to live each day well enough: coffee, write poetry, walk outside, text like-minded friends when things feel dire, lean on that man you married. Remember feelings change.)

But these days as a parent, I’m constantly learning how to parent these girls that are in front of me. And the front-runner has all the scrapes and bruises of my learning deep lessons. I marvel at how my husband sees parenting as intuitive, and how it’s taken me 14 years to know he’s mostly right but some of us need a lot of extra help. Yes, I need the parenting classes. I need to interview parenting coaches for my work life to cull plans for my real life. I need to read all those articles I find online to find out who this mother inside me is.

This mother inside me is marveling that I finally feel like I got the hang of this. I finally feel expert enough to find a quiet space so I can hear my own answers when parenting hands me a question. What parenting hands me right now is a girl about to turn 14. Her hair reaches the middle of her back as she wonders why it won’t grow longer. She wears clip-on earrings high up on her ears and these pieces of metal are secrets that are hidden in the glory of the rich waves of her thick brown tresses.

This girl is calmer than her mama, except when she isn’t. And then she asks me with her complaining to push her towards her own tears. And cry she does. After she hugs me so deep. She hugs me on and off all day long most days still. And for that I thank all the parenting wisdom I sought outside of myself. Most of that wisdom comes from one of my oldest friends, who did me a favor when she undertook studying parenting seriously at the Neufeld Institute. I dabble in this institute’s teachings, taking from it that parenting is about the relationship. Build the walls of your parent-child relationship out of the sturdiest wood. Let it bend in the wind. Let it whisper its truths as it groans in the night. Let the rain fall upon it and bring blankets and cushions to make yourself as comfortable as possible.

And when the almost 14-year-old girl offers her arms to you for yet another hug, fall in as deeply as the girl will allow. Hold on, then let go. Tighten then loosen. Loosen then tighten. Sing happy birthday as loud as you can. You are each others for life. That much you know for sure. That much makes the flight patterns that grow ever larger from your holy home easier to marvel at. She soars as your heart beats out the rhythm you learned together.



Jan 14

Break into Blossom

PoetryDo you ever think about the fact that the older we become, the more like a collage we are? And have you weaved that in with the idea that spinning toward the positive with every word you speak can really unravel a bad day?

Yes, I’m in poetry speak mode today. But I just read a Modern Love column about a man who decided to skip the small talk on every first date. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so instead I’ll tell you that the article hit the collage I call myself and landed on the day I apologized to an old boyfriend for the horrible ending to our friendship.

We were no longer dating when our friendship ended, and it ended over my big mouth, the way I talked all my stuff out with anyone who would listen, so someone overheard something I said about him and offered up the tidbit at a dinner party in front of many people. Bam, friendship over.

With the advent of Facebook, I looked this old friend up. With age, as that collage grows with scrap after scrap of life experiences, one grows wistful for the people you knew in your early 20s. I wanted to say sorry as my sentimental soul remembered how much I really liked him. I sent him an overwrought email filled with a big I’m sorry.

No small talk. No do you have kids? I see you own a bike shop. How’s that weather back in my old state? Not that I could have used small talk when what I knocked on his door with was an apology for my gossip. My verbal throw-up back then felt like unpaid therapy (it so wasn’t, luckily I had a therapist, too) but was a a talky way to figure out those crazy college relationships.

But what my old boyfriend/friend handed me back was beauty. Out of the grace of his being, he typed me a reply that said what he remembered most from our friendship. He said when he thinks of me he remembers lying on our backs and looking at the stars on a night in Chicago.

What if I remembered everything like that? The best parts. Not the angst-ridden endings that are a part of life too. But the part of the relationship that breaks into blossom. Teaching my friend (who later died of cancer) how to ice skate on a rink behind my house. Watching Pete climb the trestles of a bridge across the Mississippi. The 8-mile runs with my old running partner, even when we managed to argue. Because 8 miles gives you time for apologizing and telling one more story that has nothing to do with your argument over whether true love exists.

This is why I read my horoscopes. Yes, yes, these are fiction, right? But who doesn’t want to try to turn a prediction of a 4 kind of day into a 9 kind of day? And my horoscope for 2016 that says a supernova will teach me the stuff stars are made of this year? I’m on it. I’m making star stuff every time I remember that there’s a bit of beauty leftover from the ugliest endings. Like the way I turned on the radio to cheer up my depressed 4 0’clock self and “Footloose” was song number four. Joyful dance break time. You can’t make this stuff up. But you can make up your own meaning.

Jan 04

The Eternal Motherhood Cunundrum

I watch Jada Pinkett Smith get fierce on camera about what it means to be a mother in this world. How we put ourselves last. About how we are expected to put our children first, our husbands second, and ourselves last. I watch her daughter listen contentedly. I think about how her daughter has been trained to be on camera, listening to her mother. There is another woman listening, too I think it is a grandmother. She is intent on hearing Jada speak.

Everything Jada says is true. How we have our children and we are passionately in love, in love like we have never been before. We gladly put ourselves last. Our husbands are passionately in love, too. But maybe they are perplexed at how in love their wives are with these children. How quickly I cast my own husband aside, holding tight to that first baby.

How I still lay awake at night and think about my babies, now tween and teen, and how Chris fits in the picture of all this unconditional love.

Meanwhile Jada’s voice raises with her earnestness. How she had to learn to put herself on her to-do list and take care of herself every single day before the day is over.

Yes, I’ve learned the hard way that I have to do this, too. I have learned if I don’t take care of me I get mad at my daughters and Chris. Mostly I get mad at Chris because he’s not me. Which is ridiculous. Thank God both of us don’t lay awake and listen to make sure the children are asleep. One of us needs to sleep deeply. Because in the morning, Chris pops out of bed and makes us all strawberry pancakes. While I try to catch up on lost sleep.

Meanwhile, Jada talks. Her voice gets loud just like mine does. She is mad at the status quo: how women are expected to give everything up for their children. If we lose ourselves in child rearing, what do we do when the children seek independence?

Oh man, all I know is my children have not been trained to be quiet on camera while I tell them how hard motherhood is. They know how hard motherhood is because I tell them so (Darn it, I shouldn’t do that!) and I often I put myself last. And then I lose it and they know mom will disappear for all of Saturday. I go work at a coffee shop. Get my haircut. Walk to the library. Walk around Green Lake. Then I come back home and hug my family.

Jada is done talking at the camera and her daughter and the grandmother nod and say “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

We are never done figuring out balance in our lives. Once those children are birthed, baby we are amazed and confused. How to live with this much love and still reach for our goals? How to make sure our children learn to live well enough and reach for their own dreams while we live well enough and reach for ours?

Minute by minute, day by day, we make our way in the most important relationships in our lives. How do we take care of each other while loving each other fiercely? Probably by watching the dogs we love. They immediately figure out that the new living room carpet we bought is the perfect place to breathe deeply. Indu takes two pieces of her food to the carpet, places them there, and rolls all over that spot.

rug16Yes, yes! Eat on the carpet. My blog has lost all sense of reason. That is what having children is: getting lost in love, and then figuring out how to live within that love while loving yourself too. Where’s the camera? I’m going to post a video of my dogs explaining this to us. One will be fetching a tennis ball and the other will be playing with a stuffed animal. But it will make perfect sense because no one will be talking.

Happy New Year! I promise my next blog will make more sense than this one. It’ll have a beginning, middle and end. But there won’t be a video of Jada Pinkett Smith in it.






Dec 10

Macalester Blues

WebsiteI saw a man at the grocery store with a Macalester baseball hat on. Brand new. Brilliant royal blue with the college name in orange. The grey-haired man wore glasses. I gasped as I saw the hat, so relieved to see one of my people in the upscale-grocery store.

“You’re wearing a Macalester hat?” I said. “I went there. 92. Did you go there? Have a kid there?”

“I went there, 65,” he answered. “I just went back for my 50th in June.”

“I miss it. I think about it all the time,” I said.

“Yeah, it was a very important part of my life,” he says to me.

We tell each other it was nice to meet each other as we leave the store and enter the grey, windy, rain soaked day. I drink him and his hat up one more time and turn back toward the rain, which hits my Barack Obama hat. And I start to cry. Again. I was crying in my car before I shopped. I’m giving myself permission to be sad about my friend dying even though I’ve not seen him in person in more than 20 years. I’m giving in to the overwhelming sadness that I couldn’t help him when he emailed me a few weeks ago. That I had nothing to give, only the knowledge that he was in deep.

I’m traveling back through the rain to my own rainy days. Pete’s ghost infiltrates these early December days. I push back against the thought that I have no right to feel so deeply. The man in the Macalester hat gives me permission to push aside the idea that it’s not my turn to grieve. It’s my turn to grieve what can’t be, what never was. And I grieve what was. My youth. Those days at Mac that formed who I became. Those years right after college. Those times when I was so scared to step into my future. All the moments I really wanted Peter to come with me into that art world just beyond not believing we could be artists. If I grabbed another soul like mine, could we jump past not believing into our bright futures?

I didn’t grab Pete and go. I grabbed myself and left St. Paul behind. I took one suitcase, hard, off-white, with brass closures. A one-way train ticket. I thought about Peter and how he liked to ride trains. I couldn’t stay in St. Paul. I wouldn’t let myself become who I wanted to be there. I don’t know why there was fear around every corner there, but there was.

I took myself and rolled away on a midnight train. A Mac friend met me at the station with a bottle of champagne. Lee and my parents toasted my leaving and I broke my parents’ hearts as we raised those glasses. But I knew it would be easier to breath in Seattle. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew.

And this morning I cried in my car after meeting the man in the Macalester hat. Because not everyone makes it. We are so good at talking about people who rise up past their pasts, triumphant. I raise these words to my friend who didn’t make it. I cried in the car for not being able to say the exact right words when you wrote me about your darkness a few weeks ago. If I could, I would, if I could I would have pushed you into the now. So it wouldn’t be your ghost that I’m dancing with right now. I wouldn’t be typing these words at all. I wouldn’t be flashing back into the past, to the people we used to be, striving to grow up and out into the world past Macalester. God, I miss that safe place and who we used to be there.

Dec 09

Oh, Peter

rocks“Sometime you hate everything.”

That’s what my friend wrote to me ten days before he died.

I didn’t want to look back on our email interaction when I heard the news of his death. Because reading his typed words the first time was bad enough. I hadn’t seen Peter since I was in my early 20s, but he was a life raft of a friend. And this typed correspondence between us wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I can’t even remember the last time we emailed back and forth with each other.

“Sometime you hate everything.”

What do you say back to someone you know is hurting but you haven’t talked to person to person, live voice to live voice, in more than 20 years? You respond the way you always did with this kindred soul. You call up your poet self for this photographer friend.

I typed, “And sometimes the black turns blue turns red then orange.”

“True,” Peter wrote back to me.

Now I look at the time stamp, just like I did the first time he wrote his words to me. Up in the middle of the night, typing his poet friend. Probably the only reason he wrote to me was because I sent him a poem three days prior. A poem that spoke of our bond so long ago, that called up a hard summer that often found me biking to his house in search of his total acceptance.

With Peter, I didn’t need to talk, I just needed to track him down. Tracking him down wasn’t easy, but when I did, his door was always open. In fact, I could just go sit on his mom’s couch and wait for Peter to return. If his mom showed up, I tried to be as quiet as a person who is a ghost, with the hopes that Kay wouldn’t see me. Because Kay couldn’t see me due to her blindness. But she always heard ghosts, especially skinny girl ghosts who are battling depression as they enter their 20s.

“Hi, Nancy!” Kay would call out to me.

And then, blessedly, she’d leave me alone. Eventually Peter would show up. Upon seeing me, happiness would run across his face. “Hey Nancy! What’s up?” he’d say.

And he’d mean it, but I wouldn’t have to spell out anything. If I showed up at midnight, he’d just swing the porch door open and offer me a beverage. If his brother Andy hassled him about my presence, he’d brush off his words and tell me sure, I could stay overnight. And sleep. I couldn’t sleep that summer but I could always sleep at Peter’s house. The grace in his attic room was like a whisper with no words.

I sent Peter my prose poem a few days before he wrote to me that he hated everything:

Perfect Thunder and Heat Lightning

Have you ever lived in a tree-top apartment, one you reached by climbing up a set of wooden steps? Did you sit on outside, atop the house, perched just so, smoking with your artist roommate? Did you reach that sacred space by climbing out the window? Was it so hot that summer you sweat while perched in front of the turning fan blades? Was your bed a futon, your favorite time the lightning storms? Did you ride your blue bike through the dark night to your friend Peter’s house? The friend who knew you well enough to just let you in so you could rest your head upon his pillow and finally get some sleep. God, the thunder that summer was the sound of relief, your feelings sung out loud within each deep boom. And you never remember which comes first, the thunder or the lightning, but that light, the way it claimed the sky, you wanted to claim the whole world with your words screamed out loud. Oh poet, my poet, the summer of living in the treetop apartment that would be cut down by fall, cut to the ground with your bathtub on the lawn. You’ll never be 20 again and that old best friend, you’ll conjure him up sometimes. The way he knew you best because there was no need to talk with him. He understood when you finally wanted quiet, the need you took to him, how next to him you finally let yourself fall into deep, dark sleep.

And he wrote back. He even sent a 4 second audio clip. Can I admit I never listened to the audio until today? Because it was clear Peter was not in his right mind when he wrote back. Was he drunk? The last time I spoke of Peter to a former girlfriend of his, I was 31. She talked of his drinking, how she thought drinking was robbing him of possibilities. Hearing this broke part of my heart off, and it fell like a shard of glass that didn’t make a sound as it hit the carpet flooring.

Still, after talking to her, I called him as I stood in my former hometown airport of St. Paul before flying back to my now home in Seattle. I think it’s the last time we talked by phone, but I’m not sure. I told him all my happy news. I had no idea of how to dig into his life, nor did I have any right. But man, it was nice to hear him say he wasn’t surprised that I was a professional writer by then, or that I was going to be a mom. Always, always, Peter was present for me when I could reach him. I’m not sure how present I was for him.

I wasn’t present for his garbled reply two weeks before his death. I listen to the audio clip now and there’s no sense in it. Is he saying “Thief?”

Death is a thief that took Peter from his hotel room in D.C. and now his human form won’t be back. I wonder if I had done anything differently would I not have heard news of his death. And I don’t know how he died. I email with one of Peter’s oldest friends, but he doesn’t divulge and I don’t push him to tell. It feels wrong to pry and what does it matter? Peter’s dead.

I sigh when I ponder about how I don’t think we can save other people. We can still show up for them, though. I’m not sure I showed up for him a few weeks ago even as Peter’s email interaction with me mirrors our friendship. We were two sensitive artists and I sent him my words now and again. A few months ago he posted on Facebook that I taught him more about poetry than any class ever did. He taught me about showing up without judgment, a hello and a smile always offered.

I’d love to berate myself and say I could have done better. I know I could have done better, but I leave the berating behind. I don’t even know how Peter was during these last 20 years, just words through the grapevine.

Two days later, he send me a free Uber ride coupon. And I felt sick to my stomach every time I thought about it. I didn’t reply but the word Uber occasionally flashed across my mind. Peter, I’d think and then ask the air, are you O.K.?

I’m so human. I both want to know and don’t want to know how Peter was these last 20 years or so. Instead I contemplate how peaceful I felt around Peter. How he could give me a compliment and I could take it in, no small feat for a Minnesota-raised girl. How I could sleep next to him and not fear the dark. Isn’t that what everyone wants in a friend? I wish the peace that Peter gave me upon Peter now. Oh ghost Peter, I wish your peaceful presence most for your mom Kay. May you sit with her in her living room, a being of light, at last.

Ever since I heard Peter was gone, he’s more alive than I care to admit, in front of me, all sweet Peteness before me. And his last words to me play on repeat. His physical form transformed, what remains is the hard, true string of words in my e-mail box.

“Sometime you hate everything,” wrote Peter.

I reply, “and sometimes the black turns blue turns red then orange.”


Nov 17

Nothing to Say

Jan15.2The wooden gate marks a beat with no beat. The wind is winning my attention. The rain is pulsing out a rhythm. It’s Tuesday and although the world outside my window is all wetness, I just saw a bee (or what looked like a bee) fly by.

The rain moves at a slant, right to left, and I sit with the sense that I’m making it up as I go along. A leaf dances up the roof then down and then the air takes it away from my line of sight.

I think about Karen Maezen Miller’s Facebook post this morning, which said something like this: if you have nothing to say, how about not saying it? And I’ve mangled her words but it’s OK, because Bach is playing all around me and the wind adds in a tune no one can hum.

A friend texted me this weekend and said she shared one of my favorite phrases with someone she knows. It’s not my phrase. I stole it from Jane, who most likely captured it from somewhere else. It’s a thought older than me and one that took me forever to believe. It goes something like this: people are pretty good at saving themselves.

I don’t claim to have stepped fulling into this idea, but I do know that when Jane said this to me, it was the first time I really heard it. Who knows how long the world had been trying to teach me this phrase? People are pretty good at saving themselves.

Maybe I couldn’t believe it until I gave myself credit for saving myself. Maybe I’ve given myself credit for saving myself before, but maybe I was pissed when I said it. I wanted someone to save me, god damn it!

You have to save, save yourself.

There’s a poem that used to play on repeat in my head. It went something like this: No one’s going to do it for you, you have to save, save yourself. And now I’ve claimed a version words by an author who I can’t recall. But we sit with each other when we long for saving, and if we are lucky, sometimes the person who sits across from us is silent.

Yes, I read about this exact idea in Oprah last night while I ate my dinner. Martha Beck writes that the best way to help someone is to “hang around, being healthy and stable. …You must remain cheerfully unconcerned as your loved one enters Hell.”

Or, as a wise sibling has been overheard saying, “This is not your death.”

Oy, the wind, the rain, the deadlines I’m ignoring, they bring me right to death.

I’m no Martha Beck. I’m no savior except for myself. I’ve been the loudest, most unhelpful friend. The day my friend Jane said “People are pretty good at saving themselves,” I looked at her with so much surprise on my face. Did my jaw fall down as my mouth popped open?


You have to save, save yourself. Still, the saying I have hanging on my wall still stands. “Come and sit a spell with me. My home is warm and my friendship’s free.”

The lights keep blinking on and off as I wonder how long the power will hold. The rain still slants downward from right to left and the gate creaks alongside the sound of the wind. Bach adds aching cello music to the noise created by today’s weather. I have nothing to say even as I said it with so many words right here.

Oct 28

My Bleeding Heart, Examined

IMG_2613So often I don’t know how to start writing. Especially on happy mornings like the one I’m living right now. The girls don’t have school and I laughed when Chris tried to wake us all up. I loved his befuddlement, the way he called out, “Are you up yet?”

Even though we’ve been talking about this long block of hours (5 days!) we have off from school, it didn’t seep fully into his brain. While I poured coffee, I asked if all of us staying up late didn’t clue him in. Yes, he thought it weird, but not weird enough not to flash the hall lights on in hopes of rousing KK and Annie out of bed.

How to write of such simple joys when yesterday small griefs called to me again and again? Why did the past peck at me then? Every old grief felt like a paper-cut on my slowly leaking but still beating heart. I typed to a friend. “My heart actually hurts today.”

At dinner Chris read my horoscope to see if the cause could be attributed to star alignment. Yes! My day was a 4! No wonder I found myself telling my husband about pictures of high school friends vacationing together celebrating 35 years of friendship.

“Why am I not celebrating 35 years of friendship?” I asked.

“Why do they need to post it on Facebook?” asked Chris.

Why do I need to keep looking at Facebook on days that I know I shouldn’t be on Facebook? I wish I had replied with this Rumi quote to him, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

Yesterday I was irritated by every rub but by bedtime my mirror felt newly polished. It was fine and good to fall down the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO!) rabbit hole as darkness played at the edges of our living room. We talked of how I’ve always dreamed of belonging to some larger friendship group, to post those pictures on my Facebook wall. To write on my blog, “I spent the weekend with my oldest friends. We learned to crawl together and on the shores of Lake Tahoe we talked about our teens!”

Although I dream the dream of a sorority of sisters that I call on from every past decade of my life, the truth is something I actually have to dig for. My husband points out I’ve worked hard to find like-minded people to call my friends. I agree that I have and I’ve learned I love quiet nights out or in with one or two or five friends. Sometimes I love to dance at a large party, but really, I don’t love this very often.

I point out how often I’ve been wrong about friendships, though. How they’ve dissolved before my eyes, never for lack of trying to make circles out of squares. How the idea of friendships running their course always breaks my heart in two. And Chris is there to help me make that list of all the people I call friend as I try to put two pieces of heart back together again in one flawed, paper-cut-ridden heart.

Good lorsh, this is why I’m a list maker. As soon as Chris asks me to note all the people who love me that I love back, the bleeding starts to coagulate. And finally I’m noticing how the lamps make circles of light on the now dark walls. Oh, I am home and the house is warm and this man I married carries thread in his pocket to help me stitch myself together again.

Today feels lovely not only because the girls are home from school but because yesterday I dissolved into my red, red heart and really let myself take a good look around.


Oct 08

A Safe Place Called Home

5KA few years ago I was beautifully and impossibly stuck in grief. Why would I use the word beautifully? Goodness, that’s ridiculous and insanely weird. What’s beautiful about all those tears that streamed down my face as I pushed this rock that I thought of as my daughter’s learning issues up a hill?

She repeated kindergarten. I repeated beating myself up for not getting help sooner. As I watched her struggle and realized the depth of her despair, I thought, oh, it’s my fault, let me add more rocks to the pile and I’ll keep pushing her up the hill as she learns how to read and count and not be afraid of the dark.

In reality, I was pushing this rock that was myself up the hill. A friend said to me, this is her rock to push. You just have to get out of her way. This friend was quietly telling me to deal with my stuff. Lord, I have stuff, rocks and rocks and years and years of stuff. I hardly worked during these years of despair. Instead my work was sitting in my office and crying as I wrote about those rocks and rocks and years and years of stuff that I needed to clear away so I could see her.

I wrote an entire rough draft of a memoir about my daughter learning how to read and count and not be afraid of the dark. People read it and told me it was too dark. So I added moments of lightness and happiness. Wait, I thought, despite the hard tutoring sessions my family managed to have fun. As I wrote I saw we were getting through something but that friend was right. This getting through was a lot about me figuring my shit out. I wrote five drafts of that memoir.

I couldn’t let go of that memoir. I wanted it easily published so I could say, look, I turned despair into beauty and grief into pretty words. I signed up for a nine month long memoir class and told myself I needed to find an agent who would sell that book by the end of the memoir class.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could write right here that my memoir is coming out in a few months? That rock I pushed up the hill that I thought was my daughter but was really myself, we are done pushing that rock up the hill. Ha, I dropped out of the memoir class. Taking a class actually made me stop working on the book. I didn’t know how to fix the manuscript to make it as good as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. People in the class had real problems, too. Who wants to read a book about a girl who has dyslexia and her inconsolable mom? Why can’t this woman stop crying? Dyslexia? WTF?

I wanted perfection but as soon as I stopped writing the memoir I looked around. My life was pretty great and that daughter of mine who I was doing an excellent job of helping was learning how to read. She could finally count up to and past the number 30 (30, her brain didn’t want to learn the number 30 for 6 months, I kid you not). As her worry over being stupid waned, I learned to call her fear of the dark anxiety. Wait, I’m anxious. Reading about her anxiety soothed my anxiety. I saw writing the manuscript had cleared me out of many cobwebs, too.

And I didn’t pick up my pen again. I laid down the rock of creating the greatest memoir ever about the scintillating topic of dyslexia because in truth the book is about the mom who can finally see her daughter by word number 80,000. And her daughter is beautiful and smart and learning and still afraid of the dark.

And the mom no longer thinks of learning differences or disabilities or whatever you want to call them as rocks that we need to push up the hill. They’re just parts of my girl, like her singing voice and sense of humor and her love of big words with many syllables. And the rock that is my stuff? Oh, some days it’s heavy and I have to write a poem or an essay or cry a ton or walk a few miles until I ease my grief. Mostly though, my beautiful grief that I spilled all over the pages of my manuscript found a home and I changed into someone who’s so glad I wrote a manuscript that may or may not ever be fixed or published or famous. I’m no longer impossibly stuck.

I want a ribbon or a bow to tie up these words that I just wrote for you. There’s no ribbon or bow. There’s still a girl that cries over homework and is years behind in math. And there’s a manuscript I do want to work on again someday. But I’ve stopped thinking of her learning issues as heavy boulders. I’m not Sisyphus and I know my daughter is strong enough to manage her problems if I’m at home waiting to gather her in my arms. At night I lay in the dark with her, hoping someday soon she’ll learn to like night time more, too. But mostly I’m just enjoying the dark and the privilege of laying with my girl as I marvel at the years we survived to get to this beautiful safe place we call home.





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