Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sometimes there are moments like this.

Maggie in a tub. This has nothing to do with anything.

One of my kids had a very hard time today during a class he takes. He corrected another student's work, in a not so kind way, and his very kind teacher had to intervene and eventually, had to have him leave the class for all the crying.

He often has a hard time. Meltdowns that last for hours. Shaking and sobbing I can't cut through to reach him. He's sensitive and anxious, too wise for his own good, too much for this world sometimes. His heart is so accepting, his soul so open, and I stay up at night worrying about what will hurt him next. About what thing will eventually harden his soft edges and cause him to turn away from hope and possibility. 

We've tried so many things. He sees an amazing therapist, and it helps a whole lot. He's far less anxious around the clock these days. But there isn't a magic switch that will give him the ability to not get lost in a tough moment. After it happens, he'll explain the shame and embarrassment he feels with the matter-of-fact, well-spoken stoicism of an adult many years beyond him. 

Tonight, he's written up a page about the reasons he thinks three of these incidents have happened, unprompted. The paper says, in all-caps-kid-writing, that he has difficulty handling groups. It says he gets overwhelmed when he isn't sure about the rules of games, or when he finishes his work and starts to get bored, because that puts him in a "strange" mood. It says when the situation gets out of hand, his mind gets too frazzled and he just can't manage.

He says he doesn't want to be like this anymore.

He says he doesn't want to be him in those moments.

And I just hugged him, because I don't know what else to do tonight. I told him I love him, that we all love him, that he is a sweet, sweet boy and that we aren't mad at him.  I told him I always want him to be him. I told him he is doing the right thing by thinking through these situations, but that it's ok to let it go, too.

But I know he won't. And I won't. And I'm just so sad for him. 

I don't have a wise nugget of parenting advice to end on. I do know things will seem less dramatic after we all sleep, and that's not nothing. I do know that by sharing the less than stellar moments sometimes that someone will someday stumble upon this after some improbable Google search, and they won't feel so alone. I know the people who love me, and him, and all of us, will keep doing that thing, and that's definitely not nothing. 

It's actually quite something. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dear Fellow Parent (and/or Supporter of Parents Everywhere)

The alien creatures I helped to create, poised to take over the world.

Dear Fellow Parent,

Your kids will grow up. They will evolve from completely reliant, tiny packages of goo and complaint into increasingly independent people, complete with their own, sincerely-held opinions, interests that are all but foreign to you, and alien personalities of mystifying origins. 

Yet, every single day, from age 0 to adulthood, one thing will never change: their expectations of you, the parent. The (alleged) adult. The person who knows how to sate their hunger, keep them clean and warm and engaged with the world. It's all you. 

Every single morning, they will wake up, find you, and begin listing their demands in order of priority. Oh, you can deny them, but the pressure remains. These people will want things of you, big and small things, and that's just how it's going to be for the next... for the rest of your life. Advice, food, transportation, shelter, education, clothes, entertainment, money, shoes that light up, shoes that expressly do not light up, experiences you never had as a kid, experiences you must recreate from your childhood... they want (and ok, sometimes, need) a lot of things. From you. You're the supplier of all of the things.

And apart from the satisfying, martyr-like aura this allows us to affect from time to time, let me tell you something. This stuff is a lot of pressure.

I don't know about you, though I suspect you might have a better handle on things than I do, but there are days when I wake up and it's a fight against every cell in my body to not just sit on the couch and pop in a cinnamon roll that I don't have to share with anyone in front of last night's Daily Show. And then repeat that action 800 times, until it's time for bed, or dinner, or whichever I feel like doing first. 

But, no. There will be no cinnamon rolls with Trevor Noah unless they are cinnamon rolls I have strategically planned for like a Union General getting ready for a sneak attack at some antebellum location I don't know enough about because we haven't gotten there in our homeschool studies and I don't remember anything, apparently, from my own education. Am I even using the term "Antebellum" correctly? Probably not. So who am I to even ponder whether this whole cinnamon rolls all day long plan is legitimate? Of course it's not.

Am I complaining? I mean, really, I'm blessed, and I know it. I can't watch a Sarah McLachlan commercial about all the abandoned dogs or pass a freeway sign about being a foster parent without sobbing. Truly. I should be so lucky. But yes. I am complaining, anyway. I'm a people. And, along with my husband, who does even more jobs, I've been doing a job with very few breaks non-stop for over a decade. 

Let's face it - just like the meme says, a vacation with kids is just relocating your regular parental duties to a new place where now there's sand on, and in, everything. A vacation without kids is one sure way to send my anxiety skyrocketing to impressive levels. I think we've left every one of the two occasions we've attempted a childless vacation early because of my worry-filled, hyperanxious brain. At home, it's all matches and axes and rappelling off the roof. But I'm right there, and I've perfected the right tone for making them stop the stupid thing in its tracks. I can't be sure that others have this power I've honed.

It's hard to explain to people without kids what this feels like without freaking them out, because I'll admit, this gig doesn't sound good on paper when you're being asked to stop using the bathroom in private (for the rest of your life), to add 15+ minutes to all your getting-out-the-door times, and your intimate times aren't currently in jeopardy of being relegated to secretive, silent acts that make everyone involved feel a little criminal. Maybe that's just me. 


Yes. On paper, good grief. You know what you're signing up for, in theory, but it's kind of like signing up for a cell phone plan. They reel you in with promises of pigtails and impish grins, and then you get six months in and it's all crappy service and they keep shutting off in the middle of important things and you kind of want your money back, but now that you have a smart phone, you can't go back to life without one. Is this an insensitive comparison, human lives vs. cheap Chinese tech junk that is actively ruining society? I mean, I'm not saying the human lives don't win, I'm just saying that even when you knew this was going to be a hard gig, you probably didn't realize what hard could feel like. 

And yet.

and yet.

Here we are. We made families where there once was none. We are raising people who will do things in this world, big and small. If we don't royally screw it up, odds are they will be people who do more, with less, than we ever dreamed possible. Because kids? Kids are flipping brilliant.

Kids can tap into their humanness in a way adults have forgotten. Nothing is impossible. This effed up society I mentioned earlier? It's not a hindrance to our kids until we tell them it is. Racism? Sexism? Homophobia? Bah. Bah. And bah. Turns out, the hardest part about being a parent isn't peeing in front of an audience, or even not sleeping for a good three or four month stretch (or let's be honest, ever again, not for a full night). 

The hardest part about being a parent is getting out of the way.

This society expects a lot of us, too. We're judged, often viciously, by complete strangers, who base their conclusions of our parenting skills on the five-minute meltdown they witness in Target. It's the message that's being broadcast through every medium possible - TV, social media, advertising... - and it's endless: parents should look and act a certain way, and so should kids. And worse, the message doesn't stop there. Parents who don't, and kids who aren't, are The Problem with Society. As if we needed more pressure? Did you read those paragraphs up there? We didn't. The well of parental self-loathing, the pit of never being enough? Those are bottomless. 

So we huddle, and we hover, and we non-nonchalantly check to see if other parents are giving us or our kids the up-and-down, or worse, exchanging The Glance with another parent who is sure she's figured us out. And if they are? We make excuses. We scoop up our misunderstood offspring and shuffle off in shame. We try to laugh it off, but internally it's just another layer of uncertainty on top of the pile you've been accumulating for every year of this kid's life. Now and then you relax, and get a little perspective, and you rip off some of those layers, but a new phase is always around the corner. When should they drive? Date? Are they depressed? Am I helicoptering? 

If you're especially fortunate, like I am, you'll cobble together a group of friends who aren't jerks, who will remind you that you're overthinking everything and that your kids are actually fine and not destined for a miserable life. "Relax, mama; you're doing a good job, dad," they'll say. And it will help. You'll pull one another through it, cheering each other and holding each other up, and it will all go by in a blur. 

Along the way, you'll start to understand some things. 

You'll understand why homemade cards are worth their weight in gold, and why your grandma cried when you picked the prettiest dandelions in the yard just for her, and why your parents really wanted you to just be thankful for what you had almost more than any other goal they had for you. 

And one day, if you're incredibly lucky and if it's right for these wonderfully complicated human beings you've raised, your wrinkle-creased face will greet a new generation. You're in the business of continuance now, you know. Becoming a parent is a hopeful act in a sometimes hopeless situation. It's breathing love, and hope, into a world that really needs it. 

So, hey, fellow parent, thanks for signing on alongside me. And for those who haven't signed up, but who support us so strongly in this endeavor, thank you, too. You didn't have to abandon the couch or the cinnamon rolls, but here you are, anyway.

Maybe there's hope for this world, after all. 


It's been a year, somehow. We love and miss you so much, Grandma.

Monday, May 30, 2016


It happened so quickly I still can't quite wrap my head around all the details. I do know that 2-year-old Anderson was there one minute and that he was gone in the next. 

We were at a Walgreens in Michigan on a trip to show off David, who was tiny and new. As we often do at stores, we walked in and devised a quick and dirty plan to divide and conquer. Kurt would go grab snacks and I'd hunt down some allergy meds and we'd meet back at the register. Anderson said he wanted to go with Kurt, so I said "OK, hurry up and follow daddy," and when I saw him running toward Kurt, I turned around.

A few minutes later, baby David and I met Kurt up front, and I said "OK, you and Anderson go out to the car and we'll meet you there." He looked at me blankly. I turned white. I could barely get the words out - it was hard because all the air had been sucked out of my lungs.

"You don't have him?"

It's been almost 8 years and I still turn clammy recalling the moments between realizing we'd lost him and finding him again, outside, where he'd crossed the parking lot by himself and stood, tiny and sobbing for us next to our car. 

So many scenarios flashed through my head - some realistic (he could have easily been hit by a car), some extremely unlikely (someone could have grabbed him). When I stopped shaking my panic was replaced with utter shame. I couldn't even walk back in to buy the things we'd abandoned, past the cashiers who had obviously seen him run out, given the expressions on their faces and their shared glance when we asked if they'd seen a little boy. 

And I carried that shame and fear for years. Heck, I'm still a bit of a maniac when it comes to parking lot safety. But it could have been somewhere else, somewhere much worse. We could have been somewhere crowded like an amusement park or somewhere like a park, where there might have been open water... it could have been something so much worse, and ultimately it really was my fault. 

But it was also an honest accident. 

It happened so quickly. I really thought Kurt had noticed him when I sent Anderson in his direction. He didn't, and Anderson probably got distracted by a foot massager or a rack of Chapstick on his way to Kurt and then realized we were gone. I'm not proud of this moment, but I do finally realize it was one moment out of 10 years of moments. I'm a good mom. I'm attentive - I'm probably over-attentive. I love my kids. But, I'm also a human. Shit happens. 

And so, when I saw the story about what happened at our zoo a few days ago, about Harambe the lowland gorilla and the little boy who breached the enclosure and managed to slip down into the pit, I got that clammy feeling immediately. And then when I read the account of someone who was standing nearby during this incident, about how he'd been there one second and gone the next... it's heart stopping to even contemplate. That's a 15-foot drop. He was apparently hauling ass through the bushes while helpless spectators yelled for him to stop, and he just didn't.

By all the actual accounts (not the rampant speculation that passes for sport on the internet these days), it was likely an honest accident.

A moment in time that was "so much worse" - tragic for Harambe, horrifying for the spectators and the boy's family, gut-wrenching for the zoo staff, especially the staff member who had to shoot Harambe, who was so loved by so many and who wasn't really doing anything wrong. It's a major relief that the boy will be just fine.

In the aftermath, I'm disheartened by the inclination of people to immediately sharpen the pitchforks and light up the torches. I try (and don't always succeed) to apply compassion where I can, not because I'm morally superior, but because it's never failed me. Even when I wind up disappointed and agree punishment is applicable for a fellow human being who has done a terrible, totally blame-worthy thing, my compassion isn't a wasted emotion because I can find something to feel compassionate about in any situation, and ultimately, it makes me feel better to focus there instead of on something more painful and judgmental. Selfish compassion. Apparently it's a thing? I'm no psychologist - I'm just saying my soul feels better when I practice compassion over judgment when I can. And "practice" is a key word here.

I'll never stop feeling clammy when I remember the Walgreens incident; I can only throw out hope into the universe that it's the scariest moment I have as a mom, and that my people will still keep loving me when I do screw it up. Let's face it - I'm going to screw it up from time to time. You heard it here first. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

And the seasons they go round and round...

Sometimes I save meaningless things and then later, they seem cryptic and a little spooky. Like this scrawled Google Hangouts message. What does it even mean?? We may never know, much like we may never know what life means. You're welcome.
I think when you start reaching a certain age, you begin looking for loops back to the past. You’re kind of desperate for those full circle moments, because we’re all seeking meaning, aren’t we? Even in the midst of the inevitable dawn of realization that we won’t ever really get to know “what it’s all about,” we’re searching for meaning. Can I loop this moment back to something that happened in my childhood? That’s me, anyway.

For instance: take the harmonica. I mean, really, when it comes to my kids trying to play the harmonica (or me for that matter), take it far, far away. But when I hear it in a song, I go limp. It’s Neil Young (even when it’s not), and I’m closing my eyes, and I’m back in my childhood home on State Route 222 on the hardwood floor in the living room, and soon, it’ll be time for me to flip the record, if I’m deemed calm enough in the moment. And those songs now, they really have taken on new meaning. It’s a full circle moment, and it’s satisfying.

And then there are those moments that aren’t so satisfying. Like when I lose it a little bit with my kids. That’s a full circle moment, too, or the threat is there, at least, and it doesn’t feel so good. But I think it’s important to recognize those moments, too. You can’t break a chain if you don’t recognize a chain when you see it. And so I try. But I don’t always succeed, and it’s sobering, because a new realization that’s come with age is that the generation before me had chains to break, too, and only now do I realize how often and how hard they were also trying. Another full circle moment that injects some meaning into my life, but I’m not sure how to embrace it.

Forgiveness is a roadblock for me, and I’m a little ashamed about it. I think I’m probably a pretty kind person, at least it means a lot to me to do kind things when I can. But true forgiveness, letting-it-go and moving on… my compassion seems to just wash away sometimes. I get disappointed in people too quickly, and it’s unfair and often, hypocritical. And I say this knowing that it makes me vulnerable to people who might say, in the midst of a disagreement, “Hey, look, even you have admitted that you are unfair sometimes…” because that’s happened.

But I say these things in this space from time to time because I know enough about the human condition to know I’m not alone. When you reach down and pull out something ugly, most of the time someone else will nod in silent agreement. I get a fair number of private messages from strangers, and I barely write on this blog, so I feel pretty confident that a vulnerable voice is sometimes a voice that needed to be heard. I put myself out there because I feel really strongly that most people really are trying. To be better. To start over (again). To move on. I’m trying on all of those fronts, and more, every day. What’s it going to hurt to admit it once in a while?

I used to feel more worried about that vulnerable state, but you know, once you’ve exposed yourself accidentally to a city bus driver and you’ve passed gas that your coworkers have mistaken for an electrical fire in an elevator, it becomes pretty clear that the universe would like you to just get over yourself and find comfort in the imperfection.

Anyway, I started this whole, rambling mess before any of the news of this day. It was the day we found out Prince died (and Chyna, too, which seems like its own sad dichotomy but I am out of philosophical wax for the moment). So I’m making note of this sad and unexpected bit of news, which has surely affected my overall tone here. It’s kind of weird – I spent a while today trying to relearn the little bit of ukulele I started learning a while back. I woke up in a Neil Young kind of mood (not that he has anything to do with the ukulele), and I thought about how I’m glad he hasn’t died yet like every celebrity ever seems to be doing lately (BE CAREFUL PEEWEE), and then I hoped I didn’t jinx him by even thinking the thought, because I’m ridiculous sometimes, and then I got out my ukulele and tuned it and attempted to play “Red River Valley” a few hundred times. Not that this has anything to do with Prince. I was just feeling very musically-led today.

Well, that’s about all the ranting (and/or raving) I have in me right now, and I’m realizing now I literally didn’t mention a single thing actually happening in my life, so I have given the reader nothing except a little peek into the head my brain calls home. I hope you were offered tea, or at least a place to sit down. Please leave the harmonica alone. 

This is pretty much obligatory, and I didn't even realize it until I finished this post and realized this song has surely been churning along in my subconscious throughout the whole thing. This must be how people accidentally commit plagiarism. Thanks, Joni. You be careful, too!! Everybody just remain indoors.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sometimes you're the yin and sometimes you're the yang

Have you had one of those phases where you're not sure what triggered it or if it was even something specific, but you find yourself in a funk and the climb back out is so intimidating that after a while, you just turn on robot mode and muddle through for a while? 



Well, I have. And even though I'm back up here on dry land, it always feels like if I took a single step backward, I'd fall right back into the abyss. 

Frankly, there are plenty of abyss-worthy things that have happened this year. Chief among them is the loss of Kurt's amazing grandma, Nancy, in August. I'm still in that part where I can't really even think about her without crying big, hot tears. Because she was amazing, you guys. I can't explain how fortunate I feel to have wound up being able to count myself as one of her grandchildren-by-proxy (although any time she introduced me she just called me her granddaughter). She was in her 80s, but it was still unexpected and sudden. We miss her so very, very much. The kids talk about her almost every day. She's given them so many little things from the house she lived in with Kurt's grandpa most of her life. I see her in every single room of my house.

I could go on for so long about Nancy. But I'll keep it short. Think of the kindest person you can think of, and then add a big dash of clever wit and a boatload of patience. She was quick to smile and quicker to hug. She was really proud of her Swedish heritage, and over the moon when we named Anderson after her maiden name. Every Christmas Eve, she would serve a big Swedish meal with potato sausage, carrot pudding and limpa bread and her extended family would gather around and complain in that teasing, loving way that really great families often do. It was absolutely expected, though. It's not Christmas without that meal. I'd been planning to introduce this tradition to our Cincinnati family this year, before she died, and I think we'll still try, though it will be difficult. 

So, my heart has been bruised for a while. And now one of my uncles has died, just this past weekend. He'd dealt with a lifetime of Big Issues and walked a very, very difficult path. I hadn't see him in years, and usually I haven't even been aware of where he was (or if he was). He was a big-hearted, gentle soul, at any rate, and my heart hurts for him, my grandma and his remaining siblings. It's a really difficult thing. We'll go to the funeral on Friday and I'm sure it will be tough.

On the flip side, though, I also became an aunt in August! In fact, we were on the way to Michigan to attend Nancy's funeral when my niece was born. And she is quite the antidote to all this heartache. She is such a sweet baby, and we are lucky enough to get to help take care of her during the week. She brightens our days so much. I don't know if it's full circle, or the yin and the yang or just... you know, life. But it's good. I'm so excited that my kids have a cousin, and it's so funny to call my husband an uncle. And my brother is a really good dad! And his wife is a fantastic mom! It's all kind of surreal, but in a really, really good way.

And a million other things. Loss and love and trucking along, as we do. Some moments cast a long shadow, but where there is shadow, there must also be light. That almost sounds Biblical. Did I steal that from the Bible? That seems especially in bad taste.

I have no clever or hilarious anecdotes to fill up the page here. I just wanted to throw out a "I'm still here" message. Because I am. And so are you, and aren't we so lucky?

Friday, August 7, 2015

My boy and the moonlight (and astronaut pee) (and mortality)

 Blue moon over Arlington, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky) (Public Domain Image)
Blue moon over Arlington, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky) (Public Domain Image)

It's a cool night, summer slipping away and new challenges on the horizon, and I'm looking at the moon with one of my boys - the one who has reached my shoulder height but still cuddles in my lap on a daily basis. It's a sweet moment among so many sweet moments I have with this kid.

So it's a little jarring when he pipes up with this one: "We're all going to die."

I'd be lying if I said this was the start of a surprising conversation with this particular child. He's been a little obsessed with mortality since my grandpa died a couple of years ago. I've learned to roll with it.

"Yes," I reply. "Does it make you sad?"

"Well, I'm going to invent a machine that lets people live forever, way before you die, Mommy." 

"That would be interesting!"

He designs his immortality machine over and over again lately, filling notebooks with complex diagrams and algorithms that make sense only to him. But tonight, I don't launch into the Socratic method and lob questions at him about what society would do with limitless population or what quality of life issues might arise if we lived forever. He's such a tireless worrier. A worrier warrior. 

And it's hard even at age 40 to accept my own mortality and that of everyone around me. At 9 it's impossible to even catch the edge of the implications here - we are all going to die. Life is fragile. Shit can happen in the blink of an eye.  The weight of it all can be so paralyzing. I don't have to add to his pile tonight. 

"You know what's cool, though?" I ask.

He thinks for a long minute. Rhetorical questions mean nothing at age 9. 

"Astronauts have peed in space and then that pee was released into space so the pee is kind of part of our atmosphere now?"

"Well, no. Wait. Is that actually true?"

"I think so!"

"Hmm. Well, sure, that's kind of cool. But the other thing that's cool is that we're here right now. I'm here, you're here, and life is really great. We share so many wonderful memories and that will always be true," I say. 

"Until we die, you mean."

"That's kind of true, but we can leave things behind, like stories and writing and art and photographs..." 

"Yeah but then everybody who sees those things will also die and eventually no one will even know who you were. That's reality, Mommy."


"It's ok if you don't know what to say. I don't know what to say either! Life is strange! Anyway, do you think the astronauts also farted? Like the ones who have floated around in their suits? Could that kill someone?? All that methane gas trapped inside with them???" 

"Let's just look at the moon."

And we did, and it was good, and I was reminded once again how much I love these complicated/simple moments with these burgeoning little souls. 

Because he's right, you know. We're here for just a little while in the big scheme of things. Is there a greater gift than spending that little while with people you both like and love?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Family with a capital F

My extended family life is a mess.

I'm not going to sugar coat it. I'm not going to pretend I'm not a mess, myself, either.

When it comes to "my side of the family," as it were, we are a collective Mess-with-a-capital-M and I'm only just now, at age 40, realizing there isn't ever going to be some poignant moment when we get it together, mend all the broken fences, and start channeling the Waltons or the Cleavers or even the Bundys. We're always going to be more like the Bluths, and maybe in our more colorful moments, something out of the next Wes Anderson movie.

I'm not ashamed to own this mess, though, because I know I'm not alone. I know that if you are reading these words, you're a person (unless you're a spambot or an FBI surveillance program), and if you're a person, you've lived through a mess or two or twenty, too. You have messy moments. You've had messy family problems. You've experienced loss, change and drama, the extent of which could easily enthrall a nation, if you let an unscrupulous television network document it all. You have a distant or not-so-distant relative who has dealt with Problems-with-a-capital-P and you aren't sure how to reconcile your desire to both help them and shield yourself from the collateral damage of their own mess. Maybe you're the one with the capital-P problem. Your family, too, is probably a mess, at least sometimes.

Life is a mess. It's not even one of those so-called beautiful messes most of the time.

Yet here we are. We're a mess, and here we are. Take it or leave it; like or lump it. Embrace it or reject it - if you're reading these words, you are here - inhaling, exhaling, loving, grieving, hoping, worrying, working, breaking cycles and starting new ones, just trying to get home again at the end of each day.  This is the stuff of life - the constants, anyway.

In my family, we get it wrong sometimes. We're really bad at reading cues sometimes. We even hurt each other sometimes, and on an individual level, we take turns feeling forgotten or ignored or misunderstood. Our familial experiences are shared but they are also uniquely, painfully individual depending on our roles in a given situation. It's all but impossible to recognize how the same experiences have affected us each so differently. And so a familiar cycle continues - blame, shame and remorse. Again and again. It's wearying.

Sometimes I want to pile up the mess of this family, pour gasoline over it and toss in the match as I walk away (cue an appropriate soundtrack - maybe REM's "Bang and Blame?" ). But I never do. I never could.

We're bound by ancestry, by the messy, sticky blood that courses through our veins. And we're bound by the shared experience of surviving this mess together.

And sometimes, we manage to get it right. We remember the good memories more often than the bad ones. We know each other in ways no one else will ever really get because we lived through things together that won't ever happen again. When we're angry at each other, that anger is usually borne out of concern, out of love. Sometimes it takes time, but a hopeful glimmer of forgiveness remains.

So no, my family is unlikely to inspire a heartwarming sitcom any time soon. But you know what? As much as I've loved every "Richie Cunningham" who has crossed the battle-strewn path of my imperfect life, Happy Days was never much of a cliffhanger. I'd gladly take a punch to the jaw for these people if it came down to it.

I don't know how or why we manage to keep this mess (kind of) together, but I think it's probably because we're always going to need each other. We're always going to need to know the people who get why sometimes, something that looks like an unfixable mess is actually Family-with-a-capital-F.

It's as easy and as complicated as that.

Put that in your Christmas newsletter.