The Urge

I am a mother and a writer, in that order. I came to motherhood early and writing, late, but this isn’t strictly true. I’ve written down butterfly thoughts since my earliest days, only then I didn’t give it a label. Offered by my parents the luxury of boredom, I clutched childhood journals, scribbling terrible poetry and embryonic stories without paying much attention. It seemed the natural thing to do, like fishing when one is at the lake.

‘Mother’ is a title I’ve worn since I graduated from college, giving birth to my oldest son shortly thereafter. My young husband and I weren’t sure what life held for us in those beginning years but we knew it included a baby. Two more children followed in rapid succession, filling my heart and our apartment. I knew that I wanted to be present for my little ones in those wide-eyed years, to sing to them old songs, to read aloud books I’d loved as friends. For years I hollowed out afternoons of diapers and blocks, seasons of nothing and everything, and I did not regret them.

But time catches us when we’re not paying attention. Without much warning my children grew older. Their voices are changing now, and they read without me. I don’t know how to feel when I find that I’m OK with this. To my surprise, the sweet space their need used to occupy has not remained a vacuum in my psyche. Instead I find that the urge to write, the compulsion to net my thoughts like silver minnows, has reawakened, this time in earnest.

I am afraid and emboldened by this realization. I write tentatively today, stringing one word after another with shaking fingers, sure that I am on a fool’s errand. The next morning, I am on fire. The world needs my words, I can feel it, and I am generous with them.

There is no space for the lukewarm in my word world, and when I am in it, I am young again. The responsibilities of my grown-up life are there just beyond my bedroom door, but for an hour I let them stand because I am going back in time to a place of skinned knees and knowing things.

I am unnerved by this punishing love of the written word. It is not folksy and warm. It does not smell of babies and grass stains. It is demanding, finding its way into the privacy of my dreams. Still, I find that I can’t imagine life without this wave at my back, these exquisite contractions forcing me to create. They have bubbled up through the skin of my consciousness and they have no intention of leaving.

I will always be a mother and I am full of gratitude for this. I see my children blooming and my heart swells. I have spent my years well, I hope. But in the sacred quiet of early morning I wake and begin sorting crowds of words into orderly lines, scolding, nudging. My heart squeezes with longing, making me catch my breath, and I know then that I will always be a writer, too.

The Beautiful Ache

We are back in the swing of things.  Once again we sit at the table and complete math pages.  We make our beds, conjugate verbs, fill up the dog bowls.  The arrhythmia of Fall break has corrected itself and our daily heartbeats are steady now.

My favorite time of the day is something I call Morning Time.  I bummed it off of Cindy Rawlins, who’s done things I haven’t, better things, with more kids.  Morning Time in our house consists of a short Bible reading, followed by discussion, memory work, and prayer.  From there we move on to poetry readings.  I love a good, solid line from a poem about something.  I love it so much that I think I’ve made my kids love it, too.  Or they’re  faking to hurry things along.  It could be that.

After poetry I read to them a chapter from a work of fiction.  Sometimes it’s a collection of short stories (I recently read some of Canterbury Tales to them but left out a few, er, things).  But mostly it’s a novel.  We finished Old Yeller the other day, barely.  I say this because I started choke-crying during the first half of the second-to-last-chapter.  Travis hadn’t even shot his dog yet.  I sat on my bed, blotchy-skinned, hair in pillow clumps, and gagged out story words from behind a balled up fist for fourteen pages.

Even as it happened (because I float above my body and observe myself now and again) I knew it was probably unnerving for my kids to see me crying as if my heart would break, crying like I did when I was twelve and grief was its own sort of pleasure.  Still, I could not stop.

In due time each one of my children began crying, too, including the thirteen-year-old boy.  They wiped their eyes and buried their heads in my bedspread as Travis ended the life of the dog who had saved his.  When it was over we sat in silence.  We were Travis, and we couldn’t believe we’d erased our old friend like he was nothing.

“Are you going to be OK, Mom?” my middle son asked after a while.

“No,” I replied.  “I mean, in the long run, yes.  Short term, no.”

“I feel bad,” he said, “even though I knew how it was going to end.”

“Isn’t that just the way death is?”  I rubbed my right eye with my ring finger so as to not further discourage the skin around it.

“I guess.”

“But, you know what?” I said, straightening, “it was worth it.  That was a beautiful story, well-told.  It truly hurt, and I’m impressed by that.  It’s worth the ache in our chests, isn’t it?” I rested my hand on his bony shoulder.

“Yeah.  I guess you’re right,” he muttered and stood up from his place on my bed.

I watched him leave the room.  I thought about how I meant what I said.  It was worth it.  Is worth it.  I’ve already accumulated a list of regrets in my life, things not done, words spoken in haste.  But sharing these stories with my children, these exquisite labyrinths, is not one of them.  I’ll never regret the fleeting moments when we sobbed and laughed at the written word in the quiet of my bedroom.

I trust they won’t, either.

Feet on the Ground

Today officially kicks off our Fall break.  And, boy, do we love us some breaks around here.  We’re going out of town this weekend to visit family, which is always nice, and feels like a set of pleasant parentheses in our holiday sentence.

I’m doing a little brain dump before getting away from Internetland for a bit.  I was just going to say, you know how parenting keeps you humble?  How kids say ridiculous things that embarrass you and put you in your place?  How you can’t ever know for sure if you’re doing parenting “right”, and you want to say there isn’t a right way, necessarily, so that you feel less pressure, but you don’t actually believe that so you keep trying and hoping that things turn out for your kids, but you can’t force them to?

Ah, me.

Well, it turns out that blogging keeps you humble, too, but in a funnier, less existential angsty way.  Do you know what is the number one search that leads people to this blog?

‘Need help.  Waking up with one eye open and one eye closed.

It turns out that this is a huge, ongoing issue for a lot of people.  Just imagine their disappointment when they land on this blog after looking for solutions to their eye problems.

Imagining their disgust as they skim posts about homeschooling and writing and feelings keeps my feet on the ground.

Happy Fall.

Hans Brinker and the Screen Dam

Ah, screens.  The bane of my (parenting) existence.  Can’t live with ‘em, can-technically-live-without-em-but-not-really-unless-you’re-Amish.


I understand the irony of complaining about screens while I blog on a screen.  I didn’t say I wasn’t conflicted and just the slightest bit hypocritical on this issue.  But my kids’ frontal lobes aren’t fully developed, and mine is.  My frontal lobe grew up before screens were everywhere.  And this is why I feel anxious parenting in this screens all the time world.  I worry that my kids might turn out like robots because they have to trust me when I say that once upon a time, there lived a whole world that communicated via paper and mouths.  They think my stories about life without the Internet are quaint, and I hate that.

So, anyways.

I came across this today and it’s true.  Forever.  Just read it, please, if you remember the original 90210 and have kids and feel like Hans Brinker with your finger in the screen dam.  It’s worth it.  At least you’ll know you’re not alone and that’s something.

The Strangers

My son is a terrible perfectionist.  He gets it from me.  He’s also a writer, a good one.  Today the kids and I sat around our table and worked on a writing assignment.  The lesson required that each child write a poem from the viewpoint of the Native Americans who witnessed the arrival of explorers to the New World.  Each of the kids wrote his or her poem and I promised that I’d write one as well.

I’m no poet but I want to set an example for my kids and make them feel that their work is valuable.  So there we were, one big, happy, poetry-writing family.  The kids scribbled away, backs curled, arms protecting their words.

My oldest son was the first to ask if he could read his masterpiece.  He read with authority and smiled at the final sentence.  My daughter read next.  She’d thrown in every colorful verb she could think of, obscuring her meaning with gusto.  She laughed as she read.

My middle son would not read his poem.  Would not.  He growled as he covered his paper with grubby-nailed hands.  I have to tread lightly with this kid.  If I show him that I very much want him to do anything, his general impulse is to double down and refuse just because, why not.  Instead of begging him, I told him I’d read my own hackneyed poem aloud to the group.

He was singularly unimpressed.

Then I told him that I’d blog my poem, exposing it to the world for ridicule and shame.  He pretended not to care but I’m doing it anyway, for the official records:

The Strangers

They glide across our water paths,

hair shining like the sun god’s.

Their eyes pin me to the shore

because they have no soil in them.

Their voices flutter and swim on the wind,

singing fearsome songs I cannot know.

Their legs stomp our sands, giant leather trees

ashamed to wear their own skins.

They remember another world as they spread

out over ours.

There.  He can’t say I didn’t do it.  Here’s to the painful death of perfectionism.

Addendum: He read me his poem.  Booyah.

The Fixer

Are you a fixer?  When faced with a problem, big or small, do you look for solutions, figuring there must be something in your life you can tweak to make it go away?images-1

Maybe it’s just me.

I find that I want to control my life, like, a lot.  This is never clearer than when some problem crops up in my life.  It might be a relationship issue, an educational conundrum with one or all of my kids, or scheduling thing, another bout of depression.  Doesn’t really matter.  When something messes up my daily rhythm I want to beat that thing into submission, posthaste.  I want it dead.  Ahem.

What I’m learning, extremely slowly, is that sometimes problems can’t be solved by brainstorming, list-making, worrying, kvetching, vision-casting, or binge-eating. images

Sometimes the best thing to do when confronted with an “issue” is to…wait.  As in, do nothing.  (As a person of faith, I assume that praying about stuff is not the same as trying to fix it, so I’m not suggesting that praying is unnecessary.  It’s very necessary).  Not everything has a solution, at least not one I can see.  And even if it does, I can’t always effect change.

So I am learning to be still, to wait, to sometimes go slow in the face of obstacles.  I am praying and watching.  I am seeing stones in my path and not reaching for the keys to my forklift.


The thing is, life keeps going whether I strategize or not, and problems often work themselves out (rather, Someone works them out, without my helpful freakouts, thanks).  If all this seems like a call for passivity, for hanging back and hanging on a minute when things go wrong, it is.

Deep breath.

Sometimes in the midst of life’s craziness, it really is better not to try to fix things, but to simply be.