Tag Archives: parenting

Beyond words

An unspeakable tragedy has befallen a friend, and I nevertheless find myself groping helplessly for words to fling into the void.


I am a box with the lid
removed, unable to hold
thought or feeling or will
for motion. Voices rattle and the wind
tears through me: funeral
and four-year-old do not belong
in the same sentence.



Found poetry: Anne Lamott

July imageThis passage is from the essay “This Dog’s Life,” in Anne Lamott’s book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (pp. 81-82).

Bumping up against it

you want to protect your child
from pain, and what you get instead is life,
and grace; and though theologians insist
that grace is freely given, the truth
is that sometimes you pay for it
through the nose.

Prompted poetry: prepare

As one who finds joy and deep meaning in cycles, I delight in the many ways we humans keep track of and celebrate the passage of time. I follow several different calendars and cherish them as interweaving lenses through which to see my life. Some days the view takes my breath away.

Upon leaving my firstborn at college

This is what it was about all along – the hopes
and prayers, the planning and wondering
where you would go and what you might
do. Eighteen years – more than that, really,

when you count the long, slow months in
utero and the decision before that to get off
on the parenting side of the fence and see
what would happen – all those years of work

and I still feel wholly unprepared.


Inexcusable poetry: Heir Apparent

One of the good things about a poetry writing class is that you write a lot of poetry. One of the bad things is that a lot of poetry is not necessarily a good thing.

Heir Apparent

Cleopatra passed all she knows
about de nial to me
her daughter

though I cannot lie to save
my life my powers of self-deception
verge on the supernatural

Some thoughts on fear

Lately I’ve been thinking about fear, particularly fear that divides us even as it holds us in its grip. We are all afraid of homicidal sociopaths with guns. Fear begets fear, and our reactions to that common fear differ widely: some of us are afraid that we won’t be allowed to arm ourselves adequately to defend against homicidal sociopaths with guns; some of us are afraid that anyone we allow to have a gun might turn out to be a homicidal sociopath.

By evolutionary design, fear is not a rational state: it demands a split-second decision to fight or flee. Some years ago, when we as a nation faced great crisis, a leader reminded us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He called it nameless, unreasoning, and unjustified, and accurately noted that it hampers our ability to move forward.

Arguing with someone who is frightened does not make him less afraid. When a child comes into your room in the middle of the night because he has had a nightmare, you cannot reason with him that it wasn’t real. He has experienced that nightmare, and its effects on him are very real: elevated heart rate, adrenaline release, feelings of helplessness, sleep disruption. You can tell him that the nightmare is over and that he is okay, and you can offer something that will comfort and reassure him. Dismissing or belittling his fear will not diminish it in any way, but recognizing it and reconnecting him with normalcy will make it possible to move beyond it.

The tricky thing about fear is that it is based in reality, no matter how tenuously. The things we are afraid of really are out there, which is why reason doesn’t work against fear. But naming those things that frighten us gives us an opportunity to develop strategies for dealing with them. The next time your child wakes with a nightmare, he may remember what you said and did the last time and be able to go back to sleep on his own. If you find out that his nightmare may have been triggered by a TV show he watched in the evening, you can change your family viewing habits.

Fear is not banished by argument, but it can be surmounted when recognized. We need to listen to each other, to acknowledge even those fears we don’t share. Then, with these concerns on the table, we need to craft responses that address them all – not just knee-jerk reactions to the loudest or most alarmed.

Universal truth

My friend Murphala has posted a lovely photo of a male North American wild turkey at her blog, FlourWaterYeast&Salt. In the comments, someone expressed gratitude at not being a girl turkey, which brought to mind the following:

When he was little, my son and I went to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport one overcast fall weekday. Several of the habitats at the zoo feature native fauna, and many of the animals were active because it was cool and cloudy and there were very few people about. We stood for a long time watching the wild turkeys.

About half of them were on one side of the habitat, foraging and gabbling quietly among themselves. The rest of the turkeys, who had been loosely grouped together on the far side of the habitat, began to approach the others gradually, with a studied casualness that seemed almost stealthy.

As they neared the first group, the feathers on their breasts puffed out dramatically and their gait became a stiff and rather formal kind of strut, complete with head motions. The first group – now it was clear they were females – took one look at the approaching males and trotted off to the other side of the enclosure, gabbling to each other. It took a couple minutes for the males to realize that the females had left – it has to be pretty difficult to see around that puffed up chest.

When they did notice, they lowered their feathers and looked around, no doubt critiquing their performances and wondering where the females had gone. Once they figured out the latter, they began to deliberately stroll toward that part of the enclosure, and the whole drama played itself out again.

As with most courtship rituals, it looked rather absurd from the outside. “Silly turkeys!” we giggled together as we watched.

After a few more iterations, my son asked what they were doing and why. I explained that the boy turkeys (that group there) were trying to get the attention of the girl turkeys (that group there). His mouth opened in wordless astonishment. Really? I nodded. He turned a quizzical eye back on the turkeys, where the females again evaded the attentions of their would-be suitors.

“I don’t think it’s working,” he said with a somber shake of his head.

Some days, it seems there’s not as much difference between us and the turkeys as we’d like to believe.

Weird conversation at 5:00 a.m.

Child [at my bedside]:


I had a nightmare. Can I sleep with you?


Okay. [Retrieves bedding, climbs in next to me.] I’m sorry you couldn’t sleep.

I was asleep.

Oh, good. I’m glad something didn’t wake you up.

You woke me up.

Oh. Right.