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.


Some reasons why I am not a novelist

When I tell people I am a writer, they tend to presume that I write novels. Novels are the most visible and popular form of literature, and best-selling novelists enjoy both fame and wealth. I impute the kindest of motives to these presumptions, choosing to see in them a tacit wish for me to be both famous and wealthy. Because folks tend to be disappointed and lose interest if I disabuse them of their presumption, out of kindness I sometimes don’t bother. What follows is the beginning of an explanation for this outwardly irrational choice on my part, which won’t probably be of interest to anyone who isn’t also a writer.

  • I don’t like being in charge of people – I want people to be in charge of themselves. As a teacher, I gravitated to decentralized models of pedagogy and strove to create environments wherein learning was student-driven. I prefer the role of facilitator. This sometimes works with real people, under the right circumstances, but it doesn’t work very well with imaginary people. As a writer, I have to make all the choices for my characters, and that really goes against my nature.
  • I see too many possibilities; my view of the big picture contains a lot of detail. I can detect and analyze patterns more easily where I don’t have anything at stake – in the past, for example. Future projections bring out excessive caution in me, as the undetermined factors increase exponentially at every step. This makes it very difficult to create a story arc of novel length and complexity.
  • I can only be involved in so many long-term projects at one time. I am currently parenting two children and partnering with another adult. I manage a household, help maintain the yard, and take care of a cat. I just don’t have the energy or the desire to take on another epic project at this point in my life. I feel insanely gratified that I manage to write at all.

This is by no means a complete analysis, but it is devilishly difficult to analyze something when one is smack in the middle of it. Additional posts on this and related subjects are in the works, so stay tuned!


Today is the last day of school for my kids this year, and I feel more than a bit frazzled. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss being kept informed of things the way I was when the kids were in elementary school. If you get yourself on the right e-mailing lists, you can find out most of what’s going on in middle school, but high school is a bit more spotty in this regard.

The directors really do communicate quite a lot with band parents, but there’s just so doggone much going on that they can only keep so far ahead of it all. The online calendar lists most planned activities, but extra rehearsals and spontaneous pancake parties (like this morning) don’t make it onto the calendar.

Then there are the associated social events. Groups of students walk somewhere to grab a bite before practice or after a concert; they decide to attend the school play together or have a picnic. That stuff is always last-minute and poorly organized, and it wreaks havoc on the intricate transportation schedule we work out every morning.

The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of exams, rehearsals, performances, track practices and meets, award banquets, and cookouts. Almost all of it has been fun, but I’m bushed. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in high school anymore; I simply wouldn’t have the stamina.

I have two weeks to recover before summer school starts, then two weeks after summer school ends before band camp begins. Wish me luck.

Mother’s Day truth

What does every mother want? She wants her child to be safe and happy. This is not a constant desire, every moment of every day, seven days a week, but at least once, between the hour she first knows she’s pregnant and the moment of her last breath, that is what she wants.