Some thoughts on next steps

Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you for all the thoughtful responses I received to last week’s post about feeling lost.  I can’t tell you how much every single message meant to me. It’s gratifying, of course, to know that my words touch people, even a few.

While I feel heartened and touched and deeply grateful, I’m still a little lost.  I feel like I’m repeating myself. That argues for a break, clearly. At the same time, I know that the near-daily ritual of sitting down and writing something has become hugely important to me.  I worry that stopping will be catastrophic because I’m so aware of the benefits of the practice. That argues against a break.

I’m going to split the difference which is either a happy hybrid or a total cop-out.  I’m going to take the month of March off, with a plan to return in early April.  The month of March also includes a week of family travel and some other stuff that is going on which I’ll write about soon.  So the timing is good.

I’ll be reading and watching the sky and I look forward to returning here.  Please know how much every single message means to me – both last week and in general.  I mean that.  Thank you.

See you soon.

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what is beautiful belongs to the eternal

Simone Weil wrote, “All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.”

I had spent years trying to understand what she meant, but I think I was beginning to comprehend now – that there are those supernatural physics that allow for a flower to be stronger than an entire war. We can call that flower beauty, or grace, or hope. What is sure is that which is beautiful not only saves us, but it also belongs to the eternal, while the terrible passes away. Borders do not last. The names of countries do not last. And the names of flowers, they, too, do not last. But flowers themselves remain. Music remains. Certain phrases from childhood, sewn into our memories, passed down imperceptibly in the way we speak to children, they also remain, and will continue to after we are gone.

Childbirth remains.

Lemon trees. Fig trees. Stories remain.

I had seen jars from the Roman period, unexpectedly lifted up from the bowels of the sea, intact, after two thousand years.

Love remains, above all.

That night, while my husband and son were sleep in their beds, I made a list of what lasts: snowdrops and periwinkles, lullabies and prayers. And I knew that we don’t just carry beauty but that we cling to it, as a resistance against gravity. That perhaps, in the ed, that is the single task we must set out to do in our lives

– Stephanie Saldana, A Country Between

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Control is overrated

I love all of Courtney Martin’s writing on On Being.  I highly recommend you check her out.  But this piece, The Right Decision Is the One You Make, ripped me to shreds.  I’ve read and re-read it, and I urge you to do so.

Because of her gorgeous words about parenting, yes: “I’ve been on the steepest learning curve of my entire life, and madly, viscerally in love, and totally out of control. I never could have made a different decision. It feels as if it was made for me on so many levels. I am humbled, so completely and totally humbled by it all.”

But most of all, because of her wisdom about control. Her beautiful writing about how becoming a parent strips you of the illusory sense of being in control (and how it’s a false feeling, no matter whether you are a parent or not).  Martin calls life itself “terrifying and magical” whether you have kids or not, and that’s my impression, too.

I’ve written at length about my own often-crippling need to feel in control.  I’ve described the way I have “white knuckled” my way through much of my own life. But the truth is becoming a parent shifted that, and something fundamental inside of me, and because of that I relate in an almost-uncomfortably keen way to what Martin writes.

Grace’s arrival in our lives was unplanned.  That’s not news to anyone who knows me (or to her).  I wrote a whole book, in a drawer now, about those unexpected two lines on a pregnancy test and the way that they knocked my world off balance.  For someone who had planned her entire life, frankly, it was a pretty big shock.  The deep postpartum depression that followed after Grace’s birth had its roots, I’m convinced, in the unplanned aspect of my pregnancy.  Of course I recognize now the tremendous gift that this turn of events was; sometimes I wonder if I would have ever had babies, had I been fully in charge of the decision.  It’s never the perfect time, after all.

And the lessons that my experience of those couple of years – we are not pulling the strings of our lives, at all, the darkness can hold tremendous gifts, and the unanticipated path can be the most beautiful – continue to echo through my days now. The years of my pregnancies and with infants and small children at home, while some of the most exhausting and difficult of my life, were also the richest. With a decade and a half of retrospect now I can see that some of the themes that would shape my midlife took root.  I’m so grateful for that, and for having lived through an experience that was harrowing and beautiful, frighteningly dark and disorienting, yes, but also glorious.

Terrifying and magical, you might say.

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The sky is full of glories these days.

Hi everyone.  It’s Sunday morning, and I woke up to a glorious sunrise which turned the white shades on that side of the house pink. One of my regrets about our house is that I don’t have a good angle to photograph the sunrise.  My instagram feed is a parade of sunsets.  What does this mean?  Am I oriented towards the endings of things?  I am not sure.  Could be coincidence.  Could not be.

I am writing to ask for help.

This is sincere, though I’m worried it will seem trite.  For the first time in 10 solid years of blogging I’m considering stopping.  I feel like I repeat myself, over and over again. I can’t think about anything other than time’s drumbeat passage right now.  It might be because Grace is considering high school options.  It’s probably mostly because Grace and Whit are growing so fast I can barely keep up.  That’s not new, of course: they’ve been growing like that since they were born.  But now, all of a sudden, the finish line’s in sight and every single moment is filtered through the reality of how numbered are these days.

I don’t want to keep writing a relentless series of posts about how sad I am.  I am actually not sad – I’m acutely aware, and sensitive, but not sad.  I’m intensely grateful, too.  But anyway.  I know that’s repetitive and dull.  I have also been wriring less and less about Grace and Whit, as they grow older and their stories are more and more their own.  So I need input from you.

What do you want to hear about?  I’m running out of steam, and I hate admitting it, but it’s true.



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my awe at the gift of life

What I know for sure is this: We come from mystery and we return to mystery. I arrived here with no bad memories of wherever I’d come from, so I have no good reason to fear the place to which I’ll return. And I know this, too: Standing closer to the reality of death awakens my awe at the gift of life.

I’m old enough to know that the world can delight me, so my expectation is not of the world but of myself:

Delight in the gift of life and be grateful.
~Parker Palmer “On the Brink of Everything

Yet another wonderful passage I found first on Barnstorming.

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your days are short here

I have had Adlai Stevenson’s line about “your days are short here” in my head recently. I love his whole speech, in particular those last lines, and have written about them before.  But it’s specifically the notion of something drawing to a close that feels salient to me right now.

I can’t get the line out of my head.

Our days are short here.

There are surely fewer days with all four of us under one roof ahead than behind us.  So many years have gone, rippling behind us in a blur of bathtimes and walks and hockey games and car rides.  I’m so thankful for the details I’ve recorded, here and in my enormous photo albums, but still, there’s so much I wish I could do over again.  Of course I can’t, and that’s the very essence of life: you get one go around.  It’s in my essential wiring to be struck dumb by the heartbreak of that, but the flip side of that characteristic is, I believe, how fundamentally open I am to receiving joy and beauty in the most ordinary experiences.

Our days are short here.  This season, which broke open with a colicky newborn and a rainstorm in late October 2002, which felt, for so long, endless, is drawing to a close. Grace is almost my height and Whit is catching up fast.  They’re independent in so many ways, strong and opinionated and funny.  They can cook dinner for us, walk home from school and let themselves in, put themselves to bed.  I can see the adults they are becoming. I love them, a lot, but I also like them.

I considered a book project several years ago that focused on the “new season” of parenting kids in their adolescence.  The first paragraph was this:

In between conference calls last Tuesday I walked to the mailbox a few blocks from my house. I passed the park where I had strolled with both of my children, spent countless hours watching them learn to navigate the slides and then the monkey bars, coached micro-soccer on Saturday mornings for years. I looked at the mothers crouched in the sandbox and at the toddlers making their clumsy way around the structure and felt a pang so acute of all that was gone I had to stop and catch my breath. That time, when empty days without school or commitments unfurled in front of me, seems like another country. My children still play on playgrounds, but I know those days themselves are numbered.

Even that already feels like a different country of its own now!  I feel as though I have taken an extremely long flight and have lost track of what day it is.  I’ve emerged from the terminal into the bright light of a foreign land and I’m blinking into the sun, trying to get my bearings.  I am staring at empty nesters and children who are getting close to driving age.  All these years have through my fingers like so much sand, and no amount of grasping slowed their passage.

Tonight I’m struck by the sorrow of that, though I’m aware, also, of the deep, gorgeous, messy joys that have filled every day in the enormous gulf between my first days as a mother and now.

My days are short here.  And while my children still want to come sit next to me in bed to read,  I’m going to wholeheartedly enjoy it, trying not to wonder if it’s the last time.

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Snow, then and now

Winter has hit Boston.  All of a sudden, there are snow days, snow piles, neighbors shoveling in the streets, and aggravated drivers finding roads that have turned unexpectedly one-way.  On Saturday morning we decided to go for a family sled.  There was some bickering, some raised voices, some aggravation (not the least of it, mine).  But amid all of that, there was also Grace and Whit shrieking with joy, deep, untouched drifts of snow, and some happy sibling moments.

I am trying to see that part, and let the other stuff go.  I’m not great at that yet, but I’m trying.

I’m grateful that Matt is healthy again and able to shovel (he is an excellent shoveler – I’m guessing it’s the Vermont roots).  I’m grateful for my interesting book (about spies in the Cold War and Kim Philby; an unusual choice for me, but I’m learning a lot).  I’m grateful that both children sleep well and soundly and that our house is warm.  I’m grateful, grateful, grateful, and I’m trying to let that seep into me, to let it soften the jagged edges of family moments that aren’t as peaceful as I would have liked.

I am also remembering another blizzard, that of January 2005.  Literally hours after we brought Whit home from the hospital, it started snowing and did not stop for a week.

Here’s Grace in her red snowsuit in the backpack.  I remembered that Matt and I bundled her up and took her for a walk in the first days when Whit was at home.  He was sleeping under the watchful eye of a babysitter.  Grace had snow in her eyes, Matt and I were exhausted, and we were all startled, blinking in the bright sun of a new reality.  I vividly recall bringing her back from this walk and handing her her new baby doll in the front hall, at which point she melted down in true 2 year old style, wailing that she wanted to “play with the real baby!”

When I remember that day, and that two year old in a backpack, I can do nothing but shake my head, shocked and awed at how time has flown.  I feel heartbroken, a little, as I do, honestly, every single day of parenting.  But I also feel thankful, and lucky, and deeply aware of both.  Remembering my pledge to let that gratitude soften me, I close my eyes and say thank you, thank you, thank you, and then I open them, look out my window, and watch the snow fall.

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love and loss conjoined

I wanted her to see that the only life worth living is a life full of love; that loss is always part of the occasion; that love and loss conjoined are the best opportunity we get to live fully, to be our strongest, our most compassionate, our most graceful selves.

-Pam Houston

This is one of my long-time favorite quotes and I wrote about it here: What if my sensitivity is the road home?

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Conscious of our treasures

On Monday night, I watched part of Whit’s hockey practice.  I stood at the end of the rink, watching him through the scuffed plexiglass (I can always identify him because he has red laces in his skates), and was overcome with a swell of contentment.  Thornton Wilder’s words, which always remind me of Aidan, rose to my mind:

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

I’m not sure what it was about Monday evening that brought those words, or that feeling of awareness of my treasures, to mind.  But I’ve learned enough not to question the moments that rise up, unbidden and unasked for, but to welcome them.  I thought of my just 12 year old son, brand-new braces on his teeth, skating competently in front of me.  I thought of our warm and safe house. I thought of our health and good fortune.  I thought of Aidan, then, grateful for having met her in this wild and wonderful ether, all those years ago.  Why precisely these words – from Wilder, whose Our Town speaks loudly to me – remind me of Aidan I’m not sure, but I’m glad they do.  I texted her with cold fingers from the rink, and then put my phone back in my pocket.

As I stood and watched Whit shooting on goal, I thought of the perennial struggle that exists within me to be here now while I also watched, through a (in this case, literal) pane of clear material.  I’m removed from and engaged in my life at the same time.  I think it’s time to just let go of that struggle, to recognize that the tension that exists between those two poles is at the heart of the way I am in the world.

This is both the animating challenge of my life and the source of most of its color.

Maybe I’m inching towards the acceptance of those poles, which seem as opposed as do my two simultaneous ways of being in the world.  That’s one of my treasures, no question.  So are the family and health I noted, the dear friends (Aidan among them), words on the page and in the ether, the sky at dusk and at dawn, and so many other things.  It’s absolutely true what Wilder says, that when I’m aware of my deep good fortune that I feel most alive.

The bell rang, Whit came off the ice, and, with a gesture that means “hurry up!” I went to go wait for him in the car.  Conscious of my treasures, and fully alive, we drove home.

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Around here lately

Whit spent a week studying the reproductive system in school.  On the last day of the unit, they watched a video of a birth.  “How was it?” I asked him.

He thought for a minute and then answered, “Gunky.”


One Friday night in late January, after family dinner, Grace, Whit and I spent a solid hour looking at old photographs and reading old blog posts. It started with my remembering Whit’s passion for his exercise pants. I felt grateful for the record I have of them as small children.  Then, the evening devolved into poking Whit’s stuffed narwhal’s horn into each other’s ears.  As we do.


Grace has been wearing her hair in two braids for hockey, which reminds me of both my own childhood hairdo and, far more poignantly, of the two pigtails she used to wear as a toddler. Oh, life.  Taking my breath away on a daily basis since 2002.


Many years ago we had a spirited car conversation about what we would get if we ever got a tattoo.  Everyone had an answer and mine was a small tear under one eye.  Last week, Whit came home from school with a small tear under one eye, rendered in sharpie.  Because it was sharpie, it took a while to come off!


As usual, in this dark season (meteorologically and otherwise), life is full of beauty.  Small, glimmering moments.  I just try to keep seeing them.


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