Thursday, March 30, 2017

Let she whose child is perfect eat the first tortilla chip

More about this bag of tortilla chips later.

The other day, I went to pick Jovie up from a friend's house. As usual, I lingered a bit to catch up with Janna, her friend's mom. I'd been feeling a little lonely this week – the house extra quiet; I was desperate for some social interaction. So, while the girls served us torn up bits of pita ("Those are raspberries," Jovie told me. "They're made of ham.") and crushed tortilla chips from their basement "snack stand" (two upended kid's easy chairs pushed together to form a table) we embarked on a fragmented conversation about this and that. Because any conversation between two mothers is fragmented when the kids are underfoot. Not unlike crushed tortilla chips, in fact.

"Where's Graham?" I asked casually - hoping to steal a hug from her rosy-cheeked 2 year old, who was normally shuffling around in the vicinity of his sisters, trains or race cars in tow.

Janna paused. Glanced around the room. He wasn't there. And there were no sounds coming from overhead ... no tell tale little feet. No babbling or soft giggles. Only silence.

"Excuse me," she said running up the stairs.

Jovie told me all about the tortilla chips she was going to take home for Lily and I attempted to make the girls laugh by inventing weird nicknames for them. After a few minutes, I told Jovie it was time to get her shoes and we went upstairs, too. 

"Everything OK?" I yelled.

Janna appeared at the bannister on the second floor, deliberately unwinding a wire coat hanger and looking a bit flustered.

"I'm so sorry. Graham locked himself in our bathroom."

"Can I help?"

"No, no. He's done it before. I'll figure it out."

But I'm the mother of two small children who once locked themselves in their bedroom and used poster paint to decorate their carpet. I'm the mother of two small children who once pointed the garden hose into the sunroom and squeezed the nozzle. I'm the mother who has had to crawl through a bedroom window to break into the house my 4 year old had locked me out of. 

I am a mother who has witnessed some kid-induced bullshit. And as that mother, I wasn't about to leave another mom, who was frantically MacGyvering some sort of medieval door lever, on her own to just "figure it out."

I went upstairs. And took a deep breath and invaded my friend's privacy. 

"There's laundry all over the bed," she apologized. 

"I'm not looking at the bed," I said. "Let's figure this out." 

It turned out Graham hadn't locked himself in the bathroom, not really.

What he'd done was open a drawer in the vanity that prevented the bathroom door from opening more than an inch. In the small crack he left we could see a few things. 

The first was the bathroom sink, filled to the brim with various bottles of lotion and soap and toiletries and also toilet paper. The water was running, naturally. 

The second was the open drawer, which could've probably been closed with the unwound coat hanger, except for the fact that it contained a large pink bucket (as well as water, dripping from the sink).

The third was Graham. Who would periodically wander down the vanity countertop in striped footie pajamas to say hi and give us the cutest smile this side of baby harp seals.

"Grahammy," Janna sang. "Grahammy, can you close the drawer honey? Close the drawer!" 

And Graham would half-heartedly try to push the drawer closed. And then go back to whatever he was doing (which we mostly couldn't see, cuz we only had that inch of space).

The hullabaloo lured the girls to the bedroom. Where they proceeded to shriek at the drama of the situation, running around in circles between peeking through the door crack. 

Generally, just not being helpful at all.

I ushered them downstairs. Then returned to the bedroom.

"If you offered him a treat would he want to come out?" I asked.

"Grahammy, Grahammy," Janna crooned. "Do you want some chocolate? If you opened the door, you can have some chocolate."

Graham came back over to the door, babbling in glee. He tried to pull it open but couldn't. (Because drawer with pink bucket, obvies). 

"Take the bucket out Graham!" we urged. "Take the bucket out and you can close the drawer and have chocolate!" 

But Graham had given up on the drawer and his dreams of chocolate. 

"Do you have like, a stick or a dowel or something?" I asked "Maybe we could push the bucket out. Maybe a wooden spoon."

Janna continued working her hanger and pleading with Graham. I went to the kitchen and found a strainer with a long wooden handle. Back upstairs, I used the strainer and eventually hooked the bucket's handle causing it to levitate mysteriously in front of Graham. We heard laughter and exclamations from behind the door. Then the bucket fell. Back into the drawer.

But we were so close. I continued jabbing at the bucket. Soon, it fell to the floor. We pushed the drawer closed, flung open the door and turned off the water.

There was little Graham, playing with closed containers of various bathroom products. Not especially upset that he hadn't been able to get out. He was totally fine, save for maybe being a little warm (the bathroom was a bit muggy - he must've turned on the hot water.) 

And Janna and I? We had a long, luscious laugh. Because no one was hurt and because no property was really all that damaged (aside from some unsalvageable toilet paper) and because the situation was ridiculous and because we're moms and we know that day's ridiculousness was ripe fodder for tonight's dinner table conversation and for various parties, holidays and family parties for years to come. 

"Remember that time Graham locked himself in the bathroom and we had to rescue him with a wooden-handled strainer?" will be family lore. 

Just like that time I proudly announced to guests at an office party my dad was throwing that I had "buggies in my hair" and they all laughed and thought I was cute because they didn't quite grasp that they were chatting with a louse-infected 3 year old. Or, that time my little brother took a swim in the toilet fully clothed. Or, all the times Lily pooped in the bathtub when she was a baby. Or, the time my neighbor knocked on the front door and told me that "he got something" and by "he" my neighbor meant Snacks and by "something" he meant a dead squirrel that I had to wrench from his mouth. I will now never forget the sound squirrel bones make as they're being chewed.

As I was loading Jovie in the car, relieved that this time I wasn't the one who was going to have to clean up an absurd mess or discuss the appropriate consequence for unapproved bathroom activities, Jovie reminded me about the chips she'd wanted to give to Lily. I didn't see her bag in her hands and didn't want to bother Janna. 

I groaned, fearing another fire to have to put out. I was about to tell her we'd just give Lily some of the tortilla chips at our house when Jovie proceeded to reach down into her underpants and pull out ... wait for it ... her bag of tortilla chips.

"They taste better from my butt," she told me.

See, cuz that's the thing about being a mom. The second you feel like you've been granted a reprieve for the day – the second you start to feel safe and maybe even a little bit smug that you're not the one left to pick up the pieces of yet another kid-induced disaster – humility smacks you across the face with a bag of munchies stored in your 4-year-old's undercarriage for safekeeping.

In the oft-repeated, borrowed phrase of my own mother, who's witnessed the kid-induced bullshit of six children: "There but for the grace of God go I."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What I learned from geese, lichen and coccolithophores

Bejeweled grass.

The other night I woke up at 4 a.m.. Jovie was snuggled in on one side of me as she often is early in the morning. The dog was squeezed in on the other. It was tight quarters. I wasn't ready to be awake, but couldn't go back to sleep.

I tried to focus on my breathing. Because via meditation and yoga, I'd heard that can help. Just concentrate on the in and out, in and out.

As I lay there in the dark, the room warm and still around me, I tried concentrating on my breathing. Only, instead of just following my breath, I found myself trying to control my breath. The rhythm of my breathing didn't seem calming enough – relaxing enough for sleep. So I focused on making it so. But that only made me more aware of how wrong my breathing was. How it was making me feel light-headed, but not sleepy. 

I put my hand on the dog's stomach, hoping his natural respiration would help guide my own. But his breathing was faster than mine, probably because he's smaller. So then I thought I'd listen to Brad – but he must've been dreaming – his was irregular (and maybe a little bit snore-ish). So I just lay there. Awake. Kind of angry because I couldn't even breathe right.

All it is, is breathe in, breathe out, right? Breathe in, breathe out.

But that's not quite right, I realized. Because there's a pause after breathe out, before breathe in. It's not a constant thing. It's breathe in, breathe out, pause, breathe in, breathe out, pause. 

Like the sound of ocean waves at the beach.

Otherwise, it's kind of like hyperventilating or the feeling I get after I walk up the stairs cuz I'm really out of shape. It's too much. Me assuming my conscious mind knew more about the right way to breathe than my unconscious mind. Me deciding that the solution was more doing, less pausing.

I need to just allow the waves to roll in, rather than control the current. Eventually, I drifted back to sleep.


Maybe it's not a mistake that we use the ocean as a tool for relaxation. That the sounds of waves are soothing to us. I just learned that the ocean is responsible for every other breath we take (we can thank the forests for the other half). During an episode called Epic Battles, RadioLab shared a story about these little one-celled marine plants armored by a unique limestone coating that live in enormous colonies on the surface of the ocean. They're called coccolithophores. Despite their tiny size, these organisms can be seen from space as milky turquoise swirls; they are responsible for the famous White Cliffs of Dover. And they produce oxygen, which is good for us oxygen-breathing sorts

Coccolithophores and other phytoplankton as seen from space.
Photo courtesy of NASA/Flickr
Currently, researchers are trying to get a better understanding of the impact of giant blooms of these tiny creatures – particularly the role they do or don't play in global warming. 

They can survive and actually thrive in nutrient-poor areas of the ocean, providing a food source where other phytoplankton might be scarce. In addition, their light color reflects visible light, that would otherwise be absorbed in the ocean and stored as heat. Given concerns about our warming seas, this is probably a good thing. 

They are made using carbon, so researchers believe in the long-term they might actually reduce the amount carbon in the atmosphere that could go on to form greenhouse gases and  contribute to global warming. Then again, the short-term picture is a bit foggier. With every new coccolith comes the creation of a CO2 molecule – the plant sucks back in most of the gas as food, but some of it does escape into the atmosphere. (By the way, don't quote me on the exact science of any of this ... I'm attempting to distill information with my painfully clumsy brain).

As with all life, coccolithophores are complicated and we don't understand the big picture yet. They have their good points and bad points, just like the rest of us.

They're really beautiful on a micro level. Here's one through an electron microscope:

Photo courtesy of Public Library of Science Journal

I was thinking about coccolithophores and respiration while walking the dog today and listening to Krista Tippett's interview with physicist Carlo Rovelli. Trying to draw connections between my experience and the world at large (and small I guess).

In the interview Rovelli discussed many fascinating things – among them, the meaning of time: 

"It’s not either there is time, or there’s not time; it’s what we mean by time. When we think about time, for instance, we think time is the same for everybody, and we know it’s not true. Time passes a little bit faster in the mountain, and a little bit slower near the sea. The more high you go, the more time passes fast. So it’s relative to how we move, where we are, and so on. I think that, in the fundamental equation of the world, as we have understood so far, we can forget about time. 
They’re not about how things evolve in time. It is about relations between — with invariables. I think that’s more or less we can understand. The real problem is, from there, to come back, and in this timeless world, to understand what is this thing that we experience as time. And that’s a problem in thermodynamics, and also, I think this probably is related to what we are as human beings. To a large extent, what we call time is our memory, our anticipation. I think we’re going to understand entirely what time is when we better understand what we are. So I think that time is an approximate thing, not a fundamental thing in the world. Like up and down. Up and down makes sense here on Earth, but not in space."
He went on later:
"We perceive reality not from the outside, but from the inside. And there is this little difference between each one of us, obviously. And we have to keep this into account."
This stuck out to me. The way we perceive reality.

See, we assume because we know what it's like to be ourselves, that we know what it's like to be a human in general.That we can look at another person and know them and understand them on a certain level just by virtue of the fact that they're also a human. But really, it's relative, right? Even for identical twins – conceived and borne from the same place, their experiences aren't exact. Not quite. So our experience in this life is just our own. Our partner's experience is his own. Our children's experiences are their own. 

So then, I think, it's essential that we stay curious. Stay curious about each other. Even the people we are closest with. Even with the people with think we know everything about. Stay curious like children. Stay curious about the world because our curiosity not only builds understanding, it creates joy. Like the little boy toddling along the sidewalk who, at the sight of Snacks, began giggling and pointing. Who spun his head around and grinned as we passed, hoping to watch more of this wonderful thing called doggy.

It will break your heart open.

My lichen specimen.

You'll start marveling at the world you've always thought you knew. Even in the mundanity of your own neighborhood, another patch in the endless quilt of suburban sprawl. You'll spot lichen flowering on a stick and marvel at how delicate and beautiful it is. Which makes you want to learn more about what lichen is, exactly. Where you'll learn that it's actually the result of two symbiotic organisms: a fungus and algae existing because of each other. The alga photosynthesizes food, providing nutrients for the lichen, the lichen offers a safe place for alga to be – protecting it from ultraviolet rays.

You'll look down, where your eyes will open to spring bursting around you – the emerald moss and the rain sparkling on greening grasses soaking in the sun and thaw.

And you'll look up to watch the birds.

As I headed home from my walk, I saw a flock of geese flying over head. An undulating "V" in the sky. I thought about how lucky it must be for the geese at the ends of the two legs of the "V". Long distance flying must be so easy when you're catching the draft from all the others up ahead. How tiring it must be for the ones at the front. Carrying the load of air resistance over miles and miles. 

The sky was a downy gray, and their movement felt like a dance just for me, so I stopped to watch them. I observed the geese periodically shifting positions. Sometimes the "V" became an "A". It occurred to me that maybe the goose at the front wasn't always the goose at the front. That the constant switching toward the front of the flock was to give the leaders a break.

When I got home, I did some Googling – and found this from the L.A. Times: Birds Flying in a V Take Turns in the Top Spot, Study Finds. Researches tracked flocks of Northern bald ibises and found that when flying long distances, there was no one bird that took the front spot for long periods of time; instead, they'd spend seconds or a minute in that position, before rotating with neighbors.

“All the birds contribute almost equally to the investment in leading the flock,” biologist Bernhard Voelkl said.

Watching the birds made me think about how dependent we are on each other. Like lichens. Like our dependence on this microscopic ocean creatures for breath. 

And how we're stronger when we work together. And how it's too wearying for any one of us to lead the flock for long periods of time. We each have to take our turn, then we each have to move aside for the next leader. 

As tumultuous as life feels in our country, in our world right now, it's hard not to feel as if we have to race to the front of the flock to take a stand – to be the tip of the spear of progress and change. I don't know about you, but I'm not so sure I have a clear picture about what I'd do up there in the front. Not yet anyway. But I think I'll know when it's my turn to take the lead. And in the meantime, the birds in the middle are no less critical. They provide draft for those behind them. And those birds help the ones behind them. We all carry each other that way. 

What does any of this have to do with the other thing? What does lying awake at night have to do with phytoplankton? What does phytoplankton have to do with relativity? What does lichen have to do with bird formations? Maybe nothing more than a jumbled compilation of the things that catch my attention in a day. You know how I love attempting to weave discordant things together into neat little packages. Hoping to find harmony where maybe there is none to be found. 

Maybe the only common thread is me and the next shiny thing.  

But maybe not. 

Maybe it's that we're better together. We're better as a species when we collaborate. Maybe it's that we really need each other to survive. And not only each other, but the other living things that surround us – even the tiniest organisms. The planet is this living, breathing thing that shapes us as we shape it. Symbiosis is beautiful. And we needn't feel so small and powerless in this vast universe. We all play a role. Even when we don't know what it is.

Maybe the thread is just to be curious. To observe the world around you. To be open to the lessons it's trying to teach you. Our daily existence as the classroom for the very meaning of who we are and why we are here.

Those answers that are so complex they require a lifetime to digest. The ones that you get when you come back to your breath. 

The answers to the things that keep you awake at night. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Learning that silence isn't silent

"Have you ever tried meditation?" I asked my sister, Jen a couple weeks ago. 

We were hanging out in our sister Laura's kitchen, our various children running amok, discussing over various frustrations with our mental health.

I figured out of the three of us Jen would be the most likely candidate for being a bit Zen-ny. After all, she'd lived on Haight Street in San Francisco, sold handmade jewelry at the gay pride parade there and worked at The Fillmore. For whatever reason, in my mind, that somehow meant she'd probably also explored Eastern philosophies. Well that, and she kept a Buddha in the little garden outside her condo. 

And as it turned out, she had. Jen told me years ago she'd gone to meditation regularly at this Buddhist temple not far from her house. And she'd loved going.

"Wanna go again?" I asked. 

I've never meditated. Not really beyond the five-minute or so Savasana at the end of a Yoga class, which always ends up being less contemplative thought and more trying not to fall asleep. But I just finished reading two Buddhist-y books ("When Things Fall Apart" and "The Art of Happiness"). And in listening to On Being, I've found a common thread among these kind of deep thinkers with questions about our existence and purpose and the universe and all: They devote time to not doing things. The spend each day, praying or meditating or just being. And they seem to be figuring things out. 

I really want to find a path to some inner peace. 

Actually, I really hate how that sentence looks. Like, I'm going through some sort of Desperate-Housewife-y-weekend-in-Ojai-the-universe-is-telling-me-shit phase (when really, I'm just going through an add-a-"y"-to-a-bunch-of-random-words phase). Really, I'm trying to look at life as less phase-y and more journey-y (but not "Don't Stop Believing'" Journey – more like my experiences have answered lots of questions and raised a lot more questions about the bigger picture. So like a quest for truth. But not, like, my truth (which is kind of barf-y)).

But now I feel really judge-y.

Let me begin again. I'm trying to hit this depression from all angles. I'm on medication and in therapy, but I don't want to be on medication or in therapy forever so I need to add another tool to the 'ol self-care utility belt (it's like Batman's, only with more pillow mist and journaling).

So on Thursday, Jen and I headed to Ekoji Temple to meditate. I had next to no idea what to expect. I'd never been in a Buddhist Temple. Never read specifically on what a meditation practice should look like. I didn't have mantras or prayer beads at the ready. I just showed up.

Which, I guess, is all you really need to do. 

A man named Mark greeted us at the door and asked if we'd been before. Jen told him she'd been there years ago. He welcomed her back. We took off our shoes and walked into a large room that resembled the various Catholic church sanctuaries of my youth (you know, minus the stained glass with the stations of the cross and the giant crucifix, etc.). Instead of the cushions Jen had promised, there were long rows of chairs. We took a seat. There were maybe 10 other people scattered throughout the room. Nobody was talking. It was quiet and profoundly still with the musky scent of incense.

The overhead lights were switched off. Mark walked wordlessly down the center aisle, bowed at the altar(?) at the front of the room, sat down and rang a gong.

And then we just ... sat. Quietly. In the flickering light of a single candle. I borrowed some yoga practice and concentrated on my breathing. In and out. In and out. 

There was no direction from Mark or anyone else. No imagining myself floating on my favorite body of water. No picturing my thoughts drifting away like bubbles or balloons. Just sitting. And breathing. I decided early on I was not going to worry about the fact that I had no idea what to do. I was pretty sure there were no prerequisites. Instead I sat, sometimes concentrating on my breathing. Sometimes repeating the phrase "I am here, I am here." 

If I found my mind drifting from the moment, I labeled it "thinking" as directed by "When Things Fall Apart" and let it go. Returned to breath. 

At one point the gong rang again. And one by one, everyone stood up, went to the altar bowed a couple times, did something with the incense and shuffled around the room. I had no idea what they were doing. Or what I was supposed to be doing. So I continued sitting. Jen did too. Eventually, the gong rang again. Everyone sat down and we meditated some more. 

At the end Mark directed us to pages in books in front of us. And together we chanted. Well I attempted to chant. I half chanted, half listened. Enjoying the community and the opportunity to experience something new. The gong rang again, and it was over. Mark invited everyone to have tea and cookies. And that was that. Jen and I chatted with Mark as we were leaving – we both had questions that he kindly answered. I'm sure much to Jen's dismay, I suggested we sit down for tea with the others. Why not?

Sitting there, in the quiet dark of the temple I found myself hearing all sorts of things. The whir of car engines driving past outside. The swish of pant legs rubbing together. Throats being cleared. The gurgle-popping noises of stomachs digesting. The drippy sound of my own swallowing, which seemed deafening. 

It occurred to me that even when it was quiet, life was not quiet. That no matter how far you attempt to retreat from it, there is no way to vacuum every last bit of noise. It seemed an important epiphany. It meant I could bring this moment of peace into my day-to-day. There was no real difference between the noise the spit makes in my throat and the noise Lily makes when she's banging on the bathroom door, begging to be let in. I realized it was all relative. And if I could live in the moment while sitting in this temple, I could live in the moment while ... umm ... sitting... while I'm in the bathroom and a 6-year-old with no respect for personal space screamed that if I didn't let her in, she'd go potty on the floor. 

It's all the same.

So we don't need to wait for the perfect moment to be here right now. 

It was affirmation for me. That despite the fact I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing in that room on that night, that I was in the exact right place. That my attempts to bring myself back to the present moment while in the throes of whatever angst I was feeling at any given moment were on target. Being here was enough.

Being here is enough.

"We got to sit in a dark, quiet room that smelled good," I texted Laura the next day. "It was heaven." Jen agreed. Laura and Sarah would have to go with us the next time.

We all need an hour to just concentrate on being.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

For the women I love on International Women's Day

Courtesy of Sarah1258 (my sister) 
It's International Women's Day. And also a Day Without Women.

There's so much I want to write about women and their vast intelligence and depthless souls. So much I want to write about the strength I've found in women and the solidarity I've found in women the wisdom I've found in women the creativity I've found in women and the inspiration I've found in women. The women I know and the women I've never met but am still bound to by that third eye. That sixth sense. That deep and abiding belief in that which is unnamed but all encompassing and filled with goodness. 

But if I said all I wanted to say about women, it would no longer be International Women's Day. It'd probably be St. Patrick's Day or Easter or Mother's Day.

So I'll try to be brief. Here's a roundup of women who've shaped me, consoled me, inspired me and challenged me. It's certainly not a complete list. Like, not even close.  


The first woman I ever met. Who I knew even before I knew we were separate entities. Mom gave birth to six children epidural-free. She then raised those six children while working as a nurse and going to school to get her bachelor's then her master's. She's a renaissance woman. She cooks, bakes, quilts, gardens and never stops learning. She's an advocate for young nurses and passionate about reimagining how our society views death and dying. From her I learned to laugh loud and long and not to worry so much about clutter on your counters or paint in your hair. 


My coven. The other three-quarters of my whole self. My first and lifelong friends. 

  • Jen dressed me for my first real date and continues to awe me with her strength, work ethic and ability to identify and empathize with the pain of others. 
  • Laura. Laura is my second mother. My spiritual adviser. My conscience. She knows my soul better than I do.
  • And Sarah has taught me to fight for myself, take care of myself and through her own commitment to art, believe in the power of my own creativity.

  • Stephanie - She knew teaching wasn't the right fit for her and she didn't give up on pursuing a career that brought her happiness and fulfillment. She still sends the coolest cards and packages (always with glitter) and offered a dorky, overalls-wearing freshman a much-needed friend.
  • Becky - Her commitment to her friends and family have shown me the value of loyalty and offered an ongoing illustration for what love looks like.
  • Megan - She's always feverishly pursued enlightenment. And so teaches the rest of us to do the same.
  • Cassie - One of my best friends from college. She took a lapsed Catholic to a Methodist church on Sundays and reminded me that faith doesn't have to be confined by walls or creed. It can be found in each other.
  • Carla - She's always challenged me in the best ways - challenged how I look at people and the world around me. She fought and continues to fight for a better life for herself and her family and by doing so is an example for the importance of staying true to who you are while not getting mired in your own family history.
  • Katy - We never see each other anymore and communicate infrequently - but I feel her gentle spirit in the breeze and find solace knowing she is out in the world offering a quiet, but powerful example for feminism, strength and motherhood.
  • Laura - She's a working mom who's also a runner, a coach and steadfast friend. If she were a song she'd be "Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty. And that's why I look up to her.
  • Melissa - Don't let her narrow frame, sweet voice and propensity for cats fool you. She's a relentless seeker of truth. Tireless and passionate about finding answers and sharing stories. 
  • Kristen - The woman gave birth to a baby in her living room. This should be enough of an example of what a badass she is. But it's not even nearly enough. There's fire in her belly that warms everyone she meets. She is compassion personified.
  • Erica - One of my favorite mothers. Someone, I think, who still doesn't know her own influence and ability, but who's learning day by day.
  • Brittany - She's a quiet person, but her enormous generosity, kindness and creativity speak loudly on her behalf.
  • Ellen - From the second she walked into the YDR office for her job interview, I knew I wanted to be her friend. She's enormously creative and imaginative with so much heart. And endlessly, effortlessly hilarious.
  • Georgia - I miss our afternoon chats on her porch front porch in York. Georgia mentored me through the young years of motherhood - giving me much-needed support and my children a third grandmother. 
  • Kristi - Life beats her up over and over and still she pulls herself up, climbs mountains, laughs, creates and finds joy. Because of her, I love the Earth and its creatures better. More deliberately. More wholly.
  • Janna - We only just met this fall and already I know we'll be lifelong friends. At least I hope we will. Because our candid conversations about motherhood, spirituality and life in general feed my soul the way her incredible cooking fills my stomach.

  • My Syracuse Aunties - They're always laughing, always plotting the next fun day, always making the most of their lives. They've always made their nieces and nephews and grand nieces and grand nephews feel special -- even when they only saw them a couple times a year or hardly at all. They've taught me that family is family -- not matter how much time has passed or how many miles have separated us.
  • My mother-in-law - Susan Jennings the First. A tough act to follow as a wife and mother. She's not only a generous, tireless host who's dedicated to making sure her family is happy and healthy, but she's also a super talented artist. My girls and I are forever benefiting from her wisdom and kindness.
  • My sister-in-law - Jen wants to be the captain of a pirate ship. She's shown me not to lose sight of my dreams, to slow down and have fun and never be afraid to embrace your inner buccaneer. 
  • My aunties-and-cousins-in-law - Ann, Maria, Jean, Sam, Ashley, Rhiannon, Chrissy and Loan - whether it's dancing at the beach, sipping egg nog on Christmas or flying down a giant inflatable waterslide for a graduation party - the Williams sisters and their progeny sure know how to celebrate life. There's no group of women I'd rather have acquired as family. And on the other side Betsy and Pauline - such passionate, educated, firey ladies -- they show me what conviction looks like. 


  • Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Lynn. My fifth and sixth grade teachers. Mrs. Elder always treated me as an equal. Less as a student more as a co-learner. She was worldly and drove an awesome VW Bus that I got to ride in once, when she took me and a couple other Geography Bee competitors out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Mrs. Lynn knew I was a writer before I knew I was a writer. She fueled my love of reading and of writing.
  • Mrs. Dixon introduced me to journalism as the adviser of my high school newspaper where I served as art editor and editor my senior year. She always spoke her mind and always challenged us to speak ours. She was a mother bear when it came to defending our staff from an interloping principal and took pride in our successes. For some reason, she saw me as a leader. My senior year was a gauntlet, but she gave me the strength and taught me the hard lessons I needed to get through it.
  • Mrs. Gray was my AP U.S. History teacher. Her passion for the American story was contagious. I'll never forget her reading the letter Sullivan Ballou sent home to his wife during the Civil War or blasting "We Didn't Start the Fire" in our classroom. She transformed the stuff of dusty books into reality -- these were real people, just like us, experiencing monumental events, just like us, and they have much to share from their lessons. 
  • Mrs. Orlando and Mrs. Buley - Lily's kindergarten teacher and her assistant. I visit their classroom once a week and get the pleasure of watching these two awesome woman wrangle a class of 20-plus wiggly, enthusiastic, emotional and eager 5 and 6 year olds learn to read and write, but more importantly, learn to love learning and show compassion for each other. They are artists. Truly.


There's no way this list will ever be totally finished. But here's a roundup of woman authors and the books that have shaped me:

  • Elizabeth Gilbert - "Big Magic"
  • Amy Poehler - "Yes Please"
  • Tina Fey - "Bossy Pants"
  • Jenny Lawson - "Furiously Happy"
  • Barbara Kingsolver - "Flight Behavior," "The Poisonwood Bible," "Animal Vegetable Mineral"
  • Zora Neal Hurston - "Their Eyes Were Watching God"
  • Ann Lamott - "Bird by Bird"
  • Harper Lee - "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • Michelle Alexander - "The New Jim Crow"
  • Maria Semple - "Where'd You Go Bernadette?"
  • Pema Chödrön - "When Things Fall Apart"
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - "The Little House on the Prairie" series 
  • Anna Sewell - "Black Beauty"
  • Lois Lowry - "Number the Stars" and "The Giver"
  • Elizabeth Winthrop - "The Castle in the Attic"
  • Monica Furlong - "Juniper"
  • Madeleine L'Engle - "A Wrinkle in Time"
  • Krista Tippet - "Becoming Wise"
  • Cheryl Strayed - "Wild"
  • Jane Austen - "Pride & Prejudice"
  • A special shout out to Beth Vrabel and Megan Erickson for their commitment to sharing the stories that take over their lives and for giving a voice to characters often found in the margins.  
And finally, my daughters, who sing loudly, dance constantly, question everything and love more honestly than anyone I know. I'm never going to stop fighting for the ideal: A world where women are valued as much as men. Where we're treated with as much respect as, given as much compensation as and heard as clearly as men. I'm never going to stop fighting for the seats at the table we set. 

It is time.

I'll close with a word from my spirit mother:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Looking ahead and behind

August 28, 2017.

This date is looming. Just 180 days away. 

It's the first day of school.

On that day Lily will start first grade and Jovie will start kindergarten. 

Boom. Boom.

I'll walk them both to school and then walk home (no doubt sobbing) to my empty house. For seven hours, all will be quiet and still. Kind of morgue like, but without the dead bodies.

I know I'm supposed to look forward to the sudden peace the school year will bring. I'm supposed to relish the hours I can do what? Grocery shop alone? Go to yoga? Read a book? 

I can do all those things now. 

I was supposed to have another year before they were both gone the whole day. I'd been planning on that. Up until we moved that is. 

In York, Jovie would've only been in kindergarten for a half day. We would've been able to ease out of our mutual co-dependence and ease into days where we didn't get to take impromptu naps together on the couch or play Legos for hours. 

And sure, we'll have summers and vacations, etc. There will be weekends. But it won't ever be the way it's been. 

Their little years went by so quickly. Too quickly.

It's been 2,175 days (nearly six years) since I left my job at the York Daily Record. In that time, I gave birth a second time – just 19 months after the first time; changed thousands of diapers; potty trained two children; and painted everything from walls to cabinets to tummies to carpets

I've made snow forts and pillow forts and read stacks and stacks of picture books about princesses, talking bears and Seussian creatures. I've broken up fights, brushed away tears, zipped coats, buckled carseats, doled out fruit snacks, mopped up spilled drinks, scrubbed dirty feet and cuddled tired girls. 

I've rushed to the emergency room with a baby who'd fallen down the stairs and rushed to the pediatricians with a toddler who needed stitches. I've walked miles and miles around neighborhoods pushing strollers or pulling wagons. I've attended dozens of playdates and had dozens of awkward conversations with moms covering everything from sleep habits and tantrums to picky eaters and where to find deals on children's clothing. 

I've sighed in exasperation, screamed in fury and cried over how futile it all felt.

I've muddled through days and days and days where nothing much happened except the magic of witnessing childhood. 

Back in 2011, when it was just Lily and me, the hours felt so long. They'd yawn on as I'd marvel at her little toes, the way her eyes sparkled as she looked at me and the soft coos she'd make when something caught her interest. It was the best kind of tedium. And then Jovie arrived and time quickened. They went from being babies to bumbling toddlers to opinionated preschoolers in what had to have been just a fraction of a second. 

I feel so far removed from the person I was six years ago – that woman who wore dress clothes and sat in a cubicle and attended meetings in an always-freezing conference room. That woman gave and received performance reviews, spoke in newspaper jargon and wrote meeting agendas. She thought who she was professionally was the same as who she was in life rather than just a part of the spectrum of her personhood. That her worth could only be measured by her success at work. 

Who was she?

I think about having another baby. Pushing off the next stage just a bit longer. Returning to onesies and swaddling and kissing the top of a downy-soft little head. The girls have been asking for a sibling. With two trial kids under my belt, I might finally be the cool mom I've always wanted to be.

But, I don't know. It just doesn't feel practical. And anyway, I'd just  be back in this place again in six short years. I don't know that that's the solution. Though it's painful to think about – no more babies. That's a doozy.

How do mothers navigate this phase of life? The school-aged years? I'm at a total loss.

For a while there I figured when the girls were at school full-time, I'd just be a writer. I did finish that novel after all. And I've done all this freelancing for the past six years -- newspapers, websites and magazines. And this blog and all. I could be, like, a Writer writer. The one with a capital "W." But with the depression has come this death in me where words are concerned. At least the words required for the types of books I thought I'd write. I thought I could write books. And that thought seems kind of absurd to me right now. 

So if I can't write my way to a solution, then what's next? I'm not sure I had a fallback plan. 

It's probably too late to become a veterinarian, right? 

That I have this problem is a luxury. I understand that. It's a luxury that how I fill the hours my kids are at school isn't a matter of survival for our family. I have time to figure it out. Instead of whining, I should be grateful and just enjoy these last six months with the girls. Get excited for the prospect of new beginnings. 

I am grateful. So grateful for the past six years at home. They have transformed my life. Molded me into a better sort of person. They have taught me so much about what matters most during our short trip in this life. 

Each other. 

So maybe that's the answer for now. Focus on them rather than the question of what's next. Somewhere in there I'm sure I'll figure out what it is I'm meant to be doing. If I'm not doing it already.