Operation Make Margaret Happy (or how to decide to not make it your life's work to make anyone happy, even your own dang kids)

There was a period of about six weeks between the question, “Should we move to Oakland?” and the day we got to the city to unpack our old things into a new old house. Those few weeks were full of logistics and the emotion of leaving a place I’d called home for nearly a decade. I was heart hurt over the friends I’d leave, the long drives that would be out of reach, the familiar things that would grow into the unknown once I left them behind. This was all concerning, certainly. But I could breathe through the fears and then against them until they dispersed, or at least, diminished. If I’d only had to deal with the worries my husband and I came up with together…I really think the move would have been a thing of adventure relatively untarnished by worry. 

But I’m a mom. And dealing almost exclusively with the emotions of my partner and myself, is something I gave up when I gave birth to my first child. (An aside:  You know, it’s not that it is so simple dealing with just your heart and the heart of a partner. It’s not that I gave up something easy for something hard. Anyone who’s taken a peak into their own mind on a quiet day can testify to the difficulty of “just” dealing with what exists on the inside. That is no small task and I think we should all - children or no children - take more time to honor it. End of aside.) Viola, at three years old, took to the news and reality of the move with great aplomb. But my oldest daughter, Margaret, was heartbruised at the prospect of moving and and then heartbroken at the initial reality of the thing.

And when I couldn’t help her breathe until the fears scattered, I was heartbroken, too. 

While it seems that my kids’ worries should have a different weight than my own - that years and distance give me more perspective - that isn’t always the case. Because really, for better and sometimes for what seems like worse, their hearts feel like physical extensions of my own. Only I can’t alter the rhythm they beat because they don’t truly belong to me. And I can’t always talk away the simple things they don’t yet understand, because knowledge won through experience is not something you can pour out onto the ground like so many drops of water. 

For the first two weeks, Margaret went to bed crying about having no friends, aching for family, missing a neighborhood she could wander. I cried myself to sleep, too. Because while I knew there would be friends, right now there weren’t. And while I knew this move would make our immediate family even stronger, I worried about the bonds with the people we had left behind. And while this new city held more opportunities than I could yet name, I keenly felt the loss of long walks by green fields and newly bleating lambs. 

So, I decided to put a plan together. I couldn’t steady the beat of her heart, but heaven knows I could help provide the environment and activities that would allow her to do it for herself. My plan had three parts. 

I was certain that by the end of a week after implementation of the plan, everything -EVERYTHING - would be fixed. I, Mother, would make my kid happy. 

Operation Make Margaret Happy

Phase 1: Make our home environment a colorful and stimulating sanctuary. 

This one. Well, this one got off to a rollicking three figure start at World Market. Certainly, I thought, a rug under the kitchen table, curtains around the front windows, MAYBE A FUN PILLOW, will make her feel more at home. And I don’t know…for her bedroom. What about a reading nook? Yeah! So many good ideas! OUR HOUSE WILL BE A HOME AND HER HEART WILL BE HAPPY. It’s so, so simple.

You know, I wasn’t all wrong. It was nice. The rug warmed, the curtains added color and my goodness if that accent pillow didn’t sparkle.  At first, the girls were only mildly impressed with my sanctuary building, but they didn’t know I had an ace up my sleeve. 

The reading nook. 

A holy corner in their room comprised of mismatched quilts and and a flower shaped canopy. Who cares if half way through Project Make House a Home, I ran out of money? So there were no shelves in their room yet and the books spilled out of broken cardboard boxes. No matter! We had a reading nook! I would look at it while I picked my way across the toys and clothes on their floor. Ah, a good mother provides a safe haven. And then I would smile and know it was good. 

That nook with the canopy was GREAT until Viola swung like Jane from it’s netting and tore the damn thing in half. And you know, I cried like a baby when that happened. Because that canopy was my last (until the next paycheck) great hope for sanctuary building. The girls, on the other hand, weren’t nearly as bothered by the whole thing. They’ve been using the carcass of the canopy as a wedding dress (horror) and snake trap (awesome). The books are still housed in the torn cardboard boxes. 

Phase 2 : Create an affirming culture of creation through cooking

I just knew, knew that if I could engage Margaret in cooking every day, she would be find peace in her new circumstances. Because cooking is many things. It is order and control of circumstance. It is a moment to create something entirely new from raw materials. An acknowledgment that our creative power alchemizes (all those different ingredients made this one new thing!) and sustains both spiritually (that divine act of creation!) and physically (we do, after all get to savor and gain nutrients from that new thing we’ve created!). It’s a really miraculous act we get to engage in up to three times a day. And I just knew, I KNEW, that after a week of cooking with me, Margaret would be able to see her new circumstances as so many ingredients with which she could make something new and sustaining. I planned the first day with great care, her favorite recipes, a mise en place that would make Gordon Ramsay blush, lovely music in the background. I ushered her into the kitchen with a smile of great anticipation. 

“Margaret, today, you will learn to cook!” 

She smiled and was really excited at the prospect. For about three minutes. By the third step in the recipe she looked at me and squinched her nose up,

“Um, mom? This is so great. But you know, I just love how you cook this, do you think you need me to do it? And, ummmmm, Viola is coloring in the other room. And I kind of want to do that. And watch an episode of Curious George. This is really fun, but you could do it? And I could go do something more fun? Is that okay?”

I tried briefly to explain the whole alchemy and sustenance thing, but she just kind of smiled at me nervously, like..this is when my mom officially loses it. Right here, in this kitchen, while she compares cut carrots and onions to some pretend process that makes gold. But doesn’t. Because it’s pretend. You know what isn’t pretend? My desire to be on the couch watching Curious George.

I finished making dinner myself and she returned every few minutes to tell me about what that hilarious monkey had gotten himself into this time. 

Phase 3 : Is this a house or a library?

We have always been a reading people, and I thought it was enough. But as Margaret wended her way through our changed circumstances, I decided we could do better. Books carry salvation and we all needed a little saving. 

I started with access. 

Yeah, a lot of their books are still piled in those damn boxes, but I took as many as I could and spread them on the coffee table, every side table, credenza and in all the corners where chair backs meet our old latham plaster walls. A Kinfolk spread this did not create. But it meant that my children cannot escape the books. Which is really all I want out of life. They pick them up and leaf through them, play with their toys on top of them and, sometimes, issue childhood level curses when the books fall on their toes. I think these are all good, immersive experiences. Even the hurt toes. Because that falling book is like, “Hey, I’m here and I’m heavy. Revel in my absolute power!” Or something. Anyways, the books have taken over. And I like it that way. 

Then I started implementing integration.

We come home from each library trip laden with fairy tale and history, science and spirit. We compare cultural experiences we learn from painted pages and laugh at jokes made my pigeons. Riley works late, so we’ve started reading at most dinners - the stories of crazy characters filling the empty spaces at our table. We talk about the books when we aren’t reading them. Wondering what Dahl will have Trunchbull do next or making up endings for the tales that didn’t quite find the resolution we sought. Those little stories have become as real to us as the friends we left behind. And…it’s helping, if not absolutely healing. Margaret is still sometimes lonely, overwhelmed, adjusting. But now, when the tears come - she can turn her brimming gaze to full pages instead of a blank wall. (The walls are blank because I still haven’t hung one bloody picture. How’s that for sanctuary building?)

Also, now Margaret feels entitled to ignore me when I ask her to do something because, “I’m reading, Mom. And don’t you say that’s the most important thing? You want me to stop the most important thing to clean my room? That doesn’t make sense.”

Kids. Amiright?

Operation Make Margaret Happy Results

We’ve been here a little over two months and Operation Make Margaret Happy has been….a mixed bag. She’s coming along. There are now friends at school and church. When she talks about home now, she is mostly referring to the place we are, not the place we were. She cries about the things she misses less often and talks excitedly about the opportunities we have with more frequency. She is living life like most of us do, mostly happy except for when she’s sad. 

And me? I am reveling in the earnestness and hilarity and frustration of being a mom who tries...even when things rarely run to plan. And...this has been a profound change...I’m leaving behind my need to make my kids feel anything but safety and love. No matter how many dinners we cook together, no matter how many canopies we hang, no matter how many books we read, their hearts will always be just theirs. I can’t control them and am learning I wouldn’t if I could. As their mother, making them happy may not be my highest calling. Rather it may - and this is so much harder - be my sacred duty to stand as a witness to their sorrow and to show them there are arms that will hold them until those dark times - like so many clouds in the sky - are burned away by the heat and light of a new sun. 

Because, thank God, despite how it seems to a bereft six year old or heartbroken thirty year old, there will always be a new sun. 


Women at Work

I haven’t been writing much. I guess I’ve raised my standards and what I do doesn’t seem to meet them. So I’ve kept quiet. And stared ahead. And wondered what I should do now. Of course, it occurs to me that sometimes standards are excuses and excuses are weakness and weakness is meant to be overcome. But mostly this occurs to me in the middle of an episode of Veep or right as sleep starts tingling against my legs. So, I stare ahead - eyes open or eyes closed and decide to be good enough tomorrow. 

It’s still not tomorrow. But I’ve got things clanking around my heart. Maybe if I decide from the get-go, “this piece of writing won’t be what I want it to be, but at least it will ‘be’ and being has more value than a void”, I’ll forgive myself for the anecdotal, feeling, sentimental things I always seem to create. 

Dear Universe, bless me with the ability to forgive myself for the imperfect things I create. 

So. A thing that clanks.

I shared an article a few weeks ago on my private FB page. It was a call to equality in parenting, a passionate plea for a workplace that understands the value of mothers as career woman, it was a rallying cry for the working woman who is also a loving mother, the loving mother who is also a working woman. It was a space making, place setting piece. And when I was done reading it, I hurrahed as if it had spoken to me.…even though it had little application for me. I don’t want a traditional career, I have little interest in real or corporate ladders, I have never felt like I missed out because I don’t speak in quarterly reports or Sandberg-isms. My preferences have nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with who I am - marriage or no marriage, children or no children, I would have always been the type of person that writes in coffee shops in between the rest of my living. 

So why did I share that piece? That triumphant article like it had anything to do with me or my goals? I could answer that I shared it for the women I love that it would help. I could say that I shared it because if we make room for one another we’ll all be lifted. I could say I shared it because my daughters might want to be lawyers and mothers and I am working to create a world where they can thrive in the midst of that decision, not just survive it. But…those answers, while worthy - aren’t really what motivated me to shout about one woman’s revelations like they lit my personal sky. Rather, I posted that article to my FB wall with fist bump emojis because I am not really happy with where I am in life right now. No, let me remove qualification. I am done with qualifications. I am not really happy. I am blessed. I am joyful. I am hopeful. I am starstruck by my good fortune. But. On a Tuesday, in the afternoon, in the quiet…I am not quite happy. Many of my days are eaten up with a feeling of emptiness. And frustration. And seeking for structure. But what will fill that emptiness is not trending, and the balm for my frustration isn’t universal childcare, and the structure I seek - both for edification and protection - isn’t found in a board room or spreadsheets. And because of that, I feel alone. 

I feel so fucking alone. 

I don’t envy the women that came before me. 

The ones that spent all day making bread and babies. The ones that scoured pots and hung dry clothes. I don’t desire their maternal mortality or the children they lost to colds and breaks and infection. I don’t want a thing to do with the mentality of the society they were forced to squeeze through - the restrictions of their minds and ribcages. I don’t want a husband to preside and I don’t want daughters to submit. I reject the “there, there” implications of phrases like “women’s work” and “a man’s world”. I was not made for those times. 

But sometimes, my God, I envy the women that came before me.

Their quilting circles, where more was created than just patchwork blankets. The mornings spent baking bread together…communing over circumstance and ideas. I ache for the sisterhood that counterfeits like tapping twice on a screen pretend to emulate. I want to feel like by building my family, I am building the community around me. But I’m not always sure where to find my community as it races by in cars and across internet connections. I miss the bake sales that supported more than soccer camp. I miss the communion that modern day convenience and opportunity has accidentally denied me. I miss universal causes that resulted in united domestic action. I am sick of being asked what I do (Mother? Oh, isn’t that nice?), and am yearning to instead hear, “Who are you?”

Oh, sweet sisters, who are you?

Honestly, I think I miss something that hasn’t yet really existed. 

And I feel tremendously guilty about all of it. Because who am I to think my hurt, my isolation, my tremendous lack of representation in modern discourse is not a price worth paying for those that have been helped by the new order of things? I would not go back to before motherhood became so lonely, before it became something navigated around rather than steered toward. So who am I to dictate how we move forward? “Shut up, Meg”, I think, “With your healthy children and pantry brimming with food and car full of gas.” And so I do, and then cry into my pillow because I don’t know where to go or how to get there. 

I think I’ve been waiting to write until I had answers, but I am still unresolved. The conflict in my heart and home looks like this:

I want to be a SAHM mother, for now. I want to be home with my children, for now. I want to be a physically present witness to their lives, for now. But I can no longer bear the burden of of my isolation without it hurting me and the people I love.

My husband is moving the world and I am just in charge of making sure its sheets are cleaned. 

My work is tremendous. My children awe-inspiring. I am fulfilled and and ready to pour out every good thing I've learned from them and with them. They are all I'll ever need.

I need sisterhood beyond playdates. 

I might just be depressed. Maybe I’m making all this up in my head.

I need personal success. I need to build. I need to revolutionize. And I need someone, ANYONE, to tell me it can be done outside of earning a paycheck. And then I need them to roll up their sleeves and get to work with me. 

Why do I need anyone? Can’t I just do this on my own? What is wrong with me?

Is career success the only kind we can quantify? Is it the only one we consider publicly laudable? 

Why do I feel the need for any success that can be measured? Is that just a symptom of the messaging I’ve consumed since grade school?

I need to be able to acknowledge that something is missing in how we are approaching the circumstance of women like me without it sounding like I am criticizing the decisions of others. 

I need to be able to say we deserve more. 

I don’t deserve what I already have. 

Maybe I should just go get a job, after all. Then I wouldn’t have so much time to fixate.

I will always be an ambassador for equal pay and a workplace where motherhood is valued. But I wonder if I can ever figure out how to be an ambassador for the choices I’ve made, too, without sounding retrograde or undeveloped. 

I know I am blessed to be able to make a decision on whether I work or not. Everything I am and everything I have is a result of privilege. I get that. I know there are mothers burying babies as they flee war-torn countries. I know there are women who would kill to have children, or to have not had children, or to even have a moment to breathe long enough to think about their personal circumstances. 

I’ve got an inbox full of emails from stay at home mothers that feel alone. They are “isolated”, “unheard”, “don’t fit in”, “feel undervalued” and without a place at the table of acceptable womanhood. Do we tell them to just be grateful for what they have and shut up? Because that rhetoric sounds like what we’ve always told mothers, only it’s now acceptable because it’s other women saying it, too?

I am not alone in feeling so alone, I am not the only one in this room that echoes, I am not the single woman yelling into my pillow for relief. And it’s time I start taking responsibility for that knowledge.

I said I was unresolved but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving today without resolution. 

We’ve got to begin creating space for all women. We’ve got to stop blaming “society” for our isolation as women who mostly mother. You know, some linguists think women created language while sitting around a fire while doing the domestic work of the day.  As a woman primarily concerned with "domestic work" I can say that an at home community that builds and creates - that domestic gathering around a ring of fire - is largely absent from our modern lives. Of course, the focus on creating more room for women in the workplace didn’t rob us of our community. We let it slip through our fingers, if we really ever had it. Why? Because maintaining sisterhood is damn hard work, because the couch is comfortable, because we keep waiting for articles in the NYT to create a space for us as feminists and worthwhile women, because we could step out of our boxes and actually touch one another but instead we tap a screen, because if we keep waiting for others to model alternatives we are always going to feel like an alternative. Because as women we’ve bought into that man-made idea AGAIN, the one that says we’ve got to be given something to have it. Because, dammit, it is just so self-serving to scream into a pillow when I could be screaming on behalf of the women that need me - the ones that work, the ones that don’t, the ones with babies found, the ones with babies lost, the ones that agree with me, the ones that don’t, the ones that have found their place and the ones that can’t seem to find a chair no matter how many times they circle the table. 

If I want a matriarchy to give structure to my currently maternal life, then maybe I should just shut up and start building it. I can’t see its shape yet, but I do sense the place it will stand. I can begin to build it a brick at a time, or we - all women of all stripes - can start lifting the building blocks together.

Please, let’s do this together. I can’t see this new place without your eyes.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to decide 'being' - however imperfect - has more value than a void, and rejoice in that one certainty.

Steal Your Heart Away

The kids are in bed. Riley is working. I’ve plugged in my headphones into my laptop and turned The Watkins Family Hour up till it feels like the piano is thumping along inside my head.

When I opened the computer, the screen filled up with an excel spreadsheet. "Margaret’s Lunches" typed across the top, little boxes filled with food ideas laid out in neat little rows. Salami and Cheese and Grapes one day. Beans and rice and apples with peanut butter another. Cookies to begin the week, a piece of dark chocolate to end it. 

This is what coping looks like, I guess. Planning out lunches a month at a time while I bite down on my nails and choke back at my heart in my throat. 

We went to buy her school clothes today. A Mommy/Margaret date. She was at once much younger and much older than I expected. Sighing first because she thought trying on the clothes was a waste of time and putting back two shirts second so that we could afford to bring home a treat for Viola. In the midst of her little fit, I found myself in the space I often find myself with her - straining to be stern when easy understanding comes to me more naturally. When she thought of putting those two shirts back, I cursed myself for the sternness and then blessed myself for the sternness and then cursed the blessing and blessed the curse. 


We went on a drive tonight after dinner. 

Finish your dinner, girls, and we’ll go get ice cream cones. 

Slurping at their spaghetti and then bare feet and books piled into the car. We played a game where we told stories to one another as we drove up and down the hills. Viola whispered a tale about good sisters and bad step-sisters and evil ladies and a dungeon and a housth-castle where she painted her nails. Margaret’s story had a fairy and a flower that needed water. When the fairy watered the flower, it bloomed and revealed a good old man and his good young daughter who had been imprisoned in its petals. Riley and I retold fables, changing names and little details so they seemed like our own. 

We drove up around Margaret’s new school, an old building with a chain link fence surrounding a pristine reputation. It seemed like a place easily trespassed, both by people and pain. I wanted to hold her back from it and thought maybe I should let her run to it. And then wondered if I’d ever be able to pick out the fears reflecting real warning from amongst the shards of terror that only cast back my own shadows. I’ve cut myself open too many times reaching for the wrong pieces. 

Down the hill to our house. The stories over and the ice cream gone. I reached into the car for Viola while Zuzu picked her way across the pavement to our front door. I walked behind her, with my little Vi breathing into my neck, in and out and the feel of her smile against my skin. Riley unlocked the door and turned on the porch light. Margaret turned and looked at me and reached back to hold my hand.

And then we all walked in together.

Nine Years and a Day

Riley and I got married nine years and one day ago. We were both twenty-one. I’d loved him for years and been in love with him nearly as long. Riley had loved me for years and been in love with me not nearly as long. On our wedding day we felt like grown ups and looked like babies. I remember falling asleep with him in our hotel room that night - both exhausted and mostly certain about the big choice we’d made together that day. It was the first time I’d slept through the night with a man and I wondered how anything so novel as living with one could ever begin to feel routine. 

When we woke up the next morning, he was across the bed from me. In my youthful earnestness, I thought maybe that was a sign of something. I suppose I’d seen too many Julia Roberts’ movies. You know the ones…where the lovely girl wakes up unruffled in the arms of the lovely boy after a night of what I guess I thought was communion through cuddles. I picked at my breakfast that morning and tried to smile through the little niggling insecurities about that distance across the mattress. 

It didn’t take me very long to realize that all of this worry was just pretty silly. It, of course, didn’t matter how we spent our time asleep, it mattered how we spent our time awake.

The years that followed were filled with other revelations—some more momentous, some much less. We built and tumbled and gained and lost. We’re older now. My hair is shorter and streaked with silver. My body is softer and streaked with stretch marks. He’s got lines by his eyes and the emotional, spiritual and mental weight on his shoulders sometimes makes them physically ache. In the past nine years, we’ve crashed into each other and held hands and braced ourselves when life crashed into us. All the crashing has polished us up, and while we’ve got a ways to go, I can see eternity reflected in the surface of our union. 

We are mostly happy, joyous even. And the babies we’ve made make us laugh and hope and cry and marvel. The good days are full of all the emotions you’d expect. It’s the bad days that are the most telling. You know, the days when the children fight or talk back or Riley and I misunderstand and then go a round or two, even on those days I have moments of panic - even this badness is so much more goodness than I ever expected, please don’t let it go, please don’t take it away, even this everyday kind of day would be more than I could ever hope for, please, let me keep it. 

The night before our anniversary, I slipped out of bed after everyone was asleep. Crept into the dark living room, curled up on the couch and cried. Margaret starts full-time school on Monday and I’ve got all the regret I’ve earned along with even more I haven’t done much to deserve. I cried because she’s leaving and I cried because I don’t know if I’ve created a home that inspires a return. I cried because her bedroom walls in this new house are still empty and I cried because sometimes our days are too full. I cried over the time I spent away from her because of my dad’s illness and I cried over the time I waste when she is near. I cried because sometimes the loss that happens in increments - one year, one step, one pull away at a time - seems to have just as many edges as the loss that happens all at once. 

The next morning, I woke up to Riley bent over me, whispering in my ear. He held me close and said all the things I knew, despite my tears, and some things I just can’t seem to make myself know, despite their truth. He talked about the books I read the children and the love that fills our house - empty walls be damned. While he talked, I marveled at the man that would cross the distance from his emotional needs to mine. This lovely, but very ruffled girl in the arms of her lovely, but very tired boy. He held me in the dark until it felt light. 

He left when we were done talking, nearly late for his early work. The girls woke up and the day that followed was like many other days that follow many other mornings. We ended the evening with a bowl of soup, a walk and a few episodes of Seinfeld. That night Riley and I stretched out in bed and talked, both exhausted and mostly certain about the choices we’re making day in and day out. His eyes reflected the light from the hallway, I could see the new depths the past few years had added to the blue. My good man I knew when he was a boy. In that ordinary moment, like so many other ordinary moment’s we’ve had, I rejoiced. Rejoiced that he has become my expectation, my certainty on the nights and mornings that fall away before my feet, my sustained and sustaining routine.

It’s all so much harder and so much better than all those Julia Roberts' movies.


on the stove, anker

on the stove, anker

It’s nearly eleven on a warm Sunday night. 

Not really a warm Sunday night. A hot Sunday night. 

Sweat slips down the center of my back. I don’t really mind. It’s the coolest thing that’s touched my skin all day. Everything is warmed over. We don’t have an air conditioner. People keep telling me it never really gets hot enough for it.  I wish they’d spent less time telling me and more time telling today. Because today missed the memo.

The girls went to bed whimpering about the heat, their hair plastered around their faces, melted halos framing cherub cheeks. 

Mom, it’s too hot.

I emptied the ice trays into plastic bags and arranged them around those good girls, a little frozen trim for my burning angels. And then, for good measure, more bags of ice on top of their legs and chests. Their legs that keep getting longer and their chests that keep breathing more deeply. They were each given an ice cube to rub on the their faces.

Sometimes sensation binds us as surely as experience.

For just a moment, I could feel myself as a little girl in a hot dark room. My mom whispering that everything will be okay and we’ll buy a fan tomorrow. My little fingers clenched around the ice cube. It leaves water along my hairline and cheeks and neck as I move it around and around while I wonder what will happen tomorrow and whether we’ll go on a walk in the morning or afternoon or maybe the library and did I remember to close up my markers after I was done coloring and maybe we can…and then it’s morning and my face is dry, the bags of ice are bags of water and I suppose must have slept through the heat after all. 

It may all seem silly. All this feeling as if you're someone else. And perhaps it is. But, to me, our momentary ability to feel the experiences of our fellow mortals smacks of the profound. And I feel awe that something as simple as an overheated day has given me a moment of communion with my daughters. These girls that are so much a part of me and so much more the better part of themselves. 

As I leave their room and pause at the top of the stairs, I pray to God that I’ll be given that same empathetic insight when they really, really need me to have it. 

Please God. Let me feel what they feel, see what they see, understand as they understand. When the things they face are more consuming than hot nights and require more relief than anything I can hold in my too small hands. Let me. Please, let me.

And in the absence of all that, when they’ve journeyed to places higher than I can reach or traveled further than I’ve yet thought, let them let me love them. And let us be bound by the things we do not share just as surely as we are by the things we do. Let us. Please, let us.

Then, I bless their room with my heart and the stairs that lead away from it with my feet. And go to bed with an ice cube in my hands. It leaves water along my hairline and cheeks and neck as I move it around and around and wonder will happen tomorrow. 

to everything there is a season

Summer is nearly done in this place that always feels like the sun. Margaret will go into the first grade at a public school. Something my homeschooling heart never wanted, but wandering head might require. We’re looking for schools for Viola, just a little preschool program two to three days a week. It’s time to start teaching her to walk away without turning around, I guess. 

Fall makes promises even as I feel that the work I had to do for girls over the past few months didn’t quite get done. It was mostly repair work. Bringing us back together after months - really years - of traumatic farewells and moments when coping turned to tears or anger or laying down in an unmade bed. 

I keep saying that Viola continues to become more herself. Little jokes and side eyes and sticky hands wrapped fiercely around my waist and arms and heart. She’s started calling me ‘mama’ and when I hold her hand she says, “Close it, mama. Close it.” Which means I am supposed to make my fingers and thumb meet across the top of her hand. A tight grip that she returns with squeezes and smiles. She is my girl that won’t ever want to let go.

Really, if I am being honest…Viola has been the most concentrated version of herself since she breathed into this world. I’ve just been distracted by survival for so long, I missed some of her. I’m fixing that, one long picture book read and run through the park at a time. She is being gracious in her acceptance of my penitent offerings. Three year olds don’t get enough credit, if you ask me. 

Margaret has had the hardest time of the two. She’s felt the sea change and fiercely struggled against the waves, her body made bouyant by the two orange floaties inflated around her arms. It’s been a real act of courage, if you ask me. Before the move she turned to me when she got tired of paddling, since the move she’s turned into herself. It is difficult to know how much of this is the necessary independence of a deeply thinking six year old and how much is the unnecessary isolation of a daughter who feels misunderstood. 

I’m being patient. I’m asking before I scoop her up and bring her close and smell the coconut oil on her skin. I’m being honest. I’m telling her it’s okay to feel confused or angry for no reason you can pick out of the sky. And I’m being hopeful. Because there are still mornings when she climbs in bed with me and drapes her arms and legs across me like we belong to each other. 

The air isn’t any crisper, the leaves haven’t begun to change and the flowers keep blooming but I know this season is about to end. I feel the urgency in the things left undone and I feel the peace in the things made complete and I feel the promise of resolution in places I can’t yet see. 

And so we live on in this little house like all the other little families living on in their little houses. And it seems like maybe, on the surface, there isn’t much special about the living. But on an early morning, with the babies still asleep and the husband long at work I can still feel the pulse of their hearts beating. It’s a rhythm that moves me from moment to moment until the pounding gets fierce enough to unite us with eternity. A restoration that can take its time coming, if no one else minds that too much.

I’ve still got some work to do here.

Let's Stop Talking about Chastity as a Means to Preserve Purity

There have been even more online conversations lately about purity and chastity and modesty as a means of protection. I've got lots of thoughts on the latter especially. I'll address that next week. Here are my old but still current thoughts on teaching our kids about chastity. As my daughters grow and these questions get closer, I become even more anxious about the incorrect messages they are given by both the media and those that often work to counterbalance the media. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you address both issues in your home. Join the conversation on my FB page. 

We drove to California yesterday.

The drive went as most of our long excursions tend to go. Too many restroom breaks at bathrooms of ill repute. The kids watching the same movie in the back seat over and over and over again. Riley rolling his eyes every time I gasp because I am SURE that we almost hit that car in the other lane. You know, the usual.

By the time we got to Vegas, the kids had only made me turn around and angry whisper once. I stared out the window from our place of relative peace and contemplated our surroundings. The freeway through the heart of Vegas was busy, full of people rambling home after a weekend of food and drink. We all drove under billboards that advertised adult toy stores, cheap liquor and women in thigh highs with breasts the size of volkswagons.

Las Vegas is many things and there are several aspects of it that I enjoy when I find myself there. Good food, good shops, even a nod to the arts with a Da Vinci or Monet exhibit here or there. But in the end, the business of Vegas is gambling and sex. I’ve got thoughts on the gambling, but they are pretty short and sweet. You know, don’t do it. The sex thing is a little more nuanced. I think it is easy to look down on a place that sells the opportunity to have meaningless sex. I don’t think it is easy to explain all the looking down when you are asked to articulate the feeling.

What does the term “meaningless sex” even, you know, mean?

As I drove under those huge knockers and legs apart, I shook my head at the transient nature of the pleasure they sold. But isn’t all pleasure, even my pleasure, transient? Surely, that is the nature of all things in this life. The meal that made you tip your head back with delight. The night of laughter with friends from your childhood. Watching a sunset with sand in your hair and a little burn on your skin. Every single thing we do in this life leaves us or is left behind.

So what is the difference between the afternoon spent with your spouse under covers and out of all your inhibitions and a passionate encounter with someone you’ll never see again?

What makes sex in marriage more meaningful than sex out of it?

As we headed out of the city, our car was surrounded by mid size cars holding men a little younger than me and men a little older. Always the driver stared straight ahead and the others in the car slumped against windows and into each other in sleep. They had all had a big weekend. I thought about the people in the city that had come to find a night of lights, a willing stranger, a room and a bed.I felt a little sorry for my imaginary sub-group of pleasure seekers and then felt ashamed. The feeling of pity comes from a place of superiority and surely, I am not superior to anyone. Ask any living person that has spent even two minutes with me and they will happily attest to that fact. I think every one of those imagined tourists  would have taken my sorry and thrown it in my face. As well they should. Those emotions do not have a place in a discussion about sexuality.

Riley weaved in and out of lanes and I tried to navigate my feelings. So what if one has to go back to regular life in a sedan after a weekend of relative debauchery? Again, don’t we all go back to life after our escapes? Every time Riley and I escape to a hotel we eat food in bed, tear each others clothes off and then wake up in the morning to go home to a mortgage and cheerios on the floor. And on the drive home, I am usually slumped over in the car asleep having been exhausted after our various, ahem, exertions.

The girls chattered in the back seat and I shook my head. Zuzu piped up,

“Mom, why are you shaking your head?”

“I am trying to figure out how to explain something important to you girls. I want you to have everything you deserve, but sometimes you need to know why you deserve something before you can understand why you want it. I can feel what I want to say, but I haven’t found the right words for when you ask about it.”


I looked out the window again and tried to remove myself from preconceived notions and the talk of sunday school teachers from my youth.

And then the words came.

Hello daughters in the not so distant future. I am so glad you asked me why we encourage you stay celibate until marriage. You should always ask questions. I hope you never do as you are told simply because you were, you know, told. You know our religious beliefs and how they guide us in all things, including this issue. But even if we didn’t believe what we believe, I would still sit down and tell you I hope you wait. It isn’t because I think having sex before marriage makes you less pure or takes away from your value. Honey, we are all smudged by mortality. Purity as derived from Old French means “unalloyed”, metal that has not been mixed. Baby girl, you’re made of stuff much finer than any metal and there isn’t a thing you could do to change that fact. That is a truth of both science and spirituality. As to your value, it was determined and set for eternity the moment you were created. You are helpless to detract from it. Girls, that is the kind of helplessness you can and should revel in.

It is really the only kind.

I hope you wait to have sex until you meet a man worthy of you, because, in so many ways, sex is the power to create. I am not just talking about procreation, although heaven knows that is a divine thing. I am also talking about the creation that comes from speaking the language of sex with someone that walks with you through life. The creation of a space where time doesn’t seem to touch. A place that is forgiving and forthright and takes every mark mortality has given you both and acknowledges and consecrates them. A refuge that is only built after time and trust and love above each other.

The act of sex is at once vulnerable and empowering. It is a place where you can be fulfilled and act to fulfill. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and validate desire. It is a time when you can be stripped down to your core until it seems there is nothing left. It is a way to express just a portion of the force that makes you up, the steel and fire that compose you. It is something you give and something you take.

People will tell you that sex is sacred and they are right, but the act does not stand apart from you. Sex is sacred because YOU are sacred. If you decide to wait, I hope it is a decision that you reach because you understand who you are. You do not abstain because some man hopes to marry a virgin. This act of consecration has nothing to do with the desires of the opposite sex. You are not made to bend for the wants of men. No, rather, that choice has everything to do with an acknowledgement of your true self.

When you do get married, expect - no, demand - marriage in its fullest sense. Marriage is a commitment, not just to be faithful to each other and pay the mortgage together. It is a commitment to build, a commitment to pioneer, a commitment to breathe for one another through the depths and shout out in happiness when you have touched the sky. Sex is the language you speak when words have no hold on the experience of a shared existence. It is the expression of the inexpressible. It is funny and passionate and starbursts and slow and fast. And sometimes, it is the warmth that sustains you through the cold. When you have sex with someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t cherish you, isn’t beloved by you, it is like speaking Greek in a place that doesn’t know the difference between alpha and omega. An interesting exercise, but without much point beyond the moment.

But isn’t life just a series of moments? Why does it matter what one contains when it will just be followed by another and another and another?

Here’s the thing. I think we get to leave the dross of this existence behind when we leave it. I do not believe in a reality in which we are haunted by the missteps of a mortal life. I do believe that when we live well and powerfully here, we are able to glimpse our true nature and gleaming truth of a reality beyond our current comprehension.Your heart will break in mortality, you will endure loss that claws and regret that eats. I can’t keep you from those things. But we are bigger than this experience and there are moments we create here that echo eternity back to us. Moments that build upon one another in the circle of those who share them with us. I cannot tell you how comforting those bright bits of insight are when tears seem ready to drown my heart. I want as much of that truth, and that seeking of truth, for you in this life as is humanly possible. I’ve found more opportunity for that shining sight in the arms of your father and in the life we have built together between all the “in the arms” business than I can ever tell.

And, darling girls, that is just the beginning of what you deserve.

And guess what? If you don't "wait", everything will be okay. Because every day is new. If one morning you wake up and decide that you want all the things I've wanted for you since you were born, you can have them. We are all bungling along here the best we can and this life is not a zero sum game. You get to change your mind and get to go out and find what you want. But, "Mom!" You say, "What if I never wake up wanting the things you hope for me? What if I don't seek for truth the way you seek for it? What if I am happy differently?"

Oh, sugar babies, that is alright, too. I will love you no matter what space in this life you occupy and I will always hold you up to the light so that I can see better through you.

Because you will always be so much more than I deserve.


Girl at window, Edvard Munch

Girl at window, Edvard Munch

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

I’d like to think the blame for my latest bout of insomnia can be laid squarely at the tiny feet of my three year old. She knows she belongs with us and that knowledge never seems more certain than at around three each morning. I can always hear her coming. The soft pad of little feet, quick breath sucked through a pacifier and the light drag of her blankie behind her. A push at our door and then she’s at my side of the bed arms outstretched. The rest of night is spent in an earnest demonstration of how much space a little thing can take up in both my bed and my heart. She stretches out and curls in and claims both until I have lost any room I was saving for myself.

I could move her back to her bed after she falls asleep, I suppose. But then I think of how rare this kind of thing will be in her life. The ability to walk through the dark to a place where you are certain arms will reach out and lift you to a softer sphere. I’m not ready to make her wake up in her own bed yet. There’s time for that.

Too much time.

She didn’t come in this morning.

But I still woke up.

3am and listening for little footsteps. As my ears strained, my mind tripped over itself. Anxious and full of the past, present and imagined future. Old slights and new ones and maybe that hurt in my back means something more than a twinged nerve and don’t the kids need to go to the dentist and I’m not trying hard enough and I’ve tried so hard and maybe life really has been as difficult as I perceive and isn’t it a miracle I’ve stayed pasted so well together and maybe it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I think and isn’t that almost worse? The things I am too rational to think in the light, the things I am too afraid to spend time with in the day, stretched out and clawed in until I lost any room I had been saving for myself.

I’m afraid of this. Afraid of losing control. Afraid that maybe I would be waking up at 3am every morning even if those footsteps had never come down the hall. It occurs to me that perhaps my little girl has been keeping me company rather than the other way around. I like to think I’m stronger than this, but here I am. Apparently, all the intention and strength in the world can’t keep you from gasping awake in the dark.

Somewhere between the misperceived premonitions of oncoming doom and the regret that won’t make any sense around the breakfast table, I heard something in a familiar and soothing voice.

You may not be able to keep 3am at bay. It is not a matter of greater will or better exercised strength. Waking up poorly met by neuroses may become a matter of course. What you can do is decide how you will spend the hours that follow that first jolt of fear.

So I kissed Riley on the cheek and left our room. Looked in on our sleeping girls. Soft cheeks and softer breath. I breathed in and out with them.

Then I walked into the living room, turned on a light and began to write. 

Three Things The Mindy Project Taught Me

By now we've all been accosted by the news that Fox - the brilliant organization behind such gems as Bones! and The Swan! (note my sarcasm) - has canceled The Mindy Project. 

Let's all take a moment to sob. And sob some more. Now hiccup cry. Now breathe deeply. One more sob. 


I guess in some ways the cancellation makes sense. I mean, it was a witty, well-written, often insightful look into the lives of women. There were episodes that made me fist pump alone in my living room. Scenes that made me cry. And moments that made me feel less alone. It was groundbreaking in a way I've been begging female-driven vehicles to be for years. Rather than securing show's future, all these things made the too-soon cancellation of the series practically certain from the first episode. Network TV is an aging behemoth that is sustained by soap operas and reality TV. Are there exceptions to this rule? A few. But they fill an ever-diminishing need. For the most part, anything that challenges or engages or lifts has no place on network tv. Because, like, that's not the point. 

Am I pretty fried that I no longer have a fall date with Mindy's parents and Danny? Yeah, pretty much. Pretty fried. But I am also a little relieved on the behalf of the best show I've seen in the past ten years. Mindy deserves to hang her Wreath Witherspoon in a home that feels lucky to have her. 

I've got good hope that if a situation that is good for cast and crew presents itself, they'll take it. Maybe Hulu, where the show already has a fierce viewership. Or Netflix, the home of #femalesarestrongashell. Or maybe we can all just kickstart and get Mindy Kaling her own damn network already. 

In the meantime, as a way to distract myself from the grief cloud hovering over this house (MORGAN!!!! MORRRRRGANNNNNNNNN!!!!), here are three things I learned from The Mindy Project. 

God rest her soul till we meet again.

1.    I don't have to wear sleeves. This one may not seem like much. Really, Meg? Sleeves? This is worth noting? Hell yes, it is. When I was fifteen, someone told me to avoid sleeveless clothes because, "although you look great, your arms are a bit heavy." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, I knew I wasn't waving around Madonna stick pins. But the wording really worked me over. 

My arms were heavy? That description took my upper limbs a step beyond chubby and into the world of practically deformed. My heavy arms that hung heavily by my side while trying to lift light things that were too much weight to add to the heaviness of my already heavy arms. Holy hell, forget sleeveless. It was obvious to me that the best thing I could do for myself, and the pitiable people who had to look upon me, was to cover those weighted monstrosities the hell up. So I did. With ¾ length sleeves on hot days and thin sweaters on cold days. (Cable knit would have amplified the heaviness.) When I did venture out in anything less than full arm coverage, I did so as an act of defiance, "I know I don't deserve to have the sun hit the skin above my elbow, but look me in the eyes and see if I give a damn." 

I was nearly thirty years old before Madcap Mindy showed me how ridiculous I'd been. Mindy isn't my sister in "heavy" arms. I didn't find solidarity in her lack of pin thin appendages. Rather I found inspiration in the easy grace with which she handled her body - arms, legs and all. There was no point being made by her choice of sleeveless blouses or short skirts or va-va-voom dresses. Her clothes were not an act of defiance. (Which was revolutionary in itself.) She wore what the hell she wanted because she was being who the hell she wanted. 

In Mindy's world, a woman who weighs more than a package of stevia could wear something something more fashionable than a sack of flour. That fact wasn't revolutionary...it was simply a matter of course. And that, for me, was freeing as hell. I'll never be able to thank my "best friend I've never met" enough for that fact. She's changed my outlook and consequently, changed the dialogue I have with my own daughters. 

2.    Women don't have to be ashamed of what they want. And they don't have to be angered by what other women want. I'm not delusional. I know that Mindy Kaling is different from Mindy Lahiri. I know that Dr. L's life goals diverge greatly from Grand Dame Kaling's life goals. That being said, Kaling wrote Lahiri, and she did so with a great degree of grace and tolerance. As I watched the show, I didn't feel Kaling judging Lahiri for having different aspirations than her creator. I felt her honoring her, rooting for her, pushing her forward. Oh my goodness, what if we could extend that same respect to the real women in our lives not just the ones we meet on TV? Could you imagine the dialogue that would ensue? The steps we'd take forward? The wounds we'd heal? 

What does Mindy Lahiri want? We know early on in the series that Mindy L. is a professional woman who is also "looking for someone to go apple picking with". She wants marriage and babies and she defines those things as integral to her happy ending. And she isn't ashamed of it. Do you know how refreshing that storyline has been for me? A writer who also has two babies and a husband? A girl who wants her name on the front of a book and wants bubbles and baby laughter in her backyard? The Mindy Project doesn't preach the false hope of "having it all". Mindy has given up plenty of almost dreams for her better parts. (Dammit, San Francisco) But she is unwavering when it comes to her core happiness. To the things she feels she deserves. To the dreams she isn't afraid of dreaming...no matter how outdated they might seem to the people around her. 

Whether your dream includes babies or not, a career or not, a partner or not, compromise or not, Mindy Lahiri's quest for her personal happiness should speak to you. You get to seek what you want without shame. 

3.    And finally, there is communion in the ridiculous. Listen, Mindy Lahiri is a little ridiculous. She spouts off half-baked political assessments, once said recycling makes America seem poor and went seven years without paying her taxes. But as the series went on, I didn't find myself laughing at her, I found myself laughing with her. No one of us is free from elements of the ridiculous. We are all filled with half-baked opinions...the fact that we might keep them to ourselves doesn't mean they don't exist. We are all ignorant until we are not. (And then ignorant some more until we are not again.) We all have literal or figurative un-opened envelopes with contents that are past due. 

Maybe we would all be better off if we stopped assuming ridiculousness was the burden of others and accepted it as the ever-evolving state of all of us. And maybe, just maybe, Mindy Lahiri style, we should just start being honest about it. Who knows? Maybe, like the great Project Herself, we'll learn something about each other and ourselves along the way. (And laugh a little more, too.)

You know, when I heard about the cancellation last night, I wasn't upset for the people in the show. They've proven they can create and sustain a small world and its misfit inhabitants. The actors will go on to movies. The writers will be asked to be a part of the next big thing. Mindy will continue her trajectory to a place in the stars next to Nora Ephron. (And maybe beyond?) They're doing just fine.

Me? I'm queuing up the first season and counting my lucky stars. For a half hour every week, in a little show with little pretension, I found a brand of feminism that spoke to me, rather than above or below me. I found men that loved strong women and strong women that loved men. And I found a world in which my arms were released from the constraints of décor and became beautiful and free simply because they were attached to me. 

Whoa, Nelly.


I think we all spend most of our lives looking for answers.

What should I grow up to be? Why am I here? Where are my keys? Is this the right decision? Where should I live? What is coming? What am I missing? What can I do? What should I do? How should I eat? What do I believe? What should I avoid? Will going blonde wash my face out? Is this all there is? 

And on and on. 

Some answers come. (Blonde WILL wash my face out.) Some don't. (I never found that set of keys my sophomore year of college.) I understand that it is  just as well that some questions keep being asked until we lose our breath for the last time. Even if they had been satisfied, others would have reached out and taken their place. 

I don't mind the work of asking. But I hate the quiet that often follows the question.

There are so many answers I've sought, worked for and fallen on my knees on behalf of - because sometimes, it seems, the only way to find what your looking for is to force yourself down while looking up - that still stay apart from me.

Some of the unfound knowns whisper ahead of me in the dark. I can follow the vibrations of their sound, can feel the places that used to be moist with their breath. I know, I know I will catch those answers someday...hold them in my hand and put them in mouth, chewing them up until they've been broken into pieces small enough for me to swallow.

But there are some answers that don't call from the places they've already lived. There are some answers that sit still in a far off place I can't fathom, let alone stumble upon or within. There are some answers whose reality can only be proven by the existence of my question. 

I fell down again yesterday. To the place where my knees scrape against our wood floors and my hands hold onto each other as they seek the touch of something more knowing. I asked without the promise of answer. How will Riley and I survive? How will the children thrive? I asked. To see the dim outline of the future that is eating at our present. To be given peace. To be given something more than an assurance of eventual knowing. I asked. For angels and for eyes that could see the work they do. For transcendence - no matter how brief. I asked. For things I don't deserve. For things I feel are my due. 

And then, once more, I listened through the silence. 

This time, the whisper was closer and didn't run from me before I could make out its message.

There are some things that will move. And there are some things that are set. The ones that move belong to you. The ones that remain fixed belong to me. They can be beautiful. They can be shattering. There is joy in the inevitable even when it breaks the edges of your world. The joy is in the things that are left unbroken - your love for husband, children and God. Hold onto their eyes with your eyes, hold onto their hands with your hands, hold onto their hearts with your heart.

In doing so, you will become immovable and fixed yourself.

And you'll belong to me.

Then, quiet. The words moved ahead of me.

I stretched up, my legs stiff and my heart creaking. I held the answer in my hand for just a moment.

And then, I put it in my mouth and chewed it into pieces small enough to swallow. 

A Woman of Worth

I'm always wishing I could grab every woman I see (and every woman I don't) by the hand and tell them how valuable, full of worth and damn essential they are. I don't think I'm the only girl who understands the worth of a woman. I just think we all need a reminder now and then.

I've thought of all the ways we can reach out to hold each others' hands. I've got some ideas and today, I'm happy to share the first project I've finished with that outreach in mind. 

I joined up with Atly and put together a survey course called Discovering A Woman of Worth. And! Until midnight tonight, you can get the class for 25% off if you use the code WORTHY25.

One of my favorite features? The five exclusive downloads created by Annie Blake.  

Get in there, girl. 

Over the course of this class, we are going to immerse ourselves in the discovery of all that star-shined goodness that resides inside of you. You are going to learn how to define who you are, what you want, what you deserve and how to get it. And we're going to have a hell of a good time doing it.

Instructor Message

It's time. 

It's time you understood that girl you see in the mirror. The one with the half finished dreams and fully realized stretch marks. The one with the three babies and too little time. The one that thought she'd be a mother. The one that is just starting out. The one that is afraid she's finished too soon. It's time you understood that girl. Not just her hopes and dreams. Not just her needs and wants. It's time that you understood the mechanism that moves her is unalloyed and unbending. That she isn't just precious, she is strong. That beneath the worry and the bills and the plus or minus ten pounds is a woman brimming with the kind of worth that is measured in stardust. It's time you took a few hours of a few weeks to discover the things that propel you, the hopes that breathe into you, the environments that energize you. It's time to give yourself permission to reach for the person you always hoped you'd be. It's time you realized the people you love deserve a woman willing to do that for herself. It's time you realized your dreams deserve the time it takes to realize them. It's time to you realized you, beautiful, blessed you, deserve it. 

Easter Basket Boondoggle

I’ve always got these great ideas. Like…I am going to make the moments of my life more meaningful by living intentionally with great deliberation and forethought and by thinking ahead of time with intent that is, ummmm, you know, intentional.


This year Easter fell prey to this tendency to over-commit to meaning. And I guess I should have seen it coming, I mean…Easter is happening on a day of this week. And that's really all it takes to get me riled up. So, you know, it was bound to happen.

I’ve never been super comfortable with the Easter as a gift giving extravaganza. I can’t quite figure out what a bunch of dolls and games and cars and My Little Pony stuffed animals has to do with Easter. I mean…don’t my kids with their warm home and full pantry and good educations and room dedicated to toys have, you know, enough? Shouldn’t we be dedicating the Sunday where we celebrate His eternal life with service or symbolism or maybe, at least, back to back viewings of Ben Hur?

But my kids have talking about waking up to Easter baskets for the past week. And the Easter Bunny. And eggs. And I don’t want to be a total Grinch. (Or whatever the Easter equivalent of that little jerk is…what’s the natural enemy of the bunny? A fox? I don’t want to be a total Fox.)

So, I had a long talk with myself. And I decided that each Easter, the kids would still wake up to a gift. But it would be an offering that reflected an eternal principle or pursuit. Something that united us as a family and expanded their horizons. Something that helped remind them of the rights of their divine heritage and the universal nature of our God’s love. Something that helped them understand the beauty of this mortal and immortal life! A brief and incomplete reflection of one of the things that made them worth something as grand and comprehensive as the Atonement. Yes! That was it! A gift that paid homage to THE gift.

I decided this year we would focus on Creation. How to teach them about the divine gift of creation? Give them the means to create, of course! Baskets full of the makings of many little and big projects. Odds and ends and ribbons and glue and paint and paper and pieces of wood and felt shapes and…other things! And all of it would be accompanied with a card that explained the divine directive to create in words that even a three year old can understand! AND IT WOULD BE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAY WOULD BE FULL OF DEEP DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE REVELATIONS WE GAIN BY EMULATING GOD AND REACHING FOR THE TOPS OF OUR SOULS! AND EASTER WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME IN OUR LITTLE TREE COVERED HOUSEHOLD AGAIN!

But no pressure.

I left the house last night to get the supplies for my baskets brimming with creativity. Told the cute husband I would just run to Target and be back in an hour.

It was all going to be so simple. But then…I don’t know. I got there and didn’t know where to start. Should I focus on a project or just creativity in general? Did the baskets call for gem shaped crayons, regular crayons or speckled with different color crayons? I hemmed and hawed over the Great Crayon Decision of 2015 for about 15 minutes. And then I remembered they had like, I don’t know, FOUR HUNDRED crayons…so maybe they didn’t need anymore. Or maybe they just needed the gem ones. Or the speckled ones. Or nothing at all. I mean does anyone really need crayons? No! Unless they just need some more regular ones….

And paper! Who knew paper was so expensive! I mean just the white stuff wasn’t too bad…but the stuff I wanted to get with the patterns! and color! and square cut for kid folda-bility! was nearly ten bucks. I guess I’ll get three…

Would they rather use textile markers on a tote bag? Or a pillow? Or…ooooooh look at those vases they could decorate! And then there’s all the possibilities with the wood crafts…doesn’t every home need a birdhouse…two birdhouses?

Maybe this is a dumb idea? I mean…will they even understand what I am trying to say? Am I really giving them the gift of creativity with a $14 tote bag and some markers? And in truth… WHAT HAVE I GIVEN THEM? IN THE COURSE OF THEIR LIVES? WHAT WILL THEY HAVE IN THEIR HANDS AND HEARTS WHEN THEY LEAVE THIS TIME WITH ME? Are we doing anything well enough…true enough…expansively enough? Forget the stuff…AM I EVEN A GOOD MOTHER? IS THIS ALL A WAY TO MAKE UP FOR THE MORE IMPORTANT PLACES THAT HOLD MY FAILURE????

Maybe that sewing kit would be a better buy?

Three hours later, I finally returned home. Six bags of good intention gone bad and one receipt that came close to approaching our weekly grocery budget.  Riley just laughed. I laughed and then got a little teary-eyed and then laughed again.

Because…this is kind of a pretty damn good little synopsis of the mother my kids have right now. Big ideas and little ability to figure out how to implement them. And all the time between the moments of grand intention are filled with hugs and dance parties and definitely too much TV. And I hope it is enough and that my often ridiculous reaching for big things results in a hunger in them to do the same. Who knows…they might actually end up being effective at the task. Heaven knows, I, most often, am not.

So what am I doing with those six bags? Taking them back today. And then buying some plastic eggs to fill with candy. And two little dresses for two little girls that like to twirl. And calling it good enough.

Because, maybe, right now, it is.  

But seriously...what the heck are you putting in your kids' baskets??? Chat with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Click one the links below. 


I've got this pinched nerve.

And I'm supposed to be taking a bath to try and loosen it up. The water is running and I'm safe from the rigors of the first fifteen minutes after we put the kids to bed. The up and down for the water, kisses and "if I have to come in here one more time, I'll .... come in here one more time."

I've got bubbles and a book and I should be relaxing, but all I can think about are the women I know and love that are hurting. And the women you know and love that are hurting. And the women reading this who are hurting and the women who'll never stumble across this that are hurting. And I wish I could draw you each a bath, to soak out the pinched hopes and cramping heartaches. I wish I had more to give. I wish I wasn't kept from helping the way I should by the limitations of my own fragmented capacities. I am feeble and my giving is fickle.

Today, while I was out walking I saw the sun shine against a tree with pink blossoms. It bounced against the bark and petals, leaving shadow behind on the places it touched. My pink tree turned black by the light of an eager and giving sun. A message, maybe. The cost of so much illumination has to be a momentary engulfment by so much darkness.

I guess what I am saying - while the kids yell in the hall and I sit in a steamed white room - is this...if you find yourself in shadow tonight, it only means a forceful light has fixed on your form. It is carving you out in greater relief and speeding your growth. The color will return, I promise. Until then, know you are loved. You are known. You are enough. And the rising sun is much gentler than the setting sun. 

Morning isn't far off.

Let's Stop Sharing Photos of our Kid's Crying, Snot-Nosed Meltdowns

I'm still feeling good about sharing photos of their silliness and smiles. And freeze faces.

I'm still feeling good about sharing photos of their silliness and smiles. And freeze faces.

Listen, we’ve all been there.

The house is somehow a disaster even though the kids have only been up for an hour. You can’t seem to find your grip on life, let alone the dishes and your two year old just threw himself to the floor in tears because the peanut butter on his sandwich touched his hand. Or you’ve saved up for a year to take your kids to Disneyland. You’re finally in the happiest place on earth and you’re trying your damnedest to make everything magical and your five year is throwing a fit because you forgot to pack her green sneakers instead of her blue ones and OH MY GOSH, MOM. DON’T YOU KNOW THAT DISNEYLAND ISN’T THE SAME IN THESE STUPID GREEN SHOES? Or it’s just another day. And your three year old is seriously about to lose her mind because the lego fort you build isn’t big enough to hold her teddy bear and basically the world is ending and her screams are the harbinger of the apocalypse and oh my gosh, is it nap time yet?

As parents, we all deal with these meltdowns differently. There are harsh words and soft words, capitulating and grandstanding. Sometimes we are proud of our responses, sometimes not so much. I imagine parents have been reacting to the kid conniption in the same varied ways since Adam and Eve finally decided to put down the parenting books and start, you know, parenting.

Nothing much changed. Until it did.

Now when their kids lose their cool, parents don’t just reach for words of comfort or frustration. They also reach for their cameras on their phones.

We’re all pretty well acquainted with the result - the photo of the sobbing child accompanied by a funny comment and witty hashtag. Heavens, we haven’t just seen those photos, if you’re anything like me, you’ve also posted them. And it isn’t just for the laughs we’d get for sharing the oversized agony about a silly little kid problem.

No, we share them, because parenthood is hard. It is as shockingly difficult as it is shockingly beautiful. We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, I think it might take a village to keep a parent from going absolutely bleeping crazy. In so many ways, sharing the hard parts of our days – including that kid crying over something small or ridiculous for the hundredth time – is how many of us search for our village.

It’s all well-meant. They are just little kids having big fits over little silly things. They’d laugh, too, if they knew what we knew. There’s no harm intended.

But I think we are hurting our children and ourselves by posting photographs of them in their moments of extremis, even when we know everything is going to be alright.

A few thoughts.

1.  Ridiculous is relative. Yeah, that one time my three year old cried until she threw up because she was so upset her shoe laces were uneven WAS pretty crazy. I mean…what the hell, kid? But somewhere between searching for scissors to even the laces and cleaning up the puke, I took the time to really look at her. Sure, the problem seemed imaginary to me, but her distress was real. She was torn up inside. She doesn’t like crying hysterically. I guarantee she would have bypassed the whole experience if she could have managed to do so. But she couldn’t. Because something about that uneven shoelace upset her perspective or introduced just a little more disorder than her already disordered toddler world could handle. So, she cried. And she screamed. And she gasped in air until she expelled the contents of her stomach. And it was gross.

You know who else freaks out over things that other people could take in stride? Me. When it’s one of those days when I am positive I’m never going to think of another thing to write…ever. Like, not even enough words for a grocery list. Or when my husband is driving and I AM REALLY, REALLY SURE THAT CAR ALMOST HIT US. Or, you know, any of the three days before I start my period. I don’t need people to pander to me when I am being irrational. Heavens, please give me a talking to when I start hiccup crying over the grown up equivalent of uneven shoelaces. We all need help with our perspectives now and then. But I cannot imagine how violated and invalidated I would feel if my husband started taking photos of me mid-breakdown and posted them to Instagram with witty hashtags.

2.   We do not want to teach our children that the internet is the dumping ground for all emotions. I know that when I take that picture of my kid mid-tantrum in Target, I am really trying to express my emotions about HER emotions. But what does she see? She sees me taking a photo of her in a vulnerable moment and posting it online. Kids may be consistently irrational, but they aren’t dumb. They’re watching us. And they are going to take the behavior we model and apply it to themselves. Do we want our daughters exposing their vulnerabilities on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat? Do we want them to think a screen is the correct receptacle for their heartbreaks or triumphs? Do we want our children to spend more time tagging their experiences than actually, you know, experiencing them?

3.  Parents do need a village, but photos of crying kids isn’t the surest way to build one. Listen, parenting is a hard, messy, lonely, beautiful, peanut butter covered business. We need to be able to share our experiences – not just as an act of edification, but also as a sign of solidarity. Oh, your kid screams in the middle of parking lots sometimes, too? Thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. But the most effective means of communicating both our need and support does not have to come at the cost of our children.

As parents we get to witness the highs and lows of our children’s lives – that’s a privilege that we don’t need to share with everyone that follows us. Let’s acknowledge that and find other ways to communicate the hard, ridiculous, funny ways our kids freak the heck out. Call a friend or walk outside and talk to neighbor. Engage with your community online, by all means. I have found so much solace and support through women on social media. Maybe post about your hard day from your perspective with a picture that doesn’t include your kid’s tears. There is something incredibly intimate about portraiture, even the kind snapped with a cracked iPhone. Those break apart moments belong to them. Even though it’s hard to recognize at times, it’s a privilege that they feel comfortable enough to share them with us. I want my kids to know their irrational, out of control, crying on the floor selves are just as safe with me as their well-behaved selves. Safety doesn’t mean I always tolerate, give into, or encourage freak-outs, but it does mean I respect the kid behind them.

We never completely outgrow an occasional inability to see beyond the moment that holds us. We need to teach our kids how to navigate that reality, not publicly mock their failed attempts to do so. Can we chuckle about puking over shoelaces? Of course, we can. Hell, not just CAN, we SHOULD. Laughter is healing and sometimes, as a parent, a sense of humor is the only thing that gets me through the day. (There are a few instagram accounts that basically feature kids standing proudly next to the incredible messes they've made. These crack me up. Kids: 1 Parents: 0) But let’s be more discerning about what we publish permanently to the internet about our kids. And let’s see what happens when we reach for our kids before we reach for our phones. Who knows?

We just might learn something worth sharing.  

(Hey, guys. We’ve got this. And you’re doing a good job. Past kid crying photos, puke and all. )

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Mother and Child

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

As a newborn, the back of Margaret’s neck was rosy with what her pediatrician called a stork bite. Nothing to worry about, he assured me. It was just a blush of blood vessels close to the skin and would most likely fade as she left toddlerhood. The little birth mark never worried me. When she was tiny, I would kiss it and breathe in her baby smell. As she got older, her hair grew down the nape of her neck and that new baby smell went the way of the wind.

I forgot about the stork bite and the promise of its disappearance.

The day before her first foray into preschool I took her for a haircut. When the curls fell away from Margaret’s neck and shoulders, I gasped a little. There peeking out from her little bob was that first blush of babyhood. The temporary birthmark hadn’t gone away. And for just a moment, I could smell that baby smell and feel how she felt in the crook of my arm. It was an odd thing – the ache to hold a different version of a person still within reach.

Last week, I sat in church surrounded by women I know and hope to know. The sister sitting in front of me was what the politically correct call “well advanced in age”.  Her arms were covered in fine lines. Her hair was bright white, a few red strands where the color had forgotten to forget itself. And there, on the nape of her slightly bent neck was a blush of blood vessels close to the skin. A mark that hadn’t managed to fade in her toddlerhood.

And for just a moment, I could see her as a baby and I could breathe in her baby smell. I could feel her mother’s love, a love that remains despite the years and loss.

I could feel that as she is, my daughter’s one day will be. And I rejoiced in their white hair I won’t live to see and the fine lines they’ll gather in the places I won’t get to go. And I marveled at the sameness of our sisterhood.

And the differences.

And I thanked God for the things that stay with us and wept for the things that leave us.

And then I breathed deeply, not for the last time.  

A Girl Like Me

Sometimes I revisit old posts to remember new lessons. This is one of those times. (Happy Friday, loves.)

I think sometimes we keep our eyes shut and our hearts occupied when we are moving towards a destination. I know I have been guilty of this in both the literal and metaphorical journeys of my life. Sometimes I find myself where I hoped to be and feel a bit empty. How did I get here? What were the moments that led to this?

I am working on it.

It took four planes to get me from America to the Dominican Republic last week. Four airports full of people leaving and arriving and hoping and sleeping. I kept my eyes open. I had one layover in the Vegas airport that stretched from its expected "barely tolerable" three hours to a "my goodness this beyond the pale, I don't care how first world that sounds" five hours. I had plenty of time to write little thoughts, eat big sandwiches and watch the people around me.

I settled into my gate with a book and even more food, when a woman with two dogs approached the counter.

She was what polite characters in fiction would call "big boned". Her clothes were wrinkled from travel and her spaghetti straps pressed into her shoulders. She wore white scuffed sneakers and a bit of lace sock peaked above their tops. She held her lips in a tight purse and her eyes were as creased and tired as her clothes. The dogs looked more well rested than their owner. One was large and white. His ears sharps and eyes curious. He rested his nose against her stomach. She held the other under one arm. A little bit of a thing with more fur than flesh. The man at the counter looked at her with confusion and expectation.

She stood defensively before she spoke, each white shoe planted firmly on the stained carpet.

"Hello, sir. These are emotional support dogs. I'm taking them out to Virginia and need to check them to come on the flight with me. I've got all the documentation and before you say anything, know that everyone has been giving me problems all day and in the end, they have all decided I can keep traveling."

He smiled and murmured something before typing into his computer. After a few moments he looked up,

"This airline must have different rules than the other ones you have been traveling with so far. I'm only allowed to let you take one dog with you. Let me call my boss. Until then please take a seat."

Her shoulders slumped and she led the dogs away, sitting them and herself on the floor next to the counter.

Over the next hour and a half, I watched documentation be disputed, phone calls made and superiors called over. The woman was on guard and terse. She was universally frustrated and dismissive with all the agents, even the ones that showed concern. The initial agent that helped her was always kind. The others were not. One employee would walk over every few minutes to ask her supercilious questions and then smirk at the people around him when she answered. Her flight came and went. She called her sister to cry.

"I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to get these out to you, but everyone is being so mean."

I started crying, too.

The dogs were a bit restless. Wandering around her and whimpering when she wouldn't let them walk away. The agent with the smug grin walked over when the white one yelped,

"You are going to have to control those dogs. This isn't a kennel. Ma'am."

"You think I don't know that? I'm doing my best. They are just tired. I am tired, too. You ever been tired?"

A woman sitting behind me had been witness to the dog dilemma as long as I had. She was well dressed and her lipstick was fresh. The gold hoops in her ears swayed as she shook her head and leaned over to her husband,

"Enough with the dog sob story, already. Who is this woman. She is crazy."

He chuckled and circled his hand around hers.

The words to tell her off were tumbling  out of my mouth when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.

A woman and her two teenage daughters sat down next to the woman and her dogs. The fifteen year old started petting the big white dog, while the older one let the little dog crawl onto her lap. Their mom put her hand on the woman's shoulder.

"Tell me the names of your dogs."

The four of them talked about the dogs while the agents at the desk continued to call and type and look official. The polished woman with the chuckling husband chuckled about something else. And I sat in the middle of everything and let the lesson I'd just learned seep into my bones.

The passions and plights of our fellow sisters may not always make sense to us. Heaven knows, a lone woman demanding to get on a plane with a dog the size of a miniature horse and one the size of a mouse has the air of the ridiculous about it. But, she was trying to do something that was important to her. And my approval of her situation doesn't really matter one little bit. All that matters is my understanding of her heart. We've all got pursuits, hopes, problems that make no sense to outsiders. All of us will be the "tired woman with the dogs" to the women around us at one point or another. We've got no choice in the matter.

What we can choose is our reaction to our fellow sisters when they find themselves in that place of isolation. Will we shake our heads and laugh knowingly? Or will we get down on the floor next to them and ask them to give us the names of the things they care about?

I plan on spending much of my time on the floor. Want to join me? I'll scooch over a bit. There's plenty of room.

Want more information on the human trafficking sting I did after all these plane rides? Read here and here